Wednesday, March 25, 2009

more mta fare hike info

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted on Wednesday morning to enact a series of fare hikes and service cutbacks needed to keep the transit system from going broke.

The vote was broken largely into three parts: fare hikes, toll increases and service cutbacks. After hearing from the public and the board members, the board approved each by a vote of 12 to 1.

“This is your last chance or forever hold your peace,” H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the chairman of the board, said before the final vote.

The lone dissenting member in each vote was Norman I. Seabrook, president of the 9,500-member New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.

Board members called the combination of fare increases and slashing bus, subway and commuter rail cuts a disaster but said they could no longer wait for lawmakers in Albany to rescue them.

The fare hikes on the subway and buses, including an increase in the base subway and bus fare to $2.50, from $2, will take effect on May 31.

Commuter rail fares will increase on June 1. Tolls on the authority’s bridges and tunnels will also go up, with the increase taking effect in mid-July.

The service cuts are far reaching. They include the elimination of 35 bus routes and two subway lines, the W and Z. Off-peak and weekend subway, bus and commuter rail service will also be cut back. The city comptroller’s office Web site allows you to search for the cuts by zip code.

The authority’s board had hoped for a different outcome.

Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have championed a financial rescue plan for the authority that would have prevented the service cuts and allowed a much smaller fare increase.

That plan [pdf], put forth by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, would have funneled new revenues to the authority by creating a new tax on payrolls and tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges. But several Democrats in the State Senate opposed the bridge tolls and blocked the rescue package.

“It’s truly sad that a few individuals can hold all these brave individuals hostage,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said when the meeting started.

Officials in Albany have said they still hold out hope that a compromise can be reached in the coming weeks. But the authority said it had to go through with the Wednesday vote to give itself time to plan and implement the fare and service changes.

If lawmakers do eventually pass a rescue package, authority officials say they may be able to stop the changes before they take effect.

Before the vote, the board heard from a parade of M.T.A. employees, transit advocates and city officials who criticized the fare hikes and service cutbacks that would affect a system that covers two-thirds of all mass transit riders in the United States. A number complained about how the cuts would disproportionately affect the middle class, who were already struggling in the city’s economic downtown.

Norman Siegel, a onetime candidate for the city’s public advocate and longtime civil liberties lawyer, tried to portray the board as out of touch, asking the board, “I am curious how many of you use the trains or buses regularly?”

When only some raised their hands, he said, “I hope that one day everyone here raises their hand.” He added, “You clearly don’t represent the diversity of the city or the state.”

David I. Weprin, the city councilman who is chairman of the Council’s finance committee, said that fare hikes should be the absolute last option. “They are neither new nor innovative,” he said. Instead, he urged for pursuing more aggressive advertising strategies and appealing to Washington.

Others used the opportunity to vent against Wall Street and the broader financial crisis, as much of the M.T.A.s’ financial burden comes from debt payments on money borrowed for capital improvements through Wall Street companies.

Elliot G. Sander, executive director of the M.T.A., acknowledged the cost of the spending binge earlier in the decade, describing the capital improvements made from 2000 to 2004 as being put “on a credit card.”


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