The MTA Board voted Wednesday to keep the price of a single ride at $2.75 for 2017, rejecting an alternative plan that would have raised the price by 25 cents. But the base fare freeze, which passed with one dissenting vote, comes with fare hikes elsewhere. Starting March 19th, a 7-day pass will cost $32, up from $31. The 7-day express bus and unlimited subway pass will increase to $59.50 from $57.50, and the unlimited monthly pass will increase nearly 4 percent, to $121 up from $116.50.
"Given that the base fare has increased in 2013 and 2015, we are now recommending keeping the base fare unchanged at $2.75," said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast, presiding over his last board meeting before retirement. "This benefits riders who pay cash on the bus or load less than a round trip on a MetroCard, and are more likely to be low-income riders."
The alternative option, detailed below, would have increased monthly and weekly passes by the same rate, but with a more significant bonus per single ride: 16 percent with a $6.00 purchase, compared to the approved 5 percent with a $5.50 purchase.
The MTA board approved "Plan A" below. The fare and toll increases take effect in March. pic.twitter.com/o2z2MLXNBo
— Emma G. Fitzsimmons (@emmagf) January 25, 2017
Board Member Andrew Albert, a Transit Riders Council appointee, argued that while the base fare freeze is good optics, straphangers will still take a hit under the chosen bonus. "This means you will have to ride 20 times for a free ride, [up from] seven times for a free ride," he said, adding, "I know there is a great psychology to $2.75, but for the majority of riders it will be a sizable increase."
He argued that the MTA should be looking for alternative funding streams. "Balancing the budget on the backs of riders is not the best way to handle public transit," Albert said, making a plug for a gas tax, or the long-debated Move NY plan, which would charge tolls on East River bridges and implement congestion pricing in parts of Manhattan to fund public transit.
"If you take [these] fare hikes to their eventual conclusions, at some point there will be a $10 fare and $50 tolls, and I'm not sure that is going to be sustainable in this region," Albert added.
Board Member Ira Greenberg echoed Albert's concern. "Maybe the city should have taken up the responsibility in this case," he said.
The MTA's vote came hours after Mayor de Blasio presented his preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year, which does not include funding for half-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. The estimated $200 million subsidy has growing City Council support, and advocates with the Riders Alliance argue that City Hall should front the bill.
Prendergast hinted as much on Wednesday, reiterating the MTA's position that it can't afford such a sizable subsidy. "In the case of the reduced fare for low-income riders, social services are rightly the role of municipalities in caring for their residents," he said. "It should not be the MTA's role, nor can the MTA afford to provide what would be a very real benefit for the poor."
Several low-income riders testified on Wednesday that such a subsidy is crucial.
Xavier Masonette, a college student living in public housing on the Lower East Side, said that his grandfather often sacrifices his own swipe so that Masonette can get to his classes on Staten Island. "Many times I have struggled being able to afford getting to my classes or my job," he said. "My grandfather has found himself walking to the hospital."
"Fares were already unaffordable to struggling New Yorkers and any increase makes it that much harder," argued Board Member David Jones in a statement. "Keeping the base fare at $2.75 is not the answer. We need a meaningful discount."
City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein reiterated the Mayor's position on Wednesday. "While we believe the proposal is a noble one, it would require substantial new funding, which would add a significant and heavy lift for New York City to do on its own," she said, adding, "We recommend the State consider allocating the funds."
Governor Cuomo's Office didn't immediately comment. When we asked the state for input on the subsidy last month, they deferred comment to the MTA.
The Riders Alliance launched an online petition today, urging Mayor de Blasio to change his position before finalizing his executive budget.
Also on Wednesday, straphangers testified in favor of the Freedom Ticket, a single-fare alternative to the MetroCard and Commuter Rail ticket that would benefit low-income commuters living in transit deserts. Prendergast said that the MTA will conduct a field study to "understand the impact" of a reduced fare option on the LIRR between Southeast Queens and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.