Come Jan. 1, it looks likely that New York City bus and subway riders will be paying $1 per ride to get around the city. New York would join at least six other major US cities that now have $1 fares. Today commuters are wearing ``token gold'' ribbons in a symbolic protest organized by the Straphangers Campaign and the Transportation Workers Union. The protest coincides with hearings in Manhattan by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on the fare increase. The current fare is 90 cents, with one free transfer on buses and unlimited transfers on the subway.
``Saving the fare is an uphill battle, but we are hopeful,'' says Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a subway-riders advocacy group. ``If you don't own a car, and you want to take your kids to Coney Island in the summer, it will cost nearly $10.''
The Transit Authority, the arm of the MTA that operates the city's buses and subways, has a $225 million operating deficit next year. MTA officials, including chairman Robert Kiley, have repeatedly said that an increase is likely, unless the state and city plug the gap.
Opponents of the increase have championed other solutions. Mayor Edward I. Koch has proposed raising a state tax on city real estate transactions over $1 million. But Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said at a press conference Monday that legislation to save the current 90-cent fare was not among his priorities.
The $1 fare is not common in cities around the United States, but it is far from unknown. Las Vegas, Dallas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Fairbanks, Alaska, charge $1 for the basic fare. Some base fares are lower, but zones and transfers increase total costs to passengers.
In Chicago, the base fare is 90 cents for local service, with a transfer costing 10 cents. Express service can cost up to $1.10. Philadelphia has a base fare of $1, with a 20-cent transfer fee, and zone costs that can add 90 cents.
Houston charges 55 cents for local service, and 80 cents for express service. In Los Angeles, the fare can range from 85 cents to $1.20. Transfers cost 10 cents, and express service can cost $2.60. In Portland, Oregon, the basic fare is 75 cents, but zone changes can add up to $1.50 to the base.
Ridership on New York City's bus and subway system has declined in recent years, and in the first eight months of 1985 is down very slightly from 1984, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Estimates on rides lost from a 10-cent fare raise range from 10 million to 30 million a year.
Public transportation usage is growing most quickly in cities where growth and expansion is occurring. Ridership in Houston is up 11 percent this year. Atlanta, which has added rail service in the past year, has seen ridership increase by more than 18 percent. Greenville, South Carolina, which began rebuilding an old system around three years ago, has had a 42 percent increase so far this year.
Financing a public transporation system is best through a ``dedicated'' tax system, says a spokesman at the American Public Transportation Association. ``We encourage systems to rely on a stable source rather than the whims of the budget cycle,'' he says.