Coping with the economic crisis may become even more difficult this June, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority intends to raise public transportation fares for as much as a 23 percent increase in revenue. The MTA, facing a more than $1 billion budget deficit, also plans to cut services, shorten certain bus routes, eliminate some subway lines, and run fewer trains—especially at night. break Coping with the economic crisis may become even more difficult this June, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority intends to raise public transportation fares for as much as a 23 percent increase in revenue. The MTA, facing a more than $1 billion budget deficit, also plans to cut services, shorten certain bus routes, eliminate some subway lines, and run fewer trains—especially at night. Agency officials maintain that the fare hike and service cuts are necessary in a time of great fiscal stress nationally, locally, and in Albany. The New York state government—which faces a $50 billion shortfall—will ultimately be responsible for deciding the financial fate of the MTA. But Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesperson, said the agency is also seeking alternate forms of funding to alleviate the need for such extreme measures. "We do not want to implement this degree of a fare increase, and we are working with legislators to make them aware of our needs," Donovan said. Local lawmakers and advocacy groups argue that the price increases are unnecessarily drastic and will disproportionately affect low-income New Yorkers who depend on public transportation to get to work. They also expressed concern that subway stations will become disorderly and unsafe if the MTA does not carefully allocate its resources. Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign—a transit riders' advocacy group—conceded that the MTA is in a "very tough spot," but said the proposed measures were excessive. "The service cuts should be much smaller," Russianoff said. "I really can't decide which is worse, the [service] cuts or the higher fare, but they are all part of the same coin. Basically, you are going to be paying more money for less in return." State Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell (D-Morningside Heights), whose district includes Columbia's campus and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods from Central Park West up to 125th Street, supports the creation of "a dedicated revenue source for the MTA so service does not have to be cut, and fares do not have to be raised." "The people I represent depend on public transportation," O'Donnell said. "If New York wants to remain a world capital, public transportation needs to continue to function. New York is a 24-hour city, and we need a 24-hour public transportation system." The MTA has proposed eliminating bus routes they see as unnecessary because they closely follow subway lines. But O'Donnell was concerned by how these cuts will affect seniors who ride buses frequently and emphasized that he "does not want to return to the situation where subways were unsafe," particularly in the 1970s and 80s. Four proposals for fare hikes have been released and will be the subject of a series of public hearings in the coming weeks. The first two would raise the base subway and bus fare from $2 to $2.25 or $2.50, respectively. The $2.50 fare possibility would maintain the 15 percent bonus structure on MetroCard purchases over $7, while the $2.25 possibility would eliminate the bonus. The other two proposals are based on recommendations from a committee run by former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch and would raise revenue by only 8 percent. One would raise the base fare to $2.25 but increase the bonus structure to 20 percent on purchases of $7.50 or more. The other would keep the base fare at $2 but eliminate the bonus. O'Donnell predicted that the infrastructure-focused economic stimulus package—supported by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats—would ease the city's financial woes. "We are counting on this package to provide the MTA with a shot in the arm," he said. Testifying before the MTA on Jan. 14, New York City Council member Robert Jackson (D-Morningside Heights and West Harlem), said his constituents would "feel the pinch of every nickel of the proposed fare increases. Coupled with the major service reductions, the proposed budget plan will have serious consequences for the residents of [my district]." Jackson told Spectator, "It was important for me to attend that hearing because this is an issue which impacts my entire district." The average family in his district makes less than $34,000 a year and, Jackson said, "Every increase is going to impact them." Yet while Jackson noted that Columbians might not be as profoundly affected as other neighborhood residents, some students feeling the pinch of a troubled economy are already bracing for the fare hike. "I understand you might have to raise prices, but it would be great if the University could somehow discount fares for students," Brandon Christophe, CC '12, said. "It's definitely going to hit me," said Andres Bermudez, a student at the Columbia School of Journalism. "My budget is really tight as it is. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Columbia Spectator Staff