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Arriving Soon: Higher Subway Fares For Worse Service

Dashed Arrow Courtesy Chelsea Lawrence

New York City's already-distressed transit riders may soon find themselves paying even more money for even worse service, thanks to a yawning budget deficit, sky-rocketing estimates for repair costs, and Albany's inability to create new revenue streams through legislation.

On Thursday, sources told Politico's Dana Rubenstein that MTA officials are now placing the price tag of resuscitating the ailing mass transit system at roughly $60 billion—far higher than initial cost projections, which ranged from $19 billion to $43 billion.

That news came one day after a board meeting in which MTA Chairman Joe Lhota warned that "significant" budget gaps in the coming years could force the authority to institute unplanned fare hikes, while potentially slashing subway and bus service. Those hikes would come on top of the two separate 4 percent fare and toll increases expected in 2019 and 2021.

The transit chief—who's reportedly done with this shit, and can you blame him?—added that the agency's finances were as bad as they'd been in recent memory, with a $262 million budget shortfall in 2020 set to mushroom into a $634 million gap by 2022. There's no other apparent recourse for solving this problem, as even a "fully developed and completely implemented" form of congestion pricing will fall short of fixing the problem, Lhota said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says he supports congestion pricing for motorists as a means of raising money for the MTA, did little to actually promote his plan this past year, and an ambitious version of the proposal ultimately faltered in Albany.

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Average bus and subway fares have increased at a rate higher than inflation in recent years (NY Comptroller's Office)

As part of his doomsday speech, Lhota also alluded to the alarming report issued earlier this month by the New York Comptroller's office, which found that the MTA faces "its greatest challenge in decades." But that report may have actually understated the problem, Lhota said, and a budget update next month is expected to show additional shortfalls caused by declining ridership and diminishing revenue from real estate taxes, according to the Daily News.

Therein lies the self-reinforcing problem—as the MTA's service steadily deteriorates, commuters flock to Uber and Lyft, hurting an essential revenue stream that the authority desperately needs to improve service and reverse ridership trends. Raising prices and reducing service probably won't solve that problem, Lhota conceded, but added that, "unless we get a sustainable new source of revenue, we have no other options to balance our budget after 2019."

In the past, Cuomo has seemed ambivalent, at times duplicitous, about coming fare hikes. But in August, he announced during a debate with primary challenger Cynthia Nixon that he would "support canceling the [planned] fare hike because the service is not what people deserve."

We've reached out to the governor's office to see whether he's still committed to cancelling that fare hike—or whether riders should expect new, additional price increases in the future. We'll update if we hear back.

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