There is little doubt that the MTA is going to raise subway and bus fares in January 2011. But Forest Hills merchants and shoppers on Monday disagreed about the repercussions that the hikes would have on the local economy.
"It's not going to stop people from shopping," Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce President Leslie Brown said.
But John Xerakias, owner of the Austin House Diner on Austin Street, envisioned a downturn. For him, it's simply a matter of nickels, dimes and arithmetic.
"Every dollar that the MTA or the taxman takes away means people have less money to spend," he said. "Instead of buying a hamburger and a milkshake, they'll buy a hamburger and water."
About three blocks to the northwest at the Santa Fe Steakhouse on 70th Road, manager Justin Knauer had a hunch that higher public transportation costs might entice Forest Hills residents to eat locally instead of going to Manhattan, a possible boon. He added that most of his patrons work or live nearby and walk to his establishment, so he's not very concerned about losing business.
Sunnyside resident Sharmeela Mediratta, a social worker in Corona who drives to Forest Hills to shop, said she thought commercial centers in low-income areas will lose business, but those in more expensive shopping areas will be safe.
"The middle class will be less affected," she said. "Forest Hills is not an inexpensive shopping area. There are no 99 Cent or Bargain Hunter stores … there is a Gap and an Ann Taylor."
In July, the MTA informed riders of a $900 million shortfall in its 2010 budget, due to funding cuts at the state level and downturns in tax revenue. In response, the MTA proposed putting a 90-ride cap on the 30-day MetroCard, while raising its price by $10 to $99 or increasing its price from $89 to $104, while keeping it unlimited. Seven-day MetroCards will face similar hikes, if the transit authority deems them necessary. The hikes will probably be between one and two dollars.
If enacted, this would be the third fare hike since 2008. Since March, the MTA has organized hearings around the city on the proposed fare hike. Angry city residents have given the events a circus feel, screaming at transit officials.
At Pasta del Giorno on Austin Street, restaurant owner Tony Gauna said that the fare hike is the least of his concerns. Business has been in a freefall lately, he said, blaming the Jewish holidays and the constant rain and dangerous weather.
"There are no customers anyway," he said. "I'm tired of making excuses."