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Elliot "Lee" Sander

MTA Cheered and Jeered, But Mostly Jeered

10:38 AM EST on December 20, 2007

Reactions were mixed to yesterday's MTA fare hike approval. That is to say -- with the exception of the New York Post -- there was enough criticism to go around as to generally avoid repetition.

The Daily News, which has pounded the transit agency with its "Halt the Hike" series ("Even as the MTA is poised to stick straphangers with a fat fare hike, Chief Executive Lee Sander went shopping for a new necktie yesterday"), called the fare increase "the great train robbery of 2007," and characterized Sander and new Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger as puppets of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer.

There was a time when MTA bosses were independent, standup people who represented the riders, even if only in losing battles with governors, Legislatures and mayors. Men like Dick Ravitch and Peter Kalikow come to mind.

At this point in their relatively young tenures, Hemmerdinger and Sander pale in comparison.

They are order takers, dictated to by Spitzer and Bloomberg, who have assumed full personal ownership of this fare hike.

New MetroCards should come bearing photographs of the governor and the mayor, like on wanted posters, including their records.

Also in the News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, while critical of the hikes, says transit customers have reason for hope in the promises made by Spitzer and other pols, including Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, that more state aid is forthcoming. Russianoff also thinks further hikes will be politically infeasible for the next several years.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, for one, believes the hike will be used against the MTA come budget time, and sees it as a broader failure of the MTA and elected officials to advance a pro-transit agenda. Calling yesterday a "Sad Day for Transit Riders," TSTC's Kate Slevin writes:

Overall, by approving the hike and the proposed fare and toll plan today, Governor Spitzer and the MTA missed out on a number of key opportunities. First, they missed an opportunity to win support from transit riders who feel the pressure of crowded trains, slow buses, and an increasingly expensive region. Second, they missed out on a chance to let vocal state legislators put their money where their mouth is and produce more state transit aid. Third, they missed an opportunity to connect the transit funding debate with the Traffic Mitigation Commission's recommendations to be released in January. Fourth, the MTA failed, as it has in the past (see MTR #s 425, 401, 237, and others), to use the toll hike as an opportunity to bring its tolling structure and facilities into the 21st century with things like variable tolling and non-stop tolls.

Finally, the MTA and Governor Spitzer failed to connect the fare and toll proposal with their own efforts to promote sustainability. The MTA established a top-notch Sustainability Commission in September to help create an agency "master plan" to reduce the agency's ecological footprint. But the agency's toll proposal punishes most transit riders more than most drivers - under the plan EZ Pass users (which account for 75% of all crossings) will pay only 3.8% more while transit fares for most riders will increase more than that. Last time we checked, promoting transit use over driving is an vital part of "sustainability."

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