MTA considering 5.5% fare hike, service cuts to avoid ‘fiscal cliff’

The highest fare increase in a decade, fewer cars on Long Island Rail Road trains and reduced LIRR service are among the measures the MTA is considering to reduce a projected annual deficit that could reach $3 billion.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced its proposals Wednesday at a meeting of the transit agency’s board in Manhattan.

Among the recommendations made by MTA Chief Financial Officer Kevin Willens is a 5.5% increase in fares and toll rates in 2023 — the highest since the MTA raised fares by 7% in 2013. Since then, the agency has stuck to the fare increase schedule. and increased fees by 4% annually, but postponed increases in 2021 and 2022, citing financial hardship among riders caused by the pandemic. Even by 2026, ridership levels will be 80% of pre-Covid-19 levels, MTA officials said Wednesday.

Willens said raising fares by 1.5 percentage points on top of the typical increase would generate an additional $50 million next year.


  • It faces an annual deficit of $3 billionThe MTA is considering a 5.5% fare and toll increase, the highest in a decade.

  • He’s also considering fewer cars on LIRR trains and reduced service on weekdays.

  • It is not yet clear how much LIRR fares will increase, including reduced discounts on some fare types, such as multi-ride MetroCards

The MTA board will vote on the financial plan on Dec. 21, but it won’t necessarily include a detailed fare plan and new ticket and toll prices. MTA Chairman Janno Lieber said the agency won’t hold legally required public hearings on the fare increase before next February.

It’s unclear how the proposed increases would affect LIRR fares, as the MTA could increase fare revenue in several ways, including by reducing discounts on certain fare types, such as multi-ride MetroCards.

“The MTA is ready to do our part,” Lieber said. “For New Yorkers, transit is like air and water. We need it to live. That means it has to be reliable, secure and, yes, affordable for everyone.”

Lieber called the proposed increase “modest” considering the MTA hasn’t raised fares since 2019. But LIRR commuter Jade Harris expects the proposal to cause “huge controversy” among many riders.

“Some people are fine, [and can] pay for it. So it doesn’t matter to them,” said Harris, 24, of Hempstead. “But I can see that most passengers don’t like it that much.”

The transit agency also unveiled other cost-cutting strategies, such as reducing the length of certain trains and using passenger data to “modify weekday schedules.” LIRR Interim President Catherine Rinaldi suggested those changes could include different schedules on Mondays and Fridays, days when the pandemic began, compared to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Rinaldi said those changes will likely be made to Metro-North first and not come to the LIRR until they have better ridership requirements for the upcoming new service to Grand Central Madison. Rinaldi said any revisions would target “underutilized” trains.

Elena Kraus, who waits for a train in Mineola, said she understands why the LIRR would consider cost-cutting measures, especially considering some trains are “almost empty.”

“It seems kind of wasteful to have all these cars running. If they do it right, then I think it could be good,” Kraus said of the proposed changes. “I’m just worried that sometimes they can mess up and a train can be more crowded than they expect and people can end up without a seat.”

Other strategies to reduce costs include changing train maintenance cycles, speeding up the delivery of needed materials, reducing energy costs and hiring employees to save on overtime. Rinaldi said the measures will save the LIRR money “without compromising the customer experience or the reliability of our service.”

These and other efficiencies would reduce, but not eliminate, the MTA’s projected deficit. The agency will still have a budget gap of about $600 million next year, rising to $1.2 billion in 2024.

MTA officials are pushing state and federal lawmakers to propose a new dedicated revenue stream for the transit agency, which has been devastated by the pandemic’s impact on ridership, fares and other revenue. Lieber said the MTA “definitely can avoid a fare increase if there’s a response from all the decision makers — Washington, D.C., Albany and City Hall and maybe others.”

The MTA hopes to raise an additional $1 billion a year from a congestion pricing plan that would charge vehicles traveling down 60th Street in Manhattan starting in 2024, but the money would go toward capital improvements rather than operating costs.

The MTA received more than $15 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding and spent about $5.6 billion of that. Willens proposed cutting spending and using remaining federal funds to pay off the debt over several years. He called the alternative a “skillful approach.”

“We can only continue to spend the next few years on federal aid and run full speed into a fiscal deficit that is now approaching $3 billion a year.”

Without a new revenue stream, Willens said the MTA could look to more extreme measures to close its deficit, including steeper fare increases, service cuts and layoffs.

“None of those options are acceptable,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA’s Standing Citizens Advisory Committee.

“The situation is serious. We have reached a transformative moment in how we finance the MTA,” Daglian said. “The fiscal cliff is very real … We cannot go off the cliff.”

MTA board member Samuel Chu, who represents Suffolk, supported immediate action to “send a signal” that the agency is serious about solving the financial crisis, including various cost-cutting measures outlined by Rinaldi.

“Even with all that, I think we’re going to need help at some point,” Chu said. “If we want this system to work the way we’ve been used to all our lives, we need help. We will not be able to do it alone.”

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