Source: ChuckJones242 / Flickr

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.

Conclusion

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).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • sonicboy678

    Yeah, it’s going to be a disaster.

    Something that never made sense to me was the idea to make the Single Ride MetroCards more expensive than the base fare. Really, what’s the point of doing that?

    • Allan Rosen

      I believe that was only a temporary measure to get some additional revenue. With this new increase, that will no longer be the case if the fare rises to $2.50. There is no scenario that raises the single ride to $2.75. A single ride will also cost $2.50, but you will have to pay $1 for the card if you don’t reuse it, effectively raising the price of a single ride to $3.50.

      That raises the question if a new industry will arise, that is to sell discarded MetroCards with zero balance on them to tourists for 50 cents apiece, bringing to cost down of a single trip from $3.50 to $3 and if that happens, what the MTA will do about it and what law would be broken if any?

      • sonicboy678

        Actually, they’re planning on keeping it more costly than the base fare. Again, it’s a stupid idea.

        The MTA would probably get up in arms about that, despite a real lack of provisions to prevent that.

        • Allan Rosen

          You are correct. Thank you. Somehow I missed that. I agree with you that it is stupid, unfair and totally unnecessary. That means if a tourist for some reason only has to take one local subway ride, it will cost him $3.75 instead of $2.50. How much additional revenue could that possibly raise? Has to be miniscule in relation to the deficit.

          • Andrew

            It will cost him either $2.75 or $2.50, depending on which proposal is adopted.

      • Andrew

        Not correct. See the first table here, second row, “Single Ride Ticket (Subway)” – in all scenarios it costs 25 cents more the base fare. (Single Ride Tickets aren’t MetroCards, so the $1 MetroCard charge doesn’t apply.) In Proposal 1, the price of a Single Ride Ticket would be $2.75. In Proposal 2, the price of a Single Ride Ticket would be $2.50, as it is today.

        The number of MetroCard machines available, and the frequency of maintenance calls, depends on number of purchases. Encouraging large purchases (hence the bonus on $10+ sales) and discouraging very small purchases (hence the Single Ride Ticket surcharge and the transfer restriction) is prudent.

        I highly doubt that many tourists will be lured into buying an unauthorized MetroCard for a one-time savings of 50 cents. But who knows? Maybe it’s a good business opportunity.

        • Allan Rosen

          Thanks for the clarification. But some people only need a single trip. (A friend could have given them a lift in the other direction.) Is it fair to punish them for it? I really doubt it if someone who intends to make a round trip will want to make two separate purchases anyway if there were no penalty.

          • Andrew

            I personally don’t agree with the “soak-the-tourist” philosophy, but it seems to be a popular one these days. That said, I hardly think a 25-cent surcharge for somebody who only rides the system once is a major hardship.
            If you think it’s bad here, London’s cash fare on the Underground for any single-zone trip is £4.30 ($6.90). With an Oyster card, subject to a £5.00 ($8.02) deposit, the fare drops to £2.00 ($3.21) in zone 1 or £1.50 ($2.40) peak / £1.40 ($2.24) off-peak in other zones.

        • Allan Rosen

          Also, a tourist or visitor here only for the day who needs to make only one single round trip would be better off buying two single ride tickets costing $5.50  under some of your scenarios, rather than $6 for a round trip when considering the dollar surcharge for the card. How will that reduce lines at vending machines and booths in Midtown?

          • Andrew

            Yes, in that marginal case, two Single Ride Tickets are cheaper than a MetroCard with two fares. But I doubt that case applies very often. A much more common case is somebody who lives in New York and rides the subway fairly regularly but not every day, who might be inclined to buy a Single Ride Ticket for each ride without sufficient incentives to use a MetroCard.

  • winson

    Long Island Railroad is the only rail system many Queens neighborhoods have. Same with Metro-North for the Bronx by the Hudson. Fare beaters need to be punished big time.

  • Andrew

    The minor crossings refer to the two Rockaway bridges. One of the toll categories listed – on the fare proposal page, on the current tolls page, and on the MTA Fares and Tolls presentation – is labeled “minor token,” presumably referring to a token that is only valid on the minor crossings. I doubt it’s a misprint.

    The MTA has specific revenue goals that it needs to reach. Implementing new discounts without offsetting increases elsewhere won’t work. Off-peak ridership has been skyrocketing in recent years; it’s hardly a new goal that suddenly needs to be addressed now.

    The MTA certainly considers lost ridership in its revenue projections. In 2003, for instance, the MTA projected a ridership loss of 2.9% due to the fare increase. In fact, ridership dropped by less than 1%, but more riders than expected shifted to discounted cards. Revenue projections were not met despite a smaller-than-expected drop in ridership. http://www.suu.edu/faculty/tufte/07F_E6200/9781405160476_4_003.pdf

    • Allan Rosen

      In these materials, it is referred to only as a “minor toll”, not “minor token”. Hence my question. I could find nowhere on their website how one goes about purchasing a non resident token if one exists and how many need to be purchased at once. I realize they want to promote EZ Pass, but that is no reason to withhold information.

      Also do you think they factored in all the nickels and dimes currently thrown away on Discarded MetroCards, amounting to millions, that they will no longer have when most people start refilling cards to avoid the dollar charge in their budget calculations?

      • Andrew

        I assume that non-resident tokens are sold at the staffed (cash) booths. Why not call 511 and ask for more details?

        Yes, I think they factored that into their calculations.