MTA won’t hike fares, cut service thanks to Biden infrastructure money: Hochul

Governor Kathy Hochul alights the first passenger test train of the Long Island Rail Road entering Grand Central Terminal on Oct. 31.
Office of the Governor

Kathy Hochul wants fare increases to take a hike!

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority won’t hike fares or cut service thanks to dollars from President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, announced Governor Kathy Hochul before boarding a plane to Washington, D.C. to watch the commander-in-chief sign the package into law Monday, Nov. 15. 

“We’ve done the numbers and as a result of the money we’ll be receiving from the president signing of the bill today… we anticipate there’ll be no fare hikes for the MTA,” Hochul said during a press conference at Albany International Airport. “The service cuts that were planned for 2023, 2024 are now off the table for MTA commuters.” 

MTA will put off fare increases for at least six months and the service cuts scheduled to start in two years will be postponed “indefinitely,” MTA acting chief Janno Lieber said during a monthly meeting of the agency’s New York City Transit division, which was running at the same time as Hochul’s announcement. 

President Biden is slated to give his John Hancock on the infrastructure package, which will funnel money to New York State to the tune of $14 billion for roads and $10.5 billion for transit, Hochul said. 

Lieber expects the MTA will get about $10 billion in federal money with a guaranteed $3.5 billion, spread out over five years. 

While the infrastructure bill money goes to capital funds — not operating budgets which relies on fares — Lieber said the new cash will allow MTA to avoid borrowing more money for its capital program. 

“It lessens the pressure for fare hikes or service cuts or anything to make the budget balance,” he said. 

The governor’s announcement comes as the MTA had prepared to “right-size” service, which board members understood as cuts, starting in 2023 to help pay off a $605 million deficit. 

In July, the MTA board decided to postpone any fare hikes this year, after a push by board member Larry Schwartz, an ally of former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who argued a steeper ticket price would discourage New Yorkers from returning to public transit. 

The panel will have to decide in April whether to institute any fare hikes, but Lieber told reporters he wants to stretch the freeze beyond six months. 

“This is not the time to be cutting, having people concerned about the level of service, we want people to come back,” the transit bigwig said. “For now we’re not actually planning to reinstitute those fare hearings and the process of putting a fare hike in place.”

But the money for operating will come from the federal government’s three COVID aid bills, including the almost $11 billion the state secured last week after arguing with New Jersey and Connecticut for months about how to divvy up the relief. 

MTA is scheduled to present its latest financials at its board meetings this week, which advocates had feared was going to spell out more cuts to service and fare hikes. 

COVID deficits remain, but the new money means MTA won’t have to cut service and raise fares as planned, Lieber said. 

“We’re going to have to work with our partners in the [state] legislature because we do have a deficit looming because of COVID, but a couple of years out when the Washington money is exhausted,” he said.