Eileen AJ Connelly
Millions of commuters and visitors will have to pay more to ride the city's subways and buses early next year, and hundreds of thousands of drivers and railroad passengers also will face higher costs to commute.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approved the fare increases Wednesday, though several members said they did so reluctantly in the face of what they characterized as insufficient state support and a lack of success finding other sources of money.
"We are not the fat, profligate, out-of-control agency that people make the MTA out to be. We've done everything we can to control costs," board Chairman Joseph Lhota said. "I agree with everyone that our riders pay too much of the cost."
A dozen members of the public pleaded against the fare increases, which take effect March 1.
The base subway and bus fare will rise by 25 cents, to $2.50, though some paper single-ride tickets will cost $2.75. A monthly MetroCard pass will cost nearly 8 percent more, or $112.
The incremental increase may not seem like much, activist Tony Murphy told the board. But he noted there have been multiple increases in the past few years. There was a 25 cent increase on the base fare in 2009 and changes in the price of various MetroCards and tolls since then.
"This happens so often now, that if you add them all up, it's a big fare hike," Murphy said. "You're turning people into ATM machines."
Christine Williams, who wore a hat bearing the logo of the Transit Workers Union as she spoke, urged the board to remember the hardship that Superstorm Sandy brought on New Yorkers. "You're talking about raising the fare now, in the midst of Sandy recovery?" she asked angrily. She also objected to a new $1 surcharge the system will add to the price of all new MetroCards, a move the MTA said is aimed at reducing litter by encouraging riders to reload their cards rather than buying new ones.
Several public speakers including John Mineaca, who identified himself as a representative of the Occupy Wall Street labor outreach committee, called on the board to renegotiate the MTA's debt to lower costs before asking the public to pay more. After the vote, Lhota stressed that the MTA will rely on the fare increases to fund operating expenses but uses bonds only to fund capital expenses like construction and repair projects.
The MTA board raised fares on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter rail lines. The increases average about 9 percent.
Cash tolls on some major bridges and tunnels also will rise to $7.50 each way — a change approved with one dissenting vote, from board member Allen Cappelli of Staten Island. The bus, subway and train fares were approved unanimously.
Taken together, the increases are expected to bring in an additional $450 million a year for the nation's largest transit system.
The MTA's buses and subways carry nearly 7.5 million riders on an average weekday, and the commuter railroads average about 300,000 weekday passengers apiece.
About 800,000 cars per weekday use the agency's bridges and tunnels. They include the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, formerly called the Triborough Bridge.
The MTA also passed its $13.2 billion 2013 budget during the meeting, which is projected to have a $40 million surplus. And it approved a financial plan through 2016 that calls for another fare increase in two years.
After the meeting, Lhota announced that he will step down Dec. 31 as he contemplates running for mayor of New York.
Lhota served as deputy mayor to Rudolph Giuliani. Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who was named to the board in June 2011 and elevated to vice chairman during the meeting, will become acting chairman Jan. 1. Ferrer said he does not intend to seek the job permanently.