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?