4:29 pm Jul. 19, 2012
Less than a year before another fare hike is set to kick in, M.T.A. chief Joe Lhota announced big service enhancements for subway and bus riders, and threw a meaty bone to suburban legislators who don't much like the M.T.A.
"[I]t's really hard to go into a period of time where you're talking about a fare increase, where you're reducing service, where you're not increasing service," Lhota told reporters on Thursday afternoon at the authority's midtown headquarters.
And so today, Lhota unveiled a number of measures to soften the blow.
First, those 7.5 percent fare hikes slated for 2013? They won't kick in on January 1, as originally planned. Rather, they'll begin on March 1, 2013.
The M.T.A. says it can delay the hikes by two months because, while the authority needs the extra $450 million a year, increased ridership (and fare collection), coupled with tighly controlled expenditures, means it doesn't need that money quite as soon.
Second, M.T.A. riders will get nearly $30 million in service enhancements, some of which are actually restorations of services that were cut in 2010, when the M.T.A. sliced $93 million from its operating budget.
New York City residents will get five new bus routes, the restoration of one formerly eliminated bus route, the extension of 13 routes, and additional service on 11 routes.
Also, that beloved G train extension into Kensington, necessitated by nearby construction on the Culver Viaduct, will be made permanent.
But the M.T.A. is also a commuter railroad operator, and commuters, whose legislators generally loathe the M.T.A., are getting something too. Metro-North lines will get more 230 more trains: 220 east of the Hudson, and 10 west of it. The M.T.A. says it's the largest expansion of Metro-North since the railroad's advent in 1983.
Most of that service will be concentrated in "off-peak" hours and on weekends, periods during which ridership has been growing fastest.
On the Long Island Railroad, there will be more off-peak service on the Ronkonkoma line, more rush hours trains on the Long Beach, Port Jefferson and Montauk branches, among other service improvements.
(Here's a link with more details on the improvements.)
There were fare hikes before and after the 2010 service cuts, and critics faulted the M.T.A. for making riders pay more for less.
Today, during the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, a reporter asked Lhota if he felt that, thanks to the impending round of hikes, he had to give something back and thereby soften the blow.
"Maybe subconsciously, I might have thought that," Lhota said. "But, quite honestly, why did I do it? Every single day, I think about what can we do to make the service better for our customers. And this is what we can do."
Lhota has made it his explicit mission to win over the riding public, based on the notion that by repairing the M.T.A.'s image, riders (and their legislative representatives) will be more willing to fund the financially precarious agency.
I asked Lhota if he thought the service restorations for commuters had received a good reception amongst upstate and Long Island legislators, and whether he harbored hopes they might shift sentiment in Albany toward better funding the M.T.A..
"Yes, I do," he said.
"I think it's great that the M.T.A. is trying to have a very balanced approach in the suburbs, particularly since suburban legislators are leading the fight against the payroll tax," said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The M.T.A. board will vote on the service improvements next week.
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