Commuters who use the Long Island Rail Road will be facing a 27 percent fare increase unless the state leaders in Albany can come up with a rescue plan for the struggling transportation agency.
The increases in the Long Island Rail Road are due to take effect on June 1. Residents who take the railroad froml local stations such as West Hempstead and Floral Park to Penn Station every day will find their monthly tickets increase from $185 to $235. In the meantime, state lawmakers have been discussing ways to lessen the impact to commuters through a bailout plan. However, the question remains as to whether residents would be better off with the fare increases or the bailout plan.
Thus far, surcharges on cab rides in the city and a payroll tax on businesses that operate within areas served by the MTA, including all of Long Island, as well as higher registration fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles, are being considered.
Educational institutions such as school districts are concerned about what a payroll tax would do to school district budgets let alone local businesses that are struggling to stay afloat amidst falling sales revenues and increasing property tax burdens.
The payroll tax is being favored by such lawmakers as Senate Majority Leader Malcom Smith. However, such lawmakers in the Democratic caucus, like Senator Craig Johnson, who represents the 7th Senate District, are opposed to a payroll tax. While Johnson sided with his caucus when it came to passing the state budget, he doesn't appear to be willing to do so when it comes to a payroll tax.
"I don't trust the MTA. Every time there is a problem, the MTA cries poverty. I'm not going to bail out the MTA with people's tax dollars," Johnson said in an interview with Anton Community Newspapers. "We should force the MTA to do a forensic audit."
State lawmakers have about a month to bail out the MTA before commuters are forced to. Either way, it looks as though the MTA's budget problems will have to be solved with public dollars.
Republican Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who represents the 21st Assembly District, also is against a payroll tax. "This is a very serious matter and I think it's ironic that we're hearing very little on any plan to save commuters. Quite frankly, it wasn't enough that the MTA's mismanagement got us into this mess. Their answer always has been fare hikes and cuts in services. This approach won't help people who are just trying to get to work in the morning," he said. "It's time that we are treated fairly and not used by city leaders and their supporters who are insensitive and haven't got a clue what its like to pay the outrageous taxes Long Islanders face each and every day. I won't vote for a payroll tax and I think it's about time that everything is put on the table for the public to see."
Long Island Railroad service to Belmont Park has already been eliminated. Beginning April 29, the opening day of Belmont Park, the New York Racing Association began providing free shuttle bus service between Belmont Park and the Queens Village station of the Long Island Rail Road for its patrons.
Additional service cuts include the elimination of weekend service to and from the West Hempstead train station. That is expected to take effect in early September.