In order to keep up with inflation and to compensate for the fact that subway and bus fares, in adjusted dollars, are lower today than they were 18 years ago, the MTA has put forward a plan for fare increases every other year for the foreseeable future. The original plan involved increases designed to raise revenue by 7.5 percent each time, but last November, the MTA lowered the 2015 and 2017 hikes to around four percent each. It was a risky move, relying heavily on the concept of net-zero labor spending increases, and one I thought the MTA made too hastily. Left unanswered, until now, is the big question: What happens if net-zeroes are unattainable?
In comments last week, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast put forward a clear answer. Without net-zeroes, fare increases could balloon to 12 percent, far higher than originally anticipated and nearly three times as much as the hike promised last November. The Daily News had more:
Feeling pressure from its many unions, the MTA raised the possibility of a $2.75 subway ride and a $125 monthly unlimited MetroCard come 2015. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Tom Prendergast warned at a hearing in Albany Thursday that the authority’s labor problems could result in riders getting socked with a 12% fare hike next year — triple the percentage increase the authority already has in store.
Speaking at a joint legislative budget hearing — and delaying returning home following the death of his father to do so — Prendergast predicted “dire consequences” if a settlement to the MTA’s labor woes resulted in all of its workers getting raises along the lines of those that an independent mediator recently suggested be paid to Long Island Railroad employees…
The only other option Prendergast mentioned in that case would be for the MTA to slash $6.5 billion from its capital construction and maintenance program. That would translate into a loss of about one-quarter of the funding now planned for purchasing new buses and trains, replacing rails, fixing signals and overhauling stations. And even with those cuts, a fare hike of 5.25% would be needed in 2015. “This would be a terrible choice for our riders and our region,” he said of the alternative.
The 12 percent increase is a worst-case scenario, and there is an element of, as union officials noted, pitting riders against employees here. But the union has never been on the riders’ side; it’s always been on its own side, for better or worse. Furthermore, Prendergast has ever reason to put forward the most dramatic number possible in an effort to draw sympathy and negotiate through the press. After years without any contract and bitter back-and-forths between management and labor, what does he have to lose?
We shouldn’t be surprised either about the power struggle. The MTA has seen its economic forecast improve with the increase in tax revenues a healthier economy has produced, and surpluses always generate power struggles. Should the union get the money? Should the riders through the form of deferred fare hikes and better service? Ultimately, the MTA and the riding public will need the union to agree to work rule reform and other concessions if they want higher salaries, and somehow, riders shouldn’t be the ones bilked out of dollars by this fight.