The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Monday evening absorbed an onslaught of emotionally-charged testimony from mass transit commuters, civic leaders and elected officials during a fare-hike hearing at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing.
The forum, attended by approximately 50 people, was one of several conducted this month across the five boroughs to solicit public comment on the undecided fare and toll hikes set to go into effect on or about Jan. 1. The increases come on the heels of this summer’s massive bus and subway service cuts, with both efforts aimed at plugging a $900 million budget shortfall that MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay Walder said has been caused “solely by a reduction in state funding.”
“I think that you are stepping over a dangerous boundary,” subway rider Carolyn Martinez warned the nine board members in attendance at the time of her testimony. “Public transportation belongs to the public — it includes a fair price for a fare.”
Martinez later dubbed the agency an “illegal monopoly.”
Under the unlimited proposal, a 30-day MetroCard would jump to $104 from $89, while the capped proposal sells the monthly pass for $99 for 90 trips. The seven-day MetroCard would be $29 under the unlimited proposal, up from $27; the capped plan puts it at $28, but for 22 trips.
“I think it’s certainly safe to say the limited-ride proposal has not seen widespread enthusiasm,” Walder said to a small group of reporters prior to the hearing. “These proposals raise the same amount of revenue. We’re genuinely trying to find a way to do something that’s best for riders.”
Walder also detailed how across-the-board agency belt-tightening has resulted in savings of more than $500 million annually.
Additionally, the beginning of the year would see the tolls on the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge, Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and Queens Midtown Tunnel, among other major crossings, increase by 50 cents, and minor crossings like the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge jump 25 cents.
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who as a member of the state Legislature helped pass the massive MTA bailout bill last year, said former MTA Chairman Elliot Sander indicated at the time that the emergency plan “puts us on stable footing for the next several years.”
“We feel that we have been duped,” Meng said during her allotted three-minute testimony inside the Phoenix Ballroom.
A man who regularly attends the hearings and goes by the moniker “Mr. X” barked at the board for participating in what he deemed “a pay-to-play scheme.”
“Are you confused, or are you just stuck on stupid?” X angrily asked. “Who came up with this idea?!”
Michael Sinansky, vice chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, said he believes the agency can find alternatives to cover shortfalls in revenue.
“Riders are now being called upon to bridge the MTA funding gaps by themselves,” he said. “To simply transfer these burdens is unacceptable.”
Testimony ran the gamut, from the subdued to the animated. Tony Murphy, of the Campaign to Take Back Our Transit System, defiantly turned his back to the dais for the duration of his remarks, and with the help of a staff member held up a banner bearing the campaign’s battle cry: “Fire the MTA!”
“People have figured out that these hearings don’t mean anything,” Murphy said. “This board is bought and paid for by the banks.” By the time Murphy concluded, about a dozen people were standing, chanting “Fire the MTA!”
But speakers such as Brodie Enoch, public transit rider campaign manager for Transportation Alternatives, extended an olive branch to the board, instead foisting blame on the state capital for the agency’s well-documented woes.
“I’m asking you — just join us, come with us to Albany, sign our Riders Bill of Rights,” Enoch implored the members. “We’re here to say to Albany: Stop taking our money.”
City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing), a successful businessman, offered suggestions on how the MTA could avoid a hike through cost-cutting measures and revenue boosters, such as reducing pension and disability funds and selling agency properties and advertising space.
Bob Turner, a Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District seat and former television industry executive, characterized the MTA’s credibility as “poor and suspect,” and used his time to call for a published study of the agency by an independent auditor with an eye on cutting operating costs.
Mike Den, a state court system employee who lives in Bayside, said it doesn’t make sense to pay more when the ridership is receiving an inferior product.
“Subway and bus service in Queens sucks, to put it mildly,” a clearly frustrated Den told the board.
Jessica Reid, an Astoria resident who works at Queens College, said it has become difficult to reconcile the concepts of mass transit being the environmentally-friendly transportation option and the skyrocketing cost of riding the train and bus.
“I now take my car,” she reported. “It’s cheaper to take my car. And that’s pathetic.”