"The MTA's ridership is inextricably linked to the economy ofNew York City--especially ridership to the central businessdistrict, where the majority of jobs are located," according toDiNapoli's report. "New York City lost 110,000 jobs (2.9%) betweenOctober 2008 and October 2009, which has caused a sharp drop inutilization of the MTA's transit facilities (e.g., subways, buses,and bridges and tunnels)."

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Through October of '09, MTA utilization was lower in every monthcompared with the same month in 2008, the report stated. "Peopledon't commute when they're unemployed," says DiNapoli in astatement.

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Subway ridership, which grew 17.5% between 2000 and 2008,slipped 3.2% during the first 10 months of last year, for a loss of44 million riders citywide. Weekday riders on Manhattan declinedfurther, dropping 3.9% compared to a year earlier, with Midtown hiteven harder with a drop of 6.2%. The report noted that the declinetapered off this past October, "an encouraging development."

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Between January 2007 and September 2008, the monthly ridershipon the Long Island Rail Road increased by an average of 4.1%compared to a year earlier--but then declined by 5.5% during thefirst ten months of '09, the report says. It notes that fourmillion fewer riders used the LIRR compared with the same period inthe previous year.

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Ridership on the Metro-North Railroad has grown every year since2005, peaking in '08 and increasing an average of 4.8% each monthbetween January 2007 and September '08. However, it declined 4.8%during the first 10 months of last year, or 4.3 million fewerriders.

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The ridership declines on the MTA's subway and commuter raillines don't necessarily mean that people have taken to the roadwaysinstead. "Vehicle crossings on the MTA's bridges and tunnels havebeen declining since late 2007, because of rising fuel prices and,more recently, the economic recession," the report states. "Whencompared to the same period in 2008, crossings declined by 1.6%during the first 10 months of '09," although they've increasedrecently.

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DiNapoli's report comes a few weeks after the MTA board voted toclose a $383-million budget gap with service cuts. If implementedbeginning next June, the cuts would include reducing or eliminatingsubway and bus lines, as well as phasing out discounted fares forstudents in 2010 and 2011.

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Along with wiping two subway lines and several bus lines off thetransit map, the MTA's proposed cuts would reduce late-night andweekend service and reduce payroll expenses by 10%. The MTA blamesseveral factors, including a $143-million shortfall in tax revenuesfrom the state and a state Supreme Court judge's decision that theagency must honor $91 million worth of raises for unionizedemployees. The agency will hold public hearings before implementingthe cuts.

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Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny is managing editor of Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. He has been reporting on business since 1988 and on commercial real estate since 2007. He is based at ALM Real Estate Media Group's offices in New York City.