The largest mass-transit system in the U.S. could be raising its fares this year.

Bloomberg reports that the MTA will be debating on increasing fares. The discussions will happen on Thursday, January 21. The idea to raise fares comes as ridership is drastically down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Riders, however, are already struggling to pay fares and bills because of financial hardships related to the pandemic.

According to Bloomberg, Congress agreed in December 2020 to give the MTA another $4 billion of aid. This is part of the latest federal COVID-19 relief package. This is the same package that gave the majority of people in the U.S. a $600 relief check. The MTA has a $17 billion budget for 2021.

If fares were to increase for the MTA, they would go up by 4%, according to Bloomberg. This increase is actually planned to occur every two years, but the increase requires approval. This year has shown hesitation from board members as the unemployment rate is still high. According to Bloomberg, the New York City jobless rate tripled to 12.1% in November, when it was 3.6% in 2019.

Bloomberg reports that board member Neal Zuckerman said during the MTA’s last board meeting on Dec. 16, "This is not the time to raise fares because our riders can’t afford it. And there’s no way we’re going to close the gap on ridership whether with a 4% increase or a 40% increase.”
The 4% fare increase would bring roughly $48 million of additional revenue in 2021. Bloomberg reports that the MTA estimates a budget deficit of nearly $500 million this year.

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