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Queens Chronicle

MTA proposes bus and subway fare increases, toll hikes

Agency says $450 million needed in 2013 to balance its budget

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Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:31 am, Thu Oct 25, 2012.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is previewing its proposals for fare and toll hikes in the spring, and the critics’ reviews are scathing.

Four possibilities, which will be subject to public hearings throughout the city and the region, are aimed at increasing revenue by $450 million, which the agency says will balance its budget next year.

The budget projection also is contingent on more than 60 MTA unions accepting new contracts with no raises.

An MTA board vote on the increases is scheduled for Dec. 19. Any changes would take effect on or about March 1, 2013.

Under two of the proposals, MetroCard subway and bus fares would increase from $2.25 to $2.50. Options under the $2.50 proposal would include either the keeping current 7 percent discount for a purchase of $10 or more on a MetroCard, or eliminating the discount entirely.

A 30-day unlimited MetroCard would go from $104 to $112, while a weekly card would go from $29 to $30.

Two proposals would keep MetroCard subway and bus fares at $2.25. But the bonus for $10 or more would be reduced to 5 percent or eliminated. The $104 30-day card would increase to either $125 or $119, while a weekly would go from $29 to either $34 or $32.

Bridge and tunnel tolls for the RFK-Triborough, Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone bridges would increase from $4.80 to $5.30 for E-ZPass users, and from $6.50 to $7.50 for cash payments. The same increases would be imposed at the Brooklyn-Battery and Queens Midtown tunnels.

The round-trip toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would go from $9.60 to $10.60 for an E-ZPass and from $13 to $15 for cash.

Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North fares are expected to increase between 8.2 percent and 9.3 percent, depending on the rider’s zone.

In a statement issued by the MTA on Monday, Chairman Joseph Lhota said the budget proposals follow unprecedented cuts to what he called controllable costs.

“Costs that the MTA does not exercise control over, namely those for debt service, pensions, energy, paratransit and employee and retiree healthcare, continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation,” Lhota said. “We are grappling with long-term measures to reduce these frustrating and difficult nondiscretionary expenses, but today they are the drivers for the need for fare and toll increases.”

Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, pointed out it would be the fourth MTA hike in five years.

“It’s relentless,” he said.

Russianoff quoted a recent audit conducted by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli which stated that by 2015 — the next time the MTA is planning to effect an increase — the fares will have gone up 35 percent since 2007.

Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates mass transit use, is calling on Gov. Cuomo to step in and avert the hike.

Its leaders said the Legislature has reappropriated $260 million in supposedly dedicated transit funds since 2009.

“While New Yorkers have suffered fare hike after fare hike, our state government raided hundreds of millions of dollars in transit funds,” said Paul Steely White, the group’s executive director, in a statement released on Monday. “Gov. Cuomo can put a stop to this by increasing the state’s investment in public transit. Treating our MetroCards like a credit card is no way to run a railroad.” The group has launched a petition on-line at stopthefarehike.com.

Russianoff said riders pay 53 percent of New York City Transit’s operating costs. He said that is the highest percentage of any major city in the country. Lhota disputes neither assertion.

Russianoff said Chicago riders pay 44 percent; Washington, DC 42 percent; Boston 38 percent; and Philadelphia 37 percent.

But Robert Sinclair, spokesman for AAA New York, said drivers facing toll hikes don’t want to hear from transit riders about subsidies.

“It goes back to 1967 when the state gave the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority to the MTA as a means of providing surpluses of money to a cash-starved agency,” Sinclair said Tuesday.

Sinclair said drivers’ bridge and tunnel tolls amount to approximately 350 percent of bridge and tunnel operating costs, with the rest going to subsidize mass transit.

Sinclair also said drivers are hit with the petroleum business tax, a fee that just increased from 17 cents to 17.8 cents per gallon on every gallon of gas sold in the state.

“In 2009, the last year for which we have figures, there were 7.6 billon gallons sold in the state,” Sinclair said. “That is about $1 billion, and about 90 percent of that went to the MTA.” He also said drivers in the Metropolitan Community Transit District subsidize the MTA with a $50 fee on their car registrations.

“Were it not for toll money and surpluses, mass transit would grind to a screeching halt,” Sinclair said. He cited a recent report that said the MTA paid $600 million in overtime in 2010, or 33 percent more than the hike it is seeking.

In a statement issued on Monday that began “Enough already!” the Straphangers said new revenue could be realized if the state would permit congestion tolls at all river crossings.

Tolls would go down on spans like the Throgs Neck and the Verrazano, while being newly instituted at the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

The Straphangers said the plan was developed by Sam Schwartz, a former traffic commissioner for the city and a Queens Chronicle columnist. The plan is available online at goo.gl/ynnmS9.

There will be eight public hearings throughout the region between Nov. 7 and Nov. 15. The Queens session is set for Nov. 15 at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel at 135-20 39th St. in Flushing. Speakers will be heard between 5 and 9 p.m. Registration begins at 4 p.m.

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