Will the summer’s transit price increases change how commuters travel?
Summer temperatures aren’t the only thing rising that could stifle New Yorkers this year.
But those higher tolls and transit passes will likely trickle down to the region’s subway, rail and vehicle commuters, who will bear the brunt of the costs.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is discussing a plan to increase its revenues by 7.5 percent, which authority officials say they will propose at the end of the month. That may not result in a direct fare hike for straphangers, who currently pay $2.25 for a single ride. But transit sources believe the authority will charge an additional 25 or 50 cents per fare and could consider capping the number of rides on unlimited passes.
“Running trains, buses and subways is, unfortunately, expensive, and over time, as costs increase, we have to come up with ways to pay those costs,” said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg. “Even though we have slashed costs at the MTA, increased revenues through regular and predictable fare increases and targeted hundreds of millions of dollars in cost reductions in the coming year, our financial picture remains fragile.”
The authority’s proposal will come as prices are set to rise on two other major transit options in the metropolitan region. Last week the Taxi and Limousine Commission was set to approve an average 17 percent fare bump that will raise the charge from 40 cents to 50 cents for each fifth of a mile traveled or when a vehicle idles in traffic for one minute. The increase does not include the base fare and is designed to put more of a burden on longer rides.
And the Port Authority, which manages the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington, Goethals and Bayonne bridges, is moving to raise tolls for cars in December from $9.50 to $10.25 for E-ZPass users and from $12 to $13 for those who pay in cash. Peak tolls for cars already rose last year from $8 to $9.50.
Each transit organization hopes it can raise revenues to decrease its debt loads and continue to pay its workers.
The MTA expects to collect $7.1 billion next year from fares and tolls alone, about 57 percent of its $12.5 billion budget, and projects raising $449 million from next year’s increases.
The proposal could play out in three ways: The authority could enact fare and toll increases in 2013 and 2015; transit workers could accept a net-zero wage increase; or funding for operations and services could face further cuts.
The MTA slashed $700 million since last year and could cut another $190 million by 2015, although the agency is reportedly considering restoring some of the bus-service cuts it made three years ago.
But transit advocates say those fares aren’t fair.
Gene Russianoff, a spokesman for the transit watchdog group Straphangers Campaign, argues that the authority should not rely significantly on riders to cover expenses in its transit budget.
“New York is the highest in the country for any system that provides subway and bus service by far,” said Russianoff. “Fares went from $63 in 1998 to $89 last decade to $104 in 2010. That’s a 17 percent increase—that’s the rate of inflation in Venezuela!”
Other transit leaders argue that fare increases are necessary for operations.
Taxi officials say fares must rise to offset the 45 percent jump in gasoline prices since 2006—costs that taxi drivers pay out of their own pockets. A driver only collects an average of $130 during a 12-hour shift.
“A taxi driver is taking home less today than he or she was in 2006,” said Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky. “You take a taxi today and pay a $15 fare, the driver keeps less of that. You want taxi driving to be a profession where you can support a family if you work hard.”
Policymakers must also focus on enhancing existing transit networks, even if costs do rise later this year.
“It isn’t that people are objecting to paying more for transit; it’s that after service cuts people have had to deal with headaches on a day-to-day basis,” said Transportation Alternatives director of transit advocacy Ya-Ting Liu. “It’s just that another fare hike is getting under people’s skin. The question everyone wants to know is, ‘What are we going to get in return?’ ”
Tags: Adam Lisberg, David Yassky, Gene Russianoff, Metropolitan Transit Authority, MTA, Port Authority, Straphangers Campaign, Taxi, Taxi and Limousine Commission, Transportation Alternatives, Ya-Ting Liu
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