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Report: MTA spending on train service may hasten fare hikes

After raising fares in March, the MTA could

After raising fares in March, the MTA could seek to increase fares and tolls by 4 percent in 2019 and by the same amount again in 2021. Credit: Charles Eckert

The expensive measures the MTA is taking to reverse deteriorating train service could put pressure on the agency to raise fares faster than planned, according to a new report.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s report also sheds new light on the Long Island Rail Road’s challenging first half of the year, during which delays and cancellations increased by 57 percent, compared to the same period in 2016.

DiNapoli’s annual “financial outlook” for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority noted that, even if the agency gets the additional government aid it has been seeking, the added costs to the agency just from its recently announced efforts to improve subway performance could total $300 million annually — “the equivalent of an unscheduled fare and toll increase of about 4 percent.”

Those and other investments in the New York City subway system — expected to bolster the MTA’s 2020-2024 capital program by $8 billion — could force the agency “to raise fares and tolls faster than planned to maintain, modernize and expand the system,” the report said.

“In the absence of adequate funding, the system could fall into further disrepair and riders could face unplanned fare hikes,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The state and city need to find solutions to prevent these possibilities from becoming reality, and the MTA must make the best use of its resources.”

In a statement, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota accused DiNapoli of “fear mongering” by bringing up the possibility of unplanned fare hikes, and vowed that funding the subway repairs “will not come on the backs of riders.”

“The MTA needs a steady income stream to continue to maintain a state-of-good repair, while at the same time upgrade and expand the system,” Lhota said. “We are extremely encouraged by the growing support for congestion pricing [for driving into Manhattan] and we categorically reject the idea of any unplanned fare increases.”

John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, a non-profit subway rider advocacy group, said DiNapoli was right to point out the consequences of the MTA not finding a new revenue stream to fund its planned improvements.

“If Governor Cuomo doesn’t pass a new revenue source to fund the MTA, the only way to fix our subways and buses will be with fare hikes and service cuts, which are regressive plans that hurt working people the most,” Raskin said in a statement.

Despite dismissing the possibility of unplanned fare hikes, the MTA, whose latest increase this year was its sixth since 2008, plans to increase fares and tolls by 4 percent in 2019 and again in 2021.

The March fare hike came despite the fact that LIRR on-time performance “fell sharply during the first half of 2017,” according to DiNapoli’s report. There were 12,177 trains delayed or canceled through June — an increase of 57 percent over 2016.

Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and the adjoining East River tunnels, was responsible for 45 percent of that increase, the report said. The number of trains delayed because of problems in the tunnels more than doubled during the first half of the year, to 329 from 148.

The report noted that two of the four tunnels were severely damaged by 2012’s superstorm Sandy “and have not been repaired.” Amtrak said recently that a project to repair the passages may not commence until as late as 2025.

After a challenging first six months of 2017, the LIRR has bounced back in the second half. The LIRR posted its three highest monthly on-time performance figures in July, August and September — each above 93 percent.

The improvement coincided with management changes at the MTA and Amtrak’s summerlong infrastructure renewal project at Penn Station.

MTA planned fare, toll hikes

2019 — 4 percent

2021 — 4 percent

Increase in LIRR delays, cancellations

  • 12,177 trains delayed or canceled through June—an increase of 57 percent over 2016.
  • The number of trains delayed because of problems in the tunnels more than doubled during the first half of the year, from 148 to 329.

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