Today’s news:

MTA expects to charge bus riders 25 cents extra if they use coins

Cash−strapped transit officials have come up with more possibilities in the event there is no bailout of the MTA, including requiring bus patrons to pay more for using coins and a 26 percent fare hike on the Long Island Rail Road.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released new figures in preparation for a series of public hearings on higher fares and service cuts, including one in Flushing Jan. 20.

The MTA is obligated by law to conduct hearings before raising fares.

Without desperately hoped for major money from the New York state Legislature — perhaps through approval of a 12−county payroll tax — the MTA would be forced to implement its Draconian plan to raise fares and drastically cut transit service. The transit agency faces a $1.2 billion deficit going into 2009.

It was the second set of numbers in as many weeks made public by the MTA.

“These figures are among possibilities, but are not final,” said Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the MTA.

Under the latest plan, bus patrons would pay a quarter extra on buses if they used coins rather than a MetroCard.

The basic fare on subways and buses would increase from $2 to $3, although the fare for the straphanger using a MetroCard would rise to $2.25.

“This provides encouragement for customers to buy a MetroCard,” said MTA chief spokesman Jeremy Soffin. “The MetroCard saves time and money.”

The MTA has long contended that passengers using coins slow down the boarding process on buses.

Depending on destinations, LIRR fares would increase from 24 percent to 29 percent, but would average out to 26 percent.

Under the latest plan, fares on Access−A−Ride service for the disabled and elderly would increase from $2 to either $4.50 or $5.

The student discount would be abolished on express buses.

“At the end of the day, we hope not to have to implement any of these proposals,” Soffin said.

In any case, the MTA has said March will be critical, at which time it would have to begin the service cuts if its bailout money was npt on the horizon. Fare increases would take effect in May or June.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136.

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