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Despite Spitzer’s Efforts, Commuter Costs Will Rise


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Despite Spitzer’s Efforts, Commuter Costs Will Rise


Published: November 27, 2007


Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s decision to freeze the base subway fare at $2 will not take the sting out of commuting costs for everyone: Yesterday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said commuter rail tickets and the city’s bridge and tunnel tolls will jump an average of 3.85 percent.


And unlimited ride MetroCards and bonus pay-per-ride MetroCards possibly face even steeper increases.


“At the most basic arithmetic level, obviously if you hold constant one portion of your revenues, then by definition other revenues will have to be raised to make up that difference,” said the authority’s chief financial officer, Gary J. Dellaverson, referring to bus and subway fares.


Mr. Dellaverson, speaking at a meeting of the finance committee of the authority’s board, said it would take at least a week to come up with a specific proposal for how much all types of fares and tolls would rise. The authority’s board is scheduled to vote on the increases on Dec. 19. If they are approved, they will take effect early next year.


The governor, whose popularity in polls has fallen significantly in recent months, announced with fanfare last week that he would freeze the basic fare, to ease the burdens on already economically squeezed New Yorkers.


However, the politics of fare increases can be tricky, especially when not everyone is shouldering the same burden. Commuters who find their costs going up may feel more resentment than gratitude toward Mr. Spitzer, whom they may now identify with the fare hike more closely than before.


“You have a can of worms being opened here, that is who gets protected and who gets hit,” said Richard L. Brodsky, a Democratic State Assembly member from Westchester County. Mr. Brodsky has called for the state to increase its financing of the authority to prevent the fare increase altogether.


As it has mulled its plans, the transportation authority has insisted that each separate branch of the transportation network — commuter rail, bridges and tunnels and subway and bus service — generate the same overall increase in revenues. That means each group of riders, essentially, must pay 3.85 percent more, on average.


Because only about 14 percent of bus and subway rides are paid for with the base $2 fare, the biggest increases may fall on a majority of customers who buy unlimited weekly or monthly MetroCards or the pay-per-ride bonus cards.


Mr. Dellaverson said there would most likely be a range of increases for different types of tickets on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. But based on the authority’s earlier proposals, it appears likely that most suburban commuters could expect to see their costs going up at close to the 3.85 percent target.


Although officials at the authority did not predict how the new directive would affect tolls, a 3.85 percent increase applied to tolls would mean that drivers who use E-ZPass could expect the one-way toll at most crossings controlled by the authority to increase to $4.15, from $4. Drivers without E-ZPass, who currently pay $4.50 at most crossings, would probably see a higher percentage increase. About three-quarters of drivers who use the authority’s crossings, which include the Midtown Tunnel and the Triborough Bridge, use E-ZPass.


The authority’s original proposal, made in July, called for a 6.5 percent overall increase in fares and tolls. The authority said then that it expected to run a sizable budget surplus this year but it needed the increase to overcome large deficits projected for 2009.


But last week, Gov. Spitzer said that new forecasts showed that improved revenues and lower expenses would result in an additional surplus of $220 million. He said that fares and tolls would still need to go up, but that they would not have to rise as steeply. In addition, he said the base subway and bus fare would remain unchanged.


Unlimited ride MetroCards account for close to half of all subway and bus trips. About 36 percent of trips are made on pay-per-ride MetroCards that carry a 20 percent bonus, giving riders six rides for the price of five. Mr. Dellaverson said that officials were considering changes to the bonus as part of the new fare package.


Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group, said that reducing the bonus discount would hurt lower-income riders. He said that for many poor riders, the $10 pay-per-ride MetroCard, which delivers six rides for the price of five, is the most economical way to receive a transit discount.


“Many of those people are really struggling to cobble together the 10 bucks,” he said.

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