The MTA will not raise fares for riders this year, according to Larry Schwartz, an influential MTA board member and longtime ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“There’s not going to be a fare hike in 2021, period,” Schwartz told reporters Monday, July 19, following the monthly meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Finance Committee which he chairs.
The full MTA board convenes on Wednesday, July 21, and could still vote to increase fares then or at a later meeting this year — but since Cuomo controls the MTA, the panel is unlikely to go against Schwartz’s proposal.
During Monday’s meeting, Schwartz said a fare hike would discourage riders from returning to the subways, buses, and commuter rails just when MTA needs it most as the city and state recover from COVID-19.
“I don’t think at this time and place raising fares on any New Yorkers is appropriate. At a time when we need to encourage increase ridership, raising fares does the opposite,” he said.
A fellow board member agreed, saying it would not look good for the transit agency to up its fares while at the same time taking in billions in federal COVID relief funds.
“It would be embarrassing after the billions we’ve seen coming to the city, state and MTA, to suddenly raise fares,” said David Jones.
Transit honchos should work with city and state politicians to come up with a new fare structure that does not rely on biannual hikes across the board, an approach Schwartz said he’s long opposed.
“This is the perfect opportunity, between now and the end of the year, to work with all our elected officials in coming up with a plan that generates the necessary revenue but not putting it on the backs of the people that need our mass transit system the most,” Schwartz said.
Officials also want to take a fresh look at the city’s Fair Fares program, which offers half-priced MetroCards to all New York City residents aged 18-64 at or below the federal poverty line.
Currently, 233,137 people are enrolled in the two-year-old initiative, and there were about 700,000 people that matched the requirements, amNewYork Metro previously reported.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has reinstated funding to half of pre-pandemic levels for Fair Fares, but advocates have called on hizzoner to make a bigger effort to advertise the program and get more people enrolled as numbers have stagnated since the beginning of this year.
MTA officials echoed advocates’ concerns that de Blasio was not doing enough to promoting the benefit, with Jones saying the city could “easily” double enrollment.
“I think the relative lack, in this case of the city, in advertising this program has impeded [Fair Fares],” Jones said. “It can reach another quarter of a million easily if we really push it.”
Getting more people signed up for the 50% discount could curb fare evasion, Schwartz said, because many hop the turnstile simply because they can’t afford the $2.75 fare.
“When people get these discounts, they’re going to be less inclined to fare evade, because of how cheap it is to take the transit,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think people are interested really in running through gates, and jumping turnstiles and sneaking on buses — they can’t afford it, so let’s make it affordable for them.”
He voiced optimism in working on bettering the program with Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, if he is elected in the general election later this year.
“There’s millions of eligible low-income New Yorkers that aren’t taking advantage of these low discount fares that they can be doing. I believe with the new mayor, we’re going to fix that,” Schwartz said.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.