Cuomo Comes Out Against Fare Hikes But Passes the Buck on Everything Else

The governor's stated opposition to subway and bus price increases masks the crucial role he must play in halting the MTA's impending death spiral.

He's the boss. Photo: Flickr/NYS Governor's Office
He's the boss. Photo: Flickr/NYS Governor's Office

Governor Cuomo is literally all over the subway map.

Speaking on WNYC on Monday, Cuomo claimed to be “against” a fare hike that’s long been scheduled by the MTA for next year — as if he has no control over it. Then he argued that MTA officials “have to do more” even as he once again championed a congestion pricing plan to raise billions for the agency.

“The MTA’s first job is to look within,” the governor told host Brian Lehrer, rhetorically sidestepping his own authority over the state agency. “There is waste, there is inefficiency that currently goes on at the MTA that has to end.

“I don’t control the MTA board,” he added. “They have to do more.”

Then he vowed to fix it.

It’s hard to know where to start with obfuscation like that.

In addition to controlling six of the board’s 14 seats, the governor hand-picks its chairperson. Cuomo wades into the agency’s internal workings as he sees fit, whether picking specific tiles in its tunnels to match the state’s official colors or redirecting the agency’s dollars towards bailing out upstate ski resorts. In 2014, when the agency’s largest union contract was on the line, Cuomo put himself front-and-center. And no one made sure he was more identified with the completion of the Second Avenue subway than Cuomo, despite billion-dollar cost overruns that somehow he never got blamed for.

Congestion pricing, meanwhile, is expected to net around $1 billion per year, enough to cover the MTA’s operating deficit through 2022 — provided that it goes ahead with scheduled fare and toll increases [PDF – Page 14]. Without fare hikes, the annual deficit will grow to $1.62 billion. And that’s not even getting to the agency’s longterm capital needs, which are expected to top $60 billion.

Last week, the MTA board confirmed that the New York’s mass transit system is on the cusp of a death spiral. Officials anticipate huge operating deficits in the near-future. Meanwhile, ridership is down — in large part due to off-hour service cuts and line closures meant to speed up maintenance.

The anticipated fare increases, which the agency committed to regularly enacting nearly a decade ago during a previous financial crisis, will likely compound that downward trajectory.

mta operating deficit 11_2018
The MTA needs a huge infusion of cash — and neither fare increases nor congestion pricing will cut it. Image: MTA

Some observers, like the Daily News editorial board, insist that fare hikes are a fiscally responsible, necessary evil, but transit advocates are asking why the burden of bailing out the MTA falls on the backs of working-class New Yorkers rather than all taxpayers, as everyone benefits from the transit system, even its non-users.

“We all bare the costs of a declining system, but low-income and middle-income fare payers bare those costs the most,” Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said. “If you raise the fare now, the people who can least afford to do so are asked to pay more and more for less and less.”

Still, other funding sources will be hard to find, according to Jamison Dague, analyst at the Citizens Budget Commission. Federal support is a thing of the past; the leaves politically challenging tax increases as the main untapped funding stream. Without an influx of revenue, everyone is going to have to chip in — riders, drivers, and workers.

“There’s not a whole lot of leeway as far as other places to go as far as revenue sources,” Dague said. “It’s a shared sacrifice that’s going to be necessary.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    Cuomo for President. No serious solutions (in fact a deeper hole) until he loses, and resigns. That’s what I take from that.

    The reason is “fairness.” It’s what the other politicians of his generation have done. “President” Pataki. “Senator” Giuliani. “Governor” McCall. “President” Spitzer. “President” Bloomberg.
    So why not him?

    The last Governor who actually told some truths and imposed “shared sacrifice” was the one who had no choice. Private citizen Paterson.

    When will someone step up?

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2018/11/17/will-connecticuts-ned-lamont-be-the-first-to-tell-the-truth-about-generation-greed/

  • Transit is an essential public service. This means that it rightfully should be funded almost entirely by taxes, with only a small fare or even no fare. However, due to Americans’ self-destructive ideological aversion to paying an appropriate level of tax, we can’t have that. So we have no choice but to charge a fare that actually brings in significant revenue.

    The argument against that approach had been the adverse effect that such a fare would have on the most vulnerable New Yorkers. But the reduced-fare MetroCard has taken care of that. So we shouldn’t lose this opportunity to correct the fare to a level where it should have been all along. That fare should be $5. (And we should get rid of all volume discounts: no more weekly or monthly passes, which are a huge drain on revenue. Every ride should cost the same basic fare.) Let us remember that something is cheap or expensive only in comparison to other things. If a deli sandwich can cost $5, then so can a ride on the subway or bus.

    A $5 fare, accompanied by a frank education campaign laying out the need for it, would probably not cause a drastic reduction in ridership amongst a population that would surely grasp the urgency.

  • Joe R.

    You’re assuming a significant number of riders won’t bail if you raise the fare by that much. History shows otherwise. In fact, I think the answer to the problem is to tinker with the fare so as to maximize revenue. Most likely, that will mean lowering it, not raising it. Also, the MTA needs to have off-peak fare discounts to encourage a shift in ridership to times where the incremental cost of an extra rider is close to zero. It’s not so much a higher fare we need, but rather a smarter fare system.

    Also, the reduced fare Metrocard most definitely will not protect all vulnerable New Yorkers with your planned $5 fare. First off, it’s half fare, so under your scheme these people would be paying $2.50 per ride, nearly what they pay now. Second, the income limit for the program is only $12,000 a year for single people ($24,399 for a family of four). A person making $6 an hour would be over the limit if they work a 40 hour week. Consider that such a person will also be paying $18.36 a week in FICA tax and about $7 a week in income tax. Add in the $50 a week subway fare, and their net pay is only about $165 a week. The higher fare is literally taking food out of their mouth. Even for someone making an average salary of maybe $40K, a $5 fare represents about 10% of take-home pay. Or put another way, it represents a 10% income tax.

    If a deli sandwich can cost $5, then so can a ride on the subway or bus.

    The people who will be hit hardest by this *don’t* buy $5 deli sandwiches. Back when I only made $7 in the late 1980s I not only walked home to/from the subway to avoid the extra fare for the bus, but I had Ramen soup every day for lunch. I just couldn’t afford either the extra fare or deli sandwiches on what I was making. Note that $7 an hour then is equivalent to about $15 an hour now. A $5 fare is unaffordable to a large fraction of the population.

    However, due to Americans’ self-destructive ideological aversion to paying an appropriate level of tax, we can’t have that.

    Should be due to rich Americans’ self-destructive ideological aversion to paying an appropriate level of tax, we can’t have that. Average working stiffs are already paying way too much in income and payroll taxes. People making under about $30K shouldn’t pay a dime in either income or payroll taxes. You’re literally taking food out of their mouth when you ask them to pay anything in taxes. The tax system should be highly progressive. You can have modest incremental rates over $30K up to maybe $100K. Above that the rates start increasing steeply. By the time you’re at $500K you should be in a 90% tax bracket. And that tax should apply to all forms of income, including capital gains.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Americans’ self-destructive ideological aversion to paying an appropriate level of tax.”

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/state-localtaxes.jpg
    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/govabove.jpg
    The frank discussion should include the fact that those connected with the government have become richer relative to most private sector workers, and Wall Street pillage is down from what it was and no longer throws off enough tax revenues in New York to make up the difference.
    And they are getting richer mostly in richer retirements in Florida, with new hires not even getting that benefit, so their qualifications, motivation and productivity are not improved.
    That means paying more and more for less and less. It’s a done deal, no matter what happens now, and it’s time to face it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Joe, the minimum wage has been and will be going up a lot. And they sensibly did what I long advocated — increased it more in places where the customers can afford to pay more, higher downstate than upstate, and higher in NYC than in the suburbs.

    The lower minimum wage places are expected to catch up eventually. That shouldn’t happen – the gap should remain. In addition, there should be a higher still minimum wage for Manhattan, where the average worker makes far more as it and where you have to use the subway to get there.

  • Joe R.

    OK, but irrespective of that paying Ferdinand’s $5 fare even on a $40K salary, which is higher than any planned minimum wage, would represent an excessive burden.

    And keep in mind regardless of what the minimum wage is, you’ll still have lots of off-the-books workers being paid a lot less. The bottom line is the MTA needs new funding sources. What happened to the federal aid we used to get? I remember back in the 1970s it covered a good part of the operational cost of the subways. In fact, calling it “aid” is a misnomer as all NYC is doing is getting back some of the taxes it sends to Washington.

  • There is an entire segment of rich parasites who essentially don’t pay any taxes. But it’s also true that ordinary Americans have been coddled into paying very little in taxes. The tax burden of the average European is far in excess of that of the average American. And for their taxes these Europeans get comprehensive health care, education up through the university level, well-maintained infrastructure, and a robust network of social services.

    Please don’t quibble with the selection of a deli sandwich; you can replace that with any daily purchase you like. The point is that everyone makes a daily purchase that he or she considers cheap, even though it comes at the same price point that a $5 fare would.

    When you step back and realise that, even at $5, you can go 10 or 15 or even 20 miles by public transit, you realise that making that trip by car is going to cost a lot more than $5 in terms of gas, tolls (unless you’re a Queensboro Bridge freeloader), and parking, to say nothing of the cumulative cost of the wear and tear on the vehicle.

  • So New Yorkers pay 16% of their income in taxes, and Americans overall pay 11%. This illustrates my point that we pay peanuts in taxes. In France and Germany and elsewhere in the civilised world, they pay at least twice that. And in return they get a level of services and infrastructure that would make us weep.

    And I don’t know what you think you’re doing by demonstrating that public sector workers make more than private sector workers. But what you are actually doing is showing that the people who did things the right way by holding on to unionisation are reaping the benefits of that correct strategy.

    Furthermore, public sector workers deserve to be paid more than private sector workers (and I say this as a worker in the private sector) because public sector workers make a greater contribution to society, functioning as its pillars.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That’s non-federal taxes. And you have to include the marginal rate — how much any additional dollars are taxed. Up to two-thirds here.

    “Public sector workers deserve to be paid more than private sector workers.”

    And top executives deserve to earn more than other private sector workers. But should that difference go up and up and up and up and up? And should what is asked in return go down and down and down and down?

    Is NOTHING ever unfair? How much worse off should the rest of us become?

    In New York if the rest of us had a union, we would go on strike against the public sector right now. And Tier VI would be joining us on the picket lines.

    Why is public employee retirement income fully exempt from state and local income taxes, no matter how high it is? Because they did the right thing and worked the political system to not have to pay? Should they be exempt from property taxes too?

  • Larry Littlefield

    At 40 hours per week, $20.00 per hour is $40,000 per year. The minimum wage is scheduled to get to $15.00 per hour in NYC in a couple of years. It should be $20.00 per hour in Manhattan.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not questioning that $5 is relatively cheap compared to owning a car. I’m just saying it’s unaffordable when you consider than even the $2.75 fare is unaffordable for the lower 30% of NYers. At $5 you’ll even get lots of people who can afford the fare abandoning the subway because they won’t see they’re getting value for their money, not the way the trains are running.

    The only way we can get away with a $5 fare is by doing three things:

    1) The minimum wage would have to be raised to at least $20 an hour.
    2) You would exempt the first $30K or so in wages from payroll and income taxes (this should be done anyway).
    3) The trains would need to run fast and on-time. Train fares in Japan for example are generally much higher than we’re used to paying in the US. However, for that money the trains are clean, they’re much faster over any distance than in the US (i.e. 10 miles might 15 to 20 minutes), and they apologize to customers even when the train is a few seconds late.

    #1 and #2 might be politically possible. As for #3, Americans are just incapable of running a rail system to those standards. It’s a combination of like of pride, lack of work ethic, and lack of discipline. Those all have been part of Japanese culture for centuries.

    The point is that everyone makes a daily purchase that he or she considers cheap, even though it comes at the same price point that a $5 fare would.

    For poor people most of those $5 daily purchase are necessities, not discretionary items.

  • Joe R.

    If you want to make it truly a living wage, consider it’s next to impossible to find housing anywhere in NYC for under about $1500 a month. So that’s $18K you need after taxes just for housing. Add in about $300 a month for food, $300 a month for everything else, including subway fare, and you’re up to about $25K. That’s not even including reasonable retirement savings, which most economists say should be about 25% of your take-home pay, or $10K annually, whichever is more. So now we’re up to $35K before taxes. $40K annually would work if we exempted the first $30K from all income and payroll taxes as I suggested elsewhere. Since we don’t, maybe you need to earn about $50K to take home $35K. The minimum wage then in NYC should be about $25 an hour if you truly want a livable wage. In Manhattan it should probably be $35 an hour. You can have exceptions for groups supported by their parents, like high school and college students.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “If you want to make it truly a living wage, consider it’s next to impossible to find housing anywhere in NYC for under about $1500 a month.”

    According to American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median gross rent for all rental housing in New York City — public, regulated, unregulated, subsidized — was $1,379 per month.

    True, the city’s housing policies drive New Yorkers into the haves and have nots, over and above what they would have been as a result of their incomes, and new people are the have nots. And that’s more than 40.0% of even a $20 per hour job. I guess it takes more than one worker to afford an apartment here, but that’s not uncommon.

  • Joe R.

    I guess it takes more than one worker to afford an apartment here, but that’s not uncommon.

    That’s the problem, and I say this as someone who thinks larger households with several generations are a good thing. It’s not always possible for everyone to have such an arrangement. Suppose a young person’s parents die early? Or suppose someone needs to relocate here for work? It used to be you could find apartments for very low amounts. My parents paid something like $42 a month for a flat on Melrose Street near Knickerbocker Avenue after they got married in 1961. Their combined income was something like $120 a week. Correct those figures for CPI and they were paying about $350 a month for rent on an annual combined income a bit over $50K. Granted, the place was a dump but nobody expects the Waldorf-Astoria on bargain-basement rents. It was the same story everywhere in NYC. You could find housing for under 10% of your gross income if you half-tried.

    The average rent you mentioned represents about 70% of your take-home pay if you have a $15 an hour job. Add in the subway fare, and 75% of what you make is gone. That’s before buying food and clothing and anything else. Forgot putting aside a dime for retirement or a rainy day. Expect to work until you drop dead on the job.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I get 52 percent of your pay, but no doubt that’s a lot. If you earn the minimum wage, you need more than one worker, and/or you are relying on food stamps, public health care, and other public services that have been pillaged. That’s the problem.

    But at least the minimum wage here was increased, finally. I’d pair a fare increase with a push for a higher minimum wage in Manhattan. I’d be a large share of MTA subway and rail trips begin or end in Manhattan.

    The result would be more be more business closings vacancies in the short run, but lower rents to offset the higher wages in the long run. You can afford higher wages in places with sky-high commercial rents, because in the end it will come out of the property.

  • Joe R.

    52% of before tax income, but as we both know there are a lot of taxes even on relatively low salaries. I’m estimating the total taxes at 25%, which gives me the 70% figure I mentioned.

    I agree on the rest. If commercial rents come down, there’s your money for wage increases.

  • Joe R.

    Good point on the incremental tax rate. As a good example, back when I was making $100K or so for a few years I concluded that if I had the opportunity to earn much more, it wouldn’t have been worth my while. Thanks to maxing out my solo 401K, SEP IRA, and individual IRA I ended up paying about 20% of what I made in income taxes. The bulk of this was FICA taxes.

    Now consider if I made a little more. My individual IRA deduction would start phasing out. My solo 401K contribution was already maxed out at $24K. The only thing left was the SEP IRA. Now also consider that the stupid unincorporated business tax starts kicking in. Combined you have 15.3% FICA, 25% federal, 10% state and local, and 4% UIBT. That’s close to 55%. When you account for the phase-out of the IRA deduction, you’re looking at an incremental tax rate of well over 60% on any income much over $100K. Not worth my while to work if I have to give that much to the government.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “As a good example, back when I was making $100K or so for a few years I concluded that if I had the opportunity to earn much more.”

    Those with the biggest marginal hit are those who are not the highest earner in their family, and earn less than the maximum for FICA. If their earnings go up through more work the added income is not only subject to FICA, but also to the higher federal/state/local income tax rate based on being an add on to their spouse. Don’t forget both half of FICA and the unincorporated business tax if they are self-employed, and the MTA payroll tax.

    And if they decide to reward themselves for their extra work by spending the income, the sales tax.

  • motorock

    You know part of these “services” you speak of is free healthcare, right? If the US gave that, sure everyone will pay their taxes but here everyone believes in trickle-down economics and think the rich will do their part. How has that worked for us? Maybe you are rich enough to afford a $5 subway one-way ticket- I am pretty sure most of us can’t. It’s not the same as a sandwich. SMH

  • Joe R.

    Oh, I forgot about the MTA payroll tax. It’s not a big hit now, but look for that to go up to 5% or more as the MTA looks for new funding sources. So great, the self-employed might be looking at marginal rates of 60%. If that NYS single payer gets through, they’ll be looking at 70+%. At that point it’s worthwhile to consider moving, even across the river, if you’re making halfway decent income as a sole proprietor. Or just stop working until next year once you bump up into the higher marginal rates.

  • Obviously trickle-down economics doesn’t work. But the only people who actually believe in it are the duped workers who consistently vote against their objective interests. Trickle-down is a conscious con perpetrated by the parasites who get away with evading their fair share of taxes.

    Anyway, of course health care is included in the array of services that are available to people living in countries with appropriate levels of taxation. The only reason that that’s not us is a perverse ideological devotion to terrible policy, a quasi-religious devotion that systematically hurts working-class people.

    And do not tell me that most people cannot afford a $5 subway fare. Apart from the very poorest people, everyone spends a little daily on a sandwich, or slices of pizza, or a bagel, or a donut, or cups of coffee, or bottles of soda or water, or packs of candies or gum, or many other such things; and people consider these purchases to be incidental. Cutting out the coffee and bagels alone would offset a $5 subway fare for a huge number of people.

  • neroden

    Cuomo’s a fool, and a fraud, and is bizarrely car-obsessed. However, he responds to protestors dogging his every public appearance and he responds to media pressure.

    So, keep up the good work, Streetsblog.

  • neroden

    The US federal tax system is specifically set up to soak the upper middle class, while making sure that really really rich people pay peanuts. Romney paid 16% in taxes, remember? Because really really really really rich.

    Your mistake was working. Under the US federal tax system, you’re supposed to make money from dividends and capital gains and owning busineses — stock market speculation.

    —-

    NY absolutely needs to pass the universal health care plan. It’s the smartest thing we could do. Right now health care costs are killing everyone who doesn’t work for a gigantic multinational corporation and isn’t retired. It makes running a small business impossible. You could double small business income taxes, and it would still be less than the cost of premiums for private health insurance.

    Currently Medicaid is also being funded through property tax, which is completely insane. (And for large employers, medical insurance costs means they’re keeping wages down.)

    Fund everyone’s health care through income
    tax and it’ll take a huge weight off small business, a huge weight off NY property owners, the market power will actually cut the cost of hospitals and doctors (one big plan can demand lower prices), and of course it’ll help everyone’s health.

    I’d happily pay more taxes than they pay in Sweden just to avoid paying $5000-$10000/year in premiums to a private health insurance company for junk insurance which effectively covers nothing except catastrophes. (Which is the best insurance available on the individual or small business market.)

  • neroden

    Your biggest unmanagable cost as a sole proprietor is likely to be the skyrocketing, unaffordable cost of health insurance. It certainly is for me, and for my four or five friends who own small businesses.

    If NY actually passed universal health care, you’d cut your premiums & out-of-pocket health care payments by far more than your taxes would increase.

  • neroden

    The big scams in US tax policy involve having the tax rate go DOWN when you get ultra-rich, rather than merely uppper-middle-class.

    This is actually true in NY State (look up the “phaseout of the benefit of the graduated brackets” and the “estate tax cliff”), but it’s much worse at the federal level (look up the discount rates on dividends and long-term capital gains).

  • neroden

    We need universal health care. Period. End of story.

    At the moment, the group which is most hurt by lack of universal health care is actually small businesses. No “employer coverage”. No Medicaid. No Medicare. So you’re stuck buying a policy on the individual or small group market. The private insurers charge you a fortune, have extremely high deductibles, have extremely narrow networks, and are basically useless for anything except getting in a car crash or getting cancer. (And then you have to fight them with a lawye rto get them to pay.) $5000/year per person out the window — going up by about 12% every year — and you get nothing in exchange.

    You can’t pay cash, either, because the hospitals and doctors all have fake “list prices” which are TEN TIMES what they charge the insurance companies. This is actually the only reason I pay the $5000 extortion charge to the health insurer — so that I get the real prices at the doctors and hospitals rather than the jacked-up fake prices. The state health commissioner should be arresting hospital administrators for the fraudulent pricing.

    Just let all individuals and small businesses join Medicaid. We’d save a ton of money, and no matter how much taxes needed to be raised, it would be less than we’re paying in extortion to the insurance companies, or the jacked-up fake hospital and doctor prices.

  • neroden

    Paterson has talked about running for office again, you know… I did like him a lot.

    Spitzer was not running for higher office, he was just trying to put a lot of nasty people in prison. Unfortunately, he got caught going to local prostitutes, and prostitution is still illegal in NY for no good reason. (I guess he should have gone to Nevada.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about if NY passed universal health care, everyone in the health care industry would retire five years earlier, costs would soar, and services would be cut? As in education.

    That’s the problem we face. Yes, some thing should be universal, but get the non-voluntary, give us your money and see if you get anything government sector involved, and its all about special interests.

    Here — they take more and more for less and less. But elsewhere, they underfund because they don’t want to pay (NHS in the UK, Colorado schools, etc).

  • Larry Littlefield

    Spitzer (and Bloomberg) did this deal, which was a much worse example of screwing the young. Turned my attitude toward all this stuff completely around.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/the-2008-nyc-2555-united-federation-of-teachers-pension-deal-an-investigation/

  • Joe R.

    I don’t have health insurance. Can’t afford it, period. Most years I didn’t even make five figures. That’s not even enough for myself, let alone to pay thousands a year for health insurance I’ll never use.

  • Joe R.

    The problem with one state trying to have universal coverage is lack of sufficient clout to get prices of medical care under control. That’s why if we go with single payer it has to be on a national level, or not at all. We could probably afford to cover everyone nationally just by cutting defense spending 50%. We’ll still be spending more on defense than the top 3 or 4 countries combined. There’s nothing NYS can cut enough to pay for single payer. Implementing it would mean massive new taxes, and the self-employed would be among those hardest hit.

    Also, if we go single payer nationally, it’s imperative we have government research labs to develop new treatments and drugs in order to get costs further under control. Big pharma for example tries to recoup its R&D, and make huge profits, every time it releases a new drug. The government can just eat the R&D, and then produce the drug at cost. Same with non-drug treatments. Unlike for-profit medicine which ignores treatments it can’t make money on, the government has a huge incentive to use low-cost but effective treatments in order to lower the taxes used to pay for health care.

  • Joe R.

    That’s example the problem we’ll face if NYS passes single payer on its own. Everyone involved in health care will want their share of the pie. There will be a push to raise the taxes to cover single-payer more and more to cover this. If we do single-payer nationally we’ll have enough clout ti get costs under control. So it should be either national single payer or nothing. We’re heading there anyway as insurance companies pull out of markets and/or raise their rates too high for people to afford.

  • motorock

    I don’t drink coffee or eat bagels- I make my own breakfast and I still think $5 is way too high and cannot afford it, esp if you take away the monthly passes. I didnt have the fortune to grow up in privilege nor does my profession let me earn the big bucks. And then to pay that much for something that works only half the time just is not getting good value for your money. I prefer motorcycle for my commute because it saves me a lot of time and money already.
    Europeans don’t pay $5 per subway fare just FYI- their systems seemed way more efficient and cost-effective when i was there last year….

  • You’re darn right that Europeans don’t pay that much, because they accept the need to pay an appropriate level of tax for the maintenence of their public infrastructure. By contrast, Americans are too ideologically hidebound to grasp this simple concept. So, there’s no choice but to charge a fare that substantially contributes to the upkeep of the service.

    And I, like you (and like the vast majority of New Yorkers), have neither any inherited wealth nor a lucrative job. I have worked 30+ years for a public-interest non-profit, and am payed a substantially less than someone in an equivalent job in a for-profit firm. My income is far, far below the median income for New York City residents. So I am perfectly aware of the need to keep a handle on expenses.

    In practice I commute most days by bicycle and relatively infrequently by subway. (Though I have to admit that I have skipped riding on a fair amount of days lately due to rain or cold.) But if I had to pay $10 a day for commuting, then that expense would come ahead of other things. What’s more, if that were the fare, then the MTA would be enjoying a large influx of revenue, and we’d all be seeing a lot more value for our money.

  • Joe R.

    The median income in Queens is $64,509. For all of NYC it’s $60,879. Keep in mind because you have a pension, it’s probably equivalent to earning another $20K or $25K annually and saving for retirement on your own. For those without pensions or lucrative jobs or inheritances, paying extra for the subway comes out of something which isn’t a discretionary expense. Most likely, it would come out of potential retirement savings. In the end then you’re simply shifting costs from the MTA to society at large. The MTA will get more money now, but these people who pay more fare and can’t afford it will eventually be on welfare and Medicaid once they retire because they couldn’t save enough to support themselves. Or they won’t retire at all, but just drop dead on the job like in the good old days.

    How about an income-based fare? Everyone gets a personal Metrocard, similar to the way retirees now get a half-fare card with their picture. You pay a nominal amount during the calendar year, say $1 per ride. That would be the minimum fare anyone would get charged. When you do your taxes, if your income is over a certain threshold you owe the MTA money depending upon your income level and how many rides you took. If it’s under maybe $30K, you own nothing because $1 per ride is really all a person making that much can afford. Maybe the extra fare increases by $0.50 per ride for every $10K in income. Someone earning the median NYC income would pay about $2.50 per ride, roughly the same as a monthly fare card costs now. Someone earning $100K would pay $4.50 per ride. A Wall Street banker making $500K might pay around $25 per ride (still cheaper than cab fare in many cases). Or you could cap the maximum at something like $10 so the well to do will still consider mass transit a relative bargain. A fare scheme like this will get you more money from the people most able to afford it.

  • Joe R.

    I think the key here is $5 isn’t a good value for your money given the current state of the subway. If trains were rarely late, the service during off-peak hours was more frequent, the trains ran as fast as the track geometry allowed, you were allowed free transfers to commuter rail within city limits, etc. then maybe a higher fare would seem more reasonable. As things stand now, frankly the subway isn’t even worth $1 per ride. The subways can’t even keep to their padded schedules, never mind any schedule which reflects the minimum possible running time.

  • According to New York City’s affordable housing web site, the AMI (area median income) for a 1-person household in New York City is $73,100. Anyway, even the figure you quoted is way more than I earn.

    However, if there were a way to tailor a fare to each individual’s income, then that would be just great. There would be no bright-line cutoff at the maximum income for the reduced-fare MetroCard; and the payments of the wealthier people would mitigate some of the legalised robbery of the public coffers that they commit by means of their tax shelters.

    But, while I am philosophically in favour of means-testing and income-based price adjustment for absolutely everything, in practice there is no way to accomplish charging subway and bus fare according to this sort of plan. Some wealthy freeloader could always use the MetroCard of his/her child or elderly mother, both of whom would be required to pay far less based on their earnings. The technological infrastructure that would be necessary to prevent this sort of abuse and to run such a complex system is entirely imaginary, to say nothing of the administrative demands that would be involved in keeping close track of the fare assigned to every person’s income.

    Once you rule out an elaborate income-based fare scheme as well as appropriate tax increases, you are again left with the only realistic option: a drastically increased fare, one that is corrected to a level that it should have been at all along.

  • Joe R.

    Or option #2 is an MTA surtax on higher incomes. No way for a wealthy person to avoid that short of moving. Sure, the wealthy make noise about moving if anyone threatens to raise taxes, but in practice they seldom do. For a wealthy person especially, NYC has so many benefits it’s well worth any extra tax they might have to pay. It’s also time the wealthy realize a viable mass transit system benefits them as well when their workers can get to work quickly and reliably. Just because they may not use something themselves doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from it. Same thing with public education. Good public education means less time spent training employees and less employee turn over. Ironically, many of the wealthy in the past understood this. Those in the present don’t.

  • motorock

    We pay a pretty penny to live in NYC- even if its far-ass Brooklyn/Queens/SI- our taxes are pretty high already and we barely get any of the perks that the Europeans get. Several calculations have shown that just fares won’t help fix the subway. And improvements aren’t coming our way if the money-wasting structure of the MTA Is not fixed FIRST. They need to show that they can stick to schedules and budgets..but failed yet again to do so in the subway action plan from last year. How do we trust them to keep their word when the refuse to change the fundamental problem? Meanwhiel, older & more historical cities like Paris can have a mile long subway at 1/6th (or something like that) the cost of the second avenue subway- there is something really wrong here. Till they fix themselves, no one should be feeding this profligate & tardy behemoth of a beast called the MTA- esp if they want things to change. #dontfeedthebeast

  • No, your taxes are not high.

    So you’re willing to pay neither taxes nor an increased fare. You thus propose to starve the MTA of revenue, while at the same time demanding that it fix itself. Brilliant.

  • motorock

    I dont know if you pay your taxes but I seem to be paying 25-30% of my salary as taxes and barely get the benefits that my French and Spanish friends (who pay nearly the same) get from their governments, including a good transit system. I work in a non-profit too, earn way under 6 figures, stay far from Manhattan to be able to rent a decent one bedroom apartment which still takes a third of my monthly paycheck after deductions. It was worse when my work didn’t provide health insurance. Even with frugal spending using all kinds of budgeting hacks, I am barely able to save much. I am still like borderline lower & middle middle class- I shudder to think about how poorer families do. NYC is an expensive city- housing, food, insurance- everything is expensive and the salaries and minimum wage does not take into account the real cost of living.

    Meanwhile, your assessment of my comment was too narrow where you totally ignored what I said about fixing the MTA first- its an organizational change which is free and will cost less in the long run- not sure why you have a problem with that.

    Further, if you know anything of why MTA is “starving of revenue”, you will know that one of the reasons is the Governors having taken money slowly away from the MTA and the fact there is no lockbox for the MTA spending of its own revenues. Then, the other big reason I alluded to is the way MTA functions and makes/maintains subways. The Times did a great coverage all of last year about the problems plaguing the MTA- I recommend you read all of that.

    The more people ask for the MTA to be restructured, the more the Governor and Mayor will be wiling to take some action despite all the money they get from the people who are really dragging the system down. If you continue to accept the status quo, please don’t ask people to pay more for a terrible service. This apathy or just lack of attention on the real issues is why we are at this state of affairs today.

    That’s why the city needs to encourage alternative modes of transport like motorcycles, scooters, ebikes etc.- I ride a motorcycle and it is way cheaper, more reliable and efficient than the subway, every day, any time of day. Generally, that shouldn’t be the case.

  • Of course I pay my taxes! Your estimate of the percentage of your earnings that you pay seems right; but there’s no way that your Spanish or French friends are paying that small a percentage of what they earn. The lowest tax rates in those countries are higher than 40%. And, as mentioned, workers in those countries get access to health care and other social services, enjoy extensive vacation time from work, and get the benefit of modern and well-maintained public transport.

    You are right to say that the current Governor and his predecessors have diverted money away from the MTA.

    But the Times piece was flawed. I will say here what I also said in another thread: those who call for “efficiency” in construction processes should just be honest and state that they want to get rid of safety regulations. Characterising essential modern safety regulations as “waste” is equivalent to calling for the mass deaths of our workers.

    However, that story made a good point in highlighting the exhorbident costs associated with contractors. We shouldn’t have to rely on contractors at all; the MTA should have an in-house construction department. This way, there would be more cost certainty, as costs would be determined as part of collective bargaining.

    While I ride my bike most of the time, I find my tolerance of the cold to be ebbing. Last winter was the first time in seven year that I took a break from bike commuting; and I cannot promise what I will do this winter. So I am riding the subway more than I used to. And I would object to the broad characterisation of the subway as “a terrible service”. The horror stories are amplified by social media; but for the overwhelming majority of commuters, the subway works well, and delivers them to their destinations promptly and safely.
    When I compare the discomfort of riding my bike in the cold weather to my experience commuting by subway, the subway seems downright luxurious.

    Let’s not forget that, only a few years ago, we were talking about the subway being at the peak of its performance. The problems associated with aging signals are real and chronic; but we shouldn’t exaggerate the issue or conclude from this that the system is falling apart.

    And the subway is amazingly cheap; $2.75 is very little to pay for a trip that could potentially be from one end of the City to the other. That’s similar to the cost of a slice of pizza, a bit less than the smallest size of Starbucks coffee, and about half of a deli sandwich. There are many other daily purchases that dwarf the cost of a subway ride.

    And I strongly doubt that your motorcycle ride is cheaper, if you add together gas, tolls, and parking, as well as a pro-rated share of your insurance. If you wanted to get really honest about it, you’d also figure in the depreciation of the value of the motorcycle itself; but, even without that, there’s no way that a motorcycle ride of, let’s say, 10 miles is going to cost less than $2.75.

    The bottom line is that we the public have the responsibility of funding our public infrastructure. We can do it either by taxes (the right way) or by paying a fare at the point of use. And, since no one is going suggest that Americans pay what it takes in taxes, that leaves only a fare that pumps significant revenue into MTA coffers. Demanding to see improvements before being willing to pay a higher fare is (to use a metaphor from a different mode of transport) putting the cart before the horse.

  • motorock

    I think your takeaway from all the Times pieces is flawed- there was never any mention of reduction in safety but only about getting rid of extra people who are not doing anything. This after observation from a French expert who was overseeing a Parisian project similar to the second avenue subway- but built at a sixth of the cost! Even after taking into account how strict they are about labour laws and health benefits etc. Not sure why you want to keep shielding the inefficient profligate machine of MTA- they need to be called out for everything bad. I am all for unions and think everyone should be organized – but when they do things like they do at MTA, it’s a problem and needs to addressed- they are not all saints. I agree MTA could have full time employees who can be unionized which is totally fine and makes them more responsible.

    About the tax rate of my friends in Europe- perhaps you should check with your super rich friends paying 40% and higher- the middle class pays about 30% or thereabout.

    I have lived in NYC for more than 10 years now- I have never seen this peak performance you speak of. I have always lived 10+ miles away from school/work in Manhattan. I have only seen hours of painful commute which only made me want to have my independent mode of transport and stop wasting time and energy on just trying to get somewhere. Every successive year, the service has gotten worse. Maybe people who live in or very close to Manhattan won’t experience it as much. While some people who are further away don’t have a choice except for the MTA- buses suck, biking could be too far and they are averse to powered two wheelers. So it is terrible depending on where you live- and its been terrible for me, disregarding social media comments.

    Which brings me to cost of running a motorcycle- I did the math and made my statement. Insurance, registration, gas per month and even included regular maintenance- it is cheaper than a monthly pass on MTA. Give it a try perhaps? If one gets a used motorcycle, the benefits are even more since that depreciation (which I am not concerned about- the moto pays for itself in saving me time) sort of stops at some point and can still be sold at a decent price. In the end, even if one’s choice is a $100 or more than subway passes annually, the efficiency and reliability and flexibility that the motorcycle brings is worth like $500 or more! That is the level of service that the subway should provide so we can all be happy paying more. I dread the 10 odd days I cannot ride the motorcycle due to snow or ice on the road because then I have to take the train into work and face all the expected delays and terribleness that comes with it.

    Maybe also look at the recent article on Delhi metro on Business insider- directly compared with the MTA. It serves a billion people annually (compared to NYC’s 1.7Billion odd) and growing rapidly. And it’s only 16 years old. It still provides things that people expect of a modern metro as a public service.

    The higher fare will come- as it does every two years. But not questioning and demanding a real change to the system is the biggest impediment to progress. This is the reason why the governors and MTA has gotten away with so much in the past decade. It’s time for everyone to speak out- half measures are not an option. If you don’t want to change anything, nothing will.

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