NEW YORK—Subway, bus, and rail fares will be increasing in March 2013—the question is by how much.
A 30-day unlimited metro card could cost as much as $125 in March next year, if one of four proposals officially unveiled on Monday is selected. The 30-day card currently costs $104.
Increases in single rides, 7-day passes, and the bonus value system are also included in the proposal.
Nondiscretionary spending—spending that the MTA says it can’t control, including pensions, paratransit, and paying off debt—is estimated to increase almost $5 billion through 2015.
The MTA runs the buses, subways, Metro-North, and Long Island Rail Road, and manages many of the bridges and tunnels in the New York Metropolitan region.
If the single ride subway fare is increased from $2.50 to $2.75—as it would be with two of the proposals—the 7-day and 30-day passes would increase much less.
Yet if the subway fare remains the same, weekly passes could rise from $29 to $34, while 30-day passes could increase from the current $104 up to $125.
Two options completely eliminating the 7 percent bonus value with cards costing $10 and above likely won’t happen said Lhota, about a month after discussing the elimination at a forum. The percent bonus may be reduced, he added.
Based on turnstile statistics, the MTA estimates that 85 percent of trips on subways and buses are discounted. Yet, lower and middle income New Yorkers use nondiscounted fares more than higher income groups. Those making less than $25,000 use discounted fares 40 percent of the time.
All proposals include a $1 surcharge for new MetroCards; an environmental initiative meant to reduce litter and MetroCard production costs.
Bus fares are largely tied to subway fares, while commuter rail fares would increase an average of almost nine percent. In a sample fare raise provided by the MTA, a one way peak pass to New Rochelle would increase $0.75 while monthly passes would increase from $204 to $222.
Tolls for bridges and tunnels, including the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, and Queens Midtown Tunnel would increase from $6.50 to $7.50 (cash) and from $4.80 to $5.30 (E-ZPass). Other changes include a $1 raise on the Staten Island Resident E-ZPass Discount round trip toll.
Greater Efficiency Overshadowed
Annual savings within the MTA have been increasing. Currently projected for $870 million in 2013, the agency hopes to increase savings to $1.14 billion by 2016.
Despite high ridership levels and increasing efficiency, the MTA is feeling the pinch. MTA’s outstanding debt is almost $32 billion, according to an August report from Moody’s. The agency spends more than $2 billion a year on debt service.
Lhota said non-union workers have not had a pay increase for four years, and the MTA wants the Transit Workers Union Local 100 to sign a contract that includes net-zero wage increases for three years.
Without more help from the state legislature and an improved regional economy, fare raises are needed to close remaining gaps, said Lhota.
The March 2013 raise must garner $450 million in recurring annual revenue, while the March 2015 raise must bring in another $500 million in recurring annual revenue. The MTA’s operating budget for 2012 is $12.5 billion.
Lhota said “it would be nice” if the 2015 fare raise, which is not definite, doesn’t happen, “but right now that’s the reality that I have to work with.”
MTA officials said the biannual increases were laid out in an agreement in 2009 with the state legislature. Cutting services to balance the budget isn’t an option, they added. The MTA recently announced the restoration of $29 million in service.
The public is encouraged to participate in the fare raise decision by attending public hearings or sending in a video testimony.
Riders shared their opinions on the proposed changes. Mark Farima, an attorney who buys the 30-day pass, said that even with fare raises, riding the subway is still worth it as the network goes all over the city and is less expensive than taxis.
Leonard Jackson, an MTA bus driver who began using the 7-day pass after his car insurance expired, said part of the issue is lost revenue through people evading paying fares. “I guess I’m on [MTAs] side,” he said. “They work 24/7; they have to keep everybody going to where they have to go.”
When told about the different fare increase options, Zaied Reid, a construction worker waiting for a bus on 34th Street, said “That’s going to be painful.”
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