Transportation Alliance Leaders to Testify at Brooklyn, Harlem Transit Hearings 

Hearings to Gauge Public Support for Ravitch Plan to Avoid Huge Fare Increases, Service Cuts

by Impact Wire Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Leaders of the Empire State Transportation Alliance (ESTA) will testify at public hearings today in Brooklyn and tomorrow in Harlem about the Ravitch Commission plan to avoid huge fare increases and service cuts for buses and trains operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The hearing today, 1:30 pm - 5:30 pm, at Brooklyn Borough Hall was hosted by State Senator Martin Dilan, chair of the State Transportation Committee. The hearing tomorrow, 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm, at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem is hosted by State Senator Bill Perkins, chair of the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee.

These hearings come at a critical time. State officials who ultimately will be responsible for either accepting or rejecting Ravitch Commission recommendations must come up with a rescue plan by March 25 to cover the MTA's $1.2 billion operating deficit for 2009. Otherwise, the MTA doomsday budget, which calls for a 23 percent fare increase and service cuts, will take effect. The Ravitch Commission plan, which includes a new payroll tax and tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, would generate $2.1 billion in revenue to improve access to express buses and create new bus routes in areas currently underserved by the transit system.

"Transit riders face the grim possibility of paying much more for much less," says Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign of NY PIRG. "We are counting on the state legislature and Governor Paterson to come to our rescue and prevent massive fare increases and service cuts."

An MTA doomsday budget hearing held earlier this month in Brooklyn brought out capacity-overflowing crowds. Transit riders eagerly voiced their strong opposition to fare hikes and service cuts, including MTA's proposed elimination of bus and subway lines. These cuts would directly impact commuters in neighborhoods throughout the city, especially workers in the outer parts of Brooklyn and Queens, Harlem, Staten Island and the Bronx.

"Riders are going to get hit by cuts and loss of service," says Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, a civic group and co-chair of the ESTA coalition. "But the real problem lies in the long-term upkeep of the transit system. Right now there is at least a $17 billion dollar gap in the program to fix and rebuild the system. Lawmakers need to act now or else critical repair and maintenance programs will be put on hold. That's not what our economy needs right now."

"If we don't make the hard choices to adequately fund the MTA capital and operating programs now, then we will all suffer the consequences," said Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York. "Business, real estate, auto users, transit riders, all benefit from our mass transit network and all should pay a share of the cost to maintain and improve the system. Infrastructure investment has always been the answer to tough economic times because of its unparalleled ability to spur employment and economic development while improving people's daily lives. Now should be no different."

"We will choke the lifeblood out of the city if we don't provide the necessary funding for transit that millions of commuters need to get to work," said Andy Darrell, vice president of Environmental Defense Fund's Living Cities Program. "We must tell our elected officials to save transit by spreading the economic burden among all commuters fairly, including drivers who now drive over the East and Harlem River bridges for free. It will reduce congestion on these bridges and the pollution health impacts on people who live near them."

"The MTA is facing real problems and the solution as proposed by the Ravitch Commission is a fair one," said Kevin Corbett, co-chair of ESTA and vice president for AECOM, Inc., an engineering firm. "If drivers, transit riders and businesses don't all pitch in to help bridge the gap, we'll all pay. With no money for long-term upkeep and repair we'll not only face reduced service but poorer service as well. The worst thing for New York's economy right now would be stopping projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which are keeping or creating critical jobs for the region."

"We are relying on the Governor and the Legislature to steer us away from this transit crisis that will cripple our communities and stifle our economy," says Kate Slevin, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "We hope they hear our citywide pleas to save our transit system, save our subways and buses, and save our fare."

Contact: John Bianchi, 212-576-2700, ext 228, Jbianchi@goodmanmedia.com

0    submitted by Impact Wire
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