Few attend MTA fare hearing

Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

The only hearing in Queens on the proposed fare hikes for public transportation was attended last Thursday by a handful of advocacy groups, a few angry commuters and only one elected official.

State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) was one of only 21 speakers at the hearing at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in downtown Flushing, and the only lawmaker who spoke on behalf of his constituents.

Braunstein took exception to a portion of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s four possible proposals, which all include a $1 fee for purchasing a new MetroCard.

“The decision to charge an extra $1 for new MetroCards purchased at [Long Island Rail Road] ticket machines defies logic,” he said at the hearing.

When LIRR riders purchase a ticket, they have the option to get a MetroCard, a choice that commuters from Braunstein’s district in northeast Queens use frequently, he said. The machines do not, however, allow riders to refill their MetroCards.

“The only conclusion that can be reached is that the authority is seeking to raise revenue by charging some riders more than others,” he said.

In October, the MTA released a set of four proposals to hike fares, each one tweaking either the base fare, the cost of an unlimited card or the rate of discount for purchasing more than $10 on a MetroCard.

The current base fare is $2.25, or effectively $2.10 with the bonus discount, while the current cost for a 30-day unlimited card is $104. A seven-day card currently costs $29, according to the MTA.

At last Thursday’s hearing, where most of the more than 100 chairs in the large room were empty, there seemed to be few concerned citizens.

Christine Lee is a freelance designer from Forest Hills who has to take the subway and bus often. She told the board that a fare increase would be another financial burden that would be difficult to bear.

Advocacy organizations like the Straphangers Campaign also testified at the hearing, with representative Jason Chin-Fatt reading off testimonials describing hardships from various riders the campaign had collected.

The campaign and its staff attorney Gene Russianoff have blasted the MTA for hiking fares four times in five years, and have called on Albany and the city to pump more money into the authority. According to the campaign, about 53 percent of the MTA’s operating costs are covered by fares, the highest percentage in the nation and more than double that of both Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

In addition, the Straphangers referred to alternative revenue-generating proposals, such as tweaking the tolls on bridges around the city, to get more revenue from the passages that see the most traffic.

Some who testified seemed as if they just wanted someone to vent to. A man known as Mr. X who attends many of the MTA’s hearings spent several minutes verbally berating many of the board members, while others complained of drivers who were not helpful and unpleasant trips they had made by using public transportation.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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