THE COMMUTE: November 7, 2012, is when the Brooklyn hearing for the 2013 proposed fare and toll hikes is scheduled. If that evening is inconvenient for you, another will be held on the November 13, 2012 in Manhattan. The MTA is also accepting video testimony during the day at selected locations. That testimony should be incorporated into the official record, according to the MTA. However, at the service cut hearings in 2010, 90 minutes of the Brooklyn testimony was omitted from the official record, including my three minutes. When I informed the MTA of that “error,” I was written that it would be inserted if they got the chance. It never was.
A complete list of hearing sites can be found here. A presentation to the chairman [PDF] has some interesting charts regarding the percentages of various income groups using different types of passes and bonuses and those who pay full fare. No data is provided regarding who pays double fares to reach their destinations and will, therefore, be hit twice.
The MTA developed four scenarios regarding the transit fare increase. It is important that you make yourself heard not only to the MTA, but also to our state officials, so they will see and know that their constituents care about this issue, and will hopefully wake up and increase MTA funding.
Politicians, such as Senator Marty Golden, should receive credit for speaking out against the proposed fare hike, but it is hypocritical of them to do so while at the same time cutting MTA funding. On the other hand, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, in his latest mailing to constituents, took a different tack. He brags about his support last year to eliminate the payroll tax for the MTA as a victory for small businessmen. Perhaps it was, but what did he propose instead to fill the $300 million gap in next year’s MTA budget, created by the absence of the payroll tax (the gap is $380, if no fare increases take effect)? Also, what happened to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s promise that he will make up that difference with other state funds? Instead, it is up to the riders to fill that gap.
The MTA fare hike proposal explanations and justification are also available at token booths in English and Spanish and on their website here.
Tolls Are Also Increasing
Unlike the four fare proposal scenarios the MTA is considering, there is only one scenario for the proposed toll increases — a 15 percent increase for cash users and a 10 percent increase for E-ZPass® users with a similar increase in another two years. These increases are greater than any of the transit- or railroad-proposed increases. While most of the attention has been focused on what will happen to the subway fare, little has been said regarding the proposed toll increases.
If you do not drive, you may not care about the toll increases, but you should because truck tolls will also be increasing by around 10 percent for E-ZPass® and 15 percent for cash users, which will be reflected in the higher prices of shipped goods.
In addition to paying in cash or with E-ZPass® on the minor bridges, such as the Gil Hodges – Marine Parkway Bridge, the internet materials state that the “minor toll” will be increasing from $2.17 to $2.50. This sounds like it could be the toll for motorcycles, but the printed materials call it a “minor token,” not a ‘minor toll’. Does anyone know if tokens are still in use on some TBTA facilities or if this is a misprint?
An Improvement Over Past Fare Hikes, But…
Giving the public a choice in how to increase the fare is an improvement over past fare hikes. However, the MTA must be more imaginative in their thinking regarding the fare by considering other fare restructurings. The MTA also needs to consider additional discounts to promote increases in off-peak ridership, such as providing three-day passes that exist in Chicago and to reduce the effect of the proposed new $1 MetroCard surcharge if current cards are not refilled. This will be felt most by tourists. To encourage refilling, turnstiles now show the “soft” expiration date when the card expires. There will be no charge to shift balances on cards that have reached their hard expiration date (the date when the shelf life of a card has been reached).
The MTA also needs to rationalize Long Island Railroad (LIRR) fares within the city limits (at least during off-peak hours) so that it costs no more than the fare to ride an express bus. Without a huge fare deterrent to use the LIRR, the MTA might find that there will be a reduced need to provide more costly local and express bus service.
A 10 to 15 percent fare and toll increase every two years, ad infinitum, is no plan. Albany must wake up and contribute more toward the MTA’s operating expenses. The MTA must eliminate more waste. On Pages 6 and 7 of the July report to the MTA Board [PDF], the MTA’s cost savings measures are outlined. As convincing as those measures may sound, I am sure there still is more room for additional savings just from seeing how inefficient their bus operation is, where bus bunching is rampant. I also doubt if the MTA considers losses in ridership when projecting revenue targets resulting from fare increases. History has shown that, after these increases, the MTA’s revenue projections fall short due to reduced ridership.
The federal government must contribute more toward capital expenses to enable the MTA to call in some of its bonds and issue fewer in the future. Other methods of funding must be found. However, I have never supported the idea of congestion pricing. Newsday provides an excellent critique of the MTA’s fare plan, explaining how Long Island riders are especially hit hard by having to experience both a railroad increase as well as a subway fare increase. They also state that New York’s transit riders currently pay the highest percentage of any city in the country to operate their system, with the fare accounting for 72 percent of operating expenses and charging that the MTA can’t keep soaking commuters. That doesn’t even take into consideration additional subsidies to the MTA by transit users, such as MTA utility surcharges, raising that percentage paid by commuters even higher.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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