MTA proposes fare hikes of up to 9.3%

MTA is proposing yet another fare hike that will cause many residents to cut back on personal spending. We asked commuters in White Plains what they were willing to cut back on order to accommodate higher fares.

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Metro-North commuters could be facing fare increases as steep as 9.3 percent under a slate of proposals the MTA introduced Monday, hoping to plug a $450-million hole in next year's $12.6-billion budget.

Under a distance-based fare plan, some Westchester and Rockland commuters would pay more and others less as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority attempts to raise some $26 million in fare revenue from Metro-North alone.

Metro-North commuters will see increases of 8.2 percent to 9.3 percent on most tickets, the MTA said.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota said the fare increases are needed to offset rising costs beyond the control of the nation's largest rail, bridge and subway system.

Lhota said early Monday that costs such as debt service, energy, pensions and health care "continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation."

"I believe our nondiscretionary costs are growing at such a rate that we have no choice but to raise fares and tolls," Lhota added later during the Monday morning announcement at MTA headquarters in Manhattan.

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MTA officials offered a glimpse of how the increases will impact select Metro-North commuters:

•A one-way fare from New Rochelle to Grand Central -- currently $9.25 -- could jump to $10.

•A one way ride from White Plains to Grand Central would go to $11.25 from $10.50.

•A one-way fare from Nanuet to Penn Station would jump to $10.25 from $9.50.

•A Harriman to Penn Station ride would go to $14.50 from $13.50.

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•A weekly commute from Beacon would jump to $141.75 from $129.25.

There would continue to be discounts for commuters traveling during off-peak hours and those who purchase weekly and monthly passes, MTA officials said. Off-peak fares would be priced at 75 percent of the peak fares. For instance, an off-peak ride from New Rochelle to Grand Central would jump to $7.50 from $7 and a monthly pass would go from $204 to $222.

In addition, the E-ZPass toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge would jump to $2.43 from its current $2.20. Tolls collected by mail for the Henry Hudson would jump to $5 from the current $4.

Last week, the MTA said that the Bronx-Manhattan crossing would be the first to have unmanned, cashless toll booths installed. The agency has said that, for drivers do not have E-ZPass, the toll booths will photograph license plates and the drivers will get a bill in the mail. The cashless tolls will begin Nov. 10.

A full listing of the proposed pricing system and related discounts can be found at www.mta.info.

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Public hearings on the MTA proposals will be offered in Yonkers, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie in November, followed by a December vote by the MTA board.

The proposals put forward represent something of a departure from those of the recent past as they describe fare increases in terms of ranges and various combinations, officials said.

"The board has the option of doing anything in between," Lhota said.

For instance, Lhota introduced four proposals for raising New York City subway and bus fares. Under one, the base fare would increase to $2.50 from $2.25, while keeping the current bonus discount unchanged, which would mean a $2.34 per-ride fare for straphangers.

Fare and toll increases would not take effect until March, meaning that any hikes would raise only $394 million next year, MTA officials said. They come on top of 7.5 percent fare and toll increases passed two years ago.

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Lhota said he hopes the region's financial condition improves in the years to come so the MTA isn't forced to pursue another increase in two years.

"My hope is that the economy grows by leaps and bounds," Lhota said.

In the meantime, Lhota said he is continuing to pursue cost-cutting measures -- short of service reductions -- that already have saved some $700 million.

"The MTA is trying to do everything it can to make itself as efficient and effective as possible," Lhota said.

He expressed optimism that a tax on businesses in the MTA region -- declared unconstitutional by a Long Island judge this summer -- would not leave yet another gaping hole in the MTA's cash-starved budget. MTA officials estimated that the Payroll Mobility Tax generates more than $1 billion in revenue annually.

"I'm going to be optimistic," Lhota said. "I believe the PMT cases will be overturned."

Although Metro-North's share of the revenue increase from fare hikes would be $26 million, the Long Island Rail Road's share would be $38 million, according to MTA officials. Bridge and tunnel increases would contribute $86 million and the New York City Transit systems -- buses and subways -- would generate $232 million. An additional $12 million would come from other MTA buses and the Staten Island railway.

Lhota dismissed suggestions suburban commuters will be forced to subsidize the New York City subway system.

"Anyone who believes the Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North is subsidizing the New York City subway system is completely wrong," Lhota said. "It is absolutely false."

Each system funds itself, Lhota said.

The proposal comes as Metro-North pursues one of the largest service expansions in its history. Some 80 trains were added this past weekend to the New Haven, Harlem and Pascack Valley lines.

An additional 151 trains will be added in the spring as Metro-North trains a new set of conductors and engineers to replace retiring workers.

The new fare increase proposal comes at a time when the MTA is experiencing record ridership on its commuter rails and subways, officials said. Last year, Metro-North tallied 82 million rides, the second-most rides in its 30-year history, just behind 2008, when the system logged 83.6 million.

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