Shocker: MTA Board Approves Fare Hike

City Room reports:

Today’s vote came after weeks of public hearings, at which commuters and advocacy groups expressed overwhelming and nearly unanimous opposition to the fare and toll increase. In particular, opponents called on the M.T.A. board to hold off at least until April, when the State Legislature is expected to evaluate recommendations from a state commission studying Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal and other ways to mitigate traffic.

M.T.A. executives maintained that they could not wait until then because it faces looming multibillion-dollar deficits. For the last several years, the authority has benefited from a windfall in real estate taxes, but the slowing of the housing market has slowed down even as the authority faces rising costs for four key expansion projects: the new Second Avenue subway line, the East Side Access project to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, the West Side extension of the No. 7 subway line and the completion of the Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan.

As for State Assembly member Richard Brodsky’s insistence that Albany can find ways to come up with transportation funding other than Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal, City Room notes:

Barry L. Feinstein, a longtime board member who represents the governor, warned that Albany is unlikely to offer the authority a financial bailout. He predicted that the state government was facing a "dog fight" among competing priorities in education, health care and the environment.

  • andrew

    now that’s really a tax on the working class, while the rich folks in the Lexus pays zilch.

    Nice going NYC

  • brent

    “He (Barry Feinstein) predicted that the state government was facing a “dog fight” among competing priorities in education, health care and the environment.”- This in not true. The only “dog fight” is partisan bickering about petty issues. It is a distraction tactic employed to avoid doing anything meaningful and worthwhile for the citizenry. These are the same “public servants” who just voted to raise their own salaries. Write to your elected officials to express your disgust at their incompetence. Why is it next to impossible to get motorists to pay any sort of a road or parking charge, much less raise a bridge toll a few cents, but mass transit users have to shell out more for ever decreasing service?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Speaking of someone who knows quite a bit about public finance, we’re toast. And other parts of the U.S. might be even worse off, because NY is used to paying more and getting less, but they’ll have to get used to it.

    For just one aspect of us being toast, read the NY Times on pensions today. Then realize that NY pensions are only “fully funded” based on very optimistic assumptions about investment returns, and our debts are about the highest in the U.S. And our state and local taxes are already the highest too, with more and more of them going to pay for the past, NOT the present.

    That’s why you’ve got to love bicycles — very limited public capital costs, zero operating costs.

    If there isn’t more cash (paid when spent) money for ongoing maintenance and replacement, the transport system will resume a 1970s-like economic spiral. Even if the MTA wanted to borrow another $15 billion it may not be able to — yields on munis are going up as people realize that lots of governments are going to default and credit becomes scarce.

  • Mark

    NYC sends more state tax revenue to NYS than it get back in state spending. A crumbling transit system will slow down the gravy train. Therefore it’s in the state’s best interest to keep the transit system running. How long it will take the boobs up there to realize this is anyone’s guess.

  • t

    So, it will cost everyday subway riders an extra $5 per month (based on the monthy card fare hike) to get to and from work every day, but a car can still drive from Westchester or Long Island for free and park on the street for next to nothing. What is wrong with that picture? And what is wrong with our elected officials?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (NYC sends more state tax revenue to NYS than it get back in state spending. Therefore it’s in the state’s best interest to keep the transit system running. How long it will take the boobs up there to realize this is anyone’s guess.)

    It will take 40 future years of Upstate politicians telling their constituents what you just said, for it to sink in that the popular thing they told people for the past 40 years (the opposite) isn’t true. After they get started, that is.

  • Jonathan

    Andrew and t, please. Motorcar users pay for insurance, parking, maintenance, fuel, tolls, registration fees, inspection fees, and license fees, not to mention the purchase price of the vehicle (and sales tax on that at 8.375%). It’s a little more than zilch. I spend more than $81 a month (the cost of an unlimited-ride metrocard) on state-required insurance alone.

    Now if your point is that motorcars create negative externalities (pollution, congestion, MVA’s) and transit users don’t, and that folks should be charged extra for creating negative externalities, then make that point. But I wouldn’t describe motoring as “a free ride.”

  • Jonathan, I believe what they are saying is that motorists have a “free ride” from the standpoint of what they pay into the public coffers. No one is really interested in how much I spend on shoes to get to and from the subway.

  • andrew

    also, death and dismemberment charges. those shoes never ran anyone over. (or melted the ice caps)

  • glennQ

    Comment by Larry Littlefield: “…you’ve got to love bicycles — very limited public capital costs, zero operating costs.”

    Good point!

  • t

    Jonathan, please. Subway riders and those who don’t own cars pay taxes for roads and other infrastructure to subsidize the needs of drivers, yet very little of the money you pay for owning a car goes towards subsidizing the needs of subway commuters.

    The tax you pay on your car, the fees for insurance, etc. are costs directly associated with the activity of owning a car and can be mitigated, to a degree. The fact that you have to pay the purchase price of the car and sales tax on that purchase is hardly going to gain you sympathy here or anywhere else. (I once bought a pair of jeans for $150. Did you realize that they make you pay the full sales price plus sales tax on discretionary purchases? Life is so unfair.) If it’s all too much for you, or any other driver, buy a cheaper car, shop around for lower insurance rates, find the gas station in your neighborhood that sells cheaper gas, park on street instead of in a garage, carpool, etc. You have choices. (In some cases, you can also write the purchase of a car off for business purposes, thereby negating the tax you pay on the sale price.)

    Subway riders have few or no choices, aside from unlimited, weekly and pay-per-ride. We can’t take an alternate, cheaper subway line to get to work and we can’t shop around for cheaper MetroCards. We can’t “train-pool;” the price I pay for riding with ten friends is the same price I pay for riding with none. And unless he or she is from out of town on business, the cost of a rider’s fare can rarely be claimed as a tax deduction.

    Motoring is far from a “free ride,” I agree. However, car drivers get back far more from the system than they put into it, in the same way that New York City as a whole sends more money to Albany than it receives from the state government. Put simply, you do not pay the full price of what it costs you to drive. (Your point about negative externalitis is great; if only more drivers would admit to those costs.)

    Remember when gas prices were really high and pandering politicians offered a rebate to drivers to help them cope? Well, I’d really love a politician to start pandering to the millions of subway riders who are paying more and more and getting less and less.

  • Mark

    I can’t provide a direct citation (can someone else?) but for every mile you drive, you get 50 cents in public subsidies for streets and highways. If you put 10,000 miles a year on your car you get a $5000 handout. If subways and buses were subsidized at that level, the city would be PAYING US to use the transit system.

  • Josh

    Has anyone obtained a satisfactory answer to the question raised by Councilman Simcha Felder? That is, how is it anything more than an empty gesture to keep the base fare (paid mainly by tourists and other occasional riders) steady at $2 while raising the price of unlimited-ride cards and multi-ride farecards (purchased by residents and commuters who rely on the transit system on a daily basis)?

  • Eric

    Josh, I assume that was a rhetorical question. Of course it’s an empty gesture, something honed to perfection by state and city pols and bureaucrats. Now they can say they “held the line on the base fare.”

    But I’ll give you some chutzpah points for citing the Great Pigeon Inquisitor of 2007 as the source of this question. Now there’s a pol who knows a pressing problem when he sees one.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Brent “Why is it next to impossible to get motorists to pay any sort of a road or parking charge, much less raise a bridge toll a few cents, but mass transit users have to shell out more for ever decreasing service?”
    – While I yield to no one in my dislike of cars in this context precisely the opposite is true. Since the last fare increase the COL is up about 10%. The cost of driving is rising faster than the COL as a function of increased insurance, maintenance and fuel costs, much higher. And people are paying it, for the most part it is a market. The vehicles are getting more expensive as well but since they are so much improved, performance wise, it is hard to place the new cars increased average price in the COL basket. Anyway, drivers are paying the higher prices, crying and moaning, yes, but paying. The riders, God bless them, are paying an increase of about 4% overall for the same period and in real terms paying less than they were a decade ago. Good for them, its fine with me if the service were free, but someone will pay sometime.

    Mark and “t” are in denial that the MTA financial issues are real. Where were they and the Daily News when Pataki was borrowing the system into crisis? Daily News was endorsing him.

    And Anne, “I believe what they are saying is that motorists have a “free ride” from the standpoint of what they pay into the public coffers.”
    -This is forgetting the little thing of the TBTA tolls, without which the MTA would fold in minutes. To a certain extent that is already congestion pricing. The proposal before us now is a widening, deepening and hardening of that system of transfer from cars to mass transit.
    Making it all a war of drivers against riders is actually a formula for the demise congestion pricing through the City Council and Assembly. I suggest that is exactly what the oppositionists want, it may even be part of Weiner’s campaign strategy.

    T says “Well, I’d really love a politician to start pandering to the millions of subway riders who are paying more and more and getting less and less.”
    – You didn’t see any of that in the fare increase hearings? Not even the demon Brodsky? No pandering at all? The average fare is $1.67. It is 2007. The MTA isn’t coming close to recouping the increased costs of Diesel fuel and electric power of the last few years with the increases just passed. The drivers may cry but they line up at the pump and they pay.

    And Josh, apparently one of Simcha Felders fans (50 loyal Felder supporters can’t be wrong). “Has anyone obtained a satisfactory answer to the question raised by Councilman Simcha Felder?”
    -Another one of the Hallelujah Chorus against fare increases who has maintained an exquisite silence all these many years as city government slashed its financial support for the mass transit system. When this round of fare increases was first proposed, (oh yeah, that was a year ago with a different Governor who somehow escaped blame for all this) and often since, many people have complained that poor people couldn’t afford the monthly tickets and were being unfairly punished by the base fare increase. I never agreed with that analysis but you can be sure that plenty of people raised that class warfare issue. The discounts have kept the real fare going down and surprise, surprise, the system is packed. That is normally what happens when the real price goes down on anything. If the price of tomatoes goes down the market runs out of tomatoes.
    Poor people get dumped on in every conceivable way, if the only place they get relief is the transit system expect it to become their system and expect the level of service to reflect the “captive” market. In this case, pity for the poor who can’t afford $5 a month increase for unlimited rides, 0.15 a day increase over three years, a nickel a day a year increase, is sadly misplaced. When you roll in all the rides it is probably less than two cents per day per ride per year increase.

    Now maybe thats something to storm the Winter Palace about and maybe its not.

    No one likes fare increases but the cycle you are observing has occurred many times over the life of the subway and rail systems from long before there was an MTA. No one wants to pay taxes either. The only thing that has historically interrupted the no fare, no tax support cycle is the collapse of the system into bankruptcy and/or disrepair. Both happen slowly but surely. And, stupid me, I thought the the city and state were committed to actually expanding the system.

    The only antidote is dedicated money, TBTA tolls, Mortgage Recording Tax, Petroleum Business taxes and, hopefully, Congestion Pricing. Has Simcha Felder helped with any of that stuff? What is he doing with Congestion Pricing? Birth control for pigeons.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What he said.

    It’s 1967 all over again — huge debts, enriched pensions, lots of promises, rising construction costs enriching contractors on public projects, “save the fare!”

    Or 1930, at the end of the last major round of subway expansion.

    100 years of blowhards have produced a fare that, in the end, has gone up by more than inflation despite rising subsidies.

  • Hilary

    Nicholas Macchiavelli writes, “This is forgetting the little thing of the TBTA tolls, without which the MTA would fold in minutes. To a certain extent that is already congestion pricing.”

    Can simply transferring toll revenues to transit be considered congestion pricing if the link isn’t used to modify the behaviour? Shouldn’t it require that the tolls and fares be set (and adjusted) to produce a measurable shift from one to the other? This is just the opposite of what MTA announced as their goal at the public engagement workshop last month: “revenue neutrality.” To me, that assumption made the whole exercize pointless.

  • p

    I’m tired of drivers complaining about how expensive it is to drive, as if that in and of itself somehow has any bearing on what subway riders should or should not be paying. So what if it costs you $3.50 a gallon or more in gas or $8 in tolls. If the MTA is mismanaging its money, making an idiotic decision to keep tourists happy with a $2 fare but punishing regular riders, it hardly matters that the cost of driving is also going up. My cable TV service costs more than it used to, but that has absolutely nothing to do with my subway fare.

    I think drivers are simply using this discussion to vent their frustrations with how expensive it is to drive. That may be true, but it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the cost of a subway ride.

  • Jonathan

    Niccolo M, thank you for your incisive arguments.

    Making it all a war of drivers against riders is actually a formula for the demise of congestion pricing through the City Council and Assembly. I suggest that is exactly what the oppositionists want; it may even be part of Weiner’s campaign strategy.

    Keep in mind that though nondrivers in the city may outnumber drivers, they are ghettoized (or gerrymandered) into a limited number of council districts, mostly in Manhattan. Because of this, the City Council as a whole (and of course every other legislative body in the state) will tend to favor the interests of drivers over nondrivers. In addition, the fact that city workers (except for cops and firefighters, who can live in surrounding counties) are both asked to live in the city and encouraged to drive to work (through parking permits) creates a potent, aware pro-driving voting bloc.

  • Mark

    Nic, I am not “in denial” about MTA’s financial issues. I never said MTA’s financial issues aren’t real. I said that the system is under-subsidized relative to roads and highways. That’s why it has financial issues.

  • Josh

    Niccolo Machiavelli –

    You seem to be disregarding my point in favor of making fun of the person I quoted. I’m not a huge Felder fan, I think the things with the pigeons and the takeout menus are a waste of government time. I’m mainly quoting him because he raised the same question I would have anyway, and did so in a public forum where the MTA should have responded to it.

    I’m *not* opposed to rate hikes per se, as I believe I said, I’m opposed to the burden of those hikes being borne by commuters rather than tourists. I’m really unclear what your point was about class warfare, but if your generalized “poor people” can’t afford $1.90 per ride ($76/month taking 40 rides to and from work 20 weekdays a month, let alone if you use your card more often), then how can they afford $2.00 per ride?

  • Jonathan

    Josh, what Niccolo was referring to was the see-saw like argument used to defend either the $2.00 base fare or the unlimited-ride cards. Politicians argue for the $2 base fare by saying that poor people don’t have the $25 in hand to buy a seven-day unlimited card, and they defend the $25 unlimited card by saying that only tourists use the $2 card and that “working New Yorkers” use the unlimited cards.

    Your math is muddled, as well. The 15% bonus on pay-per-ride bulk purchases brings the cost per ride down to $1.74 with no time constraints and a minimum purchase of $7. In other words, no subway-only commuter should be paying more than $1.74.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Thanks for your support and criticism for my wine addled rant. After a full day of MTA bashing by the only people intellectually committed to transferring more money to the MTA from the roads I was off of my normal game.
    There will be more today. The MTA is an irresistible pinata. In fact that is also an invaluable service it performs for New Yorkers. How else to leverage service improvements and capital investments other than to bash it at fare increase hearings. And, more money from Albany and Washington is also a time honored ask.

    The conundrum gets to be though, why give this irresponsible, fucked up authority, who provides such horrible service at such outrageous prices, more money from the pockets of anyone else? Thats just as big a reason as any as to why Congestion Pricing is crashing and burning politically.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Also Josh,

    Why would people buy the pass you suggest and only take 40 rides too and from work. The unlimited monthlys are used way more frequently than that. The report on the board, I think in September, was that the average price of a ride was $1.299. But I used the $1.67/$1.74 figures here because the other number is too much of a bargain to even discuss in the context of a fare increase, even if it is true.
    As far as fare support the MTA is truly fucked. If Spitzer can only get a 1% per year increase in his first year in office what will he get in the run-up to his election? Maybe he’ll cut the fare, that would be a good move. Where all the people will go is beyond me.

  • Josh

    You’re right. I don’t genuinely believe that your average New Yorker buys an unlimited monthly pass and then uses it only twice per weekday to and from work – that’s certainly not the full extent of how often I use mine.

    However, I disagree that it’s too much of a bargain. The bargain should be steep because:
    A) If people buy multi-ride cards rather than single fares, less time is spent waiting in line at MetroCard vending machines and bus fare boxes.
    B) The more reasonably priced it is to take public transportation on a regular basis (i.e. commute), the more people will do so, rather than driving to work.
    C) If people are invested in their farecards in advance, when they have a trip to make they will be more likely to take public transit (especially when the marginal cost is zero on an unlimited-ride card) rather than drive.

    There are more reasons why the discount should be steep, I’m sure, but these are the ones that came to me right away.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The MTA was blasted for saying fares were going down, on the grounds that the poor cannot afford unlimited ride cards.

    By the same people who now say that the poor use the unlimited ride cards, whereas the pay per ride is only used by tourists.

    People are sickening.

    In any event, they were right the second time but were hoisted on their own petard.

  • Hilary

    What do you think the impact will be on MTA labor and other costs of having multi-ride cards that don’t correspond to full fares? E.g, public education to explain the complicated fare structure, longer lines at the ticket windows for explanations and refills, etc. On the other hand, MTA benefits from: more recycling of cards, less litter in stations as the cards become like bottles in trash with value to scavengers, and the unused value on unused cards. I guess it’s a wash, except in a lot of wasted time on all sides – except perhaps the scavenger?

  • Josh

    I wrote a letter to the MTA asking the question I raised above. Not surprisingly, I received a form letter from Doug Sussman, Director of Community Affairs, in response saying “Hey, thanks for writing! Here’s what the new fares are going to be:” that was entirely unresponsive to my question.

  • M.D. Taracido

    A fare hike–but only for the general public, not the MTA board members. Pretty outrageous!! And the reason is that they, like every board member on not-for-profit boards, are not compensated for their time. Not a good enough reason. They should share the pain. Perhaps, if they did, the outcome would have been different.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    A fare hike–but only for the general public, not the MTA board members. Pretty outrageous!!

    I honestly can’t get too upset about this. The main reason is that they probably get free parking permits as well, and many of them get other driving subsidies, if not from the MTA then from other connections.

    If they actually took the subway and didn’t always have the alternative of a private car (often with a professional driver), then being forced to suffer the fare increases might actually deter them from paying. But given that they have a free (or low-cost) alternative, making them pay will just deter them from riding the subway, which will in turn make them less likely to identify as (and with) subway and bus riders.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I guess in the end Angus I’m not buying the premise that fare increases kept below the cost of living increases in the general economy are in any way causing anyone to “suffer”. These fare increases were really an example of the success of the mass transit system relative to private automobiles, air travel, trucking, gypsy cabs and any other form of transportation with the possible exception of bicycles. Though I haven’t priced the new Specialized road bikes for 2008 yet. Since they have such a large Chinese component I’m assuming they are pretty well priced as well. The deal is the subway goes to New York City, not China.

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