The MTA doesn't care about my mother. They don't care about your mother. They probably don't care about you.
If I want to take my mom from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the MTA won't let it happen. On my first break of the school year, I hoped to spend time with my friends and family. There was a special attention in my mind, of course, to my mother -- physically handicapped with multiple sclerosis since 1990. For me, a trip from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to anywhere in Manhattan takes a short subway ride. For her, a seemingly effortless task requires greater exertion and cooperation from many parties. And while she's willing to do her part, not everyone is as enthusiastic.
In the past, my mother and I have had our share of poor experiences with Access-a-Ride, the MTA's attempt at paratransit service that is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Access-a-Ride rules permit vans to arrive within a "30-minute waiting period." Sure, this is fair -- large enterprises cannot be expected to function with precision, but expecting something resembling timeliness is not unreasonable. I remember vividly one instance, on the day of my cousin's wedding, when a van arrived two hours after its scheduled pickup time and we missed the entire ceremony. Is this an isolated incident? Of course not.
With our Access-a-Ride memories in mind, my mom and I opted last month to take the MTA x27 express bus, providing service from Bay Ridge to midtown Manhattan. The bus runs hourly on weekday afternoons, and the next three up for us on this day happened to be 12:50, 1:50, and 2:50 p.m. We arrived at the bus stop at 12:40 p.m., and after three -- not one, not two, but three -- express buses in a row refused functioning service to my mom, we became discouraged.
So how does an enterprise that claims to champion transparency and accessibility manage to -- three times in one day -- refuse service to a physically handicapped woman?
Simply enough, the MTA doesn't need to satisfy its customer base in order to operate and they are well aware of this.
In the past five years, subway and bus riders have endured a 25 percent increase in base fare, along with a 38 percent increase in the cost of a monthly MetroCard. Surely, these fare increases have aided in quelling the MTA's financial woes, right? Maybe not.
Financial statements for the year ending December 31, 2012 show the MTA's changes in net assets -- that is, their yearly net income -- as a loss. This is nothing new for the MTA and common knowledge to many New Yorkers. While operating revenues have increased slowly in the past 10 years, operating expenses have risen rapidly. From their operations alone -- including fare revenue and vehicle toll revenue, subtracting expenses from salaries, fuel costs and other contracts -- the MTA posted a 2012 year-end loss of $6.895 billion.
So where is this loss made up? Non-operating revenues in the form of subsidies.
Subsidies from New York City and New York State, as well as Connecticut and several Long Island counties, keep the MTA afloat. All of this is topped off with funding from the "mobility tax," a tax on payrolls and self-employment earnings in the metropolitan area intended to provide additional revenue to the MTA. Notes from the 2011 financial statements state that "[t]he increase [in fare revenue] was due mainly to the fare increases... partially offset by lower ridership." As the MTA warns to expect another fare increase in 2015, and again in 2017, CFO Robert Foran stated that fare hikes will not be necessary if "taxes and subsidies come in higher than we expected."
Since the MTA's income is not substantially affected by the quality of the service it provides to its customers, it has little motivation to improve the service.
When the only option for commuters -- essentially a monopoly -- acknowledges that its well-being relies on government subsidies and not its customer base, does there remain an incentive to provide adequate service? What motivation is there at all to appease its customers? In essence, the MTA realizes that commuters have no other choice but to use their services and they use this to their advantage.
The MTA has a history of questionable financial strategies. Many will remember in 2005 when the company found themselves with a surplus of nearly $1 billion. Against the advice of financial analysts, as well as then-governor Pataki, the MTA decided to use the budget surplus in order to justify giving half-fare rides for the holiday season, drawing heavy criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
But do not despair. Though the MTA lost nearly $7 billion in operations last year, adding subsidies and taxes, the MTA only posts a bottom-line loss of $337 million.
My mother already knows it's hard for her to get around; there is no need for any further reminders of how marginalized she already feels. If the MTA feels confident in their financial future, it's time to turn attention to functioning service for all as well.