Archive for Fare Hikes

A $3 base fare for subway and bus rides are among the fare hike options the MTA is currently debating.

On its own, a fare hike doesn’t portend a looming transit death spiral. In fact, regular and predictable fare hikes for, say, a subway ride designed to ensure that revenues remain fairly consistent with inflation and other costs over the long term can be a sign of a robust and well-managed transit system working to compete with other modes of transit. But when a fare hike is coupled by service cuts amidst a prolonged period with an overall decline in ridership and revenue, the transit death spiral canary starts chirping a bit louder in that coal mine. Last week, the canary showed up at the MTA Board’s budget meeting as the board books showed a continued decline in ridership, the budget forecast called for service cuts, and the MTA started debating the structure of next year’s fare hike. It certainly seems like New York City’s transit system sits on the edge of a death spiral.

The transit death spiral is a particularly prickly beast to pin down. A few months ago, Aaron Gordon wrote about it in his newsletter, and I’d like to reframe Aaron’s model slightly. The death spiral encapsulates a budget cycle in which a transit agency recognizes a revenue shortfall due to lower-than-project ridership, raises fares and cuts service to compensate, and thus further dampens ridership, leading to additional shortfalls. As the cycle repeats, the spiral becomes inescapable until a massive bailout or death. When the topic arose over the summer, Cap’n Transit wrote a rebuttal to Gordon’s piece, and in the intervening few months, the spiral seems to have worsened.

The current cycle will come to a head soon when the MTA Board reconvenes to approve a 2019 fare hike. On its own, the 2019 fare hike isn’t a surprise as the MTA instituted biennial fare hikes beginning in 2011, but with service reliability on the decline, riders seem particularly up in arms over next year’s planned hike. You can see the proposals in the chart atop this page, and I’m agnostic as to which one the MTA should choose. With the introduction of subsidized Metrocards for low-income New Yorkers on the horizon, eliminating the pay-per-ride discount and keeping the increase on unlimited passes at a minimum is probably my preferred outcome, but that choice is akin to just shuffling deck chairs. In a handful of months, we’ll be paying more.

You can view the fare and toll hike proposals in this pdf, but the details of the hike aren’t the big story. Rather, the big story is the MTA’s worsening financial picture. That story unfolds in this pdf, and it’s a dire one. In the span of two years, since the July 2017 financial plan, the MTA’s long-term outlook has worsened by over $800 million. According to MTA documents, the biggest drivers are declining ridership ($485 million), paratransit costs ($321 million), workers compensation payments ($125 million) and overtime ($100 million). The MTA has relied on a series of one-shot budget moves to stave off deficits, but these one-shots are drying up. As Robert Foran, MTA CFO said last week, absent healthcare and pension reform, the MTA is out of cost-savings measures, and no politicians have desired to leap into that fraught battle. (In fact, Gov. Cuomo did just the opposite when the MTA labor contracts were up recently.)

So the options are fare hikes and service cuts, the two best ways the MTA has of controlling revenues and expenses. With fare hikes scheduled for 2019, service cuts loom for 2020 – the first cuts since the crippling scalebacks in 2010. The MTA, of course, hasn’t said exactly what the service cuts will be, but it sounds as though the agency could change “service guidelines” to allow for more crowded trains and less frequent service. The total cuts to the subway will equal around $10 million – which is modest and projects to a few fewer trains per hour during certain times of the day on some, but not all, lines – and $31 million for buses which will devastate the bus network. Perhaps then the buses, with extremely steep ridership declines, are closer to that death spiral than the subways.

Service cuts by themselves won’t close the MTA’s budget gaps and will harm the long-term health of the transit network by driving down ridership.

Still, service cuts are a last-gasp approach. As Foran detailed at last week’s meeting, the MTA prefers to seek out a separate revenue streams to avoid service cuts while closing its budget deficit, and I think back again to the piece I wrote on the fight for congestion pricing revenue. The money may have to go to shoring up the MTA operations budget before it can go to the capital plan (or Andy Byford’s Fast Forward fund) as everyone is laying claim to a magical cure-all that won’t be.

If that doesn’t further complicate the picture, Aaron Gordon in his newsletter last week noted yet another issue the MTA budget projections: Their out-year projections do not account for planned or potential work that could further stifle ridership and revenues. I quote from last week’s edition:

The L shutdown, for example, begins next year. The MTA predicts the vast majority of trips will still take place within its ecosystem, but it’s easy to imagine ridership falling due to discretionary trips not being taken or a higher-than-projected rate of folks opting for rideshare or bicycling instead. Indeed, the MTA now predicts a 1.1 percent decrease in ridership in 2019, following a 2.8 percent decline this year. This is a major revision from the July plan, where they predicted ridership *increases* in 2019 and 2020 despite acknowledging the L shutdown. Their logic: the economy is good.

These explanations are more confusing than insightful. Pegging ridership trends to future employment projections may be accepted practice but it’s been demonstrably unreliable in recent years due to fundamental changes in how we work, shop, and travel…But there’s an even bigger red flag in their ridership projections. If the MTA does get funding to move ahead with the Byford Plan, entire trunk lines in Manhattan as well as major branches in Queens and Brooklyn will be shut down on nights/weekends for months if not years on end. In other words, the most extreme planned work shutdowns in the city’s history will occur in the next decade if Andy Byford gets his money. Ridership will almost certainly suffer.

That’s not an argument against doing the work, but merely a consideration therein, especially when projecting budgets. But, as of now, the MTA is predicting flat ridership for 2020-2022. Of course, the MTA cannot budget for a plan that has yet to be funded, but they don’t even flag this as a potential risk. This is emblematic of the agency’s tendency to get caught flat-footed by predictable ridership trends.

In other words, the plan to repair the system will, by necessity, lead to temporarily lower ridership, and the MTA isn’t accounting for it now. Their budgets for outyears aren’t conservative enough, and we’ll have to go through this process sooner than the MTA currently anticipates. You see where this is going? That’s also part of that death spiral.

Meanwhile, the MTA itself is struggling to figure out why service is declining. This came up first over the summer during the presentation of the July financial plan when the MTA failed to distinguish between the cause and the effect of the ridership decline. Ridership is declining because off-peak and weekend service isn’t reliable, and with easy and cheap alternatives such as for-hire vehicle apps, those who take discretionary subway trips are opting for more reliable means of travel. Last week, the MTA bigwigs tried to blame fare evasion as the leading cause of ridership declines without offering any evidence whatsoever, and it seems like the gatekeepers don’t know what ails the transit network. Between the lack of foresight in budget planing and the lack of understanding of the ridership decline, it’s hard to say if the current MTA Board and management can work its way out of this mess before the spiral leads to death or at least temporary paralysis cured only by a steep infusion of cash.

I am ultimately not particularly optimistic as we sit here a few days after Joe Lhota’s departure and a few months before fare hikes and the L train shutdown start to tax the system. It’s not clear what the future holds for Fast Forward, and it’s not clear where these downward trends lead. Enough people are watching that I hope we can escape the spiral before it gets worse, but like I said, that canary just won’t stop chirping.

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The new fares  shown in the table here go into effect on March 19, 2017.

The new fares shown in the table here go into effect on March 19, 2017.

At the last board meeting of his almost four-year tenure atop the MTA, outgoing Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast had the unfortunate opportunity to oversee yet another vote to approve a fare hike. For Prendergast, this was the agency’s second fare increase during his tenure, and he missed a third by a matter of days as Joe Lhota resigned from the MTA nearly moments after voting for the 2013 fare hike. These increases have become a way of life for New York, part of the MTA’s fiscally responsible plan to catch up with inflation by raising rates every two years, but this economic reality doesn’t make them any easier to swallow.

For the MTA, last week’s fare hike vote came wrapped in intrigue. The MTA had proposed a $3 base fare with a substantial 16 percent bonus for pay-per-ride card purchases above $6 which effectively made the fare $2.59. But the public could not stomach a $3 per-swipe deduction, and the agency ultimately approved a deal worse for all but ocassional riders and those who cannot afford to buy fares in bulk. The per-swipe cost will still be $2.75, but the bulk discount bonus will drop to 5 percent for purchases of $5.50 and above. The actual cost of a ride, then, will be $2.62 or three cents more than it would have under the $3 proposal. It is perhaps a psychological victory for riders but not exactly an economic win.

For those who pay time-based passes, the increases were a fait accompli as both fare hike proposals included the same increases for unlimited ride cards. A 30-day card will now cost $121, up $4.50 for its current rate, and 7-day cards will see a $1 bump to $32. For those who ride at least 47 times a month and can afford an initial $121 outlay, the 30-day card is the best deal while the 7-day card requires 13 rides. Express bus fares jumped 50 cents, and Metro-North and LIRR riders will see increases of around four percent, all of which are tracked in this pdf.

The new fares will go into effect on March 19, and I’ll have any details on grace periods for 30-day cards and other sunsetting windows as the MTA announces them. The agency, meanwhile, tried to spin this with good news as this year’s biennial increase is a lower-than-expected hike. “The MTA is focused on keeping our fares affordable for low-income riders and frequent riders, and on how we can keep necessary scheduled increases as small and as predictable as possible,” Prendergast said in a statement. “Keeping fares and tolls down was possible because of the continued operational efficiencies and ways we have reduced costs while adding service and capacity along our busiest corridors, most recently with the opening of the new Second Avenue subway.”

Yet, what was notable about the debate of the fare hike wasn’t really around the details of the MTA’s fifth fare hike since 2009 but rather what it didn’t include: any relief for low-income riders. For months, a coalition of activist groups has been pushing the city, state and MTA on implementing a subsidized fare program for low-income riders who are challenged to find the money for transit fares. Depending upon the income cut-off, such a program would likely cost around $174 million per year, in line with the total amount the MTA spends on subsidized student fares. Groups have targeted both the mayor and the governor, but in the grand tradition of the de Blasio-Cuomo feud, the mayor has pointed to the governor as responsible for transit funding decisions and the governor has done nothing. It’s possible to make a case that either the city or state should fund this initiative, and I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. But right now, no one is funding this fair fare proposal.

And so our rides will get a little bit more expensive in March. It’s becoming the cost of doing business in an era without congestion pricing or cost controls.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Take a gander at the two options the MTA is considering for its upcoming biennial fare hike:

farehike2017

I’ll have a full rundown of the options later. The short of it is that new fares go into effect on March 19, 2017, and the MTA Board will vote on one of the two proposals following eight public meetings that will be held throughout December. If the past is prologue, the MTA will go with Plan B — a jump in the base fare but a substantial pay-per-ride discount. Either way, those 30-day unlimited ride cards will soon cost $121, nearly double what they cost in 1998 when they were first introduced.

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New York City’s transit fares are on the rise again next year. In what was nothing more than a formality, the MTA this week confirmed that the agency’s policy of small biennial fare hikes will continue at least through 2019 and that the fares will rise in March of 2017 by an amount designed to increase fare revenue by around 4 percent. Riders aren’t happy, but if the MTA can offer a carrot to this ugly stick of increased transit costs, it’s a pill New Yorkers will resignedly swallow.

For a very long time, the MTA used to eschew fare hikes as a policy. Whether by order of those controlling the politics and purse strings in Albany or whether due to financial mismanagement, the agency would, as Chairman Tom Prendergast said on Wednesday, “stretch out” the period between fare hikes as much as they can. This led to perennially strained budgets and complicated negotiations with politicians. As the fares are the MTA’s only way to guarantee certain revenue, it wasn’t ideal, and the recent policy, enacted in the midst of a financial crisis, seems better than most, at least in a vacuum.

The problem with constant fare hikes is how it exposes the tension between what the MTA is and what people want it to be. Setting aside legitimate gripes about the declining quality of service, what do we want and need the MTA to be? Is it a vital government service that ensures mobility for New Yorkers across neighborhoods and income levels while saving our city, to the extent it can, from Los Angeles-level gridlock? Or is it an entity that’s supposed to cover (most of) its costs through fare revenue? Is it capitalism, socialism or some mix of both? I can’t given you a definitive answer; those are questions worthy of book-length explorations. But right now, it’s a mix of both, and the price we pay for rides keeps increasing.

So next year — and again in 2019 and probably again in 2021, 2023 and every two years until the Atlantic Ocean swallows our subway system — the fares will go up, and we’ll grin and bear it because even at $120 per month, a 30-day MetroCard will be a far better deal than driving everywhere. But something has to give. If the MTA is going to continue to raise fares, the agency also has to offer something in return for these fares hikes. Lately, the focus has been on a plan for reduced-fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and this movement will gain steam as another fare hike arrives. Under this plan, the city would subsidize rides, and the introduction of a new fare scheme would allow for a seamless transition to this arrangement if the city and state-run MTA can come to the table. The timing is right, but the politics of cooperation between the de Blasio Administration and Gov. Cuomo’s MTA may not be.

The other something to offer should be in the form of better service. During comments on the new financial plan earlier this week, Prendergast acknowledged that the MTA has to improve service faster, but speaking at a meeting and doing something are two vastly different things. The MTA is hamstrung by work rules that require significant lead time for workers to pick new shifts; thus, the MTA can’t add service tomorrow without planning for it six months ago. But if a fare hike is scheduled for eight months from now, the agency can certainly prepare to offer better service then. The questions are whether the agency has the capacity to deliver more frequent and more reliable subway service, and as a core competency, it’s not quite clear the MTA can do much better than it has been lately. That’s not a comforting thought, and ridership has flatlined as a result of it.

So where do we go from here? The fares are going to go up before the winter of 2016-2017 ends, and some service improvements or other relief should come with the hike. New Yorkers don’t like fare increases, and they certainly don’t like being told to pay more for what many few as sub-par service. To overcome the perception that the fare hike is simply a money-grab will require improved service of one form or another, and that right now is a big ask.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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I heard New York, but New York doesn't heart fare hikes. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

I heard New York, but New York doesn’t heart fare hikes. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

On Sunday, March 22, at 12:01 a.m., for the fifth time since 2008, the MTA is raising fares. On the one hand, the agency is attempting to overcome years of institutional deflation following the introduction of the unlimited ride cards that left today’s average fare lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was in 1996. On the other hand, New Yorkers are facing fare hike fatigue, and it’s unlikely to stop until Albany steps in as the MTA has budgeted for biennial hikes to align roughly with inflation for the foreseeable future. In advance, I’ve answered some frequently asked questions. Let’s dive in.

So what’s the new fare anyway?

It’s complicated. (It always is.) For the second hike in a row, the per-swipe cost is going up. One swipe will now deduct $2.75 from your MetroCard, and there’s an 11% bonus on all purchases above $5.50. The cost per ride for pay-per-ride cards then comes out to $2.48.

I’m not very good at math. What’s 11% of $2.75 and how do I find even amounts?

Have no fear; the MTA’s MetroCard Calculator is here. The key number to remember is $22.30. That’ll get you an even number of rides with the bonus and without any leftover amount. I’m sure we’ll see countless articles about this on various aggregator websites. It’s not that exciting.

How about the unlimiteds?

The 7-day card will cost $31, up a buck, and the 30-day card will jump to $116.50, up $4.50. For those who buy 7-day cards, the breakeven point is 13 rides per week, and for 30-day cards, the breakeven point is 48. If you ride 13 times or more in 7 days or 48 times or more in 30 days, you should be spending on unlimited cards and not pay-per-rides cards. Those totals are down considerably from where they were a few years ago.

Can I stockpile MetroCards?

While I remember stockpiling tokens as a kid with my parents in advance of each fare hike, the MTA no longer allows New Yorkers to hoard underpriced MetroCards. You can spend as much as you want now on pay-per-ride cards, and that money won’t expire. But if you buy a card on Saturday, you must activate it by March 29 to get full value, and you must begin using seven-day cards by April 4 and 30-day cards by April 27 to get any value.

Unused cards can be sent back to the MTA for a refund of the purchase price. Cards that you use in between that grace period gap will shut off at the end of the time period, and you can mail them back to the MTA for a pro-rated refund. For 7-day cards, that’s $4.29 per unused day, and for 30-day cards, that’s $3.73 per day. The refunds generally take around three weeks to process. (For example, if you activate a 30-day card on March 31, it will work until April 27. You can then mail it back for a refund of $7.46.)

I can’t believe there’s another fare hike. What can I do to stop it?

Complain to your legislators; write to Governor Cuomo. Ultimately, the politicians are in charge of transit policy and funding, and if they’re not going to step in, they deserve to hear all about it.

With that, let’s get to the good stuff. After the jump, weekend service charges for 13 subway lines. Read More→

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We love New York, but New Yorkers don’t love fare hikes. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

The MetroCard, still at least five years away from retirement, will live through at least three more fare hikes, if the MTA sticks with its current schedule, and the first of the three is officially set for March 22nd. At its meeting on Thursday, the MTA Board voted to approve a modest fare hike that will bump fare revenue — and most fares — by approximately four percent, and although some New Yorkers grumbled about the higher transit costs, most advocates focused their post-hike comments on the MTA’s gaping capital budget hole.

The details didn’t come as much of a surprise as the MTA opted to raise the base fare for the second hike a row while maintaining a pay-per-ride discount. The unlimited ride cards went up only a small amount while tolls and commuter rail fares saw similar increases. Beginning March 22, a swipe will deduct $2.75 from a MetroCard while the pay-per-ride bonus will jump from 5% to 11% on purchases above $5.50. Effectively, then, the per-swipe cost will be $2.48, up just ten cents from $2.38. The optics are bad, but the fare hike is modest.

For those of us who use the bulk/unlimited-ride options, this year’s hikes are smaller than recent jumps. The 30-day card jumps from $112 to $116.50 while the 7-day option hops up a dollar from $30 to $31. The four percent hike for the 30-day card is significantly smaller than recent fare increases, but it’s hard to ignore how the cost for a 30-day ride has gone from $70 at the star to of 2005 to $116.50 ten years later. Even in a shorter time frame, the jump is significant as a 30-day card cost $89 as recently as December of 2010. The $1 surcharge on all new MetroCard purchases remains.

“The MTA has been able to limit these fare and toll increases to the equivalent of 2% a year thanks to our continued aggressive cost-cutting, while still adding service and improving service quality for our growing number of customers,” MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said after the vote. “Our Financial Plan assumes modest biennial fare and toll increases, and the Board has chosen options with lower increases for our most frequent customers.”

In a way, New Yorkers have come to accept these fare hikes. Some people were grumbling about higher fares without a corresponding increase in service, and the MTA has seemingly settled into a pattern of offering service that’s good enough. Generally, the subway works well, and although it’s very crowded, with nine individuals days in December witnessing over 6 million riders, we’ll deal with crowds and delays. Improvements are just out of reach, and that remains a big concern.

As many MTA Board members pointed out during the meeting and as many transit advocates noted following the vote, if the $15.2 billion capital budget gap isn’t filled, we could be in for much steeper fare hikes in 2017 and 2019. “Today the MTA Board voted to raise fares on more than eight million subway, bus and commuter rail riders. But the real scandal may be yet to come. If Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature don’t decide on new revenue sources to fund the MTA’s five-year capital plan, larger fare increases are lurking around the corner,” John Raskin of the Riders Alliance said. “Paying for public transit with fare hikes is a regressive way to fund a public service that the entire region relies on. We urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to act quickly to fund the next MTA Capital Plan, instead of passing on the cost to overburdened riders.”

Cuomo, of course, is too busy plotting an airtrain to address real funding concerns, and few people are paying attention to the way in which the fare structure seems to favor those with money who afford the $116.50 outlay. WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman analyzed the socioeconomic breakdown of the MTA’s fare structure, and it’s something I’ll revisit in a future post. Needless to say, although the MTA is on sounder economic footing today than they were five years ago, the agency is on the precipice of steep fare hikes that will make this year’s seem negligible if the capital gap is not closed. That would be bad news for New Yorkers.

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After years of constant fare hikes, the straphanging public in New York seems immune to the looming increase set to descend upon the city in a few weeks. Instead of anger and protests, mass resignations rule the day, and the fare hike hearings last month were pro forma gatherings for the same old nothing. Still, the MTA has a decision to make, and according to reports, the agency may be leaning toward raising the base fare again while maintaining a pay-per-ride bonus.

The latest word comes from Rebecca Harshbarger of The Post. She reports that MTA Board members would prefer to maintain the incentive discount — a good idea if only for the psychology of it — while upping the base fare again by a quarter. In either fare hike scenario, the seven- and 30-day unlimited cards will increase to $31 and $116 respectively.

Harshbarger writes:

MTA officials are backing the hiking of the MetroCard’s base fare and increasing the bonuses on pay-per-ride cards in March– rather than keeping the fare the same and ditching the bonuses, the Post has learned. The MTA board will vote on fare and toll increase proposals next Thursday, but its members are overwhelmingly leaning towards raising the MetroCard from $2.50 to $2.75, sources said. To ease the pain, the hike will be accompanied with a 11 percent bonus if riders put $5.50 or more on their cards — an increase from the current 5 percent they would get.

The other proposal that had been under consideration was keeping the base fare the same, but eliminating the bonuses. Cards with bonuses are more popular among subway riders than single-ride tickets, which are used for less than 1 percent of trips and typically in stops with a lot of tourists…

“Only way we’ll know how the board votes is to attend next week’s board meeting,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

When I put the proposals to a vote in November, what is reportedly the MTA Board’s preferred option lost by around six percentage points. Still, I think this is the right way to go. It hurts to see the base fare increased for the second consecutive fare hike, but the pay-per-ride bonus is an important drive for transit ridership. It incentivizes bulk purchase which, in turn, incentivize more riders to use the system. Anyway, we’ll know for sure next week. Stay tuned.

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After an election and weeks of waiting, the inevitable became reality as the MTA announced its fare hike proposals for the looming 2015 rate increase. Taking pains to stress the latest jump — the fourth hike in seven years — is a “limited” one, the agency noted that it amounts to only around two percent a year. On the one hand, that’s good news, but on the other, that means a fare hike in 2017. But we knew that already.

“The MTA is keeping its promise to ensure fare and toll increases are as low as possible, and these options are designed to minimize their impact on our customers,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “We have cut more than $1 billion from our ongoing expenses, but a modest fare and toll increase is necessary to balance our budget against the increased costs of providing the bus, subway, railroad and paratransit service that is the backbone of the region’s mobility and economic growth.”

It’s still up for debate whether the smaller hike was a good idea, and the details are as we heard last week. Take a look at the table below. The full proposals for the express buses, commuter railroads and bridges & tunnels can be found here.

Proposal Base Fare Bonus 7-Day Card 30-Day Card
1 $2.75 11% with $5.50 purchase $31 $116.50
2 $2.50 None $31 $116.50

Yet again, the MTA is giving the public a choice, and the agency heads will hear from those members of the public who choose to voice their views during public hearings from Dec. 1-Dec. 11. Based on the pressure from rider advocacy groups who have identified the pay-per-ride discount as a key incentive for less well-off riders, already forces are lining up behind Proposal 1, but that would mean the second straight fare hike with an increase in the base fare. The MTA notes that under Proposal 1, the average swipe would be $2.48 while under Proposal 2, the average would be a straight $2.50. Even with the small difference, it’s hard to ignore the psychological affect of the discount.

For me, a regular user of the 30-day monthly, the fare hike is an inconvenience. I’ll have to pony up $54 per year more for my rides one way or another. I don’t have a strong preference, but do you? Let’s open it up with a poll.

Which fare hike proposal would you prefer?
View Results
Categories : Fare Hikes
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The fares to fill up a MetroCard, such as this one celebrating the MTA's new $1.4 billion Fulton St. Transit Center, will soon increase. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The fares to fill up a MetroCard, such as this one celebrating the MTA’s new $1.4 billion Fulton St. Transit Center, will soon increase. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The MTA has, for better or worse, made a biennial habit out of fare hikes. As part of a master plan hatched a bunch of years ago, the MTA committed to raising the fares every two years in an effort to maintain steady revenue streams. Although the current fare hikes outpace inflation, the MTA is also working to overcome a significant fare decrease from the late 1990s brought about by the introduction of pay-per-ride discounts and unlimited MetroCards. On average, we pay less per ride today than we did in 1996.

The riding public — the folks that don’t pay much attention to the ins and outs of transit policies, politics and economics — will be caught off guard by the 2015 fare hike. Due to pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo who was trying to avoid any whiff of bad news in the lead-up to last week’s Election Day, the MTA has remained tight-lipped about the fact the fare hike is happening or any details regarding the proposals. Now that the Governor has assured himself of another four years of whatever he’s doing, the unofficial MTA news embargo can finally be lifted, and we can talk about good news such as higher subway fares for all!

Now, gone are the days that politicians lived and died by the nickel fare, but the fare hike process lends itself to a special set of outrage. The MTA is legally obligated to go through a public hearing process, and it’s largely a charade. People will express outrage over higher fares while probably bringing up two sets of books over and over again while politicians bemoan the system they refuse to support. The MTA raises the fares anyway, usually based upon plans drawn up months before.

So as we gear up for the hearings, what does the future hold? Pete Donohue, tell the audience what they’ve won:

The MTA has drafted two possible fare-hike schemes for bus and subway riders — one that keeps the $2.50 base fare stable and another that raises it by a quarter. But both models would increase the monthly MetroCard by $4.50. The two scenarios were fashioned in advance of public hearings that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will hold next month. The MTA board may not vote on a final package until January, but the increases would still go into effect as scheduled in March.

According to sources, the two fare-hike options are:

Option One: The base fare would remain at $2.50, but the 5% bonus would get trimmed. The 7-Day MetroCard goes up a buck, to $31, while the 30-Day MetroCard rises $4.50, to $116.50.

Option Two: The base fare is boosted by 25 cents, to $2.75, and the bonus increases from 5% to 11%. The 7-Day and 30-Day MetroCards are the same as in option one: $31 for the 7-Day card and $116.50 for the 30-Day pass.

Metro-North and the LIRR will be raising fares took, and Andrew Tangel of The Wall Street Journal reports that MTA Bridge & Tunnel tolls for trucks could increase by as much as 12 percent.

It’s hard to get too worked up one way or another over this proposal. The MTA had previously committed to a smaller-than-planned fare hike this year and stuck with it despite a huge capital funding gap and higher-than-anticipated labor expenditures. The fare hike is again whittling away at the pay-per-ride bonus, and to that end, I think a higher base fare with a more generous bonus is better. But higher base fares always affect those who can least afford it. Either way, I’ll be paying $116.50 (before tax, of course) for my 30-day card soon enough.

Which brings me to another point: As the federal government can’t do anything these days, pre-tax transit benefits are currently capped at $130 per month and seem to be stuck there. In the not-too-distant future, the MTA is going to hit that ceiling for 30-day cards, and then we’ll see what happens in Washington. For now, we’re facing another modest fare hike and one the city will have to resignedly accept.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Once upon a New York minute, just the threat of a subway fare hike was enough to sink candidates and raise voter ire. In fact, one of the reasons the MTA has had to dig out from decades of deferred maintenance — and one of the reasons why the MTA was created in the first place — was due to the five-cent fare. Until the system nearly broke down, politicians simply could not raise transit fares in New York City without seriously jeopardizing their reelection changes.

With the MTA firmly entrenched in Albany, now, one could be forgiven for hoping that the days of playing politics with MTA fare hikes are a relic of the past. One might also hope to hear from the distant rich relative or receive a lifetime supply of 30-day unlimited ride MetroCards. Politics and the MTA are alive and well.

Recently, I’ve spent some time examining Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s relationship with the MTA. When convenient for him, he uses the agency for positive press; when inconvenient, he runs away or actively works to hold off the bad news. The looming 2015 fare hikes are no exception.

As part of the MTA rescue plan a few years back, the agency committed to biennial fare hikes. Although these raises seem to outpace inflation, the MTA is still playing catch-up from the introduction of the unlimited ride MetroCard nearly twenty years ago, and the inflation-adjusted average fare is still less today than it was in 1996. The fare hikes are a sure way for the MTA to guarantee revenue and a way to level the fare with long-term inflation. We had a fare hike in 2013, and we know we’re having one in 2015. The increase in revenue may have dropped from a projected eight percent to around four percent, but the fare hike is coming one way or another.

In the past, the MTA has unveiled fare hike information in early October in order to prepare the public for hearings and brief the Board on the fiscal plan. This year, the MTA has engaged in near-radio silence regarding the fare hikes. In fact, during last week’s MTA Board meetings, agency head Tom Prendergast danced around the issue. He again confirmed the hikes were happening and promised information within a few weeks. Otherwise, though, he was tight-lipped on the numbers or proposals for revenue increases.

“For me to go any further than that is inappropriate because there haven’t been discussions. We have to follow the process and ultimately this has to follow a process where there’s an interchange with the public,” Prendergast said when pressed on the issue.

So why the delayed timeline and the lack of details or even a leak? I’ve been told by a few people in the know that Governor Cuomo has put the kibosh on fare hike talk until after Tuesday’s vote. He’s not in danger of losing to Rob Astorino, and the existence of the 2015 fare hike is public knowledge. But Cuomo doesn’t want the press to focus on numbers and increased costs at or around Election Day. He wants to run up the score on his opponents and then have this news come out. (This may as well be why the MTA Reinvention Commission hasn’t turned in a report yet, but I haven’t been able to confirm or refute that suspicion one way or another.)

And so we get another round of MTA politics. No one is discussing fare policy before Election Day. No one is discussing the capital plan, and no one is talking about ways to reform the MTA. It’s just the way Gov. Cuomo wants it.

Categories : Fare Hikes, MTA Politics
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