The MTA faced an overwhelming amount of public opposition to proposed fare and toll hikes at a hearing at the Brooklyn Marriott last night. And rightfully so. As it stands, the fare hike is unfair to transit riders, who will be asked to pay approximately 12.5% more on existing fares while drivers will be asked to only pay an increase of 11% on existing tolls.The proposal would increase base subway and bus fares from $2.00 to $2.25 and raise tolls by 50 cents.
Straphangers and other transit riders dominated the audience of over 200 people, while only a few concerned drivers were present to express their concerns about proposed toll hikes on MTA bridges.This makes sense given that most Brooklynites don’t even own a car (see right).
Several elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D-44) and State Senator Eric Adams (D-20), were also present and urged, like many other testifiers, the MTA Board to hold off on a fare and toll hike until after they have had time to find more State money for commuters.
Senator Adams perhaps drew the loudest applause of the night when he called for members of city government at the rank of Deputy Commissioner or higher to ride transit for 30 days. He suggested that this experience in the shoes of “everyday New Yorkers” would better connect decision makers with the “working guy” [ahem, or working woman, Senator Adams] who “plays by the rules” and rides transit daily.
Such a situation of state elected officals advocating more dollars to alleviate the possibility of a fare hike is rare, perhaps unprecedented. It’s a welcome shift from past history — many of the vocal fare hike opponents are partly responsible for the MTA’s current financial mess, and were part of the NY State Legislative that overburdened the MTA with debt. (A review of this debacle can be found in MTR # 561.) Hopefully, state leaders will take their responsibility for funding the transit system seriously and put their money where their mouth is come the January start of the next legislative session. Assemblyman Brennan’s two bills (A9424 and A9425) which seek to raise an additional $685 million for the MTA, may be a good starting point for discussion. The Campaign is certainly prepared to hold state electeds’ “feet to the fire” if they do not come through on their public statements.
Straphangers Campaign staff attorney Gene Russianoff, carrying a cardboard cutout of Governor Spitzer, called on the Governor to stand up for transit riders. Unfortunately, according to NY Times City Room, the Governor failed to take a position on the hike at a press conference yesterday, instead saying the decision was up to the MTA Board.
Tri-State Campaign staffer Ryan Lynch, in addition to asking for a delay in the fare and toll hike, urged the MTA to modernize its toll facilities to reflect that we are, in fact, living in the 21st Century. In the Campaign’s testimony, we reiterated our call for variable pricing on tolls (see also MTR # 564) and urged the MTA to implement high-speed tolling facilities at its Whitestone, Throgs Neck and Verrazano bridges, and to consider switching to cashless tolls in order to reduce pollution, congestion and improve safety. As MTR has frequently reported, other agencies in the region, like the Port Authority and NJ Turnpike Authority, are years–perhaps decades–ahead of the MTA in this regard, with high-speed tolls and variable pricing already in place on many facilities.
The next MTA fare and toll hike hearings will take place at 6 pm tomorrow at Farmingdale State College in Nassau County and the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Queens. In an additional effort to solicit increased public comment on fare and toll hikes, the MTA and Empire State Transportation Alliance (ESTA) will hold a one-day listening session on Saturday, November 17.