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Tip for Transit Bosses: Don't Throw City's Middle Class Under the Bus

October 16, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

It was easier when you could grab a handful of tokens out of your change jar. Yesterday, the MTA announced possible fare-hike combinations that are more complicated than bubble-era mortgages.

The MTA can keep its decision simple, though, by following a handy maxim: Don’t worry about protecting the $2.25 fare. Instead, protect New York’s middle class.

Regular fare hikes every two years were part of the state’s 2009 bailout plan for the MTA. So come spring, the state-run transit agency will raise fare and toll revenues by about 6.8 percent, or $394 million.

But how much will each ride go up? MTA chief Joe Lhota laid out options for the MTA board to vote on in December, after public hearings:

* The base fare could stay at $2.25 or go to $2.50.

* The bonus discount that the MTA offers riders who buy at least $10 worth of fares all at once could stay at 7 percent, or go down to either 5 percent or nothing.

* And a 30-day MetroCard could go from $104 to somewhere between $109 and $125.

It depends on whom the MTA wants to hit hardest: commuters who deal with the authority every single day, or infrequent riders.

Take the 30-day MetroCard. Of commuters who earn $50,000 to $100,000, 37 percent use the 30-day pass. Daily commuters choose this pass over any other option, including bonus MetroCards.

It makes sense. The pass pays for itself after 50 rides. That’s a month’s worth of work plus three round-trip weekend rides.

Slapping 30-day pass-holders with a $125 price tag, or 20.2 percent hike, would wallop New York’s middle class, after a 16.9 percent hike two years ago.

It could also lose the MTA money. A much higher price means that fewer people would pick this card. To make it work, New Yorkers would have to go to work every day plus take seven "fun" round trips — less of a sure thing. (What if you get sick? The house wins.)

There’s also an element of nonfinancial fairness to consider.

Nobody wants to sit on the F train for 2 1/2 hours a day. Just as sports clubs reward season-ticket holders who stick with their team, the MTA should treat its "best" customers the best. It should keep its 30-day fare hike to the lower end of its menu, raising it to $110 or so.

Such a decision, though, means hitting people who don’t buy monthly passes harder. That means taking away their MetroCard bonuses, or raising the base fare by a quarter, to $2.50, or both.

On the bonus, the MTA should cut it to 5 percent but shouldn’t get rid of it — because the bonus is also a way of rewarding frequent customers: people who live here but don’t take the train or bus twice a day.

Plus, the MTA already gets a bit of this "bonus" money back, anyway. Every year, people leave $45 million to $50 million on MetroCards that have expired past their grace periods.

To pay for these volume discounts, it’s a no-brainer to hike the base fare. That, plus a new $1 fee for a new MetroCard, is a way of charging casual users, including foreign tourists, the most. Of people who take the train or bus fewer than three times a week, 43 percent pay the full, undiscounted fare.

Yes, hiking the base fare causes anti-poverty advocates to scream. They argue that not everyone can afford to buy a pass or load up a card with $10.

But most poorer New Yorkers don’t pay full freight. Of people making less than $25,000, 61 percent use a time-based pass or a volume discount; only 39 percent pay full fares.

Many of those folk may pay by the ride because they have inconsistent work schedules. You don’t want to buy a monthly pass to learn that your boss hasn’t given you any hours next week.

If Albany really wants to protect the middle class, though, it has to do more than supervise the MTA as it parses fare hikes.

Fares are going up because the MTA’s costs are going up — led by debt costs, as well as pensions and health benefits for its unionized work force.

Fare hikes cover only 35 percent of these rising costs over the next three years — so absent real union reform from Gov. Cuomo and lawmakers, all riders are on track to pay more for worse service.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/tip_for_transit_bosses_don_throw_VrTrnkhJ0VGuWSmotCQnvN

 

 
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