New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Monday introduced four options for transit fare and bridge toll increases to take effect in March. Commuter rail and express bus fares would also face hikes.
Chairman Joseph Lhota said he expects a $450 million revenue boost in 2013 and $500 million in 2015 from the increases. He warned, however, of a still-pressing financial squeeze. “Our budget is fragile. It is still fragile,” Lhota said.
Lhota, a former New York City deputy mayor and Madison Square Garden executive who has run the transit agency for about a year, said costs beyond the MTA’s control have squeezed the agency. He cited debt service, pensions, energy, paratransit, and employee and retiree health care.
“Our non-discretionary costs are rising at such a rate that we have no choice but to increase our fares,” he said at a news conference at MTA headquarters. Fare and toll increases, he said, would only cover 35% of nondiscretionary costs.
The MTA introduced its financial plan in July, projecting a $46 million cash surplus rolled into each of the next two years, but also deficits from 2014 to 2016 that range from $14 million to $231 million.
In the first subway and bus fare-hike scenario, the base fare would rise from $2.25 to $2.50, a 30-day unlimited MetroCard fare would go from $104 to $112 and a seven-day card would increase from $29 to $30.
A second proposal also features a $2.50 single fare and eliminates the 7% bonus for riders with a minimum $10 MetroCard purchase.
While the 30-day unlimited fare would rise from $104 to $109, the seven-day card would stay unchanged.
The third option keeps the base fare at $2.25, reduces the bonus to 5%, increases the 30-day unlimited fare to $125 and the seven-day to $34. The fourth option, also at $2.25 base, eliminates the bonus and increases the 30-day to $119 and the seven-day to $32.
If the MTA’s board enacts the fare increases in December after public hearings next month, it would be the fourth subway, bus and commuter fare hike in five years.
“Enough already,” said Gene Russianoff, an attorney and spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign rider advocacy group. “The MTA fare options would hit the riders hard.”
Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad fares would rise by 8.19% to 9.31%. The MTA, while increasing tolls, would maintain discounts for E-ZPass users. E-ZPass car tolls for the Robert F. Kennedy (formerly Triborough) Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Hugh L. Carey (formerly Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel, and the Queens Midtown Tunnel would rise to $5.30 from $4.80. Cash tolls would rise to $7.50 from the current $6.50.
“Blocking or reducing the fare increase is possible, if we get more help from Albany,” said Russianoff, who supports a congestion-pricing plan developed by former New York City traffic commissioner Samuel Schwartz that would add tolls to East River bridges in New York City while reducing tolls on the Throgs Neck and Verrazano-Narrows bridges.
Each of the four fare-hike options has high and low ranges, and the MTA board can adjust if it wishes. “What we’ve done is set parameters,” Lhota said.
Peter Derrick, a former MTA executive and visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, sees fare increases as inevitable. “As costs go up for MTA and its operating agencies, fares and tolls also need to go up,” he said.
Derrick sees the $112 monthly/$30 weekly as the most viable option.
The agency held a retail order period Monday for its $950 million sale of dedicated tax-fund refunding bonds,
The institutional sale is set for Tuesday. Standard & Poor’s rated the bonds AA, while Fitch Ratings assigned a AA-minus. Wells Fargo Securities is the lead manager.