MTA ponders eliminating discount on MetroCards to pay for its budget

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Philip Newman

MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, in relentless search for money for his cash-strapped agency, suggests it might be time to abolish the discount on pay-per-ride MetroCards.

Because of the 7 percent discount on multiple-ride fares, the basic cost of $2.25 ends up with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority collecting only $1.63, Lhota told a Crain’s New York-sponsored breakfast last week.

“Do we need a discount that deep?” Lhota asked. “I think we need to have a really big public discussion about the fare price and the discounting that goes on.”

Even if the discount were eliminated, the MTA’s serious money problem would not go away but it would of great help, Lhota said.

Straphangers will find out much more next month from MTA officials on other suggestions to help the agency scrape by starting in March 2013.

The MTA board will vote on its new budget in December. The MTA will hold public hearings in each of the five boroughs in November, a legal requirement before raises in fares and tolls.

The MTA has been walking a tightrope of financial peril for years and new fiscal threats keeping popping up. For instance, costs of health care and pensions of the MTA’s tens of thousands of employees keep rising and many employees are working without union contracts, including those in the Transport Workers Union, who operate and maintain buses and subways.

The TWU has rejected the MTA’s appeal for a no-pay-raise contract.

One of the most dire threats was a Nassau County judge’s ruling that the payroll tax in support of the MTA was unconstitutional.

The tax, covering the 12 counties served by the MTA, was passed in 2009 and pulled the transit agency back from a financial abyss. The MTA has appealed the ruling of State Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cozzens, a move hailed by many officials in the area covered by the tax.

Supporters of the tax say they are confident it will be upheld on appeal.

The transit advocacy agency Straphangers Campaign called for putting tolls on East River bridges as a dedicated source of transit revenue.

Tolling the bridges has been suggested for many years but has always met heavy opposition.

Former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, had a rescue plan, not needed as it turned out, for the beleaguered transit agency back in 2009 that included tolls on East and Harlem river bridges.

“User fees will come back and back and they will happen,” Ravitch said in a speech at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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