MTA may take away MetroCard bonus next year
The MTA might nix the bonus straphangers get on pay-per-ride MetroCards starting next March as part of another fare hike, the agency's chairman, Joe Lhota, said Wednesday.
Lhota said one way the perpetually broke transit agency is trying make an extra $450 million in fares next year is by scaling back or eliminating the 7% discount it gives to straphangers who spend at least $10 on pay-per-ride MetroCards.
"I think we need to have a very big public discussion about the fare price and the discounting that goes on," he said during a Crain's breakfast forum Wednesday. "Do we really need a discount that deep?"
While the price of a single ride is $2.25, the MTA makes about $1.63 from each MetroCard swipe after discounts and factoring in the number of times straphangers use unlimited cards, he said.
But Lhota warned that even if the MTA gets rid of the discount, fares will still go up in March, though he did not say by how much. Officials would not say how much would be saved by scrapping the bonus, but have budgeted to raise fares 7.5% every two years.
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said Lhota's proposal would harm poorer New Yorkers who currently enjoy a discount for buying a $10 MetroCard but may not be able to afford an unlimited monthly pass.
"This is a fare hike," said Russianoff. "They're not just getting rid of the discount, it's a hike."
Officials will make a series of fare proposals at its board meeting next month, including raising the base fare, making unlimited cards more expensive or reducing bonuses. A combination of two or three of those options is also being considered, they said.
When the MTA last raised fares in 2011, it lowered the bonus from 15% to 7%.
MTA board member Andrew Albert said he was opposed to getting rid of the bonus, especially if the discount was also reduced on unlimited cards. One alternative he suggested was raising the amount riders need to spend before getting a break, but he said, "to do away with the discount entirely is a bad move."
"You want to reward your most frequent customers," Albert said. "They are the bread and butter of the system."
Riders said they were irked by the idea..
"If they take away the discount, they're not giving people the incentive to ride the sweaty subway instead of driving or taking a cab," said Susan Shils, a 42-year-old massage therapist who works near Columbus Circle.
"They shouldn't raise it anymore -- it's enough as it is," said Clifford Arango, a 42-year-old bartender from Washington Heights. "It's too much money for the little that we get."
But Kim Agaton of Greenwich Village said she didn't mind if she didn't get an extra few cents when she buys a MetroCard.
"I'll never be able to use it, it's like wasted money," said Agaton, who works in marketing. "I would rather you just give me the exact amount that I bought."