Expect higher NYC bus, subway, train fares and bridge-and-tunnel tolls in 2023 as MTA seeks to close budget gap

Getting around New York by subway, bus, train or car could cost more next year as the MTA struggles to close a $2.6 billion budget gap.

MTA officials say they may need 5.5% more money from transit passengers and toll-paying motorists — a bigger increase than the typical 4% fare and toll revenue hikes the MTA seeks every two years.

A 5.5% hike would bring the base subway and bus fare up to $2.90 per ride — 15 cents more than the current $2.75 fare.

But the hikes might not be shared equally among train, transit and bridge-and-tunnel customers. Higher MTA bridge and tunnel tolls, for example, could be used to offset a bus and subway fare increase.

Riders and motorists will know more next month, when the agency is expected to approve its 2023 budget.

After the budget is approved, the MTA would start a process to decide the exact amount of the fare and toll hikes, which would probably take effect in mid-2023. That process will include public hearings.

It’s possible elected officials in Albany or Washington could find money in their budgets to help close the MTA’s budget gap and eliminate or ease the size of a fare increase, said MTA Chairman Janno Lieber.

“Our goal is to make sure a fare hike, if any, is kept very moderate,” Lieber said. “But if the powers that be have a plan that solves the budget deficit ... we are all ears.”

The idea of fare and toll increases was broached Wednesday by MTA Chief Financial Officer Kevin Willens, who said the increase is one of a number of steps the agency should take to close its deficit.

Going 1.5 percentage points above the typical 4% fare and toll increase the MTA seeks every two years “will help in a modest way” its effort to close its budget gap, Willens told an MTA board meeting.

Finding ways to run the transit system more efficiently, paying early money the MTA borrowed to cover its COVID operating deficit and help from federal COVID relief money will also help close the deficit, Willens said.

But even with those measures, the agency will be left with a $600 million deficit in the agency’s $19.4 billion budget for 2023. That deficit could grow to $1.6 billion in 2026, MTA financial analysts project.

How that further budget gap could be closed isn’t clear yet.

The base bus and subway fare was set at $2.75 in 2015. The MTA’s last general fare hike in April 2019 maintained the $2.75 fare by eliminating a 5% bonus for putting multiple rides on a MetroCard, but increased Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North train fares and bridge-and-tunnel tolls.

Transit advocates are already speaking up against the possibility of fare increases.

A fare hike “would trigger a death spiral and devastate New York,” said Danny Pearlstein, communications director of the Riders Alliance, which says the MTA would do better to find ways to improve its service.

“Governor Kathy Hochul must use her January budget to stop the MTA fare hike and save and invest in the public transit that New York is unthinkable without,” Pearlstein said. “Riders need our governor to stabilize transit for millions who need it every day and increase the frequency of subway and bus service to meet new needs in the pandemic’s wake.”