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Friday, March 13, 2009

MTA fare hikes looming unless state Legislature comes to the rescue

Straphangers could get socked with another fare hike next year - an unprecedented third in a row - if the state Legislature doesn't come to the rescue, transit sources revealed Thursday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects a $300 million budget gap in 2010 - even if it increases fares by as much as 30% in June and implements sweeping service cuts this spring.

MTA board members have been summoned to an emergency meeting at headquarters this morning to start grappling with the crisis.

The agency had hoped the Legislature would agree to a bailout, including putting tolls on the city's now-free bridges, but no deal has been reached.

Without a pact, double-digit fare hikes and deep service cuts are almost certain this summer. The MTA is ready to set new fares on March 25. A monthly MetroCard, now $81, could rise to $103.

The MTA today will start looking at worse scenarios for 2010 and beyond, sources said.

"I think they are doing the responsible thing," former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch said. "The public has a right to know - and the board has the responsibility to figure out - what kind of system it can operate with the revenues they have. They have to start thinking about shrinking the system."

Ravitch headed a state commission that recommended tolling the city's free East and Harlem River bridges, and enacting an employer-paid payroll tax.

The cash would enable the MTA to scale back fare hikes to 8% and avoid shutting some bus routes and subway lines.

The Ravitch plan also would help fund the MTA's capital program, which pays for day-to-day maintenance, upgrades and system expansion.

With Glenn Blain
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