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MetroCard Fare Increases Likely

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Fare Increases on MetroCards Appear Likely

By MICHAEL LUO | July 29, 2004

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials will propose increases to the prices of unlimited-ride MetroCards today, as well as reductions in overnight bus service throughout the city, transit officials said yesterday.

The measures, intended to close a significant budget gap expected next year, are part of an early plan for next year's budget that the authority is to release. The transportation authority's executive director, Katherine N. Lapp, would not release the exact amounts of the fare increases before a meeting of the authority's board today. But one top transportation authority official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that officials would propose to raise the price of monthly passes to at least $75, a $5 increase; they will also suggest that the price of weekly cards be increased to $23 or $24, from $21, and daily passes to go up to $8 or $9, from $7.

Another high-level transit official, however, said that he believed the price of the daily passes would remain unchanged. Members of the authority's board received a thick packet yesterday detailing the proposed service cuts for next year, as well as in 2006, when the budget gap is expected to widen substantially.

"The picture in '05 is bad," said Andrew Albert, a nonvoting member of the board who is chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, declining to talk about specifics. "But '06 is horrendous."

For months, Ms. Lapp had been warning of a projected deficit of $766 million in 2005 and more than $1 billion in 2006. She initially outlined plans to close next year's gap with $539 million in cuts and $227 million in additional revenue from increased ridership, higher fares or tolls.

Now, however, at least for 2005, the expected budget gap has narrowed considerably, because of unexpectedly high returns on taxi subsidies the authority gets from New York real estate and fuel sales. Peter S. Kalikow, chairman of the transportation authority's board, said yesterday that the deficit that needs to be closed now is probably going to be in the $400 million range.

Agency chiefs were asked last month to come back to Ms. Lapp with their suggested cuts. Among other items, transit officials are looking at late-night buses that often carry only a few passengers, Mr. Kalikow said. The lines would not be eliminated completely, he said, but they would run less often.

He explained that on average there are many more empty seats on New York City buses than there are elsewhere in the country, because New York runs buses more frequently.

Mr. Kalikow also said that users of two of the region's commuter train lines, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, would most likely see similar service cuts, although he pointed out that Metro-North's schedule was harder to trim because it does not run overnight.

On the city's subways and buses, officials have been talking about raising the price of discounted MetroCards for months. The cost of 30-day unlimited cards has seemed especially vulnerable because their price rose the least of the three types of unlimited ride cards after the fare increase in May 2003, going up by just 11 percent to $70, from $63, when the seven-day and one-day cards went up by 35 percent and 75 percent, respectively. The percentage of people who use the 30-day passes has risen steadily as a result.

In some ways, the transit authority has been victimized by its own success with the discounted MetroCards, which were introduced in 1996, said Preston Niblack, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonprofit fiscal monitor that has followed the authority's budget problems.

Even though the subway and bus base fare went up to $2 in May 2003, the average fare earned by the transit authority on each ride taken in its system has been hovering around $1.26, short of the authority's target of $1.30, because of the success of the unlimited ride cards, officials said.

The roots of next year's shortfall, as well as the even bigger gap expected in 2006 and beyond, date back to the controversial decision made in 1999 by transportation authority officials to plunge ahead with an ambitious five-year capital program that paid for upgrades to the transit system, as well as the first major expansion of the system in 60 years, even though there was no money to pay for it.

Instead, the authority borrowed unprecedented amounts, a choice, for better or for worse, that is now coming back to haunt the agency, several observers said.

"It was pretty inevitable," said H. Carl McCall, who, as the state's comptroller, was among the first to issue warnings about the financing of the capital program in the late 1990's. "There was such a great dependence on debt, and that debt really had to be paid from the fare box."

Mr. McCall, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, criticized Gov. George E. Pataki for reducing the state's contribution to the authority's rebuilding program to nothing, when it had once been as high as 30 percent in the 1980's.

The authority also restructured its debt, a controversial refinancing plan that finished in 2002, which provided a temporary infusion of cash to help close another budget gap it faced at the time. But that only increased the size of the M.T.A.'s debt.

It is payments on that debt that is the primary driver of the authority's current problems, as well as rising pension and health care costs.

But Mr. Niblack, as well as several others interviewed, said they are hard-pressed to criticize authority officials for pressing ahead with its capital program, because of the importance of maintaining the region's transit system.

"I think that's something everybody has seen the benefits of," Mr. Niblack said. "Nobody wants to lose that. The problem is, where do you get the money?"

From The New York Times

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An increase to $75 for a monthly pass isn't horrific, but I hope it doesn't go far beyond that. Things keep accelerating at a pace above inflation for the basics - and its making cost of living too much in general.

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An increase to $75 for a monthly pass isn't horrific, but I hope it doesn't go far beyond that. Things keep accelerating at a pace above inflation for the basics - and its making cost of living too much in general.

That's not bad at all. I paid about that for my 30 day pass in Chicago. Had I lived in NYC, I would have used that system much more than the system in Chicago so it's really a good deal. Especially if your employer gives you the transit checks each month that are pre-tax...that would bring the cost down to $50 or so.

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M.T.A. Raises Prices on Unlimited MetroCards

By SEWELL CHAN and JOHN O'NEIL | December 16, 2004

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted this morning to raise fares for many subway riders and on the system's commuter rail lines.

The increases are projected to bring in an extra $234 million next year. The base fare for a subway ride, which rose last year from $1.50 to $2, was not changed. But the cost of MetroCards offering unlimited rides increased: from $21 to $24 for a 7-day card, and from $70 to $76 for a 30-day card. Fares on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Commuter Railroad were increased by about 5 percent, and most bridge and tunnel tolls were raised by 25 or 50 cents.

The increases were approved on a voice vote by the authority's 14-member board. As expected, the four members appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg voted against the measures.

Even so, little of the public outrage traditionally stirred by fare increases was heard before the vote. Only about 20 people joined a protest outside the authority's Madison Avenue headquarters that was organized by the city's largest transit union, Local 100 of the Transit Workers of America.

State Senator Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, blamed Gov. George E. Pataki for the increases.

"This is basically the governor's decision," said Mr. Parker. "He's lifting the burden from the rich and the corporations to the working class."

But almost none of the fare-increase opponents expected that the move could be blocked, considering the grim financial - and political - landscape the authority is facing.

After running surpluses for several years, the authority is facing an operating deficit next year of as much as $600 million that is projected to rise into the billions in the years after that. Additionally, it has not secured the funds it will need to carry out $16 billion in planned capital improvements over the next five years, $11 billion of which is needed just to keep the system running.

To fill that gap, Peter S. Kalikow, the authority's chairman, earlier this month proposed increasing a half-dozen state taxes to raise $900 million a year - an idea that was greeted with silence by Governor Pataki and lawmakers in Albany, who are facing huge holes in the state budget already. Mayor Bloomberg also reacted coolly to the proposal

In recent weeks Mr. Bloomberg has vociferously criticized the transit authority for what he called "bloated payrolls, out-of-control spending, needless redundancies." He said it needed to cut costs before asking for additional funds, a position echoed by the state comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, who says hundreds of administrative jobs could be eliminated.

The authority has also been embarrassed by news reports in recent weeks concerning spending on overtime for transit police officers and an unannounced 22 percent raise for its executive director, Katherine N. Lapp.

From The New York TImes

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