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Proposed MTA fare increases up for public discussion, starting Tuesday

Under one plan being considered by the MTA,

Under one plan being considered by the MTA, the Long Island Rail Road would replace its distance-based fare model with a flat fare for trips made between stations on Long Island and stations in New York City. Credit: Charles Eckert

Several ideas about how to raise MTA fare and toll revenue — including implementing a flat fare for LIRR trips made between Long Island and New York City — will be the topic of a series of virtual public hearings that begin Tuesday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is holding eight virtual public hearings through Dec. 21, with the first taking place on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. More information on how to watch the hearings and participate in them is available at new.mta.info/2020hearings.

"The MTA will begin the standard review process for fare and toll adjustments, although we recognize this year is anything but standard, with a series of virtual public hearings," MTA chairman Patrick Foye said in a statement. "With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are committed to reviewing a wide variety of proposals and will work to minimize the impact on our customers."

The hikes aim to raise the MTA fare and toll revenue by 4%. If approved by the MTA Board early next year, the new rates would take effect in the spring.

Under one plan being considered, the Long Island Rail Road would replace the distance-based fare model it adopted nearly two centuries ago and replace it with a flat fare for trips made between stations on Long Island and stations in New York City. The model also would do away with "peak" and "off-peak" pricing, and instead charge the same fares at all times.

Under another proposal being considered, LIRR monthly pass-holders would not see their fares go up. Instead, the LIRR would raise rates only on "non-commutation" fares, including one-way and round-trip tickets — most of which would increase in cost by between 7% and 10%.

The LIRR is also considering replacing Mail & Ride tickets with downloadable electronic tickets, which would save on printing and postage costs.

The New York City Transit subway and bus system is similarly considering some unconventional approaches to its fare hike plan. Under one proposal, the "base fare" of a bus or subway trip would be kept at $2.75, but time-based passes, like the seven-day and 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard, would be eliminated. Other options include eliminating the use of coins on buses, increasing the fee for the purchase of a new MetroCard, and getting rid of single-ride MetroCards.

But Danny Pearlstein, spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, said the MTA shouldn’t be raising fares at all right now, given how many essential workers are counting on the transit system to get to and from work.

"Now more than ever, the subway and bus fare is a regressive tax," Pearlstein said.

The MTA is also considering raising E-ZPass tolls on the MTA’s Bridges and Tunnels to as much as $6.70, from the current $6.12, and charging different rates at different times of the day, depending on traffic conditions.

Most of the online hearings will be attended by MTA leadership, including board members and agency presidents. It’s the first time the agency has held its public fare hearings virtually, though monthly board meetings have been virtual since March.

"Our role is to be good listeners," said MTA Board member Kevin Law, who represents Suffolk County and has pushed the agency to consider decreasing fares in 2021 to lure back commuters. "I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but I believe all options are on the table."

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