Long Island commuters may avert a fare hike for another year, as the head of the MTA said Wednesday that an influx of federal and state aid could allow the agency to further postpone a planned rate increase in 2022.
Speaking at his State Senate confirmation hearing, Janno Lieber, who has been serving as acting chairman and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority since July, revealed that the agency is "looking at being able to put off any fare increase in 2022."
The MTA, following its usual schedule of raising fares by about 4% every other year, was originally slated to vote on a fare hike in January of 2021, but deferred the vote until later in the year, citing the financial strain on riders from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November, under the direction of Gov. Kathy Hochul, the MTA again pledged to put off a fare hike vote until June of 2022 at the earliest.
But Lieber said a wave of new government aid could allow the MTA to put off a fare increase until 2023 — effectively skipping an entire rate hike cycle. The MTA’s last fare increase came in April of 2019, when the agency sought to increase fare revenue by 4%.
The injection of new government funding includes a $6 billion federal grant that he credited to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and a proposed $336 billion bump in state aid in Hochul’s executive budget released Tuesday.
"This money represents a significant down payment on … the agenda of rebuilding the MTA’s financial stability," Lieber said.
The MTA’s finances were devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused ridership and revenues to plummet. Lieber said deferring the scheduled fare increase will allow the MTA to, instead, pursue "innovative fare strategies purposed at enticing customers to return."
On the Long Island Rail Road, those strategies include a 10% reduction in the cost of a monthly ticket, a new 20-trip ticket, and extending the $5 City Ticket — for weekend travel within New York City — to weekday off-peak hours. The new fare options take effect on March 1.
After recovering to nearly 60% of its pre-COVID ridership last fall, LIRR ridership has again fallen amid the spread of the Omicron variant, to around 38% of 2019 levels.
Asked about the potential of averting a fare increase for another year, Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council — a state-regulated riders’ advocacy group — said, "Obviously, that’s good news for commuters."
Sen. Anna Kaplan told Lieber that she appreciated the MTA looking into another deferral of a scheduled fare increase, given that the pandemic hit Long Islanders "very badly."
"I think it would be a very wrong time to send a message to all commuters that we are raising rates on you," Kaplan said. "We want to make sure we encourage them, give them better service, so that they have more reason to really take public transportation."
Lieber's appointment was approved by various committees of the state Senate but still must go before the full body.