As you stand across from a mouth-breather with halitosis, gagging on your subway ride to work as the train crawls at a snail’s pace, you might think: This can’t get any worse.
Wrong! The MTA meets today to discuss raising the base fare from $2.75 to $3, and the 30-day unlimited from $116.50 to $121.
Since 2009, fares have gone up every other year. To get some perspective, it cost 50 cents to ride the subway in 1980. According to InflationData.com, that 50 cents had the same buying power as $1.46 in 2016. So adjusted for inflation and giving the MTA 4 cents extra, the fare should be $1.50 today, right?
Wrong again! Haven’t you noticed the faster service? Less crowding? Fewer breakdowns? Me neither. Which makes me wonder how the MTA can justify yet another hike. Retiring MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast says it’s needed to maintain safety and reliability.
Some blame the fare boosts on inflated pensions and health care costs for MTA workers. Others point to the lack of adequate government funding.
The MTA, which is billions in debt, and grossly underestimated cost of the Second Avenue Subway is but one reason. If the MTA were a private business, it would have gone bankrupt years ago.
“We’re taking costs out of the organization and keeping fares and tolls as low as possible,” Prendergast has said. Tolls are certainly “as low as possible” on the four East River bridge crossings. They’re free.
This creates constant backups on the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, while the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel ($8 cash toll, $5.54 E-ZPass) is sometimes virtually empty.
Last year, two bills were introduced that would remedy this situation. Modeled on Sam Schwartz’s MoveNY plan, the legislation would install tolls at the East River bridges (while lowering other tolls). This would not only balance traffic flow, but raise substantial revenues to help keep subway fares down.
Subways help provide NYC employers with a steady supply of labor. But when low-wage workers are paying 10 percent of their pay to commute, something’s off track. Fair tolling and a new revenue stream would go a long way to correct this injustice.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.