With Labor Day behind us and vacation season coming to an end, the MTA should get right back to business. Tops on the list this fall will be two related items: the Richard Ravitch commission report and the potential 2009 fare hike.
Within the next few weeks, we’ll probably hear from some preliminary results from the Ravitch comission. While we know that Ravitch is bound to recommend congestion pricing with all revenue funneled to the MTA, the transit agency will still push its fare hike. Straphangers will fight back, but the reality is that, in our current economy and with the present state of the MTA and fiscal contributions from the government, the fare hike is more inevitable than anything else.
To that end, The Providence Journal, of all papers, wrote one of the more compelling arguments in support of a fare hike that I’ve read in a long time. The Rhode Island-based editorial board opined:
New York’s subways and buses are experiencing ridership levels not seen for 40 or 50 years. That’s a success story. And while we don’t expect New Yorkers to happily accept a higher fare, we do think they should know that their public-transportation system remains a very good deal. For that matter, the economy and society of any area benefit hugely from a good mass-transit system, as a look at Boston, Chicago and some other cities quickly demonstrates.
A good mass-transit system can mean the difference between a thriving metropolitan economy and a mediocre one. With energy and environmental concerns around the world likely to get even more pressing in the years ahead, good mass transit will become even more of a city’s comparative advantage.
This is a point I’ve tried to make before. New York City needs a healthy transit system to survive and thrive in a demanding global economy. Therefore, the residents of New York City may be asked to foot the bill for a fare hike as the MTA attempts to find the money to run that transit network.
We might not like it; we might argue that the government should be offering up more financial support for our transit system; and we’d probably be right. But we have to remember that our fares are very low — less than $1.40 per ride when all the discounts are accounted for. As much as we don’t want to admit it, the economics of urban life demand sacrifices. A fare hike might be one of those.