The MTA's head has instructed staffers to quit reflexively shooting down proposed service and fare changes, as they so often do. The Daily News reports that MTA chief and board chairman Tom Prendergast emailed a memo to MTA board members in late November saying that staff responses to pitches—such as lowering commuter-rail fares in the city or creating a shuttle bus to LaGuardia Airport—too often "seemed to indicate that we were rejecting these proposals out-of-hand, mostly on the grounds that they were too costly."
Saying he told officials to be "far less strident," Prendergast reportedly wrote: "We must not and we will not give the appearance that this Board does not play a very thoughtful and active role in these decisions."
Whether Prendergast is calling for more actual consideration or the appearance of more consideration is unclear from the context, but a straphanger can hope.
Board members told the News that past responses to proposals have made it seem like there was no wiggle room in how the MTA is run, when actually there is. "We need to operate essentially on the margin, doing some jerry rigging...to be able to provide some relief to our customers," board member Allen Cappelli said.
The shift in tone Prendergast called for is apparent when looking at the reaction to two recent fare reduction proposals. In November, City Councilmembers introduced legislation that would allow city residents to pay a $2.75 fare on Long Island Railroad or Metro-North trains within city limits, and transfer to the subway or bus for free. Responding, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said:
No one has proposed how to make up that loss,. We just can't agree to accept that kind of loss—especially since we already lose so much money on other services. This year we will lose $575 million on unreimbursed paratransit service as well as discounted fares for seniors and free rides for schoolchildren. When we start each year more than half a billion dollars in the hole, we don't want to dig it any deeper.
Earlier this month, just after Prendergast's memo, transit advocates unveiled a proposal for a so-called Freedom Ticket, a single-fare alternative to the MetroCard and Commuter Rail ticket that would allow unlimited free transfer between buses, subways, and commuter trains, tentatively priced at $6.50 one-way. Lisberg's reaction:
It's an interesting proposal to alleviate the concerns of some of our customers, though it would certainly carry a financial impact for the MTA as well. So we'll consider it next year as we determine how to structure the next in our series of modest fare increases equivalent to the rate of inflation.
Other previously dismissed pitches include the Move NY plan to add tolls to the East River bridges and reduce tolls on other bridges and tunnels, which Prendergast, a Governor Cuomo appointee, called "not politically feasible," and the aforementioned LaGuardia shuttle.