The MTA Board approved a fare hike this morning, despite calls from advocates, elected leaders, and a few MTA board members to postpone the hike until next year. Under the plan, base subway and bus fares will remain the same, but the majority (86%) of subway and bus riders who pay with discount or unlimited ride Metrocards will see a hike. Monthly unlimited ride Metrocards will increase from $76 to $81, weekly cards will increase from $24 to $25, and a new 14-day card will be sold for $47. Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad fares will rise from 3.76 percent to 4.25 percent.
The E-ZPass toll for cars on MTA bridges and tunnels will go up by 3.8 percent, or a paltry 15 cents.
After Mayor Bloomberg came out in favor of the MTA proposal last week, approval of the hike was a near certainty. Still, not all board members supported the hike — MTA Board members Mitch Pally and Andrew Saul voted against the plan, while nonvoting member Andrew Albert also opposed the plan. The hikes will take place on March 1.
It’s not all bad news. Traffic inducing cash tolls are increasing 50 cents on crossings that are $4.50, and express bus users and those paying base transit fares will not see an increase.
At the board meeting, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign had this to say to the MTA Board:
“What does all this mean for the future? Predictions are always risky, but I have two. First, the transit fare will likely be frozen for at least three years. The MTA says it will hit the riders again in two years and raise fares at the end of 2010. But that’s an election year for governor, so a fare hike in 2010 is unlikely. Second, Governor Spitzer has a big political deficit on transit, which he will have to make up in the years to come. The M.T.A.’s plan calls for the state and city to contribute an additional $600 million a year to finance operating expenses, beginning in 2010. Just before Thanksgiving, Governor Spitzer said ‘We are talking about a 2010 commitment of $600 million, shared with the city. That is an enormous commitment that we have made, that I have made, and we will be good for.’ Riders, reporters, officials, editorial boards and voters will all remember that promise.”
Overall, by approving the hike and the proposed fare and toll plan today, Governor Spitzer and the MTA missed out on a number of key opportunities. First, they missed an opportunity to win support from transit riders who feel the pressure of crowded trains, slow buses, and an increasingly expensive region. Second, they missed out on a chance to let vocal state legislators put their money where their mouth is and produce more state transit aid. Third, they missed an opportunity to connect the transit funding debate with the Traffic Mitigation Commission’s recommendations to be released in January. Fourth, the MTA failed, as it has in the past (see MTR #s 425, 401, 237, and others), to use the toll hike as an opportunity to bring its tolling structure and facilities into the 21st century with things like variable tolling and non-stop tolls.
Finally, the MTA and Governor Spitzer failed to connect the fare and toll proposal with their own efforts to promote sustainability. The MTA established a top-notch Sustainability Commission in September to help create an agency “master plan” to reduce the agency’s ecological footprint. But the agency’s toll proposal punishes most transit riders more than most drivers — under the plan EZ Pass users (which account for 75% of all crossings) will pay only 3.8% more while transit fares for most riders will increase more than that. Last time we checked, promoting transit use over driving is a vital part of “sustainability.”