Commuters who ride the subways and buses or the bridges to get into the Straphangers were thrilled with an early holiday surprise from the MTA yesterday, as the agency announced that it will be scaling back its plans to raise fares.
MTA CFO Bob Foran told the agency’s board that it has made significant progress in reducing its deficit since the last budget report in the summer. As a result, Foran proposed that planned 7.5% fare hikes in 2015 and 2017 should be reduced to 4%.
“The improved financial position and the cost cutting reductions ... do allow for some new customer initiatives,” he said.
Foran said increased revenue from a growing number of straphangers and various internal cost saving plans will offset the extra $905 million the MTA would have garnered with the original 7.5% hikes.
Riders said they were glad that the MTA threw them a bone. Murray Hill resident Kristen Armstrong, 22, said her pay per ride MetroCard taxes her budget, so a slight decrease in a hike is welcome.
“It’s awesome,” said the event planner who has to travel to Brooklyn frequently for work. “I mean, I’d like fares to stay the same, but 4% is better than 7.5%.”
Steve Diaz, a 26-year-old photographer from Brooklyn, said he felt some relief from the downsized fare hike, though he wishes that the MTA was smarter with its financial management. He said that hikes rarely bring visible improvements in the quality of stations and service.
“It feels like it’s going into a bucket,” Diaz said of the extra funds.
Gene Russianoff, the spokesman for the nonprofit watchdog group the Straphangers Campaign, said the MTA’s change of heart stemmed from both public outcry over the constant hikes and political input. Several groups, including the state comptroller’s office, issued reports that showed the two 7.5% increases would exceed the rate of inflation.
“They realized they weren’t going to get away with it over time. Why have everyone be their enemy if they could find other ways?” Russianoff said.
The new budget proposal will go before the board for approval in December. If it’s approved, it will go into effect in March 2015. MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said he was confident the board members will agree to the changes.
“We wouldn’t come forth with a presentation if we didn’t think there was a likelihood to do it,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Still, Sharon Brown of Brooklyn said the board needs to put riders’ priorities first before it makes any drastic decision going forward.
“I’m already paying too much. We don’t deserve these hikes,” she said.