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The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) board voted for massive fare hikes as a way to close its budget deficit. Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuters will be paying a 27 percent increase beginning in June when the fare increases take effect. Once in the city, commuters will also pay a 50-cent increase for subway rides.

The fare increases come at a time when commuters can least afford it as the nation's recession continues. The MTA found itself relying on state-elected officials to help close the budget gap, but when no helped arrived in the form of an agreement on a bailout plan for the MTA, the board went ahead with a vote to increase fares and decrease service.

"As we make a very difficult and distasteful set of decisions, we are doing so strengthened in the knowledge that no less than the future of the MTA and the region is at stake. We have been brought to the brink of decision-making, but we refuse to bring this system, your MTA, to the brink of disaster," said MTA board chairman Dale Hemmerdinger at the March 25 meeting.

Elliot G. Sander, MTA executive director and CEO, said the MTA could not cut its way out of the hole it was in despite making cuts in managerial expenses. "In the end, though, the collapse of our real estate tax revenue, on top of the escalating debt service costs, could not be made up by belt tightening. Only 7 percent of the MTA's $11 billion budget is dedicated to administration, making it simply impossible to cut our way out of what amounted to a $1.2 billion deficit," he said.

Now, commuters will be forced to pay to close that budget deficit. In Manhasset, which is a main station used by many commuters to go to and from Manhattan, riders of the LIRR will see 27 percent fare increases come June 1. Here is a breakdown of the cost of rides to and from Penn Station in Zone 4 which includes the Manhasset LIRR station:

• Monthly Ticket - Current Cost $185, New Cost $235, 27 percent increase

• Weekly Ticket - Current Cost $59.25, New Cost $75.25, 27 percent increase

• One Way (Peak) - Current Cost $8.50, New Cost $10.75, 26 percent increase

• One Way (Off-Peak) - Current Cost $6.25, New Cost $7.75, 24 percent

Fare for Long Island Bus will also increase from $2 a ride to $3.50 a ride, an increase of 75 percent. Subway fares have also gone up from $2 a ride to $2.50 a ride, a 25 percent increase in addition to increases on tolls for bridges and tunnels.

In order to explore ways to close the MTA's budget deficit, Governor David Paterson appointed the Ravitch Commission to look at strategies to fund the MTA's capital projects and operating needs. The Ravitch commission issued recommendations that would lessen the fare increases but would raise money through a payroll tax that would be imposed on all employers, including businesses, school districts and municipalities.

The Democratic Majority of the New York State Senate recommended imposing a payroll tax of 25 cents per $100 of payroll. The plan was favored by Senator Craig Johnson, who is a member of the Democratic Majority.

"The Senate Majority Conference unveiled a proposal that fully restores potential service cuts, reduces potential fare increases and saves property values that would be adversely impacted by the cuts in service proposed in the MTA's 'Doomsday' budget. This is a bad situation that has been caused by mismanagement and an out-of control debt load that occurred under previous administrations and legislative majorities," said Johnson. "We are sensitive to the plan's potential impacts, especially on schools, and we are looking to do everything we can to mitigate its effects on a school district - which has been calculated to cost one-seventh of one percent of a school district's budget, or approximately $20 per household per year. If no resolution is reached, the effects of the Doomsday budget will be far reaching. For instance, the cost of a monthly peak train ticket to New York will increase by more than 25 percent. It's our goal to prevent such massive hikes, as well as thwart the elimination of weekend service on the West Hempstead line, off-peak half-hour service reductions on the Port Washington line and the elimination of six Long Island bus lines and reduced to eight others."


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