Last month, the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted to increase fares on subways, buses, and commuter trains, as well as tolls on its bridges and tunnels. This happens every few years. Politicians and harried straphangers respond with great cries of protest. More often than not, funds are found at the last minute, and the fare hike is canceled.
But this year, the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) put out research supporting the MTA’s need for more money. And Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign says, “If we don’t get financial help soon, transit riders will face whopping fare hikes.” He is looking to Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan to bring in billions of dollars for upgrading and expanding the transit system.
In fact, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released the same day as the MTA decision, the magic words “fare hike” instantly make congestion pricing more popular: 58% of New York City voters support it to prevent the increases.
Besides the transit investments that would be made possible by congestion fees, it’s important to wait for congestion pricing before raising bus and train fares for another reason: providing an economic incentive to use public transportation. A 2006 Manhattan Institute study found that New Yorkers strongly believe in making sure every public transportation trip is less expensive than the equivalent trip by car—to encourage people to take transit.
This city needs less driving, not more. The mayor is right to point out the economic, environmental, and health issues associated with cars and trucks. City Hall’s congestion pricing program is part of a larger effort to solve the traffic problem. Get people out of their automobiles. Urge more walking and biking. Add bus service. Raising transit fares when driving is perceived as “free” would be going in the wrong direction.
The city and the region need Long Islanders to choose the LIRR over the LIE, Jerseyites to choose NJ Transit over the NJ turnpikeÃ¯Â¿Â½and residents of the five boroughs to choose buses and subways over driving the city’s roads and bridges. Fares, fees, and tolls—what the transportation pros call travel pricing—should encourage New Yorkers to leave their cars at home, not drive them into Manhattan.