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Riders outraged by proposed MTA fare hikes

The MTA will be raising fares for the subway, bus, and tolls by January of 2011, and though hearings are still to come that will determine by how much, Bronx residents and elected officials are not pleased.

“I’m angry,” said Councilman Jimmy Vacca. “I went to the MTA’s public hearing last week and I was the only elected official there. They are leaving straphangers holding the bag.”

The MTA has announced that it plans to raise monthly unlimited MetroCards by one of two methods. Either the 30-day unlimited card will go up from $89 to $104 a month, or the card will be $99 but cap at 90 rides per month.

Of course, if the second option is chosen, the card would no longer be “unlimited.” At 90 rides a month, anyone who swipes less than three times a day is okay, but many commuters swipe more than that.

The hikes are needed because a $143 million chunk of taxes that was raised last year, meant to go into a special “lockbox” for MTA use only, ended up being put into the general fund for the state of New York. Because the MTA lost that funding, they are planning major raises in fares.

Vacca said that at the recent hearing, he told MTA higher-ups that what has happened this year is akin to what he remembers as ‘The Lottery’ in the 1980s, when a large amount of taxes was rasied for education. “People believed it was going into education for years,” said Vacca. “Only much later, we found out that money went into the general fund. Now it happened again, and it left the MTA high and dry, and now, in turn, commuters have to pay.”

At a recent meeting of the Throggs Neck Merchant Association, business owners discussed the fare hikes with a representative from Vacca’s office. “What can we do to help him, how about a petition?” offered Sherri Scanlon. Others remarked that they were “bowled over” by the prospect of yet another increase in fares by the MTA.

This comes on the heels of the MTA cutting the Bx14 bus in Country Club completely, leaving bus riders in the borough puzzled to see the new Bx8 buses driving down Stadium Avenue nearly empty.

“Here in the Bronx, they already cut the bus service, and now they want a toll increase to boot!” Vacca said. The angry councilman also stressed that many residents are still unaware the hikes will not just cover the subway and buses, but tolls as well. After the hikes, it will cost $6 to go on the Whitestone or Throgs Neck bridges.

The MTA, for its part, has allowed for a public hearing process that will take place in mid-September.

“After those hearings,” explained Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesperson, “the board will take into account the testimony, both written and verbal, of the public. Then we’ll take action and vote on the proposal in October.”

Ortiz made reference to the significant changes the MTA is making to bus service in the Bronx based on complaints from the public, which he says is a sign that the hearings do matter.

Vacca is hoping that residents do come out to the public hearings in September to voice their opposition to the increased fares.

“We have to fight the hikes,” he concluded, “and I’m going to continue to fight.”

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