Of all of the charges levied against Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion fee by the plan’s opponents, I am most entertained by those weakly arguing the congestion fee is a regressive tax designed to hit poor more than it affects the rich. Well, newsflash, folks: The poorer people aren’t the ones driving and paying for a car in New York City.
To find an example, though, of a crippling regressive tax at work, look no further than today’s announcement by the MTA describing the potential fare hikes. The proposal, detailed here by William Neuman of The Times, involves jacking up the base fare and the prices on Unlimited Ride Metrocards, doing away with the buy-five-rides-get-six discount and instituting lower off-peak fares.
William Neuman, in an earlier post at the Cityroom blog, has more:
A person who buys a pay-per-ride MetroCard would be charged $2 to ride the subway or bus during the morning and evening peak periods. Travel during off-peak periods, including midday, would cost $1.50. The intention would be to encourage some riders to travel during off-peak hours, which could reduce crowding during the rush periods.
If that proposal were adopted, the 7-day and 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCards would increase to 8 percent from 6.5 percent. A new 14-day unlimited ride MetroCard would be created, at a cost of $48. The authority would no longer offer 20 percent bonuses for purchases over $10.
An alternate proposal would involve a more traditional fare increase. The base fare would increase to $2.25 from $2. The pay-per-ride MetroCard would continue to operate as it does today, with riders receiving a 20 percent bonus if they put at least $10 on the card. The cost of weekly and monthly unlimited ride passes would each go up 4 percent. And a new 14-day MetroCard would cost $45.
Based on this information, the MTA, projected nearly a $1 billion surplus this year, is going to, as Straphanger Campaign lawyer Gene Russianoff noted, foist its desired money onto commuters instead of forcing the state or city to pick up a tab. This development comes after both the state and city comptrollers issued reports noting that common sense measures could result in the necessary financial allocations without the need for a fare increase.
All of which brings me back to my original point: By charging people more for peak-hour rides, the MTA, if it opts to go with the peak/off-peak plan, will be instituting a regressive tax on everyone who rides the subways to and from work during rush hour. The MTA’s proposal, in an attempt to alleviate overcrowded rush hour subways, penalizes those who commute to work during the rush hour time slots and rewards those who use the subway outside of rush hour.
But who are the people who must ride the subways during rush hour? And who are the people who can afford to ride the subways in off-peak hours? Generally, those people making the least are the ones riding during the peak hours. The 9-to-5ers with little job flexibility will have to shoulder the burden of the fare increases.
Meanwhile, people beholden to no one — or few others — can take the subway at a more leisurely and cheaper hour. People who work themselves and set their own hours, people who are their own bosses, they can take the subways during the $1.50-fare periods. The people who are most able to afford the fare hike won’t be the ones suffering because of the fare hike.
While even the plan simply to have an across-the-board fare hike is a regressive tax, the one with tiered fares is more egregious than the other. The only way to avoid a regressive tax when trying to raise more revenue would be to avoid a fare hike. But as SUBWAYblogger noted, these fare increases, one way or another, are going to be a reality. I just hope those sounding the alarm of the congestion fee as a regressive tax take up the mantle when it comes to opposing this subway fare hike too.