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Local News November 23, 2012  RSS feed

STRAPHANGERS BLAST ‘BURDEN’

MTA Fare Hike Proposal Panned
by Sam Goldman


Assembyman Edward Braunstein takes the podium to address the MTA Board of Directors during the agency’s Tuesday, Nov. 15 public hearing at the Sheraton LaGuardia East in Flushing. 
(photo: Sam Goldman) Assembyman Edward Braunstein takes the podium to address the MTA Board of Directors during the agency’s Tuesday, Nov. 15 public hearing at the Sheraton LaGuardia East in Flushing. (photo: Sam Goldman) A small crowd at the Sheraton LaGuardia East in Flushing urged members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to scrap proposed increases in fares and tolls at the agency’s Thursday, Nov. 15 hearing.

Many residents who spoke at the hearing echoed the opinion of Christine Lee, a Flushing resident who is currently without full-time employment, who called the proposed fare hikes “a financial burden” on herself and others in her position.

The various proposals put forth by the agency could increase the base fare (currently $2.25) to $2:50, raise the cost of a 30-day unlimited card from $104 to between $109 and $125, increase Long Island Rail Road fares by eight to nine percent, and increase the tolls on MTA’s bridges and tunnels. The agency plans to vote on the proposals at its Dec. 19 board meeting.

Much like the MTA’s hearing at the same location in 2010, the ballroom only had a few dozen residents and about 20 speakers.

Several speakers came on behalf of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and its related watchdog organization, the Straphangers Campaign, to argue against the proposed fare hikes.

Jason Chin-Fatt of the Straphangers Campaign read a statement featuring testimony from three riders who would be impacted by the increase in fares.

“I don’t know how desperate the situation is at the MTA, but I can tell you that a fare increase would be a hard, heavy burden on so many commuters who rely on the MTA for their way of life,” said one rider.

Jaqi Cohen, Enrico Purita and Veronica Brown of NYPIRG’s Queens College chapter argued that raising fares would hurt many students who rely on public transit to get to and from the Flushing campus.

Raising fares could be “the roadblock between a student and their degree,” argued Cohen. “It seems pretty extreme, but many students are paying for college by themselves.”

She called for “sustainable funding solutions” for the transit system.

Michael Sinansky, vice chairperson of the Transit Riders Council, claimed that MTA riders currently pay a substantially greater share of the average cost of a ride than straphangers in other large cities.

He noted that “new funding sources enacted by the legislature raised substantially less than the projected revenues,” possibly referring to the payroll mobility tax, “and were disavowed by many elected officials.”

Sinansky advocated for “a MTA fare structure that makes sense,” pointing to the lack of subway service east of Jamaica and Flushing. He suggested a “freedom ticket” program that would allow those riders to seamlessly use a combination of subway, bus and LIRR/Metro North trains for commuting “at a reasonable cost.”

Assemblyman Edward Braun- stein, who represents the northeast Queens communities of Little Neck, Douglaston and Whitestone, asked the MTA Board of Directors to reconsider their plan to initiate a $1 surcharge for the purchase of a new MetroCard at Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) vending machines.

The “green fee” is intended to reduce waste and increase revenue, but Braunstein pointed out that his district has no train stations (only LIRR stations), and LIRR vending machines do not allow residents to refill their cards. While some residents will travel into Manhattan, where they can refill cards, riders of local bus lines would be out of luck.

“I propose that you go forward with the green fee, but at machines where you can’t refill the card, you shouldn’t charge a dollar,” said Braunstein.

Daneek Miller, president of ATU Local 1056 (representing MTA drivers and mechanics) delivered prepared remarks calling on the agency to increase its investment in infrastructure, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

In particular, he suggested that the MTA open a new bus depot in Flushing and elevate the Casey Stengel Depot to make it less likely to flood in case of another storm.

He also called for the fares to remain low.

“Investing in transit means more than repairs, new cars and buses and routers; it means a stable, affordable fare that encourages mass transit use and provides an affordable means for workers and visitors to get around,” he stated.

Philip Demacos of VFW Post #9486 in Ronkonkoma, Long Island, traveled west on behalf of VFW across the state to ask the MTA extend a discount being proposed to active duty servicemen to cover retired veterans as well.

Many speakers tempered their remarks with praise for the MTA and Chairperson Joe Lhota for the agency’s work in getting the system up and running after Hurricane Sandy decimated the area.