Brooklynites came out to voice the anger at a proposed fare hike. The
MTA will host similar hearings in the other boroughs, Long Island and Westchester.
By Julie Bolcer
“Fughetaboutit,” at least, for now. That’s what nearly 200 people told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last night at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn, where the authority hosted a public hearing on its proposal to increase fares on subways, buses and commuter rail lines, and tolls on bridges and tunnels.
Passengers testified about poor customer service, incomprehensible announcements and fickle routing—often without specific reference to the MTA’s proposals to hike fares on top of all that.
“I understand once again you want to raise the price of admission to get into a subway system to wait for trains that hardly ever run, to miss a train that has to show it’s keeping on schedule by slamming doors on passengers, or for that same train to stall between stations for abnormally long periods of time,” an irate Martin Gangursky, fresh off a midnight subterranean odyssey in his attempt to reach Brighton Beach after the Village Halloween Parade last Wednesday, fumed to some of the night’s biggest applause.
While strained riders, whose fares already account for almost a whopping 60 percent of the authority’s revenue, opposed the fare hike outright, cautious legislators urged the MTA to defer its decision, scheduled for December, as they try to find alternative sources of funding and make progress on related initiatives like Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal.
More than three hours of discussion in the grand ballroom focused primarily on New York City Transit, and two distinct proposals for local bus and subway fare increases. The first calls for raising the base fare from $2 to $2.25, increasing the cost of the six-rides-for-the-price-of-five discount from $1.67 per ride to $1.88, or approximately 12.5 percent.
The second option would eliminate the six-for-five MetroCard, replacing it with a MetroCard costing $2 for a ride during peak periods and $1.50 during the off-peak. Both proposals would also increase the cost of the 1-Day Fun Pass, and the 7-Day and 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard.
At the start of the public hearing, Douglas Sussman, MTA director of community affairs, said that the fare increases, planned for implementation in early 2008, are necessary to help close a projected operating budget of $6 billion over the next four years. Causes of this deficit include rising health and welfare and pension costs for MTA employees, and crushing debt service from money the authority had to borrow to rebuild the transit system because of inadequate city and state funding for the repair work.
Despite this void, the MTA’s current four-year financial plan, issued in July, does not call for the state and city to increase subsidies to the authority’s annual operating budget until 2010, a point that legislators strongly opposed.
Prior to the public hearing, Assemblymember Jim Brennan and Senator Tom Duane held a press conference outside Brooklyn Borough Hall to announce the introduction of two pieces of legislation that would add $685 million to the MTA’s operating budget and avert an immediate fare hike. Inspired by a report issued in August by City Comptroller William C. Thompson that identified $728 million in revenue sources to delay a transit fare increase, one bill calls for $644.8 million in funding for the neglected State Transit Assistance program, the 18-b program, while another would appropriate $38.6 million to cover the full costs of reduced fares for New York school children, which the state has failed to reimburse to the MTA.
Later during the public hearing, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilmember Bill de Blasio reminded the MTA that Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal, which would provide incentive for commuters to use subways and buses, is another potentially important factor in the financial picture that will not be decided until the spring.
Transit advocate Gene Russianoff agreed with their holistic assessment, and emphasized his view that Governor Eliot Spitzer is the one person who wields the power to fix the history of problems with funding the MTA. “The question is can Eliot Spitzer do better, or is he just going to come up with a carbon copy of the Pataki era budgets?” he asked as he unfolded a life-size cardboard cutout of the governor.