MTA Gives Riders Two Choices in Fare Hikes

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The MTA is giving monthly and weekly MetroCard users a choice: higher fares or higher fares.

As previously reported, the MTA is proposing to limit the number of times that riders can use weekly and monthly MetroCards. But in the fare hike plan that’s being made public Wednesday, the MTA is presenting a second option that would make the MetroCards more expensive but keep them unlimited. The MTA will then judge the public’s reaction to the two ideas and choose one of the two plans.

Under the first option, the cost of the 30-day card would increase from the current $89 to $99 but it would be capped at 90 rides a month, according to MTA officials. The second option would boost the cost of the card to $104. But MTA officials say they won’t be able to offer both once the fare hikes take effect January 1 because even the $104 plan relies on less frequent users subsidizing the frequent users.

The weekly card, under Option A, would go from $27 to $28 and be capped at 22 rides over a seven-day period; or, under Option B, the cost would rise to $29 and the card would remain unlimited. According to the MTA, the average MetroCard user takes 59 trips with the 30-day card and 16 with a seven-day card. Only 7 percent of the 30-day cards are used more than 90 times a month—but the MTA is essentially leaving it up to straphangers to judge whether it’s psychologically—if not financially—worth it to have the freedom to use the cards as much as they want.

WHICH METROCARD IS BEST FOR ME?
  Now Proposed Option A Proposed Option B
30-day MetroCard $89 for unlimited rides $90 for no more than 90 rides $104 for unlimited rides
Cost per ride if card is:
Used 55x/month $1.62 $1.80 $1.89
Used 90x/month $0.99 $1.10 $1.16
Used 110x/month $0.81 N/A $0.95
Currently, 30-day MetroCards are used 59 times on average, according to the MTA
Which option do you prefer? Please post your comments below.

Across the board, bus and subway fares would go up about 8 percent, which is in line with an agreement struck last year with Gov. David Paterson and the state legislature. That deal also calls for a fare hike in January 2013. These two fare hikes were one of the little-noticed aspects of the so-called state bailout, but it fulfilled a long sought-after goal of the MTA, which is to have the state’s sanction to raise fares regularly and modestly, with as little political opposition as possible, as opposed to having to approve much larger increases every four or five years.

But Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign transit advocacy group, has already taken aim at the proposal, saying that the governor’s deal last year no longer applies since the MTA enacted service cuts last month.

“Riders are being asked to pay more for less, given the tens of millions of dollars in service cuts the MTA put into effect in late June,” Russianoff said in an e-mail. “The combination of fare increase and service cuts mean that riders will likely end up paying a higher share of the costs of running the transit system.”

MTA staff will also on Wednesday unveil next year’s proposed budget, showing expenses rising by about 2.4 percent from this year to next. Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran says the main drivers for the increase are pension costs, union salaries and rising debt payments. He said that non-unionized employees have had their salaries frozen in 2009 and 2010. Last August, MTA’s unions won an 11.3 percent wage increase over three years, retroactive to April 2009.

MTA officials say they have tempered the increases for fare media that are used frequently by lower-income riders in order to make the average cost per ride more equitable. The users of monthly cards have a median household income of $63,000 a year, while people who buy their rides singly have a median income of $36,000.

Under the proposal, the base fare would remain at $2.25, though riders will be slapped with a 25-cent surcharge for buying a single-ride ticket from a machine. Riders would be able to avoid that surcharge by buying the cards from a bodega or other private distributor. Or they would fill up their MetroCards at machines—though each time they buy a new MetroCard, they will be charged $1. Riders will be encouraged to refill old MetroCards. Officials say the $1 surcharge wouldn’t go into effect next summer and will also apply to monthly and weekly cards, which will, by that point, be reprogrammed to become re-usable.

The discount for pay-per-ride MetroCards would also decrease, from 15 percent to just 7 percent, making each ride purchased with those cards go from $1.96 to $2.10, or an increase of about 7 percent. In order to qualify for the discount, customers would have to add at least $10 in value to the cards, compared to $7 today. (That's an even smaller discount than WNYC and other media had previously reported.)

The full MTA board will hear the proposal at its monthly meeting Wednesday morning. Public hearings will likely be held in September, after which the MTA may make adjustments to the proposal in time for final MTA board approval in October. Fares on MetroNorth and the Long Island Rail Road are expected to go up between 7.6 percent and 9.4 percent. Tolls on major bridges would increase by 50 cents, to $6, while their cost with an E-ZPass would rise from $4.57 to $5.04.

Also, as WNYC reported previously, the one-day Fun Pass and 14-day cards would be dropped.

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