Only 14 percent of bus and subway riders pay the basic fare. As of March 1, tickets on the Long Island Rail Road will increase. The following day most fares for subway and bus trips will rise, while higher bridge and tunnel tolls will kick in March 16. The new round of hikes was ratified just before Christmas when the Metropolitan Transportation board voted overwhelming to charge more. The 12-2 vote came despite months of protests by transit riding citizens and urging from perhaps as many as 100 lawmakers to wait until April for financial rescue from the state Legislature. Financial rescue might not be the precise description from MTA leaders, but they said waiting for Albany to act was far too risky. The transit agency's officers had warned for months about the dark clouds of debt looming just ahead. The MTA says it will owe $1.567 billion this year, $1.716 billion by 2009 and $1.863 billion in 2010 as result of more than a decade of prodigious borrowing, much of it to pay for major projects such as the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access to provide Long Island rail Road access to Grand Central Terminal. The administrations of Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had cut off most financial contributions for the MTA Capital Fund, resulting in the heavy borrowing. Critics of the fare increase pointed to a $500 million surplus going into 2008, but transit officials said that apparent bonanza could be diminished quickly so great was the agency's debt. In any case, much of the fare hike will be paid by users of unlimited ride MetroCards. A 30-day card will now cost $81 rather than $76 and a seven-day card will cost $25 rather than $24. A 14-day card, newly introduced, will be $47. The basic $2 fare is not the only thing that remains the same. The Express Bus fare will still cost $5 and the seven-day Express Bus Pass is unchanged at $41. Long Island Rail Road patrons will see their ticket costs go up Sunday, a day ahead of New York City Transit patrons, and LIRR monthly and weekly passes will rise from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent. Tolls on bridges and tunnels will increase by as much as 3.8 percent but not until March 16.. The City Ticket goes from $3 to $3.25. The MTA plan is to raise fares moderately every two years, but Gene Russianoff, attorney for the transit advocacy agency Straphangers Campaign predicted there would be none in 2010. "That is an election years for the governor," Russianoff said.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@times
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