MTA will avoid immediate rate hikes and service cuts

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The transit agency that oversees New York City’s subways, buses and two commuter trains will postpone fare increases for at least six months and postpone drastic service cuts now that it expects to receive billions of dollars in the federal infrastructure bill, officials said Monday.

Hours before President Biden signed the $ 1,000 billion spending bill, Governor Kathy Hochul said the legislation would allow the state and the agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to avoid price and service changes that would have hurt passengers.

“We expect there will be no rate hike for the MTA,” Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, said at a press conference at Albany International Airport, before boarding the plane. to join Mr. Biden at the White House. The planned service cuts, she said, “are now irrelevant.”

Janno Lieber, acting chairman and chief executive of the transit agency, later said the agency was also aided by federal coronavirus relief programs, including nearly $ 11 billion New York would receive after resolving a protracted fundraising struggle with neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey.

The money, he said, would allow the authority to avoid decisions it said could reduce ridership at a time when subways, buses and commuter trains aggressively attempt to dodge. ‘attract passengers. The agency faces a staggering financial crisis in the wake of the pandemic, which has decimated the agency’s traffic and revenue.

“Keeping people coming back means keeping the fairly robust service that we have,” said Lieber. “And that also means that at the moment we have to stick to the tariff.”

The agency has been warning for months against service cuts. In their worst-case scenario earlier this year, officials planned to cut metro and bus services by around 40%, although as ridership returned, they said the cuts would be more modest.

Monday’s announcement marked the third time this year that transit officials have delayed fare increases. Although the agency forecast a 4% increase earlier this spring, it decided in January and July to postpone that increase until the end of 2021, as it focused on winning back runners.

It was not yet clear how long the rate increases would be avoided. The transit agency typically increases fares every two years, and officials have not indicated whether they plan to increase fares in 2023 as planned.

Mr Lieber only said transit officials “were withdrawing the fare hikes for at least six months and possibly well beyond.” When asked in a radio interview when the next rate hike might come, he said it was “not the time to speculate”.

But Lieber acknowledged that the agency still faces a looming deficit that it should close.

Before the pandemic, tariffs represented about 38% of the agency’s total revenue. But transit ridership – and with it, fare collection – plummeted when the virus disrupted life in New York City.

Since then, metro and bus ridership has slowly recovered, but remains around 40% below pre-pandemic levels, raising fears that the MTA will soon face a multibillion budget deficit. of dollars.

The agency is expected to present its latest financial plan, with more details on its 2022 budget, to its board of directors on Wednesday.

But Lieber said officials expected the infrastructure bill to reduce the agency’s need to borrow money, easing pressure on its operating budget next year. Nonetheless, he warned that large deficits were expected in the future.

“We’re going to be counting on the Legislature and other stakeholders to find a way to replenish Humpty Dumpty, to help us balance the budget without a lot of service cuts and rate hikes,” Lieber said. “We need this help. But it doesn’t have to be all resolved next year.

Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA’s Standing Citizen Advisory Committee, an oversight group, applauded Ms Hochul’s announcement, saying it would help restore confidence at a critical time for the transit system.

“This means that there is good stability that passengers can expect,” she said, “in terms of keeping their fares stable and service levels as high as possible.”

But the Citizens Budget Commission, a financial watchdog group, said postponing fare hikes could put additional financial pressure on the transit agency in the future.

Without taking into account some rate increases and continued service reductions, “the financial situation of the MTA will only become more precarious in 2026 and beyond,” said Alexander Heil, group vice president of research.

Rachael Fauss, senior research analyst at Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group, also said that while Monday’s announcement was a positive development for bikers, she remained concerned about the agency’s financial road ahead. .

“What remains to be seen is where the MTA’s financial problems persist,” she said.

Ana Ley contributed reporting.


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