By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Grimm: We are not your ATM machine!
MTA New York City Transit’s new proposals to raise its fares for buses and subways and tolls for bridges have gotten angry responses from Brooklyn officials and others.
The MTA has put forward two fare-hike options. While these are fairly complicated, with several sub-options, they can be summarized as:
Under the first proposal, the base fare, now $2.25, would rise to $2.50. The cost of the 30-day unlimited card would rise to either $112 or $109.
Under the second proposal, the base fare would remain as is, but the bonus discount would be either reduced or eliminated. The cost of the 30-day unlimited card would rise to either $125 or $119.
The proposals also include a hike in cash tolls for cars crossing the city's bridges from $6.50 to $7.50. Tickets on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North could rise by about 8 percent.
The MTA basically blamed the situation on factors beyond its control. “Costs that the MTA does not exercise control over, namely those for debt service, pensions, energy, paratransit, and employee and retiree health care, continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota.
If there's a fare hike in 2013, this will be the fourth subway, bus and commuter rail fare increase in five years.
The review process for the fare and toll proposals will lasts through mid-December. The proposals will then be considered by the MTA board at its Dec. 19 meeting.
Officials and community leaders issued statements calling for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help avert the need for a fare hike by increasing state funds for public transit.
Borough President Marty markowitz said, "The MTA has made efforts to streamline and keep costs down, but the federal and state governments have failed in their obligation to fully fund the nation’s largest transportation system, to keep fares and tolls affordable, and to encourage the use of mass transit—not discourage it.
"It’s in everyone’s best interest to spread the costs around and not place them squarely on the backs of residents who rely on our trains, buses and bridges the most.”
Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said, in part, "The proposals put forward by the MTA would hurt riders and local businesses at a time when the economy is in a phase of recovery. In addition, raising express bus fares would severely hurt areas of Southern Brooklyn underserved by mass transit.
“This is an unfair burden for them to shoulder at a time when residents of those neighborhoods already pay some of the highest commuting costs in the city."
Congressman Michael Grimm, who represents Bay Ridge and Staten Island, said, “Tolls and taxes should not be the go-to solution for every debt-stricken government authority. Just as every working family or business must learn to live within a budget, so should the MTA.
“Whether it’s the MTA or the PA, our message to them is the same: ‘We are not your personal ATM machine!’”
Assemblyman Jim Brennan, who represents Park Slope and Kensington, said the state government could reduce MTA fare hikes in 2013 and 2015 by covering the cost of a larger portion of the MTA capital construction program.
Brennan introduced a proposed a Transportation Bond Act during the legislative session this year. The proposal would place a $4.5 billion borrowing before the voters in November 2013 to pay for mass transit, road, bridge and airport construction needs.
About $2 billion would go to the MTA, relieving the agency of $200 million in interest payments each year, says Brennan.
Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, also said the MTA needs more help from Albany. To help fund subway and bus operations, he raised the specter, which has historically been brought up in times of financial crisis, of tolls on the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
Under this plan, originated by traffic expert “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, tolls would be instituted on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and other such bridges, but would go down on others that now have tolls, such as the Throgs Neck and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Bay Ridge and Staten Island, felt that the fare increases are an indication of regional bias.
“The MTA’s recently announced toll and fare increases are nothing short of outrageous. With over $17 billion committed to the Second Avenue subway tunnel and $8.4 billion to connect the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal, it is clear that Manhattan gets the infrastructure and improvements, while the people of Bay Ridge get the bill,” she said.