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New $11 billion state bill would bail out MTA, freeze fare hikes and provide free bus rides

_(Photo provided by State Sen. Michael Gianaris)

Public transport advocates held a rally in Albany Tuesday, Feb. 14, calling on the state to fund a package of bills that they say would fully fund the MTA, make it more efficient, and stop any proposed fare hikes to straphangers.  (Photo provided by State Sen. Michael Gianaris)

Feb. 16, 2023 By Michael Dorgan

New York City lawmakers and public transport advocates held a rally in Albany on Tuesday, Feb. 14, calling on the state to pass a finance bill worth nearly $11 billion that they say would fully fund the MTA through 2026 and make it more efficient.

The legislation, known as Fix the MTA, would also keep current subway fares at $2.75 and prevent a proposed 25 cents hike to $3.

It would also make bus rides throughout the city free by 2027 and aims to make services more frequent and reliable — by ensuring subways and most buses arrive at least every six minutes, every day of the week.

The largest portion of the package, around $4.6 billion, would essentially bail out the agency by plugging its forecasted budget deficit for the next four years, while nearly $2 billion would go towards increasing bus services across the system by 20 percent.

Around $1.4 billion would be allocated to the agency to account for a 27% dip in ridership numbers compared to 2019 levels.

State Senators Michael Gianaris, Jessica Ramos, John Liu and Kristen Gonzalez were among the Queens lawmakers who attended the rally, while Assembly members Zohran Mamdani, Alicia Hyndman Juan Ardila, and Jessica González-Rojas were also present. Assembly member Robert Carroll from Brooklyn and Assembly member Tony Simone from Manhattan also attended.

They were joined by transportation advocate groups such as Riders Alliance, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA and Transportation Alternatives.

Gianaris, who is sponsoring the bill in the state Senate, said the legislation would provide long-term solutions to the cash-strapped agency. Mamdani is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly.

“The MTA is on an express track towards fiscal calamity, and it is imperative we intervene to save and improve the nation’s most important transit system,” Gianaris said. “Freezing fares, improving service and providing free bus service would be game changers that would set the tone for the rest of the country and put the MTA on solid footing for a better future.”

 

The bill would gradually eliminate fares on local buses and Select Bus Services by 2027. The free buses would be rolled out in the Bronx in 2024, followed by Brooklyn the next year and in Queens the third year. Manhattan and Staten Island would go fare-free in the fourth year.

The cost of the free bus program would start at around $147 million for 2024 and climb to $778 million in 2027.

The bill also aims to stop the MTA from increasing subway and bus fares.

The MTA says the price hike is necessary to plug its financial budget deficit, which is estimated to potentially reach $1.6 billion by 2024 without new funding, according to the New York Post. The MTA is in the red despite receiving nearly $6.2 billion from the federal government in 2022 after the agency saw its ridership numbers plummet due to the pandemic.

The MTA says it needs a cash injection of $350 million to halt such a price hike and Governor Hochul backed such a fare increase in her recent budget proposal. The MTA was last expected to jack up its fares in 2021 but instead froze prices in order to help boost low ridership numbers due to the pandemic.

The Fix the MTA bill would provide the agency with $980 million over a four-year period to offset the proposed price hike; $114 million in 2023; $193 million in 2024; $313 million in 2025 and $360 million in 2026, according to the legislation.

The bill also allocates $300 million for each tax year — from 2023 through 2026 — to run subways and most buses at least every six minutes, every day of the week.

There is also $600 million in the package to cover wage increases for MTA workers.

 

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