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MTA considering fare hike to close $2.6 billion budget gap without layoffs, reducing service

MTA considering fare hike to close $2.6 billion budget gap
MTA considering fare hike to close $2.6 billion budget gap 02:17

NEW YORK -- Taking a huge hit from the pandemic, the MTA is in dire need of cash.

To avoid laying off workers or reducing service, it's looking at increasing the cost to the consumer, which means you could be paying more.

Trains may be looking more full as MTA ridership has improved, but it has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, currently at 63%.

"This dramatic drop in ridership is the primary cause of the financial challenge we face," MTA Chief Financial Officer Kevin Willens said.

The MTA is painting a grim picture as it tries to close a $2.6 billion budget gap, and it's considering a 5.5% fare and toll hike as part of the solution.

"Four percent fare increases have always been envisioned as part of the MTA budgets every year," MTA Chair Janno Lieber said.

READ MORE: State comptroller report indicates MTA will be short $2.5 billion per year when pandemic relief runs out in 2025

To no surprise, many riders aren't on board.

"I don't think it's fair at all to the people that have to come in to work every day physically in order to make a living," LIRR rider Jessi Strange said.

"In respect to the MTA in general and the violence on the subways, people aren't ready, really, to go back ... That's part of the problem, you're not getting the ridership," Oceanside resident Charlie Termini said.

"It's crazy. They gotta get the money from someplace else," West Islip resident Russell Donnelly said.

The MTA got $15 billion in COVID relief funds from the federal government. It has just about a third of that left.

Lieber is calling on the feds, city and state for more help.

"If they have a plan that allows us to avoid the fiscal cliff and avoid a fare hike, we're all ears. In the meantime, we're trying to restore what is a modest fare increase," he said.

Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state had discussed alternative sources of revenue for the MTA with Lieber.

The MTA has not raised fares since 2019. Its proposal includes other ways to cut costs, utilizing its technology and data to improve productivity. The agency says it's trying to avoid layoffs and service cuts.

Charlton D'Souza, the president of Passengers United, has ideas of his own.

"Advertising in subway stations and selling the naming rights of subway stations ... Why are we not thinking about corporate sponsorships?" he said.

When it comes to paying more, many riders point out, they may have no choice.

"What are you gonna do? There's no other way to get here," Donnelly said.

The MTA plans to meet on Dec. 21 to consider and approve the 2023 budget.

The MTA will hold public hearings early next year before any fare increases would go into effect. The increase rate could vary between subways, trains, buses and car tolls.

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