New York MTA Proposes to Raise Tolls and Fares

Posted on August 18, 2004 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

NEW YORK CITY – Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have proposed a sweeping list of cutbacks and fare and toll increases that would affect nearly everyone who drives or takes mass transit in the region.

Ending months of speculation, the authority's executive director, Katherine N. Lapp, outlined plans for drivers who use the transportation authority's major bridges and tunnels, such as the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, the Triborough, Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone Bridges, and the Brooklyn- Battery Tunnel, who would see tolls jump 50 cents from the current price of $4. Tolls on the authority's smaller bridges, which are now $2, would rise 25 cents. Also, all E- ZPass users would be assessed a $1 per month maintenance fee.

Riders of Metro-North Railroad in New York and the Long Island Rail Road would see ticket prices rise an average of 5 percent. The cost of riding express buses, mainly between Staten Island and Manhattan, would rise from $4 to $6.

The measures are needed to close an anticipated $436 million deficit in 2005, Lapp said during a meeting of the authority board. But the worst might be yet to come, she said, hinting at what could be in store in 2006, when the authority's deficit is projected to grow to over $1 billion, unless the state or city step in to help.

Riders could see the reduction of subway service during evenings and weekends, elimination of overnight bus service on many routes and abandonment of entire branch lines of the Long Island Rail Road.

"Quantity will be sacrificed before quality will be sacrificed," Lapp said. "We will not erode the quality of service that we're providing our riders, that they deserve and they've counted upon. If we have to make reductions, they will be in the area of quantity, not quality."

The authority will hold public hearings on the proposed budget in the fall, with a vote coming in December. The changes would occur some time in 2005. Some of the mix of proposed increases and cutbacks could change, though officials say belt-tightening will be needed.

In previous years, officials predicted major deficits that never materialized. But this time the situation appears to be different, as some of the biggest costs facing the authority are built into the authority's $8.4 billion budget and are less prone to inaccurate projections.

The authority's problems are largely brought on by payments coming due on debt the authority issued to pay for its most recent five-year capital program, which paid for upgrading and expanding the system. The authority had to borrow more than it ever did before in part because the state, which once contributed heavily to the capital program, offered nothing the last time around.

The authority also unveiled a new $27.8 billion five-year capital program, the most expensive it has proposed since its rebuilding programs began in the 1980s. The program, which would continue from 2005 to 2009, includes $17.4 billion for upgrading the authority's existing network to good repair. Transit advocates are united in their support for this investment, paying for projects including subway cars and station renovations.

The new proposed capital program also includes $500 million for security upgrades and for several major expansion projects. These include a link that would carry Long Island Rail Road riders to Grand Central Terminal, the first phase of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway and a rail link between Lower Manhattan and John F. Kennedy International Airport and beyond. The program also includes the extension of the No. 7 line to the far West Side, a plan pushed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Explaining the need for the new projects, Lapp said the transit system has remained largely stagnant for decades, even as the city had substantially changed. Many politicians have argued that the projects are needed to spur regional economic growth.

The proposals must now go to Albany for consideration by state lawmakers. A crucial question looms, however, over how the authority will pay for the program.

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