NEW YORK—None of the New Yorkers speaking to the MTA board on Wednesday night voiced support for any of the MetroCard fare hike proposals made public on Oct. 15.
Only 26 people spoke during the first in a series of public meetings to give feedback on the fare hike proposals. Much of the discussion was fueled with anger and veered away from fare hikes; instead focusing on issues such as the amount of money the authority uses to pay off its debt, and the fact the meeting proceeded, despite being so soon after Hurricane Sandy.
Eight Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board members and other management were on hand to hear the complaints on the cold, wintery night.
Steven Faust, a retired planner with the Federal Transportation Administration, was one of the few who mentioned the four fare hike options.
“I can’t give you a good answer on which one of the fare plans you’re suggesting, because to me they’re all basically flawed,” he said, pointing to how the authority spends billions on debt payment and continues to issue bonds to pay for maintenance.
“Asking us to comment would be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he added. “None of the choices are good.”
The MTA, which manages the subway system, many of the buses, and Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, had laid out four options for fare raises in Oct., presenting the string of public meetings and opportunity to give feedback via recorded video as a way for New Yorkers to have a voice in the raises.
Options include either raising the base fare (the amount paid for any rides more than one) and the single-fare and slightly increasing the 7- and 30-day pass price—or not raising the base and single-fare while increasing the pass prices more dramatically.
The other factor involved is the seven percent bonus riders currently receive when purchasing a MetroCard for $10 or more in value. Some options eliminate the proposal, while others reduce it.
The bonus, decreased from 15 percent in 2010, is “the only way to get access to discounts for the poor,” said Gene Russianoff, senior staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy organization.
None of the board members would say which combination of raises they are leaning toward. “The board is looking to do what’s best for the majority of the riders,” said board member Andrew Albert. Most riders use 7- and 30-day unlimited MetroCards.
Instead of making suggestions, many of the public speakers derided the MTA, calling them overpaid, greedy, and out of touch with reality.
“I think that we all need to be clear that this is a completely sham hearing,” said Conor Reed, graduate teaching fellow at City University of New York. “This board knows already that they’re going to be passing these fare hikes, and they’re getting people together to give us some shred of legitimacy.”
Ingrid Burrington told the board that the MTA is too indebted to banks because of interest payments and that they should get Citigroup to make riding the transit system free. She said she expects the fare hikes will not go ahead.
“You really don’t want to see what happens when tens of thousands of disenfranchised poor people have nothing left to lose,” she told the board.
Several attendees complained that the meeting should have been postponed.
“I don’t understand their comments,” MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota said, after the meeting. “I mean, we had a general election yesterday, I didn’t hear anybody calling for not having the election. We have to continue, we have to move forward.”
The meeting had been planned since Oct. 15.
Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said that during the 2010 fare hike, about 500 people attended a meeting in Brooklyn. On Wednesday, about 50 people, minus security staff, reporters, and MTA management staff, were at the meeting.
“The word on these hearings has been smothered by earth-shattering news,” said Russianoff.
Regarding the scattered public testimony, Lhota said he would be looking at the hearings in total after getting input from New Yorkers in the other four boroughs as well as Long Island and upstate. The board will vote on the fare hikes at a Dec. 19th meeting.
The next public meetings are on Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. at both Baruch College (Manhattan) and Hostos Community College (the Bronx).