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Trainspotter

A Looming Subway Fare Hike

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A Looming Subway Fare Hike

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL

July 26, 2007

 

New York bus and subway riders have been spared a basic fare increase for four years, thanks to tax revenues from a booming real estate market. For two years in a row, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has had surpluses approaching $1 billion. Unfortunately, the good times are apparently about to end. The M.T.A. wants higher fares to make up for projected shortfalls. Before they are granted, authority officials need to assure riders that they have scoured all available pockets for cash.

 

The M.T.A. isn’t prepared to say yet exactly how much fares and tolls could go up. But it says it needs to produce about $320 million in additional annual revenue, with further, regular increases likely starting in 2010, when the budget shortfall is expected to reach $1.8 billion.

 

Coincidentally, that is the same year congestion pricing in Manhattan could be bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in fees. The new M.T.A. chief, Lee Sander, should be leading the chorus urging state lawmakers, who are meeting today in Albany, to ensure a path to congestion pricing.

 

While congestion fees would buoy the system in time, Mr. Sander needs to find an immediate way out of the M.T.A.’s fiscal pickle. Its revenues have come from the state and local government coffers and the fare box. Fares have had to finance a big part of the budget — 58 percent versus the national average of 40 percent — mostly because the state and city have long shortchanged public transit.

 

The main blame lies with former Gov. George Pataki, who, with the cooperation of then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, began rerouting billions of dollars in taxes that should have gone to mass transportation. Gov. Eliot Spitzer could help undo the damage, and minimize fare increases, by finding a way to rededicate all public transit taxes.

 

No one likes paying more at the fare box, and for some it will be a challenge. We hope that a final proposal includes provisions to keep public transportation affordable for the poor. Mr. Sander, meanwhile, has at least brought the public into the room. His detailed financial plan is unusually transparent, and he released it early enough to give his customers time to respond before their daily commute grows more costly.

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