So the MTA is talking about raising fares -- again. Not by some middling amount, but by 12 percent across the board in 2015.
For New York City bus and subway riders we're talking about a jump of 25 cents per trip, to $2.75 one way using a MetroCard. For Long Island Rail Road or Metro North commuters, the hike would be far steeper, providing it extends system wide again.
Where I live in Westchester County, it costs $343 for a monthly commutation ticket today. That's up $100 per month in six years. If the hike goes through, the new monthly price will be $387. To get some perspective, multiply that monthly cost by 12 months and commuters at stations like mine are looking at $4,644 a year to get to Grand Central Terminal, not including pre-income tax commuting costs. Add parking and a subway ride from Grand Central -- not to mention gas to get to the station -- and the numbers get ludicrous, upward of 12 percent to 15 percent of the $77,000 median annual salary of a Westchester County resident for mass transit alone. Nassau and Suffolk residents don't fare much better percentage wise, with 2012 medium incomes of $93,000 and $86,000, respectively. (Note to self: invest loose car change in suburban commercial space.) Local businesses get hurt, too, by having to pay the relatively new MTA payroll tax (2008) which was supposed to help prevent big fare increases like this one from happening. One wonders how many fewer jobs have been created in the downstate region as a result of that tax.
MTA Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast did an interesting thing when he announced the proposed hike Thursday. He laid the blame squarely where it belongs: on public employee union work rules that prevent the MTA from making sensible, money-saving restructuring reforms. Some are accusing Prendergast of negotiating with the unions in public by throwing out to the news media an alarming fare hike proposal , but his remarks are a sign of how serious the cost of doing business in New York is becoming under union rules and how much power the public employee unions now wield.
But just try to challenge them. We've all seen the ads. Whenever some reform is proposed, the violins roll out in pitch-perfect spots about "fairness" and "attacks on middle class working families." But what's fair about dramatically hiking transportation costs for those that can least afford it, aka the riding public?
The median annual salary of a Bronx resident in 2012 was $18,000, according to the Census.
If this fare hike happens, a 30-day unlimited MetroCard is expected to jump to $125 -- or more than 8 percent of that person's annual income. Don't low-wage workers count as working families, too?
Mayor Mike Bloomberg didn't talk much about the public employee unions when he first came into office. But by the time he left office he was talking about them a lot. He warned New Yorkers that something has to be done before New York is forced to begin cannibalizing its services to cover union pay and benefit increases, which they never stop demanding.
Funny, that's pretty much what Prendergast said Thursday. It's either going to be a fare hike, union concessions or the abandonment of routine maintenance.
Expect to dig deeper in your pocket this year and for longer train and bus delays. That and a lot of sappy union ads.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.