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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MTA closer to hike; Gov. Paterson playing chicken

Doomsday News: MTA Votes, Paterson Plays Chicken
by Brad Aaron on March 23, 2009

The MTA's doomsday scenario came closer to fruition today, as agency board members took a step toward implementing planned fare hikes and service reductions while state lawmakers appeared mired in stalemate. Here are a few tidbits.

Newsday filed this report on the MTA Finance Committee meeting (as live-blogged by Second Avenue Sagas), where members voted to recommend revenue-saving measures to the full board, now set to make its decision on Wednesday:

MTA board chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger urged the agency's finance committee to adopt the fare hikes and service cuts even though he called them "horrific."

"This represents as good a job as human beings can do to divide the pain as equally as we can," he said.

The Gothamist site reported late Monday on details of the increase:
A ride on the subway is fast becoming a luxury item: Today the MTA Finance Committee voted to approve a package of steep fare hikes that would increase the cost of a single subway or bus ride from $2 to $2.50. In addition to the base fare increase, the cost of a 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCard would go up to $103 (from $81), while a weekly unlimited-ride MetroCard would increase $6 to $31. The full MTA board will vote on the fare increases Wednesday, and the changes will likely go into effect in June unless legislators in Albany can come to terms on a bailout package for the MTA.
One alternative plan being batted around Albany would feature a smaller, 8 percent fare increase, tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, and a payroll tax on businesses in counties served by the MTA. Testifying before the committee, Gene Russianoff at the Straphangers Campaign called the fare hikes "ugly" and criticized the State Senate's bailout plan for "failing to address the transit system’s rebuilding needs."

The MTA Finance Committee vote took place as state lawmakers in Albany sought to reach a compromise on a bailout plan that would avoid the worst of the planned fare increases and service cuts.

At a news conference after the committee vote in Manhattan, Hemmerdinger was asked if he had any message for Albany. He said, "How about: 'Help!'"

In Albany, Governor Paterson engaged in what Liz Benjamin of The Daily Politics described as "a game of political chicken" when, flanked by a silent Malcolm Smith and Sheldon Silver, he urged the MTA to go ahead with higher fares and service cuts without waiting on assistance from the legislature.

"Delaying action, to me, would just ring too true to what's gone on in Albany too many times," Paterson said. "I'm not in favor of delaying any action that was scheduled."

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