At The MTA’s last board meeting of the year on Wednesday, it approved a $17 billion budget for 2019 that counts on a net 4 percent fare hike next year. But, not everyone, including many board members, the governor, and even the head of the finance committee is convinced that the two-current fare increase options are best for customers.

“We don't know if we're going to pass a fare plan or not, and what it'd look like, and how much revenue it's going to generate,” Larry Schwartz, chair of the finance committee said Wednesday.

The agency’s financial plan expects a fare and toll increase to bring in $269 million in additional revenue in 2019.

While the MTA has been holding public hearings on the two fare hike proposals, Schwartz dangled the possibility that he has a third option he’s working on that he’ll unveil next year. The two options presented so far are: to keep the base fare at $2.75 and eliminate the bonus while the unlimited goes up to $127. The other options is to raise the base fare to $3 and increase the bonus to 10% with a $6 purchase and raise the unlimited to $126.25.
At least two board members described the 2019 budget as “precarious” since it hinges on the board passing a fare hike next year.

Board member Andrew Saul made a point of impugning the MTA staff and board for how it’s handled the agency’s finances.

“What you have here is a situation that’s not fiduciarily responsible,” he said. “What we have here is an operation that can’t last.”

Saul still voted to pass the budget.

The only board members that abstained from voting on the budget were mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointees Carl Weisbrod and Veronica Vanterpool.

“We have an irrational budget process,” Vanterpool said, referring to the MTA adopting a 2019 budget before the city and state’s budget, making it impossible for the MTA to know what the city and state’s contributions to the agency might be.

She called for a resolution to change when the MTA’s budget is due.

“If we don’t take real meaningful action this coming year, really meaningful I think we’re going to find ourselves at a precipice next year,” board member Scott Rechler said.

That’s because the agency is looking at a nearly $1 billion budget deficit by 2021. Despite the size of the deficit, the MTA held a special meeting this month to discuss a $215 million shortfall from fare evasion.

“We will be very aggressive and proactive in changing the entire structure of the MTA,” Finance chair Schwartz said, pleading a case for why he should continue to serve as chair in 2019.

The MTA has already instituted a non-essential employee hiring freeze and minor cuts to service, like the frequency of station cleaning.

Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer said he hopes the agency finds another revenue stream next year and that he’s opposed to saving money by slashing service, as the agency did during its last major financial crunch in 2008.

“I’m against, personally, service cuts. I remember when that happened several years ago,” Ferrer said. We just got... out of the hole we dug ourselves with that last round, I don’t want to go anywhere near that again,” he said.


Stephen Nessen is the transportation reporter for WNYC. You can follow him on Twitter @s_nessen.