NYCTRC Testimony – Sept 15, 2010 – Proposed Fare Increases

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Testimony of the New York City Transit Riders Council to the
Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority On Proposed Fare Increases
Main Theater, Hostos Community College, Bronx, N.Y.

September 15, 2010

My name is William Henderson and I am the Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC).  The Council was created in 1981 to represent the riders of the New York City Transit system and consists of fifteen volunteer members appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Mayor, the Public Advocate and the five Boroughs.

I won’t stand here and tell you that we oppose all fare increase proposals, as I’ve heard representatives of other groups do.  At the same time, we cannot support these proposals.  The NYCTRC has always sought to take a balanced approach to fare increase proposals, and in 2009 we were willing to accept a moderate fare increase as long as the quality and quantity of service is maintained and the MTA would work with other government entities to find new sources of desperately needed revenue. The MTA is surely in a precarious financial position and must increase revenue if it is to continue to provide essential services.   Improvements in efficiency must also be part of the equation, but the current gap cannot be bridged entirely through internal belt tightening, and the riders certainly cannot be called upon to bridge this gap by themselves.

In May of 2009, we were encouraged when the State of New York and the MTA reached agreement that there would be increased financial assistance to the MTA from the State through new taxes and fees on motorists, taxis, and the private sector.    We supported this agreement, including its program of small regularly scheduled fare increases every two years, which would mean a retreat from the possibility that transit riders would face large unexpected increases or service cuts from the MTA, as has been the case in the past.

Just over a year later, the landscape has changed considerably.  The estimates of new state revenues contemplated in this agreement have proved to wildly optimistic and $143 million in revenues that had been generated by taxes enacted to support transit and promised for the operation of MTA services have been used to reduce deficits in the State’s general fund.  Service has been reduced, as seen in the substantial bus service cuts in the Bronx.  As the remainder of this agreement crumbles, the riders are being held to their considerable responsibilities under the bargain, but now they stand alone.

We believe that this framework and the fare increases that the MTA proposes provides riders with no hope that conditions will be improved.  These proposals are just another case of riders paying more and getting less, but riders deserve better.  NYC Transit riders already pay a greater percentage of the cost of providing service than in any major transit system in the nation, and through the first five months of this year, this figure has risen to 61.1 percent.  We have only a few days ago been told that under these proposals this figure for MTA riders overall, which in 2010 will be 53.4 percent, will rise to 59.9 percent by 2013.  This is an unacceptable shift of the financial burden of providing service to the riders.  We demand that the members of the MTA Board and MTA senior management work vigorously both internally and with our State and Federal elected officials to find alternative means of filling the gap between costs and revenues.

Aside from these larger issues, we are troubled by several elements of the fare proposals being considered.  The most striking of these is the proposal to place caps on the number of rides available for 7 and 30 day MetroCards.  Many riders face daily commutes that require the equivalent of two fares.  Some of these situations were created by the MTA in this year’s round of service cuts, but now you have put on the table a proposal to allow 30 day MetroCard holders only 90 rides and to allow 7 day MetroCard holders only 22 trips. Riders buy these cards because they need to be able to use the transit system without a second thought and often rely on this freedom by necessity.  The proposed limits are unreasonable and we oppose them strenuously.

We also are troubled by the proposed $1 charge to receive a new MetroCard at a MetroCard Vending Machine or station booth and the $.25 surcharge on single ride tickets.  While the Council agrees that reducing litter and avoiding the cost of issuing new MetroCards are worthy objectives, we believe that these charges far exceed costs and could have unanticipated consequences, such as increased number of riders seeking to exchange old cards for new after a misswipe in a turnstile or misread in a bus farebox.  The MTA’s energies would be more productively spent to hasten progress toward a smart card based fare system, which would make issues of litter and new cards largely moot.

The New York City Transit Riders Council cannot accept these proposals and calls upon this Board to reject this program of fare increases and for the MTA to redouble its efforts to arrive at a workable and equitable arrangement for adequately funding the services on which this region depends.   To do otherwise will have grave consequences for our region and the riders whom we represent.

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