Fare hike likely coming for subway, bus riders

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N.J. Burkett got commuter reaction to news of another possible MTA fare increase. (WABC)

A possible rate hike is likely for New York City bus and subway riders -- the only question is how much.

The MTA's plan to boost revenue from riders and toll payers by 4 percent in 2015 and by 4 percent in 2017 will result in some type of fare hike, but details are uncertain right now.

One proposal, sources said, would increase individual fares by a quarter to $2.75, but then increase the Metro Card discount that comes with it. Another option would be keeping the $2.50 fare, but then decreasing the Metro Card discount.

"The MTA has been clear," said the agency spokesman, "that it will keep future fare and toll increases to the rate of inflation, but our proposals are not final."

Tolls for Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road also would be subject to an increase.

The last fare increase was in 2013. Hearings on the possible hike are expected next month.

A report last month claimed claimed that if the MTA borrows money to cover a projected budget shortfall, more cash could come out of commuters' pockets. The news came as a different report shows a record spike in riders on subways across the area.

The state comptroller released a report on the MTA finances each year, and while he sees a healthier financial picture, he wants to make sure the agency won't have to resort to fare increases.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli believes the increase in ridership, along with a healthier economy, is helping the MTA's financial outlook. But to pay for future expenses and projects, he warns that for every $1 billion borrowed, riders could face a fare increase.

"It would impact the middle class," one rider said. "It's high enough already. I don't think it's a good idea for the working class."

"I think it's expensive now," another commuter said. "Already, it's just like a car payment (for a monthly ticket)."

MTA officials describe the transportation network as an engine that drives the economy in New York. And they add, "The comptroller's report emphasizes how critical it is for all the MTA's stakeholders to engage in a dialogue about how to fund the capital program to renew, enhance and expand the MTA network."

The MTA points out that it hit record ridership five times last month, with more than 6 million riders each of those days. The chairman calls the growth phenomenal, since only 20 years ago, ridership was about 3.5 million a day.

The New York City subway system is over 100 years old. When it opened in 1904, the fare was just five cents, and it stayed that way until it doubled in 1948.

It doubled again in 1966, to 20 cents, before a series of increases through the 1970's, until it reached 60 cents in 1980.

The fare hit $1.15 in 1990, and through the '90's, increases were modest. But that ended in 2003, with the $2 fare, which went to $2.25 in 2010 and $2.50 last year.

"There have been five fare increases in the last eight years, so riders aren't just imagining it," said veteran transit watchdog Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, who thinks a modest increase is not unreasonable.

"I think it's fair to ask the riders to pay something as long as it's part of an overall attempt to make the subways better," he said.
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