Fall 2002, p.11

Sensible Transportation
Damaging Transit Fare Hike Looms
Excerpted from the Straphangers Campaign at straphangers.org

Signs point to a major transit fare hike early next year. The MTA claims to be running a $600 million deficit-though this has not been independently verified-and some experts believe that, immediately following the gubernatorial election, fares will soar to $2. This is bad news for transit riders, employers and environmentalists who want more transit and less driving. Transit riders should be subsidized. They do not pollute the air, maim and kill pedestrians and bicyclists, clog streets and delay emergency services and vital services, or degrade the quality of life with honking, tire noise and speeding. In short, transit riders-unlike motorists-are not inflicting huge "externality" or "indirect" costs on the city and its neighborhoods.

Before Raising Fares
Before considering raising fares, Governor Pataki, who controls the MTA board and fares, should end unfair state transit aid funding inequities and consider new revenue sources for transit, including:

  • Reinstating the commuter tax and dedicating it to city and suburban transit.
  • Toll East River bridges to raise $800 million a year.
  • Payroll taxes earmarked for transit.

Transit Service Needs Improvement
Ridership on city subways and buses is at its highest level since 1953, with a million more riders on an average day than just five years ago. But service lags badly. Since 1996, annual subway ridership has risen 29%, but service has only increased about 11%. Bus ridership has soared 50% in five years-from 435 million in 1996 to 722 million in 2001, but service has increased only 27%.

The result is crowding and often slow and unreliable service.

The Average Fare Has Gone Down, and That Is Good
Many riders are now taking advantage of MetroCard, like unlimited-ride passes and free transfers between subways and buses. Average fares are between $1.06 and $1.07. These discounts have dramatically increased ridership and improved mobility for many. But these discounts have not reduced fare revenues for the transit system. The fare box has generated about the same amount-between $2 billion and $2.1 billion a year-since 1997, when the discounts started.

Riders Deserve More Service and Less Crowding
It takes longer to go by bus from East Harlem to downtown than from New York to Philadelphia.

Riders know from bitter daily experience how jammed and stressful is to ride our crowded subways and buses. There should be a major increase in service, including guaranteeing no more than a four-minute wait anywhere in the subways during rush hours.

Faster and More Reliable Service
New York City has the slowest buses in America. It takes longer to go from East Harlem to downtown than to go from New York to Philadelphia! Buses should given greater priority on city streets. And subway travel times have slowed on some lines due to safety concerns. We also need modern subway signals to allow faster speeds, more frequent service and greater safety.

Better Discounts
The MTA should look at ways to make fare discounts more affordable and attractive, including offering deeper discounts, selling bi-weekly passes, and giving 10% off for purchases of $10 or less. And city families should get what suburbanites already do: discounts when traveling with children.

Real Progress on Building New Subway Lines and Modernizing Old Ones
A Second Avenue subway is vital to relieve crowding on the Lexington line. Improvements are needed all over town, from rebuilding stations to buying many more new buses and subway cars to increase service.

An Unfair Fare Burden

Percentage of operating costs covered by fares, 2000*
58% New York City Transit/Subways and Buses
54% MetroNorth
48% New Jersey Transit
44% Chicago
44% Long Island Railroad
41% Philadelphia
37% PATH
32% Los Angeles
32% Miami-Dade
29% Boston
*Source: Federal Transit Administration

Shortchanging Subway and Bus Riders
84% Percentage of transit riders in NY State carried by NYC Transit
63% Percentage of state aid going to NYC Transit
$325 million Cost of this inequity to NYC Transit
*Source: NYS Department of Transportation, 2001 Annual Report on Transit Assistance Programs

Read the latest news on this subject.