At an early-morning press conference outside MTA Headquarters, TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen called on MTA Chairman Jay Walder to join him in Washington to pursue federal assistance to avert service cuts and fare increases for students. He was joined by Councilman James Vacca, Chairman of the Transportation Committee; Bob Astrowsky, Assistant Secretary of the United Federation of Teachers; Norman Brown, Business Representative, IAM Local 15; Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, and rank and file members of TWU Local 100 who were preparing to testify against the service cuts to the MTA Board.
Holding in his hands the MTA’s 126-page manifesto of service cuts, Samuelsen called the cuts “reductions that will create totally unnecessary hardships – including overcrowding, much longer waiting times and safety concerns – for millions of New Yorkers, especially on weekends.” He decried the cuts as “shots to the solar plexus of our transportation network,” noting that they will be combined with other cutbacks at LIRR, Metro North, MTA Bus, and Long Island Bus. In addition to the service cuts, the MTA has announced plans to lay off as many as 800 transit workers.
Samuelsen blasted the MTA’s decision to use monies from its operating budget and instead divert them into the capital budget, as well as not taking advantage of ten percent of the stimulus funds – totaling $90 million – which it could use to cover operating expenses and avoid severe service cuts.
He said the MTA’s claims that the capital funds were needed for maintenance were false. A former Track Worker, he spoke from personal knowledge about the underground infrastructure, finding the tracks in good repair overall. “The MTA is making unprecedented service cuts and layoffs,” he said, “and choosing to spend available money on non-essential capital and technical projects.” It seems that the MTA is hell-bent on moving full-speed ahead with its mega projects, even at the expense of essential services to New Yorkers. This is an outrage.
A letter sent to MTA Chair Jay Walder by Samuelsen was released to reporters. The letter references a recent call for $15 billion in stimulus funding, some of which could be used to shore up the MTA’s finances, by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It also discusses other avenues for mass transit funding and invites Mr. Walder to join TWU Local 100 and a coalition of unions and advocates in pressing for the extra federal assistance.
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign compared the MTA to Ebeneezer Scrooge, unwilling to part with capital funds and instead electing to starve services and impose fares on students. “There’s $50 million that the MTA is putting into their capital budget – money that is desperately needed to keep trains and buses running,” he said.
The UFT’s Bob Astrowsky said: “Part of our responsibility is making sure that kids can get to school. The MTA needs to step up and find a way to provide the transportation they need.”
“It’s a world turned upside down,” Samuelsen added. “The MTA is funding huge, unnecessary capital projects and kids are being forced to pay fares to get to school. It’s absurd on the face of it.”