With four separate options under consideration, the prospect of a fare increase from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this coming March seems assured.
Still, most of the nearly 20 people who attended a public hearing on the matter in Flushing last Thursday implored the MTA to continue seeking another way to raise the $450 million that the authority says it needs to balance its books in the coming year.
The four proposals include various combinations of fare and toll increases, with some raising the bus and subway fare by 25 cents to $2.50 and others hiking costs or lowering discounts elsewhere.
The hearing took place in the ballroom at the LaGuardia Sheraton East Hotel on 39th Avenue.
Christopher Coury of Flushing was typical of the speakers imploring MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and his board to find another way.
“I work. I have a family and I am paying off a student loan,” Coury said. “Paying $104 for my monthly MetroCard is hard. If it goes up to $125 it is going to be very hard.”
Christine Lee of Forest Hills said she is unemployed. She said her bicycle is impractical for some of the longer trips, and becomes even less of an option once the winter weather turns for the worse.
“What we have to pay to go more than five miles is a little ridiculous,” she said.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, or NYPIRG, was out in force, along with representatives of its Straphangers Campaign arm.
Jaqi Cohen and Enrico Purita of NYPIRG work with students at Queens College. Both said an increase could be crippling to students with already limited budgets.
“Queens College is a commuter school,” Purita said. “If they don’t have the funds or a job, they cant afford a fare hike.”
Cohen also said many have no alternative for getting around New York.
“Gov. Cuomo calls mass transit the life-blood of the city,” she said.
Michael Sinansky of the Transit Riders Council said New York City riders already pay a higher share of transit costs than those in most other major U.S. cities.
He also pointed out that a 2009 fare hike agreement was reached to meet MTA needs.
“Then they made $243 million in [service] cuts,” he said.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) was more interested in the proposal for a “green” fee on new MetroCards, aimed at encouraging riders to refill existing cards rather than constantly buying new ones.
The problem, he said, is that Long Island Rail Road stations in his district are not equipped with machines that can add money to existing cards.
“My constituents are stuck paying a fee that no one else has to pay,” he said.
Mayuri Saxena of Flushing does like the idea of a green fee, but said it would make more sense for the consumer if MetroCards were not as flimsy and subject to damage as they are now.
“You could switch to a more durable card like they have in Washington, DC,” she said.
James Li of Kew Gardens was resigned to some sort of fare increase, and came out in favor of option 1-B, which would increase bus and subway fares by 25 cents but raise the cost of a monthly pass by only $5 to $109.
“That would be the best deal for regular riders,” he said.
Daneek Miller, president and business agent for Rosedale-based Amalgamated Transit Union 1056, represents bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers. He said any increased revenue must go toward improving facilities and service.
“Investing in transit means more than repairs, new cars and buses and routes,” Miller said. “It means a stable, affordable fare that encourages mass transit use and provides an affordable means for workers and visitors to get around.”
He said it is imperative that the MTA and elected officials who appoint members remain tuned in to the needs of workers and the traveling public.
Miller also said Lhota is in an almost unique position of being able to address funding locally and in Albany.
“Many pundits and commentators often glossed over how transit was shortchanged, if not outright robbed, by the city and state over the years,’”Miller said.
“The respect and well-earned goodwill chairman Lhota has with his colleagues in government offers an opportunity to move on a path to reverse this,” he added.
Li earlier had praised Lhota for taking the subway himself to work on a daily basis.
Philip Demacas, a Suffolk County resident and an official with the New York State chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars, applauded the Long Island Rail Road’s discount for active duty members of the armed forces.
But he said many organizations extend such breaks to all combat veterans, and asked the MTA to consider doing the same.
Owen Costello of Nassau County serves as a member of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council. He said there should be other ways to increase revenue, including efficiencies in the MTA workplace.
Costello, who came to the meeting from Manhattan, also suggested collecting all fares from all passengers.
“No one checked my ticket from Penn Station tonight,” he said.