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New York Transit postpones 4% fare hike, hoping for federal rescue

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, buses and two commuter rails, had come under mounting pressure from elected officials and transit advocates to postpone the hike.

January 20, 2021 / 12:05 AM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

New York City’s transit agency has warned for months of a fare hike that would take effect this spring, part of a regularly scheduled increase that would help fill a multibillion dollar budget hole after the pandemic drained the system of riders and starved it of nearly all its revenues.

But in a reflection of the agency’s stark reversal of fortune now that Democrats will be in control of the White House and Congress, transit officials announced Sunday night that they would postpone the 4% fare increases for at least several months, anticipating significantly more federal aid.

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, buses and two commuter rails, had come under mounting pressure from elected officials and transit advocates to postpone the hike because they said it would hurt the essential and low-wage workers who make up the backbone of ridership today.

At the same time, the impending takeover of the White House by President-elect Joe Biden and the retaking of the Senate by Democrats — Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is poised to become the chamber’s majority leader — has bolstered transit officials’ hopes that the MTA will receive funds to alleviate its staggering financial woes.

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Officials said they would delay fare increases until the local economy showed signs of a recovery and there was greater clarity about how much federal aid the agency could expect. Officials are hoping they will be given an additional $8 billion in relief, which is the size of the agency’s budget deficit through 2024.

The pandemic has brought revenues to “levels far worse than the Great Depression,” Patrick J. Foye, the MTA chairman, said in a statement. “It has also hit people of color and low-income communities hardest, many of whom are the very same essential workers that have been on the front lines of this crisis and who are also most dependent on mass transit.

“People are suffering and cannot shoulder even a modest fare increase right now,” Foye added in explaining the postponement of the fare hike.

MTA officials last year laid out a variety of options for how a fare hike could be applied, including raising the base fare from $2.75 to $2.85, increasing the surcharge for buying a new MetroCard from $1 to $3, and eliminating seven- and 30-day unlimited passes or raising their prices.

On commuter rails, the possibilities included raising the price for single-ride and 10-trip tickets by more than 4% while keeping the price of monthly and weekly passes the same, or overhauling ticket prices entirely to reflect where trips begin and end.

The MTA board, which is controlled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was scheduled to vote on these changes at its monthly meeting Thursday.

But in recent weeks, transit advocates and a growing number of state and city elected officials warned that raising fares would strain the essential workers who tend to be lower-income people of color, would do little to raise revenue for the agency with ridership at record lows, and could discourage riders from returning to the system as city life rebounds.

“A fare hike is at best a flat tax, but at the moment it’s highly regressive because it’s essential workers and low-income New Yorkers without cars who are still taking transit while white-collar workers stay home and tourists say away,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.

Riders welcomed the news Monday morning. Roger Windley, 37, a private trash collector who lives and works in Brooklyn, said he was frustrated by the prospect of another fare hike.

“Every time it goes up, people don’t get more money,” Windley said at the Broadway Junction station. “It’s crazy, especially now.”

When asked how he would personally be affected if forced to pay more for the five days a week he rides, he replied, “I’ll be broke.”

(Author: Christina Goldbaum)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)
New York Times

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