Spitzer Stymies Fare Hike
Straphangers in Queens and the other four boroughs received a reprieve from a threatened fare hike Tuesday when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that year-end revenue projections were $220 million higher than projected. Bus and subway fares will remain at the current $2 a trip until at least 2009, according to reports.
In the face of a groundswell of opposition by elected officials and the public, Governor Eliot Spitzer and MTA leadership promised to freeze the base fare at $2 through 2009. The freeze is possible because MTA revenue is running better than projected by about $220 million, due to an increase in ridership and real estate tax revenue.
"I have been closely following the public hearings on the potential fare hike by the MTA and I've listened to the public's serious concerns about paying more, especially while times are tight," Spitzer said. "At the same time, I am acutely aware of the need for state agencies and authorities to be fiscally responsible, pay down debt and plan for the future. So as the MTA considered a fare hike, my chief concern was making sure that fiscal responsibility was observed and that all avenues were explored before imposing an added burden on the public.
"As the MTA updated its budget forecasts, their balance sheet yielded an additional $220 million. Based on the current economic climate that has so many New Yorkers feeling squeezed, it seemed only proper that this amount be returned to the riders. I am therefore calling on the MTA to use these funds to reduce the proposed fare and toll increase. This reduction will ease the burden for the millions of New Yorkers who use the MTA's transportation network every day and will allow the MTA to hold the base fare for subways and buses to $2.
"I continue to support the MTA's efforts to bring its budget in line while implementing important customer service improvements and moving forward with critical infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue Subway, the No. 7 train expansion and East Side Access."
Earlier this year, MTA CEO Elliot Sander and Sander's top deputies proposed raising bus and subway fares to $2.25 per trip. The MTA had been projected to run a budget deficit of $1.3 billion for 2008, growing to $2.2 billion in 2010 and the fare hikes, which were scheduled to begin in February, would have raised some $320 million. A peak and off-peak fare system- which would have affected mass transit riders most- was another option considered.
Last week, the other regional transit authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced that rush hour tolls on its six bridges and tunnels linking New York and New Jersey were set to rise from $6 to $8, while PATH commuter train fares would go from $1.50 to $2, an increase that would encourage mass transit and environmentally friendly driving and help to build a crucial train tunnel. Fare hikes by the MTA were expected to follow. Last month, however, four state senators wrote the MTA asking to scrap the plan to raise subway fares and tolls next year and joined transit advocates in urging the MTA to take the proposal off its board agenda for December, and yesterday's announcement followed.
"The governor's announcement is gratifying news," New York City Comptroller William Thompson, Jr. said. "He has heard the collective voice of New Yorkers that a fare increase at this time would be burdensome. His commitment to keep the base fare at $2 through , amidst
even greater budgetary challenges for the MTA, is to be commended. All New York City straphangers appreciate the governor's leadership in the face of the ever-rising cost of basic necessities.
"Early this year, my office identified a number of potential revenue sources that would not only keep down the fare, but address longstanding inequities in the distribution of transit subsidies. Many state legislators have expressed enthusiasm over our proposals, and it is my hope that they will make use of them in the coming legislative session to prevent any fare or toll increases in the foreseeable future. New Yorkers deserve nothing less."
"We commend Governor Spitzer's position that the MTA should hold off on fare increases and maintain the current base fare for subways and buses," City Councilmember John Liu, chair of the council Transportation Committee, said. "This really is the right thing to do because it recognizes the fact that a fare hike is a tax increase on working people. In New York City, we're trying to get more commuters to use mass transit. However, all the MTA talk of fare increases has in fact stirred up mounting opposition to the mayor's congestion mitigation proposal.
"Ultimately, it all boils down to the MTA's credibility and New Yorkers simply are not ready to pay the MTA more now when there is a billion dollars of operating surplus.
"There's no need to increase the base fare, nor is there any need to increase the price of weekly and monthly passes. Hopefully, with the governor's stance, the MTA will drop their almost nonsensical effort to hike the fares and get down to the real business of running our mass transit system, of fixing stations, of terror-proofing the subways, of installing communications capabilities, and maintaining the storm drainage systems."
The MTA can still manipulate the fare in other areas. Riders are still likely to see some increase in the cost of weekly and monthly unlimited-ride cards, for example, as well as commuter rail fares and bridge and tunnel tolls.