Train in Vain: Passengers say No! To Fare Hikes and Service Cuts
Feb 04, 2009 by Juliet Linderman
Not even broken buses, troublesome trains and a brutal smattering of freezing rain could keep hordes of legislators, elected officials and angry Brooklynites from turning up to last Wednesday’s public hearing in full force, eager to voice their disdain for the proposed MTA fair hikes, service cuts and the elimination certain bus and subway lines throughout the outer boroughs. Neighborhoods throughout the city will be directly impacted by these cuts, none more so than those of North Brooklyn.
“We are asking you, please abandon this bad plan,” said Councilman David Yassky, addressing a panel of MTA officials. “There are thousands of new people moving into Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and still we have the same crummy G train service. It’s unfair.”
Due to massive debt and budgetary constraints, the MTA approved their 2009 budget on December 19, 2008, along with a comprehensive report outlining station, subway, bus and service changes. These changes will take effect in the following months unless State legislators vote in favor of the Ravitch Commission Report, which proposes instating tolls on several East River bridges in order to generate revenue for public transit. Though approving the report would undoubtedly bail out the MTA temporarily, it could have lasting consequences for motorists in Brooklyn who, due to already unreliable train service and too few accessible subway lines, are forced to drive.
“There could end up being three toll bridges in one district of Brooklyn, and it will be really horribly affected,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront. “These cuts will affect populations least prepared to deal with them.”
The Ravitch report was a topic widely overlooked at Wednesday’s hearing, as outraged subway riders and patrons of the Access-A-Ride program focused more heavily on venting their frustrations to the MTA Board about the dire consequences of fare hikes and service cuts on those who rely exclusively on public transportation, especially Brooklynites.
“I always wondered about the cut on the corner of the Metrocard,” said Councilmember Simcha Felder, who represents District 44. “Now I know it’s for the cuts in service. Pretty soon, there will be no Metrocard left!” Felder then called for a moment of silence for the beginning of the demise of the MTA, which was immediately broken by MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, who insisted on immediately calling upon the next speaker, to the crowd’s dismay.
Among the hundreds of hearing attendees were dozens of disabled customers who depend on Access-a-Ride service to get around the city. If MTA service is, in fact, cut, so too will Access-a-Ride vehicles. In addition, fares for Access-a-Ride will be raised 150 per cent.
Jean Ryan, Vice President of Public Affairs of Disabled in Action, gave a moving testimony during which she related personal stories of her own.
“When you cancel a bus or increase headway, the actual alternative for people with disabilities is staying home or Access-A-Ride, which costs $63 a trip and requires advance reservations….Often when a wheelchair user wants to board an express bus, the driver doesn’t know what to do and we have to tell him. If we don’t know how to use the lift we are left at the curb as the bus pulls away.”
While the MTA stayed mostly quiet throughout the hearing, several MTA officials made a point of explaining that concerned riders should appeal directly to their State officials, who will ultimately be responsible for either accepting or rejecting the Ravitch Report. Most State legislators remain undecided as to how they will vote, Greenpoint’s State Senator Martin Dilan, Chair of the State Transportation Committee, said he is committed to hearing what his constituents have to say before voting one way or another, and plans to host two public hearings in the coming weeks.
“I’m looking to get the officials from MTA and Ravitch himself, advocates and community input as to how they feel about the plan,” Dilan said. “According to Ravitch, if we do the toll increases, they are supposed to bring in 300 new buses into service in areas like Greenpoint, which are grossly underserved, and I just want the public to hear what they have to say.”
Senator Dilan’s public hearings will be held February 18th at Borough Hall and February 19th at the State Office Building in Harlem.