As average New Yorkers face rising food and fuel costs and looming MTA fare hikes, MTA board member David Mack sure seems to be enjoying his free ride.
“Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?” the wealthy real estate developer was quoted as saying when asked yesterday if he would change his commuting habits if the MTA votes to take away free MetroCards, LIRR passes and other perks for board members.
Not only did the statement incense straphangers, even Governor Paterson denounced Mack’s insensitive remarks:
“According to published reports, some members of the MTA board are considering voting in opposition to Chairman Hemmerdinger’s proposal to restrict their own personal use of free E-ZPass tags, commuter rail passes, and other special benefits,” the governor said in a statement. “At a time when millions of state residents are feeling the pinch of an economy in turmoil and struggling to support their families, such a decision would demonstrate an utter contempt for average New Yorkers.”
And while the policy is certainly contemptible, it may also be illegal, Paterson said.
“According to Attorney General Cuomo, it would violate the law,” the governor said. “These board members, while valuable to the MTA, are certainly not above the law. If MTA board members truly want to better understand the system they oversee, they should pay the same tolls and fares as everyone else, and be part of the public transportation system that millions of New Yorkers depend on every day.”
Following the uproar the MTA sought to quell the controversy:
“We believe the policy change regarding use of free passes proposed by Chairman Hemmerdinger and Executive Director/CEO Sander is fair and appropriate and we are optimistic that it will be approved by the MTA Board at next Wednesday’s meeting,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said in a late evening press release.
The secret perk was first uncovered by the Daily News last month, and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that the board members must serve without compensation. Chairman Hemmerdinger issued a statement declaring that MTA board members had received these passes for over half a century—board members even keep them after they retire. The next day he changed his mind and telephoned the board to say passes would be rescinded for former board members, and that the current members could only use their passes for official purposes. His decision must be ratified in a meeting on Wednesday.
“It’s really unfortunate, I clearly think the board is wrong to accept the lifestyle of E-ZPasses and his comments reflect the board’s comments,” said Straphangers Campaign spokesperson Gene Russianoff. “I think he should retract what he said”