Queens residents vented about lousy and increasingly unaffordable bus service at York College on Monday evening in the first of eight MTA public hearings relating to the next round of fare and toll hike proposals.
The MTA will be touring the region this month to take input on two proposals it’s considering for implementation on March 19.
The options on the table weigh raising the MetroCard swipe to $3 or keeping the current $2.75 rate while tinkering with the purchase bonus, the rate that riders receive for pumping money onto their cards.
“Plan A” would keep base fares at $2.75, but riders would only receive an extra 5 percent bonus with a $5.50 purchase. Currently, they receive an 11 percent addition for that amount. “Plan B” would bring a $3 base fare, but also an increased bonus of 16 percent for a $6 purchase.
Some of 50 or so residents in attendance Monday evening were split on the choices. Others clearly didn’t understand the mechanics of the hikes and how the bonuses impact fares — something the MTA has struggled to explain.
Michele Hall, a Rochdale Village resident, told MTA board members and senior staff in attendance, including MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast and New York City Transit (NYCT) President Ronnie Hakim, that she wondered if bus service in her neighborhood is faster than traveling by foot.
“I probably could walk faster,” said Hall, who said she was a city employee. “The service that we receive in southeast Queens is unacceptable.”
As with all MTA public hearings, officials did not comment and instead listened, nodded and carried on. Testimonies were collected and considered, according to the agency.
Donald Miller, 66, a wellness specialist from Ozone Park, said he owns a car but takes mass transit when he can. If fares go up, he said he might be more inclined to drive.
“The fares are getting too expensive for many of us,” said Miller. “I’m just thankful that I have that option.”
Disappointed with the city’s sparse voice in transit developments, Queens state Sen. Tony Avella said he would be introducing legislation in January that would transfer control of the agency’s subway and bus divisions from the state-run MTA to the city.
“It is incomprehensible that a city of the size and complexity of New York City is virtually silenced in its ability to impact important decisions concerning the functioning of its own transportation system,” Avella said.
The hearing drew several members from the nonprofit groups Community Service Society and Riders Alliance, who called for the MTA to work with the city to implement half-fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.
“People have to decide between paying for a MetroCard swipe or paying for necessities like food or rent,” said Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr., 25, from Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Others called for the MTA to introduce what’s known as a “Freedom Ticket” that would allow for discounted prices for intra-city commutes on the agency’s Long Island Railroad and Metro-North services.
“The LIRR runs through Queens, but provides a relatively small amount service for the people of this borough,” said Gerard Bringmann, a member of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council. “Areas such as southeast Queens are underserved by transit, but the LIRR is not providing the service that people in these areas need.”