Home Fare Hikes As deficit grows, anticipating a steep fare hike

As deficit grows, anticipating a steep fare hike

by Benjamin Kabak

When 2011 arrives, the MTA will have the statutory power to raise subway fares. The state legislature granted the authority this power when it approved the 2009 funding package, and the MTA will, through thick or thin, implement a fare hike of at least 7.5 percent by early 2011 at the latest. But the way things are going, that fare hike could come sooner.

As Andrew Grossman of The Wall Street Journal reports today, the MTA is up the proverbial creek without a paddle. On top of a $400 million deficit, the MTA says tax revenues are down by $135 million this year. The agency has to present a balanced budget next July, and with service cuts set go into effect next week, the agency’s only option may be to raise the fares, as Grossman puts it, “higher and sooner” than anticpated.

For months, though, Jay Walder, the MTA CEO and Chairman, has tried to avoid a third fare hike in as many years. He’s led an admirable effort to trim inefficiencies in the way the MTA works; he’s ushered in a regrettable slate of service cuts; he’s tried to work with the union to reform payroll and pension costs. But the agency’s appetite for service cuts may be at an end.

“I don’t see how you do much more service cutting without really making an overcrowded system, frankly, or putting you in a situation where we’re like other transit systems that only serve the trunk lines and don’t have bus service into other heavy demand areas,” Bill Henderson of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council to the MTA, said to The Journal, “If you’ve got to do one or the other, [raising fares is] probably the more acceptable one for the riders because at least the service is still there.”

Of course, the riding public may not find it appealing to see fares go up so soon after services are cut. In the past, fare hikes have been tied to increases in service, and even if those increases were the token additions of a few rush hour trains, riders weren’t asked to suffer through the indignities of paying more for less service. Now, though, it appears as though the MTA has its back to the wall.

This isn’t the first time this year we’ve heard talk of a premature fare hike. In March, talk of an increase emerged in the press, but the MTA officially denied considering raising its rates. Still, when a one percent increase in the fare generates approximately $50 million in additional revenue, the financial promises of a fare hike always remain low-hanging fruit for a financially strapped MTA to pluck. It might just be inevitable.

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John June 22, 2010 - 5:43 pm

It depends on where the service is reduced. For example, I went to an MTA meeting, and in the neighborhood, in Midtown Manhattan, I saw instances where 3-4 buses passed by, each with only about 10 people on the bus. Granted, some of the routes, like the M4, were very close to their terminal, but, I’m sure there could be some restructuring of the routes down 5th Avenue that could save a few million dollars. Yet, not one route on that portion of 5th Avenue was eliminated.
I feel that there is always some service that could be reduced. For example, in the outer boroughs, riders are supposed to use the subway as an alternate route. For example, the Q24 would be trucated back to Broadway Junction, and riders would have to transfer to the J/Z trains. The B12 would be truncated to Alabama Avenue, where riders would have to transfer to the C train or the Q24.
Yet, in Manhattan, where many routes parallel subways, and each other, service wasn’t reduced as much as it could’ve reasonably been. The M10 was saved as a result of community protest, when the M7/M11 are 1-2 blocks away on Amsterdam/Columbus Avenue. The MTA doesn’t want to ake the elderly people wanlk 2 blocks to another route, yet that is exactly what they are doing (though only affecting 1200 people as opposed to 12,000) with the B69 in Park Slope/Kensington. Not to mention, the Central Park West subway line largely parallels the M10 for non elderly/non disabled users.
There could still be reductions in frequency. Like I said, there were about 10-15 people at most on the 5th Avenue lines. If frequencies were reduced by 25%, there would be 25% more people on the buses.
I don’t know. Service reductions would largely affect people in areas with alternatives, wheras people in areas served by 1 or 2 bus lines would probably see little to no service reduced. Fare hikes and service reductions affect different groups of people. Fare hikes affect low-income people, whereas service reductions affect elderly people and commuters. It all depends on which group the MTA wants to target. It can raise fares by 7% or reduce service (if not by discontinuing lines, by reducing frequencies) by 7%. Either way, it will affect some people more than others.

Cap'n Transit June 22, 2010 - 9:46 pm

Well, yes, if your only motive in providing transit is to give access to people who can’t afford cars. But transit has a host of other reasons to exist, some of which may involve providing service that doesn’t require walking extra blocks, climbing lots of stairs or waiting for a long time.

Andrew June 22, 2010 - 11:15 pm

There is restructuring going on on 5th. This weekend’s service cuts consolidate the M1, M2, and M3. Savings will probably come in the form of slight headway increases on some or all of the routes. In particular, the M1 used to need frequent enough service that people waiting along Park wouldn’t have to wait too long for a bus, but that’s no longer a concern, as the M1 won’t be on Park anymore, and there’s plenty of other service on 5th and Madison.

None of the routes can be eliminated entirely, as they all operate on unique route paths north of 110th. However, the M1 is being eliminated south of 106th on weekends.

More cuts certainly can be made. (And, dare I suggest, more cuts certainly will be made.)

John June 23, 2010 - 3:18 pm

But I was talking about weekdays. Weekdays, the M5 is being extended to South Ferry while the M1 is being cut back to 8th Street. However, the portion of 5th Avenue between 57th Street and 23rd Street isn’t having a single route removed.
Basically, there was no mention of a headway increase even though the buses are operating at about 25% capacity each.

Alon Levy June 23, 2010 - 5:15 am

If frequencies were reduced by 25%, there would be 25% more people on the buses.

This is false. In Manhattan, where buses are barely faster than walking, the only thing going for the buses is high frequency. If the next bus is more than a few minutes away, walking is faster.

John June 23, 2010 - 3:20 pm

First of all, the frequency of all of the buses combined would still be low enough so that riders wouldn’t be deterred. Second of all, people in Manhattan don’t go on a bus just to go a few blocks-they’ll walk, unless they have a transfer. If they don’t use the transfer, the MTA didn’t lose any revenue.

Alon Levy June 24, 2010 - 1:49 am

The frequency of all buses combined isn’t that high. First, the routes don’t always make the same stops. Second, they have different service patterns north of 110th and south of 59th.

I’m not talking about going just a few blocks. I’m talking about longer trips. For example, when I miss the M72, I walk all the way to the West Side, almost 2 miles, and beat the next bus.

In numbers: daytime north-south bus speed is about 1.7 blocks per minute. Walking, at least for me, is 1.3. For a 20-block trip, I lose 4 minutes walking rather than taking the bus. But in reality, my 1.3 blocks/minute walking speed is perfectly reliable, whereas the bus may get stuck behind a slow truck or lose 2 minutes with the wheelchair lift.

I could probably add to this that the higher the frequency, the more reliable the bus speed is. The reason is that there are fewer wheelchair passengers per bus. But I don’t usually think of that in a snap decision about whether to get on a bus or not…

John June 25, 2010 - 12:47 am

But what I’m saying is that even if the MTA cancelled a bus run and all of the people on the bus decided to walk, they would lose less money. Think about it this way, if you lose $1.00 for every person who gets on the bus, you lose less money if only 10 people get on the bus instead of 20 people.
I know that the buses have different patterns north of 110th (The M1 goes to Harlem, the M2/M3 take different routes to Washington Heights, and the M4 goes up to the Cloisters) and south of 34th Street (the M4 goes to Penn Station, and the M1/M2/M3 terminate in the East Village, while the M5 goes to South Ferry).
However, in the outer boroughs, many riders will have to transfer buses to get to their destination. Q24 riders will have to transfer to the J/Z trains to get to Bushwick, B12 riders will have to transfer to the Q24 to go to Liberty Avenue, B13 riders will have to transfer to the L train to get to Williamsburg, etc.
What I’m saying is that the buses can be reasonably reduced without having a lot of customer impact. For example, I highly doubt a lot of people ride the M4 from Penn Station into Inwood. Riders along Madison Avenue could transfer to the M4 at 110th Street. Why is it that the other boroughs have more reductions where they will be forced to make extra transfers than Manhattan does.
There are ways of combining the bus stops so that riders don’t have to guess where the next bus will stop at. Instead of making the M1/M4 stop at one stop and the M2/M3/M5 stop a couple of blocks down, the MTA could make them all stop at the same stop.
I still think the frequency is fairly high. I saw an M1 and an M5 come together, an M3 and a Q32 come together, etc. I’m sure some runs could short turn and connect to other buses.

Alon Levy June 25, 2010 - 8:54 am

Many of the Manhattan buses don’t lose money, when you exclude systemwide costs like administration. From the point of view of customer impact, you want to make sure to keep all the (kind of) profitable routes in order to reduce the number of unprofitable routes to be chopped.

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dennis June 23, 2010 - 10:00 pm

why not further chop access-a-ride, the cost of which, notwithstanding the MTA’s modest attempts to rein it in, threaten to spiral out of control. The MTA is now in the business of providing on-demand, door to door service for anyone who meets what appears to be a very expansive definition of disabled (basically, anyone who finds it mildly inconvenient to walk to the bus or subway stop). The expense involved in doing so is staggering–a half a billion dollars out of the agency’s total operating budget of approximately $11 billion. I’m sorry, that’s completely nuts, especially today, when every buck counts.


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