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New MTA fiscal plan keeps 2017 fare hike, boosts LIRR service

Commuters mill about after departing their train at

Commuters mill about after departing their train at the Long Island Railroad station in Jamaica on March 11, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr., File

The MTA’s latest financial plan includes money for several Long Island Rail Road improvements, including the repair of thousands of damaged seat covers, and keeps a planned fare hike next year.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday unveiled the preliminary plan, which includes a peek at next year’s operating budget and a forecast of the agency’s finances through 2020.

Better-than-expected revenues will allow the MTA to close out 2016 with an additional $690 million that the agency will use to offset potential deficits in future years and also make new investments in service.

On the LIRR, planned improvements include the repair or replacement of vinyl upholstery on 6,000 M-7 electric train seats and 4,000 diesel coach car seats by the end of 2017, the restoration of year-round weekend service to Greenport, additional trains timed to connect with Fire Island ferries during the summer, a new MTA police facility in Bethpage, and additional cars on “select trains to meet ridership demands,” particularly on diesel trains, according to the MTA.

The agency still projects keeping its regular schedule of inflation-based fare and toll hikes every other year. That means a 2 percent increase in 2017.

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast emphasized that, as of now, they are only “projected” fare and toll hikes, and that the full MTA Board will hold public hearings later this year before voting on whether to move forward with a rate hike.

Prendergast said any plan would consider the MTA’s overall fare policy broadly, including opportunities to offer discounts and reduce fares in some cases.

“There’s always a concern on the part of the board. At some point you reach a breaking point for fares and tolls. Is it being too much for people?” Prendergast said.

With fares revenue covering half of the MTA’s operating costs, MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said regular fare and toll increases are essential. He noted that, without the regular increases and without achieving an internal cost-cutting goal of $2 billion annually by 2020, the agency could face an “untenable” $1.3 billion deficit in four years.

“We have to achieve those savings targets and we really have to pursue those biennial fare and toll increases,” Foran said.

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