MTA Approves Doomsday Fare Hikes

Change would take place June 1 if Legislature passes vote on Wednesday

Transit officials took a step Monday toward imposing drastic service cuts and steep fare increases that would raise the cost of a single subway ride from $2 to $2.50, even while holding out hope that state lawmakers might still come to the rescue.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's finance committee voted on a plan that would increase the price of a monthly MetroCard by $22 to $103 and a weekly unlimited-ride MetroCard by $6 to $31.

MTA board chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger urged the agency's finance committee to adopt the fare hikes and service cuts even though he called them "horrific."

"This represents as good a job as human beings can do to divide the pain as equally as we can," he said.

The vote took place as state lawmakers in Albany sought to reach a compromise on a bailout plan that would avoid the worst of the planned fare increases and service cuts.

At a news conference after the committee vote in Manhattan, Hemmerdinger was asked if he had any message for Albany. He said, "How about: 'Help!'"

The full MTA board will vote Wednesday on the fare increases, which would take effect June 1.

The MTA adopted a budget in December designed to close a $1.1 billion gap in its operating budget by raising fare and toll revenues by 23 percent. The board also approved sweeping service cuts, including eliminating 21 local bus routes.

On Monday, officials blamed the budget deficit on a shortfall in real estate taxes and declining ridership, both a result of the ailing economy. They said they expected the situation to only get worse.

"This is a real crisis. It's a sad day for the MTA and it's certainly a sad day for me," said Andrew Saul, finance committee chairman.

Strapphangars are also sounding off.  Benjamin Kabak, who writes "2nd Ave. Sagas" spoke to 4 New York about the ramificaitons of the plan.

Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver support a bailout for the MTA in which transit riders, motorists and businesses would share the pain.

Under that plan, crafted by a state commission headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, fares would rise 8 percent on average, drivers would pay to use the free East and Harlem River bridges and businesses in the MTA's 12-county region would be charged a payroll tax.

State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith was still seeking a compromise to the Ravitch proposal on Monday. Negotiations were continuing.

The MTA is a state agency that runs New York City's subways and public buses, the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road, the Long Island Bus system and several bridges and tunnels. It has $27 billion in debt.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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