The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s overtime costs exceeded budget forecasts by a combined $100 million in the past two years because of reduced staffing, storm-related emergencies and maintenance needs, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.
The comptroller, in a report on the agency’s finances, also found that its debt service may reach $3 billion by 2016, 41 percent higher than this year. Debt-service costs as a percentage of total revenue may rise to almost 20 percent by 2018 from 15.9 percent in 2011, even with biennial 7 percent fare and toll increases, the comptroller reported.
Even so, the MTA’s finances have stabilized because of increased ridership, lower energy and interest costs, and changes expected to save about $1.1 billion a year by 2016, the report said. One risk stems from a court decision under appeal that struck down a payroll tax in counties served by MTA commuter trains, which officials expected to generate $1.5 billion in 2012 and almost $1.8 billion by 2016, DiNapoli said.
“There are areas of concern,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The pace of the economic recovery, litigation challenging the constitutionality of the Payroll Mobility Tax, collective bargaining and funding for the next capital program could all affect the budget. Fare and toll hikes continue to outpace inflation, placing a burden on working men and women across the metropolitan region.”
The biggest U.S. transit agency, which has a budget of $12.6 billion, carries an average of 8.7 million weekday riders on subways, buses and regional commuter lines. It also operates several bridges and tunnels.
The MTA financial plan projects deficits of $487 million in 2013, $759 million in 2014, $1.1 billion in 2015 and $1.4 billion in 2016. Fare and toll increases account for 82 percent of the resources available to close those gaps over the next four years, with agency savings accounting for 18 percent, the comptroller’s report said.
“We know the debt service amounts to a significant amount of money and we’ve budgeted for it,” Adam Lisberg, an MTA spokesman, said in an interview. “If we didn’t spend the money installing subway platform countdown clocks, replacing and modernizing signal switches and repairing rails, the system would go back to its bad old days. So we have to do the work, and increasingly such costs come from borrowing.”
Agency officials reduced overtime costs in 2010 by $49 million from a 2009 peak of $664 million, only to see it increase $75 million more than they expected last year, to $655 million.
Officials attributed the increase to reduced personnel and more demand for workers after winter snowstorms and Tropical Storm Irene hit the region, the comptroller said. This year, agency officials expect overtime to reach $578 million, or about $25 million higher than they previously budgeted, the comptroller said.