The MetroCard, still at least five years away from retirement, will live through at least three more fare hikes, if the MTA sticks with its current schedule, and the first of the three is officially set for March 22nd. At its meeting on Thursday, the MTA Board voted to approve a modest fare hike that will bump fare revenue — and most fares — by approximately four percent, and although some New Yorkers grumbled about the higher transit costs, most advocates focused their post-hike comments on the MTA’s gaping capital budget hole.
The details didn’t come as much of a surprise as the MTA opted to raise the base fare for the second hike a row while maintaining a pay-per-ride discount. The unlimited ride cards went up only a small amount while tolls and commuter rail fares saw similar increases. Beginning March 22, a swipe will deduct $2.75 from a MetroCard while the pay-per-ride bonus will jump from 5% to 11% on purchases above $5.50. Effectively, then, the per-swipe cost will be $2.48, up just ten cents from $2.38. The optics are bad, but the fare hike is modest.
For those of us who use the bulk/unlimited-ride options, this year’s hikes are smaller than recent jumps. The 30-day card jumps from $112 to $116.50 while the 7-day option hops up a dollar from $30 to $31. The four percent hike for the 30-day card is significantly smaller than recent fare increases, but it’s hard to ignore how the cost for a 30-day ride has gone from $70 at the star to of 2005 to $116.50 ten years later. Even in a shorter time frame, the jump is significant as a 30-day card cost $89 as recently as December of 2010. The $1 surcharge on all new MetroCard purchases remains.
“The MTA has been able to limit these fare and toll increases to the equivalent of 2% a year thanks to our continued aggressive cost-cutting, while still adding service and improving service quality for our growing number of customers,” MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said after the vote. “Our Financial Plan assumes modest biennial fare and toll increases, and the Board has chosen options with lower increases for our most frequent customers.”
In a way, New Yorkers have come to accept these fare hikes. Some people were grumbling about higher fares without a corresponding increase in service, and the MTA has seemingly settled into a pattern of offering service that’s good enough. Generally, the subway works well, and although it’s very crowded, with nine individuals days in December witnessing over 6 million riders, we’ll deal with crowds and delays. Improvements are just out of reach, and that remains a big concern.
As many MTA Board members pointed out during the meeting and as many transit advocates noted following the vote, if the $15.2 billion capital budget gap isn’t filled, we could be in for much steeper fare hikes in 2017 and 2019. “Today the MTA Board voted to raise fares on more than eight million subway, bus and commuter rail riders. But the real scandal may be yet to come. If Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature don’t decide on new revenue sources to fund the MTA’s five-year capital plan, larger fare increases are lurking around the corner,” John Raskin of the Riders Alliance said. “Paying for public transit with fare hikes is a regressive way to fund a public service that the entire region relies on. We urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to act quickly to fund the next MTA Capital Plan, instead of passing on the cost to overburdened riders.”
Cuomo, of course, is too busy plotting an airtrain to address real funding concerns, and few people are paying attention to the way in which the fare structure seems to favor those with money who afford the $116.50 outlay. WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman analyzed the socioeconomic breakdown of the MTA’s fare structure, and it’s something I’ll revisit in a future post. Needless to say, although the MTA is on sounder economic footing today than they were five years ago, the agency is on the precipice of steep fare hikes that will make this year’s seem negligible if the capital gap is not closed. That would be bad news for New Yorkers.