Archive for Fare Hikes
It wasn’t a big surprise when the MTA last week revealed a budget that relies on biennial fare hikes for the foreseeable future. Richard Ravitch put forth a plan in 2009 to rescue the MTA’s budget that would have spread the fiscal pain around equitably, and in it, he called for fare hikes every two years that aligned with inflation. The MTA is simply following through on their end of the bargain, but how long will the public be accepting of such hikes?
By the time mid-2017 rolls around, when the 7 line extension reaches the Far West Side and Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is in revenue service, New Yorkers will have lived through two more fare hikes. The MTA anticipates that each hike will be around 7.5 percent and will generate, by 2017, nearly $1 billion in added revenue. The MTA needs this money because rising paratransit costs and health and pension obligations along with a never-ending stream of debt service payments will continue to tax their budget. When the new subway lines are ready for passengers, operating costs will go up as well. It’s an expensive, vicious cycle.
I’ve been wondering for the last few days how long New Yorkers will stomach these fare hikes. Already, subway riders complain about everything, and many of their complaints are with merit. Sometimes, we’re paying more for less, and usually, we’re paying more for the same. As complaints continue and fares go up, ridership increases as well. May, for instance, witnessed one of the most popular month’s in New York City subway history. At some point, though, the grumbling will grow louder, and New Yorkers may be able to make enough noise to get politicians to do something about the constant increases. That day hasn’t yet come.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed the ever-rising fares. In their Sunday editorial, the Daily News cast a wary eye on the MTA’s fiscal future. The planned fare hikes, they noted, far exceed the measure set forth in the Ravitch plan, and it’s time for something — whatever that may be — to be done.
Since 2008, the cost of a 30-day MetroCard has risen from $81 to $112. This represented a 38% leap at a time when inflation ran at 8%. Had fares tracked inflation, the 30-day card would cost $88…[Under the Ravitch plan], assuming the state fulfilled its obligation to provide adequate funding, riders would suffer hikes every two years. But how much would those increases be?
Here’s exactly what the Ravitch report stated: “The Commission’s view is that the MTA Board, as part of its normal, public budget making process should be empowered to increase fares and tolls no greater than the change in the Regional Consumer Price Index and no more frequently than bi-annually.”
…Since then, the MTA has kept to the every-other-year schedule and plans to do so again in 2015 and 2017. But each time it has factored in hikes of 3.75% a year, almost double the inflation rate. Asked why and how the MTA set the raises at 3.75% annually, or 7.5% for two years, the agency’s spokesman replied, in effect, that no one had any idea. MTA Chairman Tom Predergast must change the basic assumption as to how much the riders will be asked to pay. He needs to abide by the bargain struck with the MTA’s financial rescue five years ago. The riders will do their part by ponying up for inflation — and no more.
On the one hand, the News raises a very good point about the Faustian bargain Ravitch had proposed. The fare hikes were supposed to be tied to the rate of the inflation, and that would have been a rather livable solution for many New Yorkers. But on the other hand, the editorial relies on a few assumptions — one that didn’t come true and one that’s highly problematic. The first is that the state did not fulfill its obligations. It torpedoed a congestion pricing plan that would have helped alleviate the fare hikes, and the state hasn’t developed a new significant source of regular and reliable transit funding.
More fundamentally, though, concerns the question of who should pay and for what. The MTA can raise revenue without state action only through fare hikes, and there is a very valid argument to be made that riders should be expected to pay for the service they need and want. Thus, if the MTA’s costs and budget demand more revenue, higher fares — to the tune of a 7.5 percent fare hike every other year — are the way to go. The problem here concerns costs. The fare hikes aren’t paying for more service for riders; rather, the money from the hikes is going to uncontrollable pension costs for former employees no longer working. Whether that’s fair for everyone is a question I’m in no position to answer right now.
So the fares will go up, and they will go up far more than we’d like. Until New Yorkers get so fed up with cost increases that they appeal to their representatives to do something, we’ll be left with 7.5 percent fare hikes every other year. The subways and buses aren’t getting cheaper, and the people who ride will be the ones footing more and more of the bill, for better or for worse.
The MTA unveiled a revised draf of its four-year financial plan on Wednesday, and while budgets are not particularly sexy, fare hikes are. This plan is chock full of fare hikes as the MTA’s fragile financial outlook relies on fare hikes every two years for the duration of the plan. Just how long, I have to wonder, will New York’s transit riders begrudgingly accept these fare hikes before it becomes a major political issue?
In plans released yesterday, the MTA still projects some deficits through 2017, but as February’s numbers showed alarming negative balance sheets, the July numbers are significant better. By 2017, the MTA expects to face a deficit of just $100 million — down from over $300 million — but these projections are based on a series of assumptions that may not come true. Riders are going to shoulder a significant amount of costs as fares continue to increase, and anything that rocks the MTA’s financial boat could be disastrous for the agency.
For the public, the fare hikes are the bad news, and they rightly dominate the media coverage. After fits and starts of raising the fares only when the budget looked dire, the MTA has instituted a policy of biennial fare hikes ideally tied to inflation. After a fare increase in 2011, the MTA jumped their prices by around 7.5 percent this year and plan to do the same in 2015 and 2017. Both hikes will be for around 7.5 percent as well, and without these fare increases, the MTA’s financial outlook is a negative one indeed.
If all goes according to plan, then, the MTA’s looming price increases will generate significant revenue for an agency looking at out-year projections that are very, very red. In 2015, the next fare bump will bring in over $400 million, and when the cost of a subway ride jumps up again in 2017, the total generated from the next two fare hikes will be a hair under $1 billion annually. Without the fare increases, the MTA’s deficit would be insurmountable. As such, the city’s riders — all 5.6 million of us daily — are the only thing keeping the subway system afloat.
Outside of these fare hikes, though, nearly all of the other assumptions are not sure things. The only sure thing is a concerted effort to cut internal costs. The MTA anticipates that, by 2017, it will have eliminated $1.3 billion in annual recurring costs, thus achieving internal cost-cutting projections first put forward in 2009. That’s a laudable goal for an agency that has long operated with much bloat, but more could be cut if operations were further streamlined.
Beyond these measures, though, the MTA is expecting a net-zero increase in labor costs over the next four years. While the MTA has realized such savings over the past few years, the TWU’s contract situation remains unresolved, and a net-zero reality saves just $300 million annually by 2017. Meanwhile, pension and healthcare costs are expected to jump by nearly 10 percent over the next four years and are among the biggest uncontrollable costs currently on the MTA’s books.
Beyond fares and labor savings, the MTA is relying on dollars largely outside of their control. Operating costs will increase as the 7 line extension and then Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway open, and the agency’s insurance rates took a huge hit after Sandy. Agency officials said yesterday that the MTA is getting half its previous coverage for twice the cost. Meanwhile, revenue from dedicated and federal contributions remain subject to the push and pull of the New York and U.S. economies.
Finally, the so-called “longer term vulnerabilities” come into play. The MTA will launch a new capital program in 2015, and it will likely be funded through bond issues and more debt. Pension, healthcare and paratransit costs are spiking upwards as New Yorkers live longer with less mobility, and weather mitigation and protection efforts will put a strain on the budget. It’s a never-ending scenario of investments.
So what does this all mean, you may ask. After all, budget forces and pure numbers are the ultimate in transit wonkery. The final picture, though, is a simple one: New York’s transit riders are going to be asked to shoulder an ever-increasing portion of the costs. Absent direct state investment, the best way for the MTA to raise money and increase its revenue is through fare hikes, and ridership, which recently reached an all-time high, has shown no signs of abating. People need the subways, and the MTA needs money. So we’ll get fare hikes in 2015 and 2017 and likely in 2019 and 2021 too. Until New Yorkers start agitating louder for an end to fare hikes, they are, for better or worse, the only route to budget stability.
The cost of life in New York City will continue its inexorable march upward this weekend as the MTA raises transit fares and tolls this weekend. It’s the third time in the last four years that fares have gone up, and New Yorkers grumble about it each time. We’re paying more for the same service, and riding the subways has always been a bit of a grind. This won’t be the last fare hikes — the MTA has an increase on the books for 2015 — but this one introduces a few new concepts and bonus structures. Let’s dive in.
When do these new fares kick in?
That’s an easy one: The new fares for New York City Transit buses and subways commences at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, March 3. Revelers stumbling home late after a Saturday night out will be the first ones greeted with higher transit costs. Nine-to-fivers will suffer their own sticker shock when the Monday morning commute kicks in.
What are the new fares?
For the first time since 2009, the MTA is jacking up the base fare. A cost of a swipe for pay-per-ride users will now check in at $2.50. Those who purchase $5 or more on pay-per-ride cards will enjoy a small bonus of 5 percent, but all new cards — pay-per-ride and unlimited — purchased via MetroCard Vending Machines will carry a $1 surcharge.
The price on unlimited cards is going up a bit as well. The 30-day cards will cost $112, and the 7-day cards will now cost $30. A 7-day express bus card will set a rider back $55. These unlimited increases are smaller, percentage-wise, than they had been in the past, and that’s a win for daily straphangers who have been shouldering more of the burden during prior fare hikes.
What should I be stockpiling?
While hoarding tokens prior to a fare hike used to one of my parents’ pastimes, the MTA has largely limited that practice due to sunset dates and shorter grace periods. Cards purchased prior to the fare hike must be activated by March 11 in order to make use of the full time period. So, in other words, 7-day cards are valid through March 17 and 30-day cards are valid through April 9. Cards not in service by then must be returned to the MTA for a refund. The Times has a bit more on maximizing value.
On the other hand, pay-per-ride cards don’t run out until the expiration date on the back. Take advantage now of the seven percent bonus to load up those pay-per-ride cards. Plus, it’s not a bad idea to stockpile all MetroCards. Since riders can now put both time and money on their MetroCards and are assessed a $1 fee on new card purchases, it’s not a bad idea to hold onto those MetroCards will expiration dates far into the future. My current 30-day card, for example, runs out of time next week, but the card itself is valid through March 31, 2014.
I’m not very good at math. What are the various key purchase points for pay-per-ride and break-even levels for unlimited ride cards?
Fear not, arithmophobes: The Math is getting easier. The new 5 percent bonus means that a $50 purchase will net the straphanger one free ride. Pay for 20; get 21. No more complicated equations with odd-number purchases. (And yes, the MetroCard Vending Machines should be programmed to give this info to customers, but they aren’t.)
With the new pay-per-ride discount, the per-swipe fare is effectively $2.38, and at certain points, it becomes more cost efficient to use eliminated ride cards. For 7-day cards, that breakeven point is 13 rides, and for 30 days cards, the breakeven point is now 48 (down a few from the current value). In other words, if you plan to take 13 or more subway rides in a seven-day period or 48 or more in a 30-day period, buy an unlimited ride card. And needless to say, a 30-day card is always a better value for frequent riders than four 7-day cards.
What’s this new $1 surcharge and how can I avoid it?
For a few reasons — environmental, cost-savings, because they can — the MTA is instituting a $1 surcharge on all new MetroCards purchased at MetroCard Vending Machines, from a station booth or at a commuter rail station. To avoid the fee, keep refilling your cards, buy your cards out-of-system or enroll with a transit benefit organization, if available. Customers will not be charged to replace cards that are damaged or expired.
Along with this $1 fee comes innovation in MetroCard technology. Cards can now carry both time and money, but with a caveat: When both can be used, time will always be used ahead of money. Still, you can carry cash on an unlimited ride card and use that cash for PATH or the AirTrain. More details are available in my post here.
That’s all well and good, but why are the fares going up? What can we do to stop it?
Pick your poison: The MTA says ever-increasing pension and healthcare obligations are driving fares up, but the agency’s debt obligations and bond pricing deals carry the blame too. I’m not going to give you a full answer to this question but will instead urge you to check out my next Problem Solvers session on just this topic. Gene Russianoff and I will be talking up the ins and outs of MTA finances at the Transit Museum at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13. Find out where your hard-earned dollars are going while learning if the city can possibly stave off future hikes.
With the March 3 fare hike rapidly approaching, the MTA today unveiled the mechanics of the fare hike. Can you stock up on unlimited ride cards as my parents used to do with tokens? And just how is that $1 surcharge the MTA has been threatening with since 2010 going to work? All of that – and more! – below.
To recap, the not-so-fun stuff first: With this fare hike, the base fare will jump to $2.50 with a pay-per-ride discount of just 5 percent on all purchases at or above $5. The 7-day unlimited will cost $30, and the 30-day unlimited will set back regular riders by $112. An express bus ride checks in at $6, and the single-ride cards available only through vending machines will clock in at $2.75.
With the fare hike, the $1 “new card” surcharge will be instituted as well. Each card purchased at a MetroCard Vending Machine, a station booth or at commuter rail stations will cost $1. The MTA says that to avoid the fee, riders should keep and refill current cards. Damaged or expired cards may be replaced at no cost, and those of us who receive pre-tax MetroCard in the mail through a transit benefit organization will not be assessed the $1 surcharge. Those who buy combo railroad/MetroCard tickets also will not be charged that dollar. As with any MTA project, it took the authority only three years since initial reports to implement this fee.
Now what of the question of hoarding? The short of it is that straphangers pretty much cannot hoard cards. According to the MTA, all cards purchased before Monday, March 3 must be activated by March 11 for users to receive the full value. So seven-day cards are valid through March 17, 2013, and 30-day cards are valid through April 9, 2013. What happens if you activate your card after the March 11 date? Glad you asked. So says the MTA:
For unused Unlimited Ride MetroCards purchased prior to the March 3, 2013 fare change, refunds will be made at the purchase price. For partially used Unlimited Ride MetroCards purchased prior to the March 3 fare increase, refunds will be made on a pro-rated basis. Ask for a postage-paid envelope from your bus operator, at the station booth, or download the form at mta.info and mail it to us with your card.
That refund process can be a bit of a pain. So I’d say start using that card by or before March 11 or find someone willing to pay you for that unused card you have lying around your house.
And that’s that. The breakeven point for a 7-day card will be 13 rides and for a 30-day card 48 rides. In that inexorable march of time, the fares will go up. They always do. After all, someone has to pay for this whole thing.
It’s been two years since the last MTA fare hike, but the holiday is over. In a unanimous vote this morning, the MTA Board has approved a fare hike bringing the base fare of a subway ride up to $2.50 and the cost of a 30-day unlimited card to $112. Originally scheduled for January 1, the fare hike will instead go into effect on March 1 due to some favorable MTA financial returns from mid-2012.
The details of the fare hike remain as I reported them last Thursday. In addition to the base fare and 30-day increases, the MTA will raise the cost of a seven-day card from $29 to $30, and the pay-per-ride discount level will move to just five percent but will be effective for all purchases of $5 or more. The MTA has also approved a $1 surcharge on new cards purchased in-system. Such a fee is projected to generate $20 million annually.
While realizing annual savings of nearly $1 billion on the operations ledger, this fare hike is expected to generate $450 million in increased revenue for the MTA. Much of that will go toward funding pension obligations. The next MTA fare hike is on the table for early 2015. And so in one of his last actions as MTA Chair, Joe Lhota saw through a fare hike. How’s that for a mayoral platform?
After a series of public hearings last month, MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota has unveiled his recommended fare hike proposal ahead of Wednesday’s board vote. The package of fare hikes across all MTA properties resembles the one discussed Monday and will generate $450 million in additional annual revenue for the agency.
When the dust settled from the public debate, Lhota had determined that across-the-board increases — instead of the usual steep spike in the cost of unlimited ride cards — would be preferable. The base fare will go up to $2.50 with a 5% bonus on all purchase above $5. The 7- and 30-day cards will increase to $30 and $112, a jump of $1 and $8 respectively. “Customers asked us to minimize increases to the passes and maintain some level of bonus,” Lhota explained in a letter to the MTA Board. “They did not want to see another double-digit percentage increase in the 30-day pass.”
In addition to the fare increases, Lhota has also urged the MTA to adopt the $1 surcharge for new MetroCards. The MTA first announced plans to explore such a surcharge back in 2010, but implementation has been delayed due to some technical hurdles. “By encouraging customers to refill their cards,” Lhota wrote, “this fee will realize an estimated $20 million per year, both from savings from card production and new revenue from the fee.” The fee will not apply to out-of-system MetroCard purchases.
Under the new fare structure, the MTA is lowering the break-even point for unlimited ride cards. Currently at 14 rides for a 7-day card and 50 rides fr a 30-day card, the breakeven point will now be at 13 rides and 48 rides, respectively. Even as riders across the board are being asked to shoulder more of the MTA’s fiscal load, unlimited users are not being asked to take on a disproportionate amount of the increase this time around.
The MTA Board will vote on the fare hikes on Wednesday, and we’ll do it all over again in two years when the next schedule rate increases cross our paths.
A fare hike is coming, and there’s nothing we can do to avoid it. When the MTA Board gathers to meet one final time during 2012 next week, it will voice its concern over yet another rate increase and then vote to jump fares anyway. When I started this site, a 30-day MetroCard cost $76; by March, that figure will be over $110. Just how much over we’ll find out soon.
In today’s tabloids, the word on the fare hike seemed rather definitive. Both The Post and The News ran similar stories on the rate increases. According to those two pieces, the base fare will increase to $2.50 with a pay-per-ride bonus that kicks in with any purchase of $5 or more of just 5 percent. The 30-day card will cost $112 up for $104, and the 7-day card will go from $29 to $30. That mirrors Scenario 4 put forward in October.
From what I’ve heard from sources — and also as reported in The Journal — these proposals aren’t quite proposals. They’re not written down yet, and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota is still floating them as ideas. Here’s how Ted Mann reports it:
Lhota has been calling MTA board members since last week to feel them out about the choices to raise fare and toll revenue. The MTA’s budget requires $450 million from increased fares and tolls in 2013, though the agency now plans to raise $382 million, thanks to better-than-anticipated revenues that prompted leaders to push the fare hike back until March…
One board member said Lhota had seemed to agree with one move to protect low-income riders: lowering the cost at which the bonus kicks in to as little as $5.
Still undecided, one person familiar with the discussions said, is the question of how much to raise tolls on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Holding down the increase on that crossing would require the MTA to make up the revenue elsewhere, possibly by raising tolls slightly more than anticipated on other bridges in the regional system.
So we can conclude that it seems likely that the 30-day MetroCard will be $112, up $36 in six years, and that the base fare will go up. We’re not, obviously, seeing the $125 scenario, and I still believe that proposal was put forward to dull the pain of this “smaller” hike. Still, a fare hike is a fare hike is a fare hike, and unlimited ride card users will be paying much more come March. The past five or six years of fare hikes have fallen harder on their shoulders than on anyone else’s.
Lhota’s need to present a fare hike proposal in a week and a half throws an interesting wrench into the discussions surrounding his potential mayoral aspirations. Even though the 2013 fare hike was set long before Lhota took over the reins, he will be the face of the MTA presenting this proposal to the board and will thus have to be responsible for it. I can’t imagine it’s a political selling point to raise transit fares eight months before a general election while also running for a mayor largely due to the successful response of the MTA to Hurricane Sandy. Think of this note as food for political thought.
As the MTA’s public hearings for the looming fare hike move ever closer, the public comments surrounding the price increases start to sound the same. “How can they do this?” “More money for worse service.” “I’m going to stop taking the train and start driving.” We hear this litany of complaints with increasing frequency, and yet, when the MTA raises the fares, ridership numbers do not decrease. In fact, they’ve gone up over the past decade. Why?
To many, the answer is obvious: Even with subway fare increases, transit remains the cheapest way to get around the city by far, and it’s reasonably efficient too. So far all the bluster, straphangers aren’t about to start shelling out thousands for parking just because the cost of a Metrocard goes up. So the MTA can continue to raise prices forever, especially as other costs increase.
Today at Capital New York, Dana Rubinstein explored this phenomenon of pricing:
Logic tells us that at some point such hikes become unsustainable; excessively high prices deter customers and end up hurting the bottom line, as everyone knows. Except not when it comes to transit. “The answer is, that never happens,” said Jeffrey Zupan, a senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association, in response to a question about the point of diminishing returns for fare hikes. “Obviously if you charged $100 a ride for using the subway, no one would use it and you’d have no revenue. There’d be millionaires on it … if they wanted to use the subway.”
“It’s sort of like talking about the far reaches of the solar system,” said Charles Komanoff, a transport economist. “We are not remotely close to that. You could just as easily say, ‘If people had to swim to get down the staircases to the stations, then they’re not going to ride the trains.’ OK, that’s true, but so what?”
These are people, mind you, who are vigorous advocates of publicly subsidized transit. But with one exception (Robert Paaswell, director of the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems, who said that “if you even mentioned $4, people would panic”) none of the transportation experts I spoke to believed fares could ever realistically get high enough to repel riders in big enough numbers to cost the M.T.A. money. That’s actually the problem, politically: other than the complaints of straphanger advocates, there’s nothing to discourage the M.T.A. (or the governor, who controls the authority) from making up revenue shortfalls with fare hikes. In terms of what the market will bear, the price of a ride can always go up.
Rubinstein gets into some of the economic theory behind elastic and inelastic pricing schemes, but it would take a massive shock to the system to get people to change transportation modes. The real question though concerns the subway system as a public good. It’s not an issue for those who begrudgingly accept fare hikes because they can ultimate afford the additional $96 a year. Rather, it’s for those who can’t, and there’s where government support of transit comes into play.
If the role of a subway system is to move people throughout a wide space efficiently and cheaply (thus encouraging economic growth and easy access to job centers), how much money should governments contribute in order to keep the fares artificially low? That seems to be the underlying issue plaguing Albany, transit advocates and the MTA right now.
In announcing plans for a looming fare hike, the MTA unveiled a complicated slate of options that featured a wide array of potential outcomes. Some scenarios saw the monthly card jump to $125; others saw the base fare boosted to $2.50 with an elimination of the pay-per-ride discounts. In a way, though, those were red herrings, and as MTA head Joe Lhota made clear today, the contours of the fare hike may be a preordained conclusion.
In an interview with WOR on Monday morning, Lhota expressed his belief that the base fare would rise to $2.50, that the pay-per-ride bonuses would remain at a reduced rate and that unlimited card riders would largely avoid the same steep increases they saw a few years ago. “The base fare will probably go up,” Lhota said, “because if it doesn’t go up, it will have a huge impact on the people who take the monthly pass and use discounted fares. I think we should focus on the middle class. We need to focus on those folks and minimize the increase. The majority of people either take a seven-day pass, a 30-day pass or use the discount pass, and I think we need to focus on how to keep the cost as low as possible for them.”
As The Times subsequently noted, such an increase may spare the middle class but would hit the city’s poorest subway riders harder. Nearly 40 percent of riders earning under $25,000 a year use pay-per-ride cards while only 20 percent of those earning more than $50,000 do. It’s hard to assess the impact though because the count of people using pay-per-ride cards and earning under $25,000 hasn’t been released publicly.
While the ultimate decision is up to the MTA Board and Lhota is but one voice, his is a powerful one. Still, there’s time to shape the debate, and that’s what Crain’s New York is trying to accomplish through its editorial this week:
The question at hand is whether single-ride, multiride or unlimited-ride MetroCards should be favored in the new pricing scheme. Although public hearings have yet to begin, popular sentiment seems to be with multiride cards. Even MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, who at a recent Crain’s forum had frowned on the 7% discount on these cards, is now suggesting that it only be trimmed, not eliminated.
The thinking is that multiride cards are the most commonly purchased and thus should keep their discount to benefit the greatest number of straphangers. But perhaps they are popular because of the discount. It’s illogical to discount a product because it is popular. The purpose of a fare discount should be to induce transit riders to make decisions that are best for the system and the city.
That’s why unlimited monthly and weekly MetroCards should get the biggest break. They empower and encourage people not only to commute but to shop, to socialize, to consume entertainment—in general, to make the most of our vast and diverse city without adding automobile traffic. Unlimited cards are good for the city’s economy, environment and quality of life. They increase ridership, and expanding mass transit’s constituency will translate into more political support for the MTA.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. But this is just one piece of the puzzle. The 800-pound gorilla in the room concerns state support for transit. As has been noted repeatedly by advocates and the MTA, riders are being asked to foot the bill for more and more of the MTA’s budget while state and city contributions do not increase in turn. If mass transit is a public good, that equation should change. To that end, Stefanie Gray of Transportation Alternatives is going to try to set the record for riding to every subway stop on Tuesday in an effort to raise awareness for the issues of funding. She has Joe Lhota’s blessing, some detailed maps of the system, and a Twitter account worth following. If Gray’s ambitious stunt can bring attention to the matter of funding, perhaps we’ll be better off in a few weeks. At least we can dream.
Now that we’ve seen the fare hike proposals and know when the public hearings will take place, the looming transit rate increase seems like a fait accompli. All that’s left is for us to find out who gets to shoulder the load this time — unlimited card users or pay-per-ride users. No matter the outcome, we’ll all get to pay that new $1 new card surcharge every time we opt against refilling a scuffed and old card in our wallets.
Meanwhile, as the inevitable approaches, the region’s transit advocates have sounded off on the proposals. While the Straphangers Campaign has issued a handy chart detailing how much each proposal would cost users of particular cards, a common theme units the various statements issued by the leading players around the city. All of it involves Albany. Let’s take a look.
New York City Transit already has the highest fare box operating ratio in the nation at 53%. That is the share of operating costs covered by fares. MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in September that “when you compare the public support given to mass transit agencies nationwide on a per customer basis, New York ranks at the very bottom.
In comparison to New York City Transit’s 53% ratio, the average for large systems nation-wide that operate both buses and subways was 38% in 2011. That’s according to the Federal Transit Administration in 2011, its most recent figures. Looking at big cities that run both subways and buses, the farebox operating ratio in Boston was 38%, Chicago 44%, Los Angeles 27%, Philadelphia 37%, and Washington, D.C. 42%.
Blocking or reducing the fare increase is possible, if we get more help from Albany. One promising plan is to generate new revenue by both raising and lowering tolls on city bridges and tunnels in line with where there is the most and least congestion. Under this plan – developed by a former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz, known as Gridlock Sam – tolls would go down on some facilities (like the Throgs Neck and Verrazano-Narrow Bridges) and be instituted on others (Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.) The State would need to authorize some of tolls.
The 7.5 million New Yorkers who use the bus and subway every day need Governor Cuomo to stop this fare hike. While New Yorkers have suffered fare hike after fare hike, our State government raided hundreds of millions of dollars in transit funds. Governor Cuomo can put a stop to this by increasing the State’s investment in public transit. Treating our MetroCards like a credit card is no way for the State to run a railroad.
Tri-State Transportation Campaign:
Transportation funding is a political problem. City and state legislators make the funding decisions that impact our daily commutes, quality of life, and the region’s economic growth. Yet, stagnant funding contributions, sweeps of dedicated transit funds for non-transit use, and threats to dedicated transit taxes, such as the payroll mobility tax, perpetually undermine the financial outlook of the agency. And, very few legislators are standing up for the transit rider.
Our legislators have to find a solution, not contribute to the problem. The pockets of transit riders are not default piggybanks when city and state elected officials fail to adequately support transit. These increases significantly impact low-income transit users; 1/4 of New York City Transit riders making $25,000 or less rely on a 7% bonus on pay-per-ride MetroCards of more than $10 to stretch their travel budget.
With upcoming state elections and fare increase hearings in November, transit riders should call on their elected officials to find a solution. We don’t need more legislative voices denouncing the fare increases. We need more voices working towards a viable, long-term funding solution. It is time for our legislature to revisit new funding ideas, such as variable pricing and more balanced tolling for the five boroughs.
From the advocates, at least, laying the blame on the feet of politicians is a common theme, and as I said on Twitter on Monday, “If you’re angry over the MTA’s fare hike, vote for politicians that aren’t horrible at their jobs.” But what can we do now?
Even if Albany were to allocate more money for the MTA, it’s not guaranteed to get there. Earlier this year, Andrew Cuomo and his allies in Albany once again stripped the lockbox bill of its teeth, and yet again, transit dollars are vulnerable to state poaching. That is, of course, why the MTA is in this mess in the first place. The state won’t promise to leave dedicated dollars in dedicated accounts and has often re-appropriated MTA dollars to cover other budget deficits. The MTA then is left only with fare hikes as ways to generate revenue.
These statements right now are a true sign of a focus on the cause of the problem, but they cannot stop today. The MTA is set to raise fares again 24 months after the 2013 fare hike goes into effect, and these rider advocates have to spend the next two years hammering home this point. Whether it be congestion pricing, East River bridge tolls or other direct subsidies, the state and city must do more for its millions of transit riders. When will the voters wake up to this reality?