A plan to stop fare hikes: ‘Fix the MTA’

Electeds push legislation offering free fares for those beginning commute in Bronx


It wasn’t that long ago that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pled to federal, state, and city officials it needed to prevent falling off a financial cliff. If the agency’s plan to get more funds was rejected, fares would have to increase to $3. Instead, last Wednesday, lawmakers claimed that there is another way to fix the MTA.

The goal is to bring the agency back from its financial downfall.

The proposal comes from Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani and state Sen. Michael Gianaris, representing northwest Queens. It would be a three-prong plan that would freeze fares, increase frequent reliable service and even make riding city buses free within four years.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Riverdale has a part to play in this, too. He has been carrying a bill since 2019 that would add four commuters representatives to the board as voting members.

“The MTA board makes critical decisions that have a direct impact on the livelihoods and well-being of riders, but largely riders are relegated to public comments and non-voting advisory members,” the Assemblyman said. “I know people don’t want to pay more. Nobody ever does.”

Together with state Sen. Andrew Goundares — who represents southern Brooklyn — Dinowitz would work on ensuring there is a rider perspective on the MTA board. The bill aims to change the dynamic and directly represent rider interests regarding voting that affects New Yorkers.

“I think all mass transit should be free, at least in concept. Bus service is essential, and it serves a population that is disproportionately low-income and fixed-income,” Dinowitz said.

There are eight different bills to fix the MTA. The lawmakers are waiting until the new legislative session begins in January.

But this legislative package comes with a price tag.

The fare freeze act would reject the MTA proposal to increase the current $2.75 fare. It would cost $207 million per year if that were to happen.

Earlier this month, MTA chief executive Janno Lieber proposed fare hikes of 5.5 percent that would hit New York City in the middle of 2023. That would include a $3 base fare on subways and buses.

But it doesn’t end there. Bridge and tunnel toll hikes were in the same plan as well. No exact percentage or price was announced until the budget is approved and public hearings are held.

Allan Rosen, a former transit employee in planning for designed bus routes, told The Riverdale Press he is against fare hikes. He is especially upset about transfers because if a rider needs three buses, they will need to pay a double fare.

In the summer, the MTA implemented the Bronx Local Bus Network Redesign to create faster service by eliminating bus stops. However, this forced bus riders to walk further.

Although not a Bronx resident, Rosen said the Bronx plan wasn’t so bad as the agency only eliminated roughly 400 stops. That’s not the case in the other boroughs, according to Rosen. He claims the MTA wants to eliminate 1,000 Brooklyn stops and more in Queens.

“Finally, the elephant in the room is funding,” MTA chief executive and chair Janno Lieber said during a public MTA hearing on Nov. 30.

This comes from the MTA being one-third short of its pre-COVID ridership. It blew a hole of more than $2 billion in the MTA budget. Lieber said if the agency cannot receive funds by 2025, that deficit will increase to $2.5 billion resulting in layoffs and service cuts.

The federal government gave the MTA $15 billion in COVID relief funds. However, the agency is down to $5 billion. The burn rate on that federal money is about $200 million a month.

“Transit for New Yorkers is like air and water. We need it to survive. So, we’re going to save the MTA,” Lieber said after the fare hike proposal was announced. “We’re going to make sure that for New Yorkers who depend on it — principally working and middle-class New Yorkers who can’t afford a $50 Uber — that we’re going to make sure transit is there.”

Lieber said the main problem ridership is not improving three years after the pandemic lockdown is people are not commuting to work. Those regular commuters are now telecommuting.

A passenger who once purchased a monthly subway or bus pass of $33 will no longer need it if they work from home two or three days a week. If a rider uses the transit system twice a week, they will pay $22 a month and will save $132 annually.

For one passenger to completely work from home who once had a monthly pass can cost the MTA almost $400 annually. If the Bx1-2 had a daily ridership of 500 for monthly pass holders in 2018 and now they all work from home, the MTA would lose $198,000 monthly — $2.3 million annually.

“If it becomes clear that fare increases are inevitable, then I will be strongly advocating for an expansion of the successful Fair Fares program,” Dinowitz said.

According to the Community Service Society, a fare hike can be catastrophic for people living in poverty. Through its mission to advocate and collect data specifically for low-income households, the organization found 48 percent of low-income households did not apply to the Fair Fares Program. Most of them were from the Bronx.

The most expensive proposal is universal free bus rides — excluding the express buses. Fully phased in would cost $678 million.

The first year it would start in the Bronx, the second year Brooklyn, the third Queens, Manhattan and the fourth year in Staten Island.

The idea of free fares has been introduced before. The MTA’s subways and buses were free during the early stages of the pandemic.

Rosen has many unanswered questions. In addition to where the funding will come from. He told The Riverdale Press he thinks free fares could have been thought out better.

“Do we really want people to travel longer on the bus?” he said.

Lawmakers believe if bus fares are eliminated, more passengers will become frequent riders. If the frequency improves, they believe that would lead to less crime and fewer assaults on bus operators.

“Bus patronage would rise by as much as 30 percent. The MTA will not be willing to provide the needed service, and buses would become more crowded and more unreliable,” Rosen said.

The proposal claims the frequency of buses is aimed to improve by 20 percent. As seen in Boston — it works according to the lawmakers.

Dinowitz said there would be a need to secure dedicated and recurring revenue to avoid overcrowding. One way to do that is to ensure service frequency.

“The governor and mayor’s New New York Panel just recommended a sustainable operating budget for the MTA, and we are hearing from legislators who are stepping up with a range of ideas to address New Yorks mass transit funding crisis,” said John McCarthy, MTA chief and external relations.

MTA, fare hikes, subways, tolls, bridgs, tunnels, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Sen. Andrew Goundares, Zohran Mamdani, Michael Gianaris, Janno Lieber, COVID