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L O N G
THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 2009
LONG ISLAND EDITION
MTA OKs MASSIVE FARE AND TOLL HIKES
Are They For Real? Albany battles for a bailout A2-4 MTA’s David Mack, left, and Dale Hemmerdinger listen to public comments before yesterday’s vote in Manhattan.
PHOTO BY JASON DECROW
I S L A N D
COPYRIGHT 2009, NEWSDAY LLC, LONG ISLAND, VOL. 69, NO. 204
dramatic cuts CUTS IN DETAIL How the MTA budget would affect each route and line.
BRIDGES & TUNNELS: A $13 toll
Hikes to strike LIers harder BY ALFONSO A. CASTILLO firstname.lastname@example.org
When will the MTA rate hikes take effect? The fare increase would begin May 31 for the city’s bus and subway system as well as for Long Island Bus. Long Island Rail Road increases begin June 1, while tolls on the MTA’s bridges and tunnels would increase July 11.
䡲 TOLL HIKES. East River and Queens crossings would rise to $6.50 for cash users and $5.26 for E-ZPass users. 䡲 VERRAZANO USERS. Cash toll on Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, above, would be $13. NEWSDAY PHOTO, 2007 / ALEJANDRA VILLA
LI BUS: 75% fare hike 䡲 FARE HIKES. Single rides would rise to $3.50. Student, disabled and senior fares would increase. 䡲 SERVICE CUTS. Some routes would be eliminated.
What can happen to prevent the rate hikes from taking effect? Gov. David A. Paterson and legislative leaders have pledged to reach agreement on an MTA bailout before the fare increases and service cuts are implemented. They are weighing options for raising more revenue, including tolls on the now-free Harlem and East River bridges, a payroll tax on employers in the 12 counties served by the MTA, increasing the gasoline tax and restoring the commuter tax.
BY ALFONSO A. CASTILLO email@example.com
Many Long Island transit riders who can afford fare hikes the least face the biggest of them all, now that MTA officials have voted for a whopping 75 percent hike on Long Island Bus. The jump in bus fares, three times larger than those seen in any other branch of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, could devastate the long-embattled Nassau bus system, which has made great strides in recent years despite its reputa-
See LIBUS26 on A4
NEWSDAY, THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 2009
PHOTO BY HOWARD SCHNAPP
Nassau bus fares soar
Why can’t New York’s share of federal stimulus money be used to close the MTA budget gap? New York is slated to receive $1.25 billion in funding for infrastructure improvements to mass transit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is intended to fund infrastructure projects. Congress specifically prohibited using it for operating expenses, said Mitchell Pally, an MTA board member. The stimulus act does provide tax savings, up to $1,000 a year, to workers who commute by mass transit.
The MTA’s “doomsday” budget is an especially grim portent for Long Island commuters, who may see monthly tickets on the Long Island Rail Road go up an average of $55 and Long Island Bus fares skyrocket a staggering 75 percent just over two months from now. On top of the financial pain, Long Islanders also will be forced to pay more for less on trains and buses, as both agencies make dramatic service cuts. LIRR President Helena Williams said yesterday she fears the combination of forces could all contribute to the start of an “exodus” off Long Island by some transit users. Joe Smith, president of Long Island Bus, also spoke of the possibility of losing riders if bus fares rise from $2 to $3.50 on May 31. “We’ve been building the system up and encouraging ridership, and now we’re going to turn around and cut service,” Smith said. “When you cut service and raise the fares, realistically, riders will find other ways of getting to their destination.” On the LIRR — the largest commuter railroad in North America, with an average weekday ridership of about 300,000 — fare increases will range from 24 percent to 29 percent. That translates to a $36 increase in a monthly ticket for people using the LIRR’s westernmost stations, all the way up to $96 for those traveling into Manhattan or Brooklyn from eastern Long Island. The average 25.6 percent fare increase for the LIRR is not unprecedented. When railroad fares were raised in 2003 and in 1981, the average increase both times was 25 percent. The fare hikes are take effect June 1, and Williams said the LIRR has to begin implementing hikes over the next several weeks. Some commuters who buy monthly tickets in advance via the Internet could pay the new prices as early as next month. Williams said state lawmakers have “a very small window” to reach agreement on legislation that could prevent the hikes, and the longer they wait, the more costly it will be to roll back the increases. That expense would be passed on to riders, MTA officials said. Under the cuts approved yesterday, the LIRR also will can-
cel and combine a number of trains, including eliminating weekend service on the West Hempstead branch, eliminating service to Belmont Park racetrack except on the day of the Belmont Stakes, and going from half-hourly to hourly service in the afternoon at Port Washington — one of the agency’s most heavily used stations. “That’s degradation in service, and customers will feel it,” Williams said. Those changes won’t come until September, but other reductions in service could be apparent much earlier. They include the closing of 20 ticket offices, extended maintenance cycles on trains, and scaledback hedge-trimming, graffiti removal and cleaning efforts. The changes come just months after a record year for ridership on the LIRR, which celebrates its 175th anniversary next month. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, in response to the MTA board’s action, said, “These increases are a major burden to our hardworking commuters, who are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet. Fee increases of this magnitude discourage mass transit use at a time we need it most.” Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi did not respond to a call for comment. Staff writer Zachary R. Dowdy contributed to this story.
GOOD MORNING, A2 LONG ISLAND
THE FORECAST Showers expected today with highs in the upper 40s. A54 IN TODAY’S PAPER
‘DOOMSDAY’ FOR TRANSIT
MTA makes 䡲 With a $1.2B deficit, board approves a budget with soaring LIRR fares, but says Albany can undo damage with more money; guv vows a fix
THE DOOMSDAY PLAN What the MTA budget would call for, if implemented:
BY MICHAEL FRAZIER firstname.lastname@example.org
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As state lawmakers vowed to continue trying to reach agreement on a bailout plan, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted yesterday to dramatically increase fares and tolls while drastically cutting service. Faced with a $1.2-billion deficit dilemma, no division within the MTA — the nation’s largest public transportation agency, serving 8 1/2 million riders on an average weekday — was spared as the board enacted an overall 23 percent hike in fares and tolls and deep service cuts. “If someone sends us a lifeline, a lifeboat, we’ll make . . . adjustments that we can, so that people are not hurt as they will be,” said board member Susan Metzger of Orange County. “But as of right now, I think we have a responsibility to see that this system is not bankrupt.” Albany lawmakers pledged yesterday to keep working on an agreement. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that [yesterday’s] vote by the MTA does not stand,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (DManhattan). State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said, “We’re still working toward a fair solution.” Board member Nancy Shevell, who has residences in Manhattan and in East Hampton, held out hope for state funding so the fare hikes, toll increases and service cuts can be rescinded. “Regretfully, without the deserved government funding, we are left no choice,” she said. “We do plead with those in Albany to do the right thing to rescue transit.” If there is no deal in Albany, new subway and bus fares would take effect May 31. Increased fares on the Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth Railroad would take effect June 1, and higher tolls on the MTA’s bridges and tunnels would come July 11. “Every single person who rides or uses the system will be affected,” MTA chairman Dale Hemmerdinger said after the board approved the painful package in separate 12-1 votes. “That’s how bad it is.” Norman Seabrook of the Bronx was the only board member to vote no. Beforehand, he was adamant in saying the board meeting should be de-
LIRR: 26% fare hikes Use our online calculator to figure out your fare increase and watch our VIDEO as commuters speak out.
layed to allow state lawmakers more time. “We cannot, absolutely cannot, make this happen today,” Seabrook said. “We can buy some time and vote it down. We must force the envelope to the end of the table and force those in Albany to do their jobs.” MTA officials said the fare and toll hikes can be rescinded if a funding alternative is produced shortly before the planned increases begin at the end of May. But they said they were required by law to act yesterday to balance the 2009 operating budget. Last week, Senate leaders proposed imposition of a payroll tax on area businesses, but nixed a plan for tolls on the East River and Harlem River and crossings. Gov. David A. Paterson rejected that proposal. Paterson and MTA officials support the so-called Ravitch Commission plan, which recommended the payroll tax and tolls on the East River crossings. If a long-term funding solution is not established, MTA executive director Eliot Sander warned that the MTA board could be back “soon, potentially in April” to review options for another fare hike. Sander urged riders to lean on their elected officials. “We think it’s important for the public to make its voice heard,” he said. About 400 transportation advocates gathered in Union Square to stage a “call-a-thon,” using cell phones and district maps to call elected officials. They wore tuxedos and read scripts demanding that lawmakers save mass transit, said Wiley Norvell, spokesman for Transportation Alternatives. “There’s no money from heaven that’s going to fall out of the sky and save us,” he said. “We need Albany.” Albany bureau chief James T. Madore contributed to this story.
䡲 FARE HIKES. Average hike for monthly ticket would be $56. 䡲 SERVICE CUTS. Certain branches, ticket offices would close.
NEWSDAY PHOTO / ANA P. GUTIERREZ
SUBWAYS & BUSES: $2.50 fares 䡲 FARE HIKES. Prices on unlimited MetroCards also go up. 䡲 SERVICE CUTS. W and Z trains, as well as 35 bus routes, would be eliminated
FILE PHOTO BY DAVE SANDERS
‘DOOMSDAY’ FOR TRANSIT
The gridlock in Albany 䡲 State lawmakers don’t appear to make progress on rescue plan even as transit authority OKs doomsday budget BY JAMES T. MADORE
BY SARAH PORTLOCK Special to Newsday
With the MTA’s fare hikes slated to go into effect in less than 10 weeks, commuters were asked yesterday how they felt about the increases and what they are doing to cope.
NEWSDAY, THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 2009
ALBANY — Even the MTA enacting its “doomsday” budget yesterday didn’t appear to bring state leaders closer to agreement on a rescue plan. Gov. David A. Paterson again urged lawmakers to support a bailout that includes tolls on the nowfree East River and Harlem River bridges and a payroll tax on employers in the 12 counties served by the authority. “I know my colleagues in the State Legislature are equally committed to preserving New York’s critical public transportation systems and we will continue to work together until we reach a final agreement,” he said. Still, state senators expressed skepticism, with some calling for greater oversight of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA board yesterday adopted several fare hikes and service cuts designed to close a $1.2-billion deficit. State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) described as “legal extortion” the authority’s move to raise fares while refusing a thorough audit of its records. He opposes bridge tolls. Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said Republicans wouldn’t back a financing plan that doesn’t include money for projects upstate and on Long Island. The MTA has failed to provide details of how it will use funding in a new capital plan “and thus is essentially asking for a blank check,” he said. The 62-member Senate has served as a roadblock to passage of a bailout because the GOP won’t provide the Democratic majority with votes to compensate for at least seven “nays” from Democrats. “There’s still some time before [the MTA] actually institutes the raise [in fares],” said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans). Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) agreed, noting the Assembly’s Democratic majority supports the bailout that some senators oppose. “Failure to act would be an unmitigated disaster for millions of New Yorkers,” he said. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in the Capitol to lobby for more school aid, said he didn’t know if state leaders would head off implementation of the MTA’s “doomsday” budget. He said, “It’s up to the Senate to do something.” Fourteen lawmakers, in a letter to Paterson, proposed greater scrutiny of MTA finances. One of them, Assemb. Ginny Fields (DOakdale), said, “The MTA has continuously requested more and more money. It is as if they want a ‘no limit’ credit card to be given to them.”
Patricio Muevecela, 23, lives in Astoria, Queens, but travels via subway and train to Garden City to work at a bookstore. “It’s going to be a double whammy for me. I already got a second job, just for my expenses of travel and lunch.”
Joan Rodgers, 46, works in the fashion industry, commutes daily from Baldwin to midtown Manhattan for 28 years. “There’s nothing else I can do right now — I could drive in with someone, but that’s probably not going to happen. It’s like we all have to go along, what can we do?”
Jesse Webster, 25, takes a subway, train and bus and pays $300 per month to get from Roosevelt Island to his job at Hofstra University. “It’s kind of sad. I made a decision not to get a car, and now a car payment looks pretty attractive.”
Dean Eliades, 49, of Long Beach. “It’s going to have an overall impact on my family budget — you cut costs to the bone. It’s not always easy, but it helps.”
Rosalyn Johnson, 50, a registered nurse from Westbury who works in lower Manhattan. “I wish that there were more bus and subway connections — it’s unfortunate that there isn’t really any other way to get into the city. And I’m disappointed that the fare is very, very high and it’s standing-room only at peak times.”
Chris Hickman, 38, recruiter in Manhattan who commutes from Carle Place. “I don’t see the service improving, and [yet] they raise the rates of people who have to use the trains every day, but I’ll deal with it. What are you going to do? I’m thankful that I have a job to go to.”
Maria Chen, clerk in her 50s, takes the train from Westbury to Penn Station daily. “I’ll have to save my grocery money to make up the difference. It’s very frustrating, and very tough, especially now with people’s lower salaries.”
Bryan Parsons, 26, graphic designer from Garden City who now walks to work on 23rd Street from Penn Station to cut down on expenses. “I have to pay it — I have to go to work. But I cut [my budget] all the time, so I don’t know what I can cut anymore.” PHOTOS BY SARAH PORTLOCK
Nassau bus system hit hard LIBUS26 from A3 tion as the MTA’s stepchild. “That’s why it’s so sad, because Long Island Bus has gained so much momentum over the last couple years,” said MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook, who also is commissioner of the board’s Long Island committee. “We just can’t do anything more with the amount of resources we have left.” The cost of a single ride will soar from $2 to $3.50 under fare hikes approved yesterday that will take effect June 1 unless state lawmakers pass bail-
out legislation to help the MTA. Bus riders no longer will be able to use unlimitedride MetroCards, and eight routes will be eliminated. Norman Silverman, vice president of operations planning for Long Island Bus, said the fare increase will make it the most expensive local bus agency “certainly in New York State, if not the country.” Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said that Long Island Bus is an invaluable resource for the 8 percent of households here without cars, and that make an average of
$40,000 a year. In recent years it has attracted car owners. “It’s just ridiculous and completely unfair,” Slevin said. “A 75 percent increase is terrible for the people who ride the system, and cannot go through.” The action comes following a year of record Long Island Bus ridership — 32.6 million passengers in 2008. The agency has been praised for innovative and efficient practices, including using junk parts from city buses for replacements rather than buying new ones. The fare hike on the system can be attributed to the unique funding structure of
Long Island Bus, which is operated by the MTA, but owned by Nassau County. For the last several years, the MTA says, Nassau has not lived up to its obligation to properly fund the system, leaving the MTA to pick up the slack. County Executive Thomas Suozzi has denied that the county is contractually obligated to subsidize the system and has said that it cannot afford to do so. “We’ve made up the difference in the past, but we can no longer do that,” MTA chief Elliot Sander said. “This will hit them particularly hard, and we’re particularly upset about that.”
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