One way or another, subway fares will rise in 2017. But the price hike’s inevitability doesn’t make it more palatable to straphangers seeking better service, more accessibility, or even a Second Avenue Subway that reaches 125th Street.

It’s important, of course, to understand exactly how the fares paid to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are used. They pay for operating the system, including salaries, benefits, fuel costs and more. That’s entirely separate from the authority’s capital funds, which come from a mix of the city and state budgets and are earmarked for maintenance, station improvements, and bigger projects.

Fare increases are necessary. But the size of those increases, and the way they’re structured, should be as predictable as possible, and customers should be able to expect more reliable service to go along with paying more.

With MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast’s coming retirement, the MTA’s new head should consider new programs to alleviate the financial pain. There’s talk, for instance, of a Freedom Ticket that would allow outer-borough residents to transfer to the Long Island Rail Road at a reduced price. More study of potential benefits, including better options for Queens and Brooklyn commuters, and consequences, including overcrowding, is necessary.

The idea that’s received more attention recently, and is worth serious consideration, is a reduced-fare MetroCard for all low-income NYC residents. Advocates say it would lift the burden on those who otherwise might resort to jumping a turnstile or begging for a swipe. A plan from the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society recommends that City Hall put $200 million a year into a program that could help as many as 800,000 residents. City officials say the financial cost may be too great.

Reduced-fare cards are already provided for seniors and those with disabilities, and free MetroCards are given to students for their travels to and from school. In most cases, the costs are shared between the city and state. As the MTA moves toward approving the fare increase, let’s explore ways to help ease the pain it’ll cause.