M.T.A. Approves Smaller Fare and Toll Increases
Updated, 1:33 p.m. | The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted on Monday to rescind a “doomsday” package of severe fare increases in March 25. As part of a financing deal approved by the State Legislature last week, the base subway and bus fare will rise from $2 to $2.25 on June 28 — instead of $2.50 — and the authority will avert layoffs. Commuter railroad fares will rise on June 17. And tolls on the bridges and tunnels operated by the authority will rise on July 12.
The threshold for obtaining a 15 percent bonus on pay-per-ride MetroCard will rise to $8 from $7. The cost of a seven-day unlimited-ride MetroCard will rise to $27 (instead of $31) from the current price of $25. The cost of a 14-day MetroCard will rise to $51.50 (instead of $59) from the current price of $47. The cost of a 30-day MetroCard will rise to $89 (instead of $103) from the current price of $81.
A vast majority of commuter rail tickets on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad will increase between 9.75 percent and 10.75 percent. Cash and E-ZPass tolls on the M.T.A. bridges and tunnels will increase by about 10 percent.
Seeming tired and worn-down after months of wrangling, leaders of the authority said the smaller fare and toll increases were still painful. “There’s nothing to be happy about,” the authority’s chairman, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, told reporters after the board voted.
Mr. Hemmerdinger called the resolution “a very bittersweet solution that comes with additional pain,” noting that the authority still faced a $200 million budget gap that will result in service cuts — though the cuts will likely be less draconian than previously envisioned.
Quoting Otto von Bismarck’s description of politics as “the art of the possible,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said the new package of fare increases was far superior to the package adopted in March.
“Believe me the next best is a far, far, far cry from the worst, which is what we were staring at when we were last sitting at this table,” he told his board.
The meeting was a swan song of sorts for Elliot G. Sander, the chief executive of the authority since 2007, who submitted his resignation last week after the Legislature adopted the financing plan. The jobs of Mr. Sander, the top staff member at the authority, and of Mr. Hemmerdinger, the chairman, were combined and restructured as part of the financing plan, which also calls for a audit of the authority’s finances.
Mr. Hemmerdinger, who is generally thought to have the support of Gov. David A. Paterson, said he too did not expect to stay on as chairman, but indicated it was too early to say what his fate would be.
“I now understand what it takes to run this organization, to move millions and millions of New Yorkers every day and I’ve come to understand how critically important it is to me, not just as the insider chairman but as a private citizen and businessman,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said.
Mr. Hemmerdinger, defending the authority against repeated criticisms leveled against it by Albany, said the authority was often “misunderstood,” receiving attention when “we stub our toes” but not credit for the “millions” of riders it delivers on time each day.
He denounced as “unfounded” a persistent accusation that the M.T.A. has “two sets of books” — an accusation that has lingered long after it was first leveled several years ago. Regarding the audit ordered by Albany, Mr. Hemmerdinger said: “We have nothing to hide. We never have. We don’t now.”
In the public-comment period preceding the vote of the authority’s board, several people stood to criticize the M.T.A.
Andreeva G. Pinder, a union official who represents station agents, angrily denounced a proposal, still on the books, to close some station booths. (The station agents in some of the booths had already been reassigned to stand outside the booths and help customers.) “What in the hell are you thinking?” she asked the board.
Support for the new package of fare increases was not unanimous. Several board members representing upstate counties — including Carl V. Wortendyke of Rockland County and Susan G. Metzger of Orange County — voted no to protest a provision in the financial deal that calls for a payroll tax in the 12 counties served by the authority. They said the tax was unfair.
Another board member, Norman I. Seabrook, said he opposed any form of fare increase for now.
“Why can’t we just hold off a little while longer to see what develops here, as opposed to hitting the public upside the head?” he asked, saying of the new package, “It still sounds like doomsday.”
Ms. Metzger said: “The payroll mobility tax puts an unfair burden on my county. We already send more money to the M.T.A. than we get in equitable service.”
Mitchell H. Pally, who represents Suffolk County on the board, said the debate over the M.T.A.’s future had skirted the critical issue of what proportion of the fare should be borne by riders. Users of the M.T.A. system already pay for about 40 percent of the cost of running the system — a higher proportion than in most other mass transit systems.
“This has not been a question of bailing out the M.T.A.,” Mr. Pally said. “We don’t get any of the money. It’s a question of how much the rider should pay. We are actually not bailing out the M.T.A., but bailing out the rider.”
He added, “The package before us today is a whole lot better than the package before us the last few months.”Mr. Seabrook was unpersuaded. “No, no and no,” he said, casting his votes on the three motions before the authority’s board.