News that the MTA plans to raise fares every two years by an amount that exceeds the rate of inflation set off some alarm bells amongst the city’s transit advocates this week, and today, the Straphangers Campaign released some back-of-the-envelope calculations that show transit fares could rise to $3.75 a ride by 2023. It’s a sobering picture — perhaps one that relies a bit too much on sticker shock — but it should serve as a wake-up call to Albany.
“Constant fare hikes will overburden riders, discourage use of mass transit, and cannot be sustained over time,” Gene Russianoff, head of Straphangers Campaign, said in a statement. “Without more financial support from Albany, the MTA might as well start making announcements that “there is a fare hike right behind this one.’”
At the behest of the Straphangers, New York’s Independent Budget Office analyzed the fare history since the introduction of the Metrocard in 1996 and the MTA’s fare hike plans for the next ten. Noting that fares generally have to increase by around 8.4 percent to generate a 7.5 percent bump in revenue for the MTA, the IBO anticipates the possibility of a $168 30-day transit pass and a $3.75 per-swipe cost by 2023. Fares, they say, would increase a rate that exceeds inflation, and in constant 2013 dollars, the fares in 10 years would be approximately 15 percent higher than they are now.
In its defense, the MTA notes that the average fare is still lower today in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was in 1996 when Metrocards came onto the scene, but I am again left wondering if these constant increases that outpace inflation are sustainable. As I said yesterday, at some point, New Yorkers will stop begrudgingly accepted fare hikes and will start loudly protesting. What’s the breaking point though? A $3 fare? A $150 30-day card? Or are these figures and expectations simply the ever-increasing costs of life in New York City?