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Op-Ed: MTA Postponing Fare Increases is Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

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Fare increases for the MTA NYC transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, along with Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road were already assumed in 2019 as part of the approval process for the $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the State Legislature and NYC Council were all in on this financial arrangement before signing on board.  This included 4% increase in 2021 and 2023. How will the MTA make up for this lost revenue?.  

Receipt of the two previous CARE Covid-19 bailouts adding up to $8 billion and potential third bailout from Washington under a future Federal Transit Administration grant were not meant to pay for cancellation or reduction of any transit agencies previously planned fare increases. They are suppose to cover unforeseen operating and capital costs as a result of COVID-19. Did the MTA ever ask FTA for permission to use these funds to offset previously scheduled fare increased whose purpose was to help pay for the $51 billion Five Year Capital Plan?

Within the 1953 master agreement between NYC and NYC Transit are escape clauses. NYC has the legal right to take back control of its assets at any time. This includes the subway and bus system.  In 1953, the old NYC Board of Transportation passed on control of the municipal subway system, including all its assets under a master lease and operating agreement to the newly created NYC Transit Authority. NYC owns the NYC Transit subway and bus system.  MTA is the management company hired to run it. 

Why has the MTA not asked City Hall, their boss along with Washington for additional funding to avoid  threatened reduction to bus and subway service?  Ditto for Albany to avoid the previously threatened cut to Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road service?   

Albany provides the MTA significant annual funding under the Statewide Transportation Operating Assistance (STOA) program.  Why hasn’t the MTA asked Governor Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Steward Cousins, State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to increase their contribution?  Washington via Federal Transit Administration grants, riders via farebox and motorists via tolls continue to pay their fair share. Uncle Sam did even more by providing $3.9 billion under the first CARE COVID-19 aid package and a second $4 billion relief  bill.  In 2020, the Federal Transit Administration provided the MTA with annual $1.4 billion in formula funding under various grant programs.  In 2021, this should increase to $1.5 billion.

When will Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to pay their respective fair shares as well. Just like millions of New Yorkers, they can choose to decide what future budget priorities should be.

What has the MTA accomplished and planned for 2021 to reduce financial loses due to fare evasion?

In 2019, the MTA estimated it lost over $300 million to fare evasion. The MTA Office of Inspector General issued a report last September that “NYC Transit’s past practices for tracking how many bus and subway riders failed to pay their fare were unreliable and contained sampling shortcomings.”
In our COVID-19 world, ridership is significantly less. Does this translate into a significant decrease in fare evasion as fare collection resumed? It will be interesting to see the MTA’s statistics for fare evasion during 2020.

When the MTA is successful in One Metro New York (OMNY) replacing the old Metro Card coming on line in 2021, will the MTA become more efficient in reducing fare evasion over coming years? According to the MTA’s own McKinsey consultants report, if all goes well, perhaps 80% of the pre-COVID-19 ridership will return some time in 2024.

Whatever happens over coming months and years, every dollar counts. The MTA including NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads need to do a far better job in dealing with fare evasion.

It is unfair to honest commuters who pay their fair share every day if they have to continue to see so many who routinely go unpunished for not paying their fare as well.

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