State Supreme Court Justice Louis York issued the ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the Straphangers Campaign that charged the transit agency violated the law by failing to clarify its financial situation before scheduling public hearings on the fare increase.
The ruling applies to more than 7 million daily subway and bus riders, and to more than 400,000 daily commuters on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road suburban trains. Subway and bus fares had risen from $1.50 to $2 on May 4.
The judge said the March 6 decision to raise fares an average of 33.3 percent on buses and subways "should be vacated because the determination was reached in violation of lawful procedure and not rationally based," according to a report in the Associated Press. "In order to allow respondents to implement the changes efficiently, the court will allow them two weeks to roll back the fares."
MTA lawyers argued during hearings earlier this month that it would be a logistical nightmare to reverse fare increases. One lawyer had said 12,000 pieces of equipment, including all 4,500 city buses, would need to be retrofitted to accept $1.50 fares instead of $2 fares. The MTA added that the procedure would cost $2 million and cost the agency $1.2 million a day in lost revenue.
The Straphangers lawsuit argued that the MTA concealed more than $500 million in projected surplus to make its finances look worse than they were. MTA officials argued they publicly referred to the fact that the agency would use savings to pay off future debt, although they acknowledged they explained themselves poorly.
The MTA defended the increase, which brought subway and bus fares up to $2, saying it needs the extra money to maintain services and close a deficit it estimated at different times ranged from $952 million to $2.8 billion. It also decided to close 62 station booths; the judge said in his ruling that that decision must also be reversed.