Consensus on fare hike: ‘We’re being railroaded!’


By Jefferson Siegel

A proposed new round of fare hikes engendered reactions ranging from indignation to frustration in Cooper Union’s Great Hall Monday night as M.T.A. board members, some with ties loosened and bleary-eyed, heard from dozens of speakers critical of higher fares. 

Mounting deficits at the transit agency left few at the hearing with any hope the third fare hike in three years could be averted. Earlier this year, after a series of contentious hearings, service cutbacks resulted in the loss of two subway lines, 38 bus routes and numerous station agents.

Before the crowd had even settled in for the hearing, youthful senior Anita Romm of Riverdale began serenading Jay Walder, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s C.E.O., and other board members to the tune of “My Darling Clementine.”

“Jay Walder, Jay Walder, must you always raise the fares?

You’ve made many people homeless, don’t you think that that’s unfair?” she sang. 

“It’s terrible, terrible, terrible,” she lamented after several more verses. “It’s going to drive everyone who drives a car to use a car more often and pollute the planet.” 

Wearing a “One Less Car” T-shirt, Moriah Kinberg of Transportation Alternatives, said, “We think members of the New York State Legislature should be here and held accountable for cutting $143 million in dedicated taxes from the M.T.A. budget.”

“We’ve been giving almost the same speech here year after year,” Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, said after her three-minute address to the board. “It hurts businesses and people can’t afford to go out.”

One woman yelled, “You’re putting 80,000 people out of work!” 

Brooklyn resident Rubin Kanowitz, 78, cast a critical eye on board members’ attire. 

“The $500 suits sitting up there never use the subway, so they have no right to determine what fares should be,” he accused.

Gavrielle Gemma, a member of the group Take Back Our Transit System, said she obtained a revealing document under a Freedom of Information Law request that details how the city’s transit network is owned by the city and could be leased to another, more responsible, controlling entity.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried told board members, “The moral assignment of the M.T.A….is to maintain and expand that system, not dismantle it, and to keep it affordable.”

Besides another hit at the fare box, a new tax is taxing many wage earners’ patience.

In March 2009, the state imposed the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax, or M.C.T.M.T., to aid the cash-starved M.T.A. The tax, imposed on certain employers and self-employed freelancers in New York City and seven surrounding counties, was supposed to lessen the impact of the last round of fare hikes.

Nassau County has filed suit to roll back the tax and refund monies already paid to the M.T.A. Several municipalities in Putnam County are joining the suit. 

Monday’s hearing was the first of nine to be held through Sept. 21. It’s anticipated the M.T.A. will approve higher fares in October, to take effect Jan. 1.