Members of the MTA Board argued on Wednesday that the agency is at a crisis point and must come up with new revenue streams. Regardless of how Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio's ongoing funding feud shakes out, they said, the current trend of increasing fares and purchasing debt isn't sustainable.

"At what point do you get the sense we are going to cut through the fat and start hitting the bone?" wondered Putnam County Executive appointee Neal Zuckerman.

Zuckerman's remarks at July's board meeting followed MTA CFO Bob Foran's report on a $385 million gap in the MTA's current financial plan through 2021—the fourth consecutive year that gap has increased, according to the Citizen Budget Commission.

Foran closed out two-and-a-half hours of heated public comments from transit riders, many of whom said they were frustrated with the MTA's leadership as subways become steadily more crowded, delayed, and dangerous.

"The banks are looting public transit," said rider Tony Murphy, referencing the MTA's $38 billion in debt, projected to increase to $43 billion over the next several years. "We should ask ourselves, does this board have any legitimacy to run our public transportation?"

Rider Adam Payne spoke on behalf of #WeTheCommuters, a WNYC project in collaboration with Gothamist that has collected commuter reviews from hundreds of commuters in the last three weeks.

"The main question is: What are you doing to help signal problems?" Payne said. "Commuters also demand better communications to inform customers in real time about disruptions. Many riders said they do not trust information they receive from MTA."

Foran's presentation called for the continuation of biannual four-percent fare increases. The MTA is on track to "break even in the short term," he said.

"I think it's going to be a very, very difficult sell to be able to increase fares and tolls at that level, or any level, without significant changes in how we operate," predicted Suffolk County Executive appointee Michael Pally.

"The normal way that we have funded ourselves, which has included biannual fare increases, and has also included a great deal of debt, and has been predicated on many savings—each of these things is coming to a halt and it is coming quickly," added Orange County Executive appointee Susan Metzger. "There isn't much low hanging fruit left, we're struggling for savings, and the ability to continue to bond, and the Board's tolerance for it is disappearing."

Ideas floated Wednesday by board members included Move New York, a plan to impose tolls on some NYC drivers (de Blasio recently said the plan is "not part of my vision"), as well as a gas tax. Outside of MTA headquarters, State Senator Michael Gianaris stood with activists from New York Communities for Change to promote his "Better Trains, Better Cities" plan, which would bring in $2 billion annually through a temporary surcharge on millionaires living in the MTA region.

Advocates chanted "Make the Rich Pay! Fund the MTA!" and lifted illuminated signs—a nod to reports that the MTA diverted funds from the subway for light shows on state bridges and tunnels. (Cuomo's office has denied the money is being diverted from the MTA.)

Transit workers with TWU Local 100, an ally of the governor, countered that Mayor de Blasio should pitch in his "fair share" of the MTA's new $836 million short-term plan announced Tuesday. The MTA's current financial plan through 2020 does not include this funding.

Foran did not endorse any particular alternative revenue stream on Wednesday, but said he was open to alternatives. "We're agnostic about where the money is coming from," he said.

Jamison Dague is director of infrastructure research for the Citizens Budget Commission, which has endorsed a driver tax to fund public transit.

"I think that the Board today showed that they are beginning to think a little bit about the appropriate funding framework," he told Gothamist. "Over the last few weeks, with the funding debate back and forth, we've almost been acting as if the state and city have the bank accounts, when really we are talking about tax payers."

Andrew Saul, a Westchester County Executive appointee to the board, blamed the MTA's management structure for the system's overall degradation Wednesday. The biggest issue isn't the amount of funding, he argued, but where it's being channeled.

Until the MTA has a full time executive director, Saul predicted, the board will remain "a rubber-stamp for the governor's policies."

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