Committee approves $2.50 NYC subway fare

March 23, 2009 3:59:33 PM PDT
Transit officials took a step Monday toward imposing drastic service cuts and steep fare increases that would raise the cost of a single subway ride from $2 to $2.50, even while holding out hope that state lawmakers might still come to the rescue. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is saddled with a $1.2 billion budget deficit that is largely blamed on the ailing economy. A bailout plan that would avoid the worst of the fare increases and service cuts has become bogged down amid bickering in Albany, prompting Monday's decision.

MTA board chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger urged the agency's finance committee to adopt the fare hikes and service cuts even though he called them "horrific." At a news conference after the vote in Manhattan, Hemmerdinger was asked if he had any message for Albany: "How about: `Help!"' he said.

"This represents as good a job as human beings can do to divide the pain as equally as we can," he said.

Gov. David Paterson said Monday that the MTA board should go ahead with its proposal but that he would continue to try to negotiate an alternative with the Senate's Democratic majority.

Paterson said there remains enough disagreement with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith so that no deal is imminent, but an alternative with lower fares and less or no changes in service could replace it.

The full MTA board will vote Wednesday on the fare increases, which would take effect June 1.

The MTA adopted a budget in December designed to close a $1.2 billion gap in its operating budget by raising fare and toll revenues by 23 percent. The board also approved sweeping service cuts, including eliminating 21 local bus routes.

Officials blamed the budget deficit on a shortfall in real estate taxes and declining ridership, and said they expected the situation to only get worse.

"This is a real crisis. It's a sad day for the MTA and it's certainly a sad day for me," said Andrew Saul, finance committee chairman.

MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander said the service cuts will lead to about 3,000 jobs being trimmed, with 1,100 layoffs and the rest lost through attrition.

As an alternative, Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver support a bailout for the MTA in which transit riders, motorists and businesses would share the pain.

Under that plan, crafted by a state commission headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, fares would rise 8 percent on average, drivers would pay to use the free East and Harlem River bridges and businesses in the MTA's 12-county region would be charged a payroll tax.

Smith, the Senate majority leader, was still seeking a compromise to the Ravitch proposal on Monday.

The MTA is a state agency that runs New York City's subways and public buses, the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road, the Long Island Bus system and several bridges and tunnels.

The finance committee's plan would also increase the price of a monthly MetroCard by $22 to $103 and a weekly unlimited-ride MetroCard by $6 to $31.

Geraldine Shaw, a nurse's aide from Queens, shook her head at the thought of fare increases as she boarded an A train.

"A fare hike would be hard on us," she said. "Everything's going up."