Fare Hike In 2009? Tell Me It Can’t Be True!

Well folks it can & most likely will be by time 2009 rolls around. Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue had a report with a catchy title about the possibility of a fare hike in 2009. Here is his report courtesy of the New York Daily News

Brace yourself for the possibility of another subway fare and toll hike.

A rare back-to-back increase – along with service cuts – could be in store for commuters now that MTA number crunchers are suddenly dealing with a massive hole in next year’s budget.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority‘s projected 2009 budget gap has ballooned – doubling or even tripling original estimates, sources said.

Without new state money, officials may soon raise the spectre of increases, service cuts – or both, sources and experts said.

“They don’t have many options,” one source said.

Subway riders gasped at the suggestion.

“I’m a recent college graduate so I can’t afford the subway as it is,” said Bryan Tran, 21, of Queens. “Any higher and I will have to walk everywhere. It’s ridiculous.”

The MTA by law must have a balanced budget. The preliminary plan will be released next month.

“Back-to-back fare hikes would slam riders, already reeling from higher costs of living and a poor economy,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign

The MTA just boosted fares in March, and those hikes will raise nearly $200 million over the course of a year. If the agency is forced to fill next year’s budget gap with increases in subway and commuter train fares, and bridge tolls, the next hikes would have to be even bigger.

The only other consecutive set of increases was in 1980 and 1981.

The latest projections had the MTA struggling to fill a $220 million budget hole. That number has grown to $500 million to $700 million, sources said.

Part of the problem is that last year the MTA predicted that revenue from fees on real estate transactions would drop by $160 million between January and May. Instead, they plummeted by $240 million, MTA documents show.

And despite pledges to fight for more MTA funding, the state Legislature later joined Gov. Paterson in slashing expected subsidies from one state account by $40 million earlier this year. The hit repeats next year.

Paterson picked former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch in April to lead a panel to weigh funding solutions for the authority’s operating and construction budgets.

Although Ravitch has been delving into the authority’s finances, the other panelists haven’t been selected.

Before this fiscal crisis, MTA officials adopted a policy of modest fare and toll hikes every other year, with the next round coming in 2010.

Board member Mitchell Pally, who voted against this year’s hikes, said he doesn’t expect that schedule to be altered in preliminary budget next month. Fare hikes and service cuts are “the last two things we should be thinking about,” especially with gasoline prices so high, he said.

He called for the federal government to again provide operating budget funds for transit, a practice he said halted more than a decade ago.

I was reading Second Avenue Sagas (you should be reading his transit blog like you do this one!) & noticed Benjamin took Bryan who was interviewed as part of the report, to task for his statement of having to walk if the fares go up any higher. He did so by stating the following:

Despite Donohue’s man-on-the-street Bryan Tran’s statement — “Any higher and I will have to walk everywhere. It’s ridiculous.” — the fares just aren’t that high. The average cost-per-ride for an unlimited ride user is still well below what the $1.50 base fare we all used to pay in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

If anything, this news just drives home what Sheldon Silver and the anti-congestion pricing contingent did when they opted to let that MTA-saving measure die in committee. Perhaps it’s time to start paying closer attention to Ted Kheel after all.

Now here is my problem with his statements. While he is completely accurate about the cost for an unlimited rider being less than the base fare of the 90’s, I feel it is not exactly fully relevant to the actual costs of today. While the average fare is lower, one must account that not everyone is an unlimited rider. There is also the possibility that the recent fare increase has resulted in the loss of some unlimited riders due to not being able to afford the increases. However I feel the main issue is the cost of living is so much different from the 90’s that the savings one receives on paper is just that on paper.

With a potential fare hike in 2009 being even bigger than the one we just faced, the harsh reality is that some might be priced out of the system. While none of us know if Mr. Tran was being over dramatic with his “walking statement” or being completely honest, it is undeniable that another fare hike will lead to some people turning to walking as a necessity to get around.

The other issue I have relates to bringing up the failure of the proposed congestion pricing plan becoming a reality as to why we will have to pay more in the long run. I have been dead set against congestion pricing since day one. I could not support an obvious attempt to screw one section over to help another. It was clearly a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Instead of this excuse, I feel more anger should be shown towards current & former government & MTA officials for not doing their jobs properly. If things were run the way they should have been with the agency & riding publics best interest being accounted for, we would not be in the mess we were in.

This leads me to an editorial about the fare hike which was on page 24 of Monday’s New York Daily News which calls out MTA CEO Elliot Sander along with MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger. Here is the editorial courtesy of the New York Daily News

Promises, promises. Broken promises. It seems that’s all the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is good for.

Back in March, the MTA socked riders with another fare hike for subways, buses and commuter rail. The salve was a pledge that there would not be another increase for at least two years.

Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander promised to get the agency’s fiscal affairs in order.

They promised they were starting an orderly program of fare increases: Riders would pony up every other year, with hikes in line with inflation.

They promised they would get whatever additional money they needed – and it would be a lot – from state and city governments.

“Trust us,” harrumphed Hemmerdinger and Sander.

And they took the public for a ride. Barely three months after giving their word – and pushing through a hike with the blessings of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg – the MTA is floating the prospect of another increase as early as next year.

All of a sudden, the agency is broke, suffering from declining revenues while costs are climbing. Real estate-related taxes dedicated to the MTA are plummeting, thanks largely to the subprime crisis. Next year’s budget gap won’t be $220 million, but as much as $700 million.

Bloomberg is in no mood to help by boosting operating aid. Spitzer, who vowed to provide $600 million, is gone in ignominy. And the Legislature echoes with its own empty promises.

In the winter, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and lawmakers like Assemblyman Richard Brodsky trumpeted that they wanted to avert the March hike. But come spring, when fares rose with the crocuses, they failed to come through with a dime.

What they did do was kill congestion pricing, and with it an immediate $354 million in federal cash along with a half-billion dollars from traffic fees every year – money that was desperately needed to reduce the pressure for fare hikes.

There was a ray of hope two months ago, when Gov. Paterson tapped former MTA Chairman Dick Ravitch to lead a group to map out the agency’s financial future. But Paterson hasn’t gotten around to naming the rest of the Ravitch panel. He needs to do that right away. Monday would be best, but no later than Tuesday.

And Hemmerdinger and Sander need to shoot straighter.

I must give credit where credit is due. As you might remember, I was a supporter of former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer & felt he was criticized way too often for trying to help out the little guy. However I must say Benjamin Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas fame is spot on with his analysis of the editorial in Monday’s New York Daily News.

I must also give him credit as he was the first blogger/writer of any sort to call bullshit on Mr. Spitzer’s political game of being the “good guy” & how he was screwing over the majority of riders. I definitely recommend you check out his past posts on Spitzer’s game & how we are paying the price now. But before you do that, I highly recommend you check out his response to Monday’s editorial. You can do so by clicking here. When you are done, you can read my feelings from December in regards to then Governor Spitzer’s screwjob for the holidays.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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