With an improving economy, record high ridership and internal cost-cutting buoying the MTA’s bottom line, the transit agency announced that planned fare hikes for 2015 and 2017 would be less than expected. In budget documents presented to the Board today, the MTA noted that the biennial fare and toll increases will be reduced to produce an increase in revenue of around four percent, down from initial estimates of a 7.5 percent jump. Still, the budget rests on shaky assumptions, and as other interested parties make a move to claim some of the pie, these numbers could still shift before the hikes are implemented.
According to agency documents, an aggressive effort to limit the growth of expenses to keep pace with inflation allows the MTA to realize savings that can be reinvested in the system. The MTA has already announced service increases on eight lines set for June, and even though constant price increases are tough to swallow, the fare hike reduction is good news for the straphanging public.
“We try to keep costs down in order to minimize the financial burden on our customers, and as this financial plan shows, we are succeeding in that effort,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said. “Our customers want value, which is quality and quantity of service, and that service has to be reliable and safe. Through this financial plan, that’s what we work to provide.”
In addition to these giveaways, the MTA has other plans for its financial flexibility. The MTA plans to invest approximately $80 million in the unfunded pension liabilities for the LIRR and make addition investments in other unfunded post-employment benefit obligations, thus realizing savings in the long-term as well.
Still, risks remain as the budget is tenuously balanced on the back of an assumption of net-zero wage increases, a point hotly contested by the TWU. The MTA will look to achieve this net-zero goal through a combination of a wage freeze, staff reductions, workrule efficiency gains and benefit reductions, but union officials have already tried to lay claim to some of these dollars. “They’re tossing a few crumbs at the public and expect to be patted on the back. It’s pretty outrageous,” TWU Local 100 President John said to The Post. “Both the workers and the riders deserve better.”
Samuelsen claimed the MTA should use all of the financial flexibility to give workers a raise and avert the fare hikes. His statements essentially ignore the fact that doing either of those — let alone both at once — would effectively deplete whatever cash surplus and financial wiggle room the MTA has. For now, though, the news is good, but as with all things MTA, the economics could change in a flash.