By Mark Hallum
If a transit conference with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer showed anything, it exposed that advocates and organizations fear fare hikes will be imposed by the MTA to close the financial gap created by COVID-19.
While Schumer explained how critical it is to push the HEROES Act forward with the $3.9 billion requested by MTA, questions from those tuning in to the Riders Alliance webinar on Thursday, for the most part, could be condensed into the concern that the agency’s financial shortfall could fall on the shoulders of those dependent on public transit.
Schumer expressed confidence that eventually the HEROES Act will pass in the Senate and the MTA would successfully be able to cover their operating cost, the revenue for which is lost due to three months of an over 90% ridership decline, so much so that he is “99% positive” committed to helping the stimulus along.
“[Senate Majority Leader] McConnell is debating whether to put it on the floor, and if he doesn’t we’ve got big trouble,” Schumer said. “We have to get it done, and putting heat on [Republicans] will get it done, and we don’t want to get it done halfway so the fare goes up or the service is cutback… We can’t force [the MTA] to [not impose] fare hikes, but we can give them enough money so that they don’t have to do fare hikes. If they do, they’ll be lying. They told us that if they get this $4 billion they would not have to do fare hikes. We cannot have a fare hike, we just can’t.”
On June 17, the MTA answered a very similar question.
“We have no plans for a pandemic-related fare increase, I can assure your readers and viewers that that is not on the table,” Foye said during an amNewYork Metro webinar.
While they said there is no fare increase on the table currently, included in the 2020-2024 capital plan is a fare hike every two years. The last one was in April 2019 when the price of weekly MetroCards has increased a dollar from $32 and monthlies were bumped up from $121 to $127.
According to Tom Wright, chief executive officer of the Regional Plan Association, if the MTA is not supported throughout the extent of the pandemic through the HEROES Act, the MTA, hypothetically, would have to raise the fare to $9 per swipe in order to support their day-to-day operations.
Schumer also said he believes it is critical pump money into the major infrastructure projects and move them along bureaucratically, such as the Gateway Tunnel Project to expand rail access under the Hudson between New York and New Jersey. The existing tunnel between Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station is 109 years, and the only access point for trains moving 200,000 passengers per day along the Northeast Corridor.