New York Subway Ride May Cost $2.50 as MTA Boosts Fares

The base fare on New York City’s subway may rise 25 cents to $2.50 and monthly unlimited passes by as much as 20 percent as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority enlists record ridership to combat rising costs.

MTA officials in a Manhattan briefing today revealed four possible fare and toll increases for subways, buses, commuter railroads from Long Island and northern suburbs and river crossings that would take effect in March. The plans are designed to net an annual $450 million in additional revenue to help fill projected budget deficits.

Two options call for base fares to rise to $2.50 and monthly unlimited cards to $109 or $112 from the current $104. The other two would boost the unlimited passes to $125 or $119 while leaving the current $2.25 base fare unchanged. All the plans would tack on a $1 fee for each new MetroCard purchased.

“The reason why we’re having fare and toll increases is directly related to the increase in our non-discretionary costs,” such as debt service, pensions, energy, and employee and retiree health care, Chairman Joseph Lhota said.

The largest U.S. transit agency has been working to dig out of a fiscal hole exacerbated by the 18-month recession that ended in 2009. That situation triggered the last round of fare and toll increases and $93 million in service cuts two years ago, stoking anger among riders and advocates. The proposed 2013 budget restores about a third of those reductions, as subway ridership reaches levels not seen in more than 60 years.

The monthly unlimited pass price last rose in December 2010 and the base fare in June 2009.

Congestion Remedy

The final decision requires a December vote by the state agency’s board, and hearings on proposed increases begin next month. One opinion was already heard today: Don’t stick subway riders, said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the Straphangers Campaign, an arm of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“Blocking or reducing the fare increase is possible, if we get more help from Albany,” Russianoff said in a statement. “One promising plan is to generate new revenue by both raising and lowering tolls on city bridges and tunnels in line with where there is the most and least congestion.”

Global Comparison

New York’s current $2.25 base subway fare covers a trip anywhere on the 660-mile (1,062-kilometer) system. Washington’s Metro charges rail passengers $1.70 to $5.75 per ride, depending on the time of day and length of trip, the system’s website says. On the London subway, or Tube, passengers pay from 4.30 pounds ($6.90) for travel within a single zone to 7.50 pounds to make a single journey across all nine zones, though most residents use a prepaid Oyster swipe card, which cuts the costs.

While “no New Yorker likes to be compared to another city,” riders must consider what their international counterparts pay, Lhota said.

Boosting the undiscounted base fare would affect the fewest people, including tourists, Lhota said, as full-price rides account for 15 percent of total trips. The price rose to $2.25 from $2 in 2009.

Riders who use monthly unlimited cards have been among the hardest hit by fare boosts. In December 2010, the price rose to $104 from $89. As recently as January 2005, it cost $70.

At the same time, those riders enjoy some of the deepest discounts. About 85 percent of riders receive discounted rates, including 7 percent applicable to MetroCard purchases of $10 of more. With all discounts taken together, the agency receives $1.63 in revenue on average per ride.

Budget Assumptions

The plans also include price boosts for riders of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Most tickets would rise by 8.2 percent to 9.3 percent, officials said.

Even so, fiscal challenges persist. Officials predict budget shortfalls of $248 million in 2014, $14 million the next year and $231 million in 2016. The gaps would widen if the agency can’t contain labor costs and force riders to pay more, officials have said. The $13.1 billion budget for next year counts on both the proposed increases and on negotiating union contracts without increased costs. Otherwise, deficits would widen to $2.7 billion by 2016, the agency has said.

The proposals released today also assume the successful appeal of an August state court decision that struck down a payroll tax projected to pump $1.26 billion into the agency’s budget. The suit was brought by officials from suburban communities served by the agency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esme E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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