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Report: Subway fares may rise 50% in decade

The MetroCard is celebrating 20 years of swiping

The MetroCard is celebrating 20 years of swiping this week, but it has only several years of life left as the MTA devises the next fare payment system. Credit: handout

UPDATED 7:25 P.M.: If the MTA keeps raising fares every two years, riders could be swiping away $3.75 for a single ride in a decade, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Straphangers Campaign released an analysis it requested from the city's Independent Budget Office showing that fares could be 50% higher thannow, 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 be $168, a seven-day pass would hit $45, and a base fare with discount would go up to $3.57 from $2.38 today.

“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.

MTA 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 revenues 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 added that riders today pay a fare that is 18% lower than in 1996, with inflation.

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% more revenue for each increase, but that may not be the size of the hike.

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

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

“I can’t stand here and say that there's no where 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 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, a 36-year-old security guard in Morisania. “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, a 49-year-old who runs event technology at the Sheraton Hotel.

But Isaac Honan, a 35-year-old 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, adding, “I see some improvement” before stepping onto a newer-model train recently added to the C line.

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