The transit agency that runs New York City’s subways, buses and two commuter trains will suspend a fare hike for the rest of the year as it struggles to attract passengers.
After increasing fares on a regular cycle, the agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, will not budge on what had been a proposed 4% increase, said on Tuesday Patrick J. Foye, chief executive officer of the MTA.
“It is the unanimous recognition of the board of directors that many of our clients are suffering from the aftermath of the pandemic,” Mr. Foye said in an interview, citing workers who have suffered job losses and pay cuts. , and businesses facing financial difficulties.
The agency’s decision comes as the MTA, which had faced financial calamity with missing runners, was backed by an injection of federal aid.
The MTA has also come under intense pressure from user advocates who say now is not the time to increase fares as many commuters powering the metro and buses are essential workers with incomes. are lower than many office workers who are still able to work. remotely.
“A premature tariff increase would be highly inequitable, largely falling on low-income and essential workers,” said Danny Pearlstein, spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, a grassroots rights group.
The agency has also decided not to increase fares when it tries to bring more riders back to the largest transit system in North America, Foye said.
Transit ridership and fare revenues plunged at the height of the pandemic as commuters worked from home, businesses closed and tourists stayed away. Since then, metro and bus ridership have increased, but it remains half of the prepandemic peak of more than seven million daily passengers on weekdays.
Mr Foye said the MTA board will address the issue of tariffs at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, where the agency will unveil an update on its 2021 financial plan. Mr Foye said he would join the rest of the board in asking the agency’s chief financial officer to remove forecast 2021 revenue from a tariff increase from the financial plan – around $ 17 million.
The agency had already postponed the rate hike in January until later this year after its finances were stabilized by expected federal aid of $ 14.5 billion in the event of a pandemic.
Transportation officials said they have received $ 4 billion of this federal pandemic assistance so far and expect to receive the remaining $ 10.5 billion through a multi-year repayment process that will cover its losses. ‘exploitation.
Still, at least one MTA board member left open the possibility of a tariff increase in the near future on Monday. “There could be a fare hike in 2022,” said Larry Schwartz, chairman of the MTA’s finance committee and close adviser to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who effectively controls the transit agency.
The transit system will play a crucial role in New York’s recovery as many offices and public schools prepare to fully reopen after Labor Day. But fears of increased metro crime have scared some passengers away, and a staff shortage at the agency has forced thousands of metro trips to be canceled and resulted in wait times and longer trips. long.
Many metro and bus riders welcomed any delay in raising fares, saying they couldn’t afford it.
John Louis, 85, who was taking a bus in Manhattan, said the fares were already too high. “What can I do?” said M. Louis, who does not have a car. “It’s not fair to a lot of people.”
Yet Andrew Rein, chairman of the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said that while the first delay in a tariff increase was reasonable given the pandemic, any further delay would only put more financial pressure. on the agency. Even before the pandemic, the agency faced budget deficits as its operating costs exceeded its revenues.
While the transit agency is expected to cover its costs for the next two years with federal pandemic assistance as well as an additional $ 2.9 billion federal loan, it could face a budget gap of 2. $ 4 billion by 2025, Rein said.
“It would be appropriate to increase tariffs now as the long-term finances of the MTA are in a precarious position,” said Rein, noting that the city has a tariff subsidy program for low-income users.
The transit agency has increased fares every two years since 2009 to help balance its budget.
Ashley wong contributed reports.