Millman to Testify on Proposed MTA Fare Hike and Service Cuts

January 28, 2009
Brooklyn – This evening Assemblywoman Joan Millman will present the following testimony in opposition to proposed fare increases and service cuts at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Brooklyn Public Hearing at the New York Marriott at Brooklyn Bridge. The public is invited to speak at this hearing but must register by 9:00 pm. All registered speakers will be heard.

January 28, 2009

Testimony Presented to:
Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Submitted By:
Joan L. Millman
Member of Assembly, 52nd Assembly District

Re: Proposed Fare Increase and Service Cuts

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the MTA’s proposed fare increases and service cuts. As the Assemblymember for the 52nd District, I represent Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, the Columbia Waterfront District, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and Park Slope. These neighborhoods are fast-growing and known for good schools and close proximity to major subway lines in addition to the B51 bus, which travels across the Manhattan Bridge. I am also including with my testimony the signatures of over 100 riders opposed to cuts in bus service who were unable to attend this public hearing.

I understand that it may be necessary to impose modest fare and toll increases; however, I am deeply concerned about the effects of the MTA’s drastic fare increases, especially for Access-A-Ride, and the harsh cuts to bus service. I recognize that for over 12 years, the state has failed to increase funding to match increased operating expenses. We need to update funding levels if we want to guarantee the economic prosperity of our city and provide a dedicated funding stream.

While we are in the midst of the worst recession this country has faced in over 75 years and the state must make difficult financial decisions, public transportation is an absolute necessity. We must look at every available option to sustain mass transit, including East River tolls, because a healthy transit system provides intangible long-term benefits to the overall health and growth of our city. No one wants to return to the dark days of the late 1970s so we must take a balanced approach which combines a reasonable amount of state funding with other funding sources.

With that being said, the fare increases and service cuts deeply and disproportionately affect the groups that are most dependent upon mass transit, above all Access-A-Ride and bus riders. The elderly and disabled rely heavily on buses because they are unable to navigate stairs at subway stations. Even subway stations which have either elevators or escalators require riders to climb stairs. Buses are not only easier to board, but deliver riders closer to their destinations. Contrary to the MTA’s assertion, subway service does not replicate bus service because so many of our city’s subway stations are inaccessible to the elderly, people with disabilities and many others. The MTA’s suggestion to cut bus service without examining its impact on our most vulnerable citizens is unconscionable.

Before there are any fare increases or service cuts, the MTA has an obligation to be open and honest about its financial records. It is deeply disturbing that there have been so many reports of sloppy financial record-keeping by the MTA and even the existence of two separate financial record books—a public version that continuously shows the MTA in financial duress and a private version that provides a more accurate picture. In 2003, the State Comptroller’s office reported that the MTA “hid more than half a billion dollars from the public when it was asking for a fare increase by keeping two sets of financial plans, one public and one secret.” We cannot trust the financial data put forth until the MTA commits to greater oversight.

The MTA is also in need of better management skills. In December of 2007, the MTA gave away $50 million in holiday and weekend discounts for riders. The MTA opted for a short-term, fiscally imprudent public relations scheme instead of saving that money to offset future budget shortfalls. Now the MTA is proposing that riders pay even more for less service.

Unfortunately, the MTA’s financial mismanagement does not stop here. I am still shocked and dismayed that the MTA sold the Atlantic Yards property for a price less than half its own appraised value of $214 million. What did the MTA get in return for this sweetheart deal? Furthermore, recent newspaper articles have reported that the MTA might receive even less from the deal. In addition, the MTA appears to be repeating this mistake on the West Side of Manhattan. This is outrageous. The MTA ought to be acting in the best interests of the public, not subsidizing deep-pocketed developers.

As someone who voted against the repeal of the commuter tax, I suggest we reconsider this and other possible funding options. Those who work in New York City benefit from our transportation system and more than likely use the heavily-subsidized commuter rails. Those subsidies come at the expense of hardworking New Yorkers. The MTA has been shortchanging New Yorkers to benefit commuter rail lines for far too long.

This week, I introduced legislation to allow the City of New York to create and implement a residential permit parking system. Before we can install East River bridge tolls or resurrect a Congestion Pricing Proposal, the city will need residential permit parking. Most importantly, this bill designates that all fees collected from permits be allocated to support mass transit in New York City. I hope the Mayor and City Council support this bill because it is good for the MTA, good for New York City and good for all New Yorkers.

I ask the MTA to allow more oversight of its finances and to work to restore our trust in its leadership so that we know they are working in the public’s best interest.