This Fare Hike Is Just a Hint of What’s to Come

Graph: Office of the State Comptroller
The amount the MTA spends on debt service has nearly tripled since 2003, much faster growth than the operating budget overall, which has increased about 60 percent. Graph: Office of the State Comptroller

With the MTA set to raise fares 4 percent over the next two years, it’s time for the bi-annual spectacle of fare hike hearings, where political appointees absorb the brunt of straphanger anger so Governor Cuomo doesn’t have to.

This time around, the proposed increase in fares isn’t that big — a larger hike was in the works until the MTA’s short-term financial outlook took a turn for the better. But unless Albany closes the gap in the MTA capital program, future fare hikes are going to look a whole lot worse. Every dollar that the MTA has to borrow will end up costing transit riders down the line, as the agency devotes an increasing share of its operating budget to debt service.

In their testimony, the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance urged riders to take their complaints to Cuomo. The governor, more than anyone, has the power to raise revenue and contain costs to keep the MTA’s debt at manageable levels. So far, though, Cuomo has shown nothing but an aversion to dealing with the $15 billion gap in the agency’s next five-year capital program.

If Cuomo fails to close the gap, transit riders will be looking at much more than a 4 percent fare hike. After taking on $15 billion in additional debt, the MTA would be saddled with interest payments that equate to a 15 percent fare hike, according to an October report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli [PDF]. That’s more than three times the size of the current increase.

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