The inevitable M.T.A. fare-hike package takes shape

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The M.T.A. is raising subway fares, as it did in 2010, as it will in 2015 and as it will likely continue to do on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.

The much-debated contours of this particular fare hike are now becoming clear.

According to Ted Mann at The Wall Street Journal, here's what the fare hikes will almost definitely look like:

* A monthly unlimited ride MetroCard will go up from $104 to $112.

* A weekly unlimited ride card will rise by a dollar—from $29 to $30.

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* The base fare for a subway and bus ride will rise from $2.25 to $2.50.

* And the bonus awarded to riders when they put cash on a pay-per-ride card will shrink from 7 percent to 5 percent of the amount added.

Or, to put it another way, the M.T.A. is trying to spread the pain around.

In October, in what M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota has said is a first, the M.T.A. released four possible fare and toll hike scenarios to the public (rather than just one).

The idea was to solicit feedback, but also, presumably, to engage the public in a debate about the relative merits of the four proposals, rather than a debate about the overall merit of having a fare and toll hike at all.

The proposals also served as a useful exhibit of scary, worst-case scenarios—monthly MetroCards costing as much as $125, seven-day unlimiteds costing as much as $34—none of which look like they will come to pass. That, of course, has the handy effect of making the final proposal look more palatable.

So, for example, the M.T.A. will not ditch the multi-fare bonus, as Lhota once suggested he might. Rather, it will be reduced from 7 percent to 5 percent, and it will kick in at a lower rate ($5 versus $10), a change reportedly made to reduce the impact of the fare increase on poor riders, who tend to add money to their cards in small increments.

It's unclear at this point whether the toll and commuter rail proposals issued in October resemble the M.T.A.'s final proposal, which the board will vote on this month, and which will go into effect in March.

No matter what those look like, the suburbanites who already resent paying the existing rates, will not be pleased. That's unfortunate for the financially beleaguered M.T.A.

Without suburban legislative support for another revenue stream like congestion pricing, fares will continue to rise on a periodic basis for the foreseeable future, and riders will continue to pay them.