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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Request for a Tax Increase

The New York Times, in its "Week in Review" section, had an interesting item, with a request for a tax increase.

What attracted me to this OpEd was the graphic that went with it, five white and blue lines on black sketches of public transportation vehicles in New York City, viewed from the top with the roofs cut away.  Inside is show the passengers on a single trip, with notes.  The passengers are circles with an "x" in them.  Nearly each human being was provided with a short note about him or her (bus drivers were shown, but no notes provided).  Here is a PDF of the artwork.

The words to go with the sketches lay out the situation with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). As the OpEd says:
... the Metropolitan Transportation Authority faces a $1.2 billion deficit. And on Wednesday, the M.T.A. ratified a doomsday plan to increase the fare for a single ride by 50 cents, to $2.50, and to eliminate or reduce service on 100 bus and five subway lines.
Thus, the need for a fare increase or for a tax increase, either for the City of New York or the State of New York.  The other option is for the Federal Government to print money.

Per Wikipedia (explained here), the MTA is a large operation, averaging 11,000,000 passengers on weekdays.  Its toll bridges and tunnels carry some 800,000 vehicles on that same average day. It is a big operation.

Assuming that some of the 800,000 vehicles carry more than one person, the deficit looks to be about $100 per passenger. That would be about 40 cents per work day.  As is usually the case when I read the news, the numbers bother me.  If it really is 40 cents a day (given the $1.2 billion number is correct), why 50 cents a ride increase?  I sent the MTA an EMail.  My reference number is "090329-000050".  I am guessing that means I am the 50th EMail inquiry today.  If I get an answer I will post it as a "Comment."

I am sympathetic to the two authors, Miranda Purves and Jason Logan.  The current economic crisis (I can't bring myself to call it a "Depression" just yet, but it is one very serious "Recession") will not turn around quickly if it becomes harder for people to go about their daily tasks or travel around their locale to find work.  On the other hand, someone has to pay. In the case of the MTA, that would be "rate payers," those who own property, as the story itself says.

Being a mayor or governor in these times is tough.  It is a period of testing.

Regards  --  Cliff

UPDATE

Douglas Sussman, Director, Community Affairs, responded to my EMail at 0750 this AM and said he would try to get me an answer from the experts.

1 comment:

kad barma said...

Here's the way I'd do the math--11 million subway rides per weekday times 260 weekdays per year totals 2.86 billion total weekday rides. Then, if we guess around a tenth of the riders per weekend day, (1.1 million rides times 104 days) we'll end up totalling a little less than 3 billion total rides, all-in. (Wild guess on the weekends, and I'm sure the MTA has a total ride figure that didn't get put into the story that might make this a little more precise).

In any case, this all yields me the same .40, only this time on a per-ride basis, and all against a 1.2 billion deficit, which divides out reasonably close to the .50 per ride request. When you figure the advantages of asking for fewer increases, and putting 10 cents ahead against anticipated higher future costs (and then running awhile at a deficit before putting the hat out again, just as they did this time) then it certainly doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

Of course, who knows how much of the deficit is either reduced or exacerbated by the tunnel and bridge operation, and if the subway riders are subsidizing or leeching off the drivers. I expect the true math would require an awful lot more information than we have, but it's encouraging that we're not off by a factor of 10 in the fare request.

I'd tend to want to give the MTA a free ride on this one.