Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TRAGEDY STRIKES.

March 25, 2009, 9:38 am

M.T.A. Increases Fares and Cuts Services

Mack and HemmerdingerRuby Washington/The New York Times David S. Mack, vice chairman of the M.T.A. board, and H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the chairman, at Wednesday’s session.

Updated, 11:40 a.m. | 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.”

• • •

Live Blogging Updates: Before the vote, City Room filed blog updates from this morning’s meeting, below:

11:15 a.m. | Members of Metropolitan Transportation Authority board have been discussing the fare hikes in advance of the final vote.

So far, the wide-ranging discussion from the public and the board members has referenced A.I.G.’s $169 million in bonuses, Bernard L. Madoff and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

10:30 a.m. | The Metropolitan Transportation Authority hearing on the fare hikes has been under way since 9:30 a.m. A vote is expected. “It’s a true crisis that cannot be solved by ourselves without causing great pain to the riding public,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said at the beginning of the meeting.

At the microphone, some used the opportunity to vent about the broader financial crisis. John Ferretti, a conductor on the No. 1 line who helps publish The Revolutionary Transit Worker bulletin, noted that the M.T.A. was burdened by debt that had been incurred with the encouragement of Wall Street companies.

He said the increases “would take money out of the pockets of workers to save the funds of parasitic financiers and bankers.”

9:34 a.m. | The board of the M.T.A. is meeting to vote to enact a stiff series of fare hikes and service cutbacks needed to keep the transit system from going broke. The meeting, which started at 9:30 a.m., can be watched online. We will post details from the discussion and, eventually, the vote.

Board members have 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, who are in legislative stalemate, to rescue them.

As this blog has noted previously, here is what some of the proposed fares and tolls would look like under the plan:

  • New York City Transit: The base subway and bus fare in New York City would rise to $2.50, from $2. The monthly MetroCard would rise to $103, from $81. The pay-per-ride MetroCard bonus would remain at 15 percent.
  • Commuter rail: Fares on most lines would go up from 20 percent to nearly 30 percent. For example, on the Long Island Rail Road, a person who commutes from Hicksville to Pennsylvania Station will pay $267 for a monthly ticket, up from $211. A person who commutes from Ronkonkoma would pay $352, up from $278. On the Metro North Railroad, a person commuting from White Plains would pay $243 for a monthly ticket, up from $191.
  • Bridges and tunnels: Existing one-way E-ZPass tolls on the authority’s major bridges and tunnels, like the Robert Kennedy Bridge and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, would rise to $5.26, from $4.15. One-way cash tolls on those crossings would rise to $6.50, from $5.
  • Access-a-Ride: Fares on the authority’s door-to-door Access-a-Ride service will remain equal to the base subway and bus fare. The authority had previously proposed raising Access-a-Ride fares to double the base fare.
  • Other fares: Some of the steepest increases will occur on the transportation authority’s Long Island bus line, which operates primarily in Nassau County. There the fare will increase to $3.50, from $2.

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