The MTA has followed up the deepest transit service cuts in decades by approving fare increases that an MTA board member called “a ticking time bomb.”
Several board members expressed reluctance in supporting the fare increases at their meeting last week, but Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder said his agency had nowhere else to turn.
MTA Board Vice Chairman Andrew Saul said the cuts and fare hikes will not solve the agency’s dire financial plight.
“The business plan of the MTA today is a ticking time bomb,” Saul told his fellow board members. “Otherwise this fee hike of 7.5 percent, which no one sitting around here wants to vote for, is just the beginning. We need to make structural changes.”
“Being on this board really made me stop believing in fairy tales,” Doreen Frasca said. “I don’t think for a minute Albany is going to do anything for us. I hate taking this vote, but at this point, it’s our only option.”
The board approved the fare increase by a vote of 12-2 last Thursday, with Norman Seabrook of the Bronx and Patrick Foye of Nassau County in opposition.
The MTA approval means the 30-day unlimited MetroCard will go from $89 to $104 and the weekly unlimited card rises from $27 to $29. The cost of a single bus or subway ride goes from $2.25 to $2.50.
The one-day and two-week unlimited MetroCards will be abolished.
On the Long Island and Metro-North railroads, average fare increases will run from 7.6 percent to 11.5 percent.
A $1 charge will be assessed if a straphanger buys a new MetroCard rather than refilling an existing card.
The new fares are effective Dec. 30.
Andrew Albert, a non-voting MTA board member, objected to the new cost of the 30-day card.
“This fare plan hits our best customers with the heftiest fare hike,” Albert said. “We should be rewarding our best customers.”
Members of the public pleaded with the board not to hike fares.
“We are not in a position to be able to avoid this increase,” Walder said.
In the visitors’ alcove facing the MTA meeting room, transit activists raised placards that read “Riders to Albany: HELP.”
But several board members said money from the state Legislature was not a reality since Albany had already diverted from the MTA $143 million earmarked for the transit agency.
The MTA’s extreme financial situation — it has an $800 million budget gap — has worsened in the recession with a plunge in tax receipts from real estate transactions and other transit earmarked taxes. But it was already heavily in debt from borrowing $24 billion after state and local government reduced or cut off billions for the MTA capital fund, which finances major projects like the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access to bring LIRR trains into Grand Central Terminal.
The MTA has been undergoing a vast reorganization, including consolidating departments, laying off 3,500 employees and carrying out a crackdown on overtime. Walder said the retrenchment has saved $500 million so.
The MTA will meet Oct. 27 to decide how much to raise bridge and tunnel tolls.
“It’s a sad day for subways and buses,” said Gene Russianoff of the transit advocacy agency Straphangers Campaign. “These cuts and this fare hike are happening not just because of the terrible economy, but because Washington, Albany and City Hall are not making transit the priority it should be.”
Over the past spring and summer, the MTA carried out a program of service cuts that shut down the W subway line, cut in half the runs of the G subway, nearly ended M service in south Brooklyn, cut 37 bus routes and brought longer waits for buses and subways. Hundreds of cleaning personnel were laid off.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledge
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