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MTA To Propose 2009 Fare Hike; Riders Outraged

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In the face of a major financial crisis, the MTA says it is considering hiking fares for a second year in a row to close a growing budget gap — and, not surprisingly, riders are not pleased.

Transit officials are expected to propose the fare increase Wednesday, with the idea that it would take effect next July.

Riders told NY1 Tuesday that while they understand that the agency is in financial turmoil, riders, too, are being hit by the troubled economy.

"You don't always get your ride on time. The buses are always late," said one passenger. "If they can make everything run on time and run faster, then I'd pay more. It's really frustrating."

"They're always raising these fares, but they're not raising my paycheck," said another. "Living here is expensive already, but now with the trains, it's crazy."

"Every time you turn around, something is going up on you," said a third. "We just did this subway fare increase and here we go again."

"I don't think that it's fair that we always have to pay," said a fourth. "It's too expensive."

It's not clear yet exactly how much subway, bus, and rail fares would go up, but the MTA says it needs to increase total fare revenue by eight percent — the equivalent of about $400 million a year.

The details have not yet been worked out, but a 25-cent increase in the cash fare would be a 12.5-percent increase, in the neighborhood of the MTA's eight-percent target.

Both the mayor and the governor said Tuesday that the MTA should explore every other option before resulting to the hike.

"If we can cut five percent this year and two and a half percent last year, and we'll have to have further cuts, then the MTA's got to find ways to do that," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Not only don't we have money to contribute, we put in an enormous amount of money," continued Bloomberg. "For example, we pay debt service on a lot of the capital investments that have been made in the past in the MTA. And we provide police protection."

"There's got to be a way to prevent a fare hike," seconded Governor David Paterson. "What I would point out is that the MTA is encumbered. They have a $11 billion to $14 billion shortfall in their capital budget and we are trying to remediate that problem."

Straphangers are not the only ones being asked to chip in. The MTA's budget is about $900 million short, thanks to higher energy costs and lower tax revenue, because of the struggling real estate market.

In addition to higher fares, the agency plans to eliminate the use of free E-ZPasses by government agencies, including the NYPD, saving about $10 million a year.

The agency also plans to cut another $45 million from its budget and is seeking $300 million additional from the city and state.

The New York Public Interest Research Group's Straphangers Campaign said that the city must to contribute more to the MTA. Currently, the city provides about four percent of the MTA's operating budget.

"The city now gives so little to a transit system that makes New York possible," said Gene Rusianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "It's like they are jumping the turnstile."

"They get all these benefits from the transit system," continued Russianoff. "It makes the city's economy zing, and gives us the mobility that's the envy of the country. And they pay like loose change for the operations of the system."

The MTA is required to hold public hearings before raising fares. A committee headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch will recommend ways to solve the agnecy's financial crisis.

Ravitch's report is due by December, and the hearings would not take place until early 2009.

If fares do go up next year, it would be only the second time in the more than 100-year history of the New York City subway that fares have gone up in back-to-back years. The only other time was in 1980 and 1981.

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