Thursday, May 14, 2009

MTA Approves Scaled Back Fare Increases

By Conor Greene

The MTA will begin raising its fares and tolls in the coming months to reflect the increases approved this week by the transit authority’s board. The vote came days after the New York State Legislature reached a bailout agreement that results in more modest increases than initially proposed and eliminates the need for deep service cuts.

“Today we implemented a bittersweet solution that comes with additional pain for our customers, our employees and those who live and work in our region,” said board chairman Dale Hemmerdinger. “But it will – at least for the short term – prevent the Armageddon that loomed large when we last met.”

Under the plan, commuter rail fares will begin to increase on June 17, with the “vast majority” of tickets on the Long Island and MetroNorth railroads increasing between 9.75% and 10.75%. On June 28 fares on subways and buses will increase, with the single ride fare going from $2 to $2.25, a 12.5% increase. The 30-day unlimited MetroCard will increase almost 10% from $81 to $89. Finally, bridge and tunnel tolls will increase on July 12, when cash and EZ-Pass tolls increase by about 10%.

Before the Legislature approved a $2.26 billion bailout package, the MTA has warned of much greater fare increases and the elimination of bus and subway lines. “There’s nothing to be happy about,” said Hemmerdinger at the board’s meeting on Monday.

“The fare and toll increase passed today is not ideal, but it spares our customers from actions that would have been extraordinarily painful,” said Elliot G. Sander, who subsequently stepped down as MTA executive director and CEO. “Implementing severe fare increases and deep service cuts directly contradicts the MTA’s mission and my goals as CEO. It is a great relief to know we will be able to continue providing the service our customers expect at an affordable price.”

The bailout package doesn’t include tolls on East and Harlem river bridges, but does call for a surcharge on taxi cab rides and a payroll tax for employers in the 12 counties served by the MTA. Fares and tolls will rise again by 7.5% in 2011 and 2013 and the bailout provides enough funding to cover two years of the MTA’s five-year capital plan, which starts next year and funds basic maintenance including track and signal upgrades.

“Today’s agreement will allow commuters to avoid the painful service reductions approved by the MTA board earlier this year, and dramatically reduces the proposed fare and toll increases,” said Gov. David Paterson at a news conference last week announcing the bailout agreement.

Locally, residents and elected officials were relieved that service cuts, including elimination of the Q56 and Q74 bus lines, have been avoided.

Under the bailout agreement reached by lawmakers, Sander resigned as CEO and executive director. That position will be combined with the position of board chairman. Paterson has not yet announced if Hemmerdinger will remain on in that capacity.

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