Merry Fare Hike!

On Monday December 24, five Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in Union Square to inform people of the coming MTA fare Hike in 2013, through parodies of Christmas carols.

Before continuing any further here is a link to the Powerpoint presentation released by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) which discusses the coming fares, the MTA’s deficit problems, new toll increases, which groups use (or doesn’t use) unlimited rides, and much more. (Pages will be specified later in this post).

When will the fare hike be instated? The base fare for a Metrocard is now $2.25; on March 1st of 2013 the price will rise by $0.25, to $2.50. The Metrocard bonus, which one gets with their purchase of a new card (when the purchased metrocard is not an unlimited pass) will drop from 7% to 5%. The 7-day unlimited card will rise to $30, and the 30-day unlimited card will become $112.

The MTA has taken on numerous different construction projects over the past few years. New bannisters have been installed all over the transit system, a new subway line is being built to give greater Access to Manhattan’s East Side, surveillance systems as well are being installed on many trains and buses. The majority of the money received from the fare hike will go towards another need though. Paying off Wall Street banks.

The first side of the informational flyer handed out by the carolers.

The first side of the informational flyer handed out by the carolers.

To quote the above flyer which was handed out as the caroling protesters sang, “Several major banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, UBS, AIG, and Ambac) have arrangements with the MTA that are called interest rate swap deals. The MTA pays banks a steady, fixed interest rate on a bond, and the banks pay us back a variable rate based on market fluctuations. This was supposed to be a way to protect the MTA from rates going up in the future, and both sides are supposed to break even. But since the 2008 crash dramatically lowered interest rates, we continue to pay on average 4.5% interest on these deals, and get 1.62% back from the banks, who get to pocket the difference as profit. Now, the MTA is forcing transit riders to foot the bill. Even the MTA admits that this fare hike can’t cover the cost of debts accrued by its irresponsible leadership.”

With regards to how much of this fare hike will go towards paying for labor costs… Not much, if any at all. The MTA workers are still without a contract, and the MTA does not want to raise worker pay for another 5 years, despite the current recession.

For a spoken rundown of much of the above information, see this video where activist Ingrid Burrington, who made the informative flyers, explains the situation.

How about the obvious need for repairs of damages incurred by Hurricane Sandy. Have they been factored into the MTA’s deficit calculations? Not yet. The fare hike has been in the works since September.

Here is a photo of the other side of the informative flyer which was being handed out while caroling.

The second side of the informative flyer accompanying the carolers.

The second side of the informative flyer accompanying the carolers.

Now for some songs.

Caroling by the Farmer's Market.

Caroling by the Farmer’s Market.

The carolers sing their parodies by the Farmer’s Market of Union Square. The order of songs in this video is “God Rest Ye, MTA Chairman” followed by “MTA, Please Take a Fucking Stand.”

The group sings a parody of the popular tune Jingle Bells.

Before going any further feel free to read the lyrics of the three parodies from the following song sheet.

The lyrics for the Christmas carol parodies.

The lyrics for the Christmas carol parodies.

At this point the group decided to relocate to the fountain by 14th St. Here is a short clip of some of the walk through the holiday market. Once we arrived at the fountain, which was in the middle of the holiday market. The activist caroling resumed:

Caroling to the crowd.

Caroling to the crowd in Union Square.

The first carol sang was the parody of Jingle Bells.

Activist Shawn Carrie promotes the coming fare hike sarcastically.

More caroling at the fountain in Union Square.

More caroling at the fountain in Union Square.

The next carol was “God Rest Ye, MTA Chairman”

The next, and last, carol the group sang outdoors was “MTA, Please Take a Fucking Stand”

Due to the cold weather, and the limitations of outreach capabilities in the holiday market, the caroling continued in the subways.

Following are 6 videos of singing as the group jumped from train to train, and sometimes from train car to train car, serenading passengers between on the rides between stops. In no particular order here are the 6 videos (note: to skip the introductions in the videos below I have made time markings for when the singing starts in the video description):

God Rest Ye, MTA Chairman.

MTA, Please Take a Fucking Stand.

Jingle Bell parody.

The group poses for a picture in between train carols.

The group poses for a picture in between train carols.

When the train rode over the Manhattan Bridge the carolers had an opportunity to sing 2 songs. They chose their Jingle Bells parody and God Rest Ye, MTA Chairman.

Another video of MTA, Please Take a Fucking Stand.

Another performance of God Rest Ye, MTA Chairman.

On most trains the group was met with applause at the end. Only once did anyone comment how people on the train were “offended.” Shortly after he said this though another gentleman on the train applauded our caroling as we finished. Flyers like the one shown above were distributed to train riders and here and there a few passengers chuckled at the lyrics.

Once again, the Powerpoint presentation released by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

Important pages to note are page 2, where a strategy for how to balance the MTA’s budget is briefly outlined; Page 4, where a chart illustrates how “the proposed fare and toll increases cover only 35% of the increase in non-discretionary expenses”; Page 5, where a chart explains how “even with planned fare/toll increases and cost containment, deficits totaling $503 million remain”; Page 8, where a statistic seems to indicate it is lower income customers who use the most non-discounted fares. This essentially means those of the lowest incomes (who will be hit the hardest by the fare hike anyway) will face the greatest hardship as they already use the most non-discounted fares statistically; Page 10, where it is explained what changes in fare were made in 2011; Page 13, where 2013 commuter rail fare changes are discussed; Page 15, where changes in tolls are discussed; and page 16, where a list of “Expanded Hearings for Robust Public Input” is provided. To quickly note, the expanded hearings “for robust public input” listed on Page 16 generally start around 5 pm. Is this normally when people just getting out from work? How long were the hearings? Did people have time to get to these meetings meant for “robust public input?”

On the informative flyer which was distributed to train passengers, and all others who were interested, the the following is written as well (some of it meant to be humorous):

“But what can we do?

Tell bank executives and CEOs to renegotiate or cancel the swaps at no cost to the MTA, or transit riders. Use any means necessary to hold banks accountable. Accountability can take a lot of forms – letter writing, protesting, online trolling, street art, fare striking… Challenge the MTA – and all of us – to come up with better cost-cutting options. Come up with some yourself! Get creative. Start a metrocard co-op with your neighbors, co-workers, or friends. Start a bail fund for turnstile jumping. Lock some exits open. Share your ideas!”

The informative flyer includes its own statement of summary as well:
“The cost of transit keeps going up, while wages aren’t. In 7 years, base fare will have gone up 75%. Last fare hike, this fare hike, the next fare hike-they still wont deal with the MTA’s massive (and growing) deficit, according to the MTA’s own projections. Even if you can afford it (which well over a third of the city’s population can’t), do you really want to pay that extra cost if it’s only going to perpetual debt to mega-banks? Are we ready for austerity in NYC?”

I also have a feeling this might make a trip to NYC, for tourists, even more costly than it already is.

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