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Cuomo Vetos Bill That Would Have Given NYers Two Free MetroCard Transfers

Courtesy mr t in dc's flickr
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Courtesy mr t in dc's flickr

Governor Cuomo has vetoed State legislation that would have instated a second free transfer for commuters who have to take two buses and a train to get to work, doubling the customary single free transfer within two hours of the initial swipe. The governor, who turned a blind eye on the MTA's budgetary crisis until quite recently, justified his decision as a money saver for an already strapped system.

"The MTA estimates it would cost approximately $40 million annually to provide a second free transfer, yet the bill does not provide any funding to account for this expense," the governor wrote in his veto message.

The bill, which passed the Senate and Assembly this June, would have allowed commuters to swipe on two buses and one train for a single fare.

According to an official statement from the MTA, the addition of a second free transfer would cost "nearly" $40 million in annual revenue. "If this bill were enacted, each weekday over 50,000 full-fare and reduced fare customers would gain a free ride," said MTA Chairman Counselor Stephen Morello. "In addition, adding another automatic transfer for pay-per-ride MetroCards would be a severe challenge."

The MTA also argued that "an easy remedy already exists" for commuters who must make two transfers in a single commute, in the form of an unlimited MetroCard. However, sponsoring Bronx Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz countered that the unlimited MetroCard is not a feasible option for many commuters who live far from the city center. "It's just not fair for people who, through no fault of their own, have to take three rides and are in a two-fare zone," he told the Post.

This is the second time in a number of weeks that the transportation authority has formally opposed legislation aimed towards alleviating the economic burden of commuting for New Yorkers living in the city's so-called "transportation deserts," on the grounds of budgetary limits. At a City Council meeting earlier this month, the MTA opposed legislation that would have allowed New Yorkers to pay a subway-equivalent $2.75 fare on the Long Island Railroad or Metro-North within city limits, and transfer to the subway or bus for free.

This, the MTA estimated, would impact 14.5 million customers a year, and cost the MTA $70 million annually.

According to a recent report from the Regional Plan Association entitled Overlooked Boroughs [PDF], close to 90% of NYC's 8.2 million residents live outside of Manhattan south of 125th Street. The NY Times reported in 2013 that 370,000 Queens residents and 191,000 Bronx residents commute into Manhattan daily.

City data shows that two thirds of New Yorkers who commute more than an hour in each direction make less than $35,000 per year. This spring, the price of a monthly unlimited MetroCard jumped from $112 to $116.50.

Gene Russianoff, a spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, told us over the summer that he supported the double-transfer legislation.

"There are some policies that make sense," he said. "I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, where you had to take two buses to make it to the train. The question is, why should those people [on bus lines] pay more?"

"There are a lot of things the MTA could do that would be good," he added. "But can they afford them?"

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