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LIRRCC Testimony – September 21, 2010 – Proposed Fare Increase

Testimony of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council
to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Proposed Fare Increases
The Brooklyn Museum,
Brooklyn, NY

September 21, 2010

Good Evening. My name is Matthew Kessler. I am a member of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Long Island Rail Road riders. I represent the Borough of Brooklyn to the Council, appointed by the Governor, on the recommendation of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

I’m here to convey our opposition to any fare increase and to demand this Board reject them immediately and without delay. This proposal follows the pattern established in the May 2009 agreement to rescue the MTA through new and increased State funding. Unfortunately, the State has failed, in their promise, to provide the agreed level of support. Estimates of another new and dedicated tax specifically for MTA support, contemplated in this agreement, has proved wildly overoptimistic and $143 million in tax revenue that had been received and promised for the operation of MTA services, as the Board knows full well, has been retracted and placed into the State’s general fund. Because of your inaction with the State, the riders are left to deal with the results.

The riders have already been paying, not just with their money, but with service cuts and a never-seen-before increased commutation time. LIRR riders lost a number of trains and have seen off-peak service severed and eliminated during specific time periods.

Only six months ago, I stood before you, as I do now, and I specifically outlined and prophesized how dire the negative effects of your actions (or inactions) would be to the Brooklyn passengers of the LIRR, and all of LIRR, by not seriously following and considering our advice and recommendations.

Not even a year has gone by, in which, a colossal $108 million was invested into  Atlantic Terminal of Brooklyn. What did LIRR passengers receive as their ROI?

We now have no service between midnight and 5:00 a.m. A rider must decide whether they want to risk riding LIRR to even be in Downtown Brooklyn. The only option is to go to Penn Station in Manhattan (or hope there isn’t a serious subway delay or service suspension.) Will anyone choose to attend a musical performance, play or sporting event in Brooklyn? Will anyone choose to attend classes, earn a degree or to further their education to get a job by going to a college in Brooklyn? Will someone have to choose between a lifelong & trusted doctor whose office is near Atlantic Terminal or finding a new unknown doctor? Will an inpatient at the nearest hospital now be bereft of visitors? Will an employer have to make the decision to move out of Brooklyn or even out of New York because overnight LIRR Brooklyn service affects their overall sales and operation? Will people start to resign from their jobs and/or migrate to where employment beyond Brooklyn has affordable mass-transit service?

Based on prior fare increases, NYC riders of the LIRR might have hoped that improvements in service and fare structures would be a part of this proposal. For example, Brooklyn riders would be better served if the City Ticket, now available only on weekends, were expanded to all off-peak hours. City Ticket is in your proposal, but only as one more category where fares will be increased – they should stay the same as is proposed for base transit fares. Worse yet, you propose unreasonable and unrealistic expiration dates for single and ten trip fares, which will deny riders the opportunity to use such tickets for which they have paid an already hefty premium. On top of all this, you propose punitive fees for ticket refunds.  We understand the value of such a policy where some tickets are not collected, but the legitimate solution is to improve ticket collection and not further penalizing your customers.

We also oppose other fare increases such as: on-board and step up fares which would be rounded up to the next dollar and the discounts on joint monthly tickets and MetroCards and on Mail and Ride and WebTickets which would be reduced and eliminated, respectively.  While there may be legitimate reasons for adjusting the fare structure, these provisions give the impression of increasing demands on the rider while restraining the more evident base fare increases.

These proposals fail because they do not address the fundamental issues facing the MTA. The MTA’s current financial problems result in large part from a failure of government to properly fund MTA, resulting in their financing through fare-backed bonds. Now as the State shirks away from its responsibility to the MTA – the riders are left, again, to fill the gap.  Riders already pay an oppressive share of the cost of operations, recently estimated by MTA management at 53.4% for 2010.  If we follow this proposal, this figure will rise to about 60% by 2013, again by MTA management’s own estimates.

Board Member Norman Seabrook respectfully requested, at a past MTA Board meeting, to his fellow Board Members: to look under every rock; to seek every possible course – before going forward with any increase.

Increasing the burden on the riders is unacceptable. We demand that the members of the MTA Board and MTA senior management work vigorously both internally and with our elected officials to find alternative means of filling the gap between costs and revenues as well as question where the funds to the three
existing, dedicated tax revenues for MTA support have been going.

We call on this Board to join us in rejecting these proposals.