Written by Marilou Giammona Friday, 24 September 2010 00:00
The public hearing to address the MTA’s proposed fare hikes held at the Garden City Hotel on Sept. 16 was met with a literal “twist” of fate. As LIRR and LI Bus riders started shuffling into the hotel at 5 p.m. to register to speak, thousands of Long Island-bound commuters were about to be stranded in Penn Station. Two tornadoes ripped through New York City at the height of rush hour, causing the MTA to suspend all LIRR service.
Despite the interruption by Mother Nature, the public hearing proceeded as planned—and with no shortage of registered speakers. Concerned commuters, including public officials and representatives from United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County, Inc., spoke out against the MTA’s recent service cuts and proposed fare increase. Service cuts that took effect as of Sept. 13 impacted the Atlantic Terminal, Long Beach, Montauk, Port Washington, Ronkonkoma and Greenport. Perhaps the hardest hit was West Hempstead, which, as of Sept. 18, will no longer offer weekend service. Proposed fare increases vary, but the cost of most tickets could increase by as much as 14.3 percent.
Holding up a folder filled with letters from angry transit riders, Assemblywoman Schimel told MTA Chairman Jay Walder and Board Members, “The Port Washington line this week is undergoing devastating cuts of more than 32 weekend trains and 14 weekday trains. Now you threaten us with a fare hike? You continue to take advantage of those who support you. Every regulatory agency has had to tighten their belt. You are not being singled out. Stop acting like a victim. You have to carry on with your mission and not break the public trust in doing so.”
Charlie Fleisch, a participant in the Nassau County United Cerebral Palsy Life Options Program, who also teaches in the program, said, “We need to work together to come up with reasonable solutions.” Fleisch’s colleague, Kevin Christman, also spoke out. “We are worried about the students we serve,” Christman said.
Another thread of concern among those in the room was the MTA’s proposal to cut its entire contribution to LI Bus, which totals $26 million. That proposal, combined with the recent LIRR service cuts and proposed fare hikes, could force disabled people on Long Island to become homebound, suggested one speaker.
Many speakers questioned the efficiency of the MTA, both in terms of its spending and how it conducts business on a daily basis. They suggested putting the onus on the agency to cut superfluous spending, instead of putting the burden on commuters with proposed fare hikes. They also questioned how often conductors fail to collect tickets on the LIRR.
“It’s time to make sure tickets are collected on the train,” said Larry Rubenstein, who was recently appointed by Ed Mangano to the LIRR Commuters’ Council. “Time to get a handle on overtime” of LIRR employees, he added.
LI Bus rider John Tarantino questioned the MTA’s need for “two headquarters.” Specifically, he questioned the agency’s Madison Avenue office. “You don’t need that fancy address.” Tarantino was very concerned about the MTA’s proposal to cut its contribution to LI Bus. “If you cut out the buses, I’m going to have to leave Long Island.”
Another registered speaker referenced the MTA’s Madison Avenue office. “It’s easy to make these cuts from your Madison Avenue office!” He also suggested that the MTA singled out the LIRR and LI Bus, saying that they’ve been adversely affected the most.
Last week’s public hearing in Garden City was just one in a series of public hearings to address the LIRR proposed fare hikes, scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 21 at various locations across the five boroughs and Nassau and Suffolk Counties.