The MTA, in an effort to close a projected budget gap of nearly $900 million, plans to raise mass transit fare revenues in and around New York City by as much as eight percent in 2009. This increase — the second in two years — would mark just the second time in subway history that the fares have risen in consecutive years.
William Neuman of The Times has the nuts and bolts behind this dismaying but predictable turn of events:
Though the precise amount of the fare and toll increase has yet to be determined, the authority will seek to increase the revenue it gets from those sources by 8 percent. If approved by the authority’s board, the increase would take effect next July and would follow a toll and fare increase in March of this year…
On Wednesday, the authority will unveil a preliminary budget plan for 2009 that calls for the fare and toll increases and outlines other measures to balance its budget, including more than $300 million in additional financing that the authority hopes to get from the city and state. Coming at a time when the state and city budgets face extreme financial pressure as well, those requests are likely to be resisted by elected officials.
The authority faces steadily rising costs, particularly for fuel, as well as sharply declining tax revenues due to a slowdown in the real estate market. Just six months ago, the authority predicted that its shortfall for 2009 would be slightly more than $200 million, less than a quarter of its latest projection.
News reports and commentary surrounding this fare hike announcement will trumpet the populist story. The MTA is putting a financial onus on their riders with this planned increase at a time when the U.S. economy is hitting a low point. But the real focus should be on our elected officials and their reactions to the calls for more money.
First up, we have the MTA’s requesting that the city kick in more money, and the city ain’t too happy about that. “City taxpayers aren’t in a position to increase our subsidy over the billion-dollars-plus we already provide each year,” Stu Loeser, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, said to The Times.
Loeser noted that he eagerly anticipates the findings and recommendations of Richard Ravitch and his blue-ribbon panel tasked with magically finding hundreds of millions of dollars for the MTA. Those findings, however, are not due until early December. The MTA Board will have to act before then to combat the impending budget-deficit tsunami.
Next up is the anticipated reaction from the state legislatures. During the build-up to the most recent fare hike, numerous state legislatures told the MTA that if the transit agency were to ask for more money, the legislature and our elected representatives would do the best they could to oblige.
But Neuman’s article makes it clear that the New York State legislature is not too keen to find $300 million for the MTA. So the legislature has shot down congestion pricing — one source of well over $300 million a year — and now will be reluctant to grant the MTA enough money to meet its balanced budget requirements. Blame the MTA all you want, but this sytem in Albany and City Hall, folks, is broken.
The MTA will do what it can to make ends meet, but all it can do is raise the fare and cut services. The agency anticipates drawing in an addition $200 million via the new fare structure, which will be formally announced at a board meeting on Wednesday. But that still leaves it facing a $700-million gap in its operating budget. This money has to come from somewhere else because to cover this gap through farebox revenue would require increases of nearly 33 to 50 percent. Those figures would start riots in New York.
This fare hike news boils down to one: Our elected officials should be funding public transit and making good on promises they made just six or eight months ago. But on Tuesday, they will once again get a free pass. New Yorkers are sure to pile on the MTA for its supposedly poor bookkeeping and its fare-hike deception, but the MTA is just a victim of a bad economy. Those running the agency aren’t happy to see fuel costs skyrocket, and they aren’t happy to see their budget deficit projections increase fourfold.
But the real blame lies in Albany as our elected officials — chosen by us but seemingly responsible to no one — yet again starve a public transit system vital to the economic health of both the New York Metropolitan Area and the entire state. Don’t forget those representatives when the fare hike comes along next summer. Don’t forget them each time you swipe your MetroCard, and don’t forget them ever time more money is deducted from your wallet. The blame for this fare hike news lies squarely on their shoulders.
Blue MetroCard image courtesy of flickr user Runs With Scissors.