Analysis: MTA fares could rise 50% by 2023

A Metro-North train leaves the Yonkers station for A Metro-North train leaves the Yonkers station for New York City. (Nov. 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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If the MTA keeps raising fares every two years, riders could swipe $3.75 for a single ride in a decade, according to a report released Tuesday by a group representing bus and subway riders.

The Straphangers Campaign released an analysis it requested from the city's Independent Budget Office showing that fares could be 50 percent higher than now, significantly outpacing the rate of inflation, based on the size of the last two fare hikes in 2011 and this year. Since 2003, riders have seen six fare increases.

That means in 2023, a 30-day MetroCard would cost $168, a seven-day pass would hit $45, and a base fare with discount would go up to $3.57 from $2.38 today.

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"Constant fare hikes will burden the riders, will discourage people from using mass transit, and it's just not sustainable in the long run," Gene Russianoff, an attorney with the Straphangers Campaign, told reporters.

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Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Adam Lisberg said the figures in the report are "purely hypothetical" and that the real size of the fare hikes will be based on revenue and expenses.

"It's way too early to say what kind of fare hike we're going to be talking about two years from now," Lisberg said. "There's a lot of factors that go into it."

He said riders today pay a fare that is 18 percent lower than in 1996, when accounting for inflation.

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Last week, the MTA updated its financial plan to include two fare increases for 2015 and 2017. The agency's goal is to pull in 7.5 percent more revenue for each increase, but that may not be the size of the hike.

The budget office noted that ridership declines temporarily after a fare increase, meaning the MTA would have to increase a fare by 8.4 percent to meet its goal. That is the same kind of increase riders saw during the March fare hike this year. For comparison, the report said there is a 2.7 percent yearly inflation rate for the metropolitan area.

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Russianoff said lawmakers in Albany need to devise a funding strategy for the MTA so the agency could rely less on fare increases. The MTA has been cutting costs in recent years, producing $800 million in annual savings with the goal of saving $1.3 billion by 2017.

"I can't stand here and say that there's nowhere they can cut things, but I think it leaves a false impression with the public that you can save your way out of these problems," Russianoff said. "They really are going to need revenue in the long run, and it's really the governor and state legislature that make that decision."

Riders said the fare hikes would take a bigger bite out of their finances as wages barely budge.

"The hikes go up, and we get paid the same," said Felix Tejada, 36, a security guard in Morrisania, in the Bronx. "It's OK as long as everything is balanced."

Others wanted to see the quality of service improve as the MTA asks more from passengers over the next four years.

"The service doesn't get better with the rate hikes," said Princeton, N.J., commuter Fred Randow, 49, who runs event technology at the Sheraton Hotel.

But Isaac Honan, 35, a waiter who lives in midtown, likened MTA fares to the price of stamps -- just another cost that increases over time.

"I still think it's a lot cheaper than taking a cab," Honan said.

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