Photo by William Alatriste/NYC Council
M.T.A. board members looked at a loss at last Thursday’s Manhattan hearing.
Hundreds ride the M.T.A. board, try to derail cuts
By Albert Amateau
The M.T.A.’s Manhattan hearing last week went on for six hours, and took testimony from 99 speakers, including angry high school students, transit workers, local elected officials and residents, who denounced the agency for proposing wide-ranging service cuts.
Students filled many of the 600 seats in the Haft Auditorium at Fashion Institute of Technology on Thurs., March 4, and railed against eliminating free student MetroCards. Transit workers — whose fellow union members demonstrated more than 1,000 strong at times on Seventh Ave. while the hearing was in progress — protested cutting token booth attendants. Residents from Battery Park City to Washington Heights pleaded against proposed reductions in Access-A-Ride and bus service.
One high school student, Adolfo Abreu, called on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board to meet with students on the MetroCard issue on March 17, and demanded that the board chairperson, Jay Walder, answer immediately.
Walder replied, “You’ve got your meeting,” after students in the audience chanted, “Answer now.”
The M.T.A., the state agency that runs the city transit, express bus and suburban train system, is proposing a broad range of cuts in all five boroughs to make up for an operating shortfall estimated at more than $700 million due to state funding cuts attributed to the economic decline.
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
At the M.T.A.’s Manhattan hearing last Thursday, Village residents advocated for maintaining full service on the M8, the Eighth St. cross-town bus.
City Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin appeared in person to urge the M.T.A. board to find alternatives to the deep service cuts to manage the fiscal problem. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Chin’s Council predecessor, Alan Gerson, also spoke, saying that cutting free student MetroCards should be taken off the table. Reducing Access-A-Ride service from door-to-door to providing service between existing bus and train stations was another bad decision, they said.
“Access-A-Ride at bus stops?” asked Anita Romm, a senior advocate. “Most riders can’t use buses. If they could, they wouldn’t need Access-A-Ride.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio warned that MetroCards were vital to ensure public school attendance.
“If we lose [bus and train] service now, the loss could become permanent,” de Blasio said.
Stringer charged that the M.T.A. board was proposing service cuts because it is easier to go after students and riders rather than politicians.
“You haven’t taken the fight to Albany,” Stringer said. “You need to get the federal government involved. You can’t stand by while Albany is burning and take it out on kids and seniors. Take the lead in Albany, they need it now more than ever,” said Stringer, who served many years as member of the New York State Assembly before he was elected Manhattan borough president.
Chin made a special plea for keeping full service on the M9, M20 and M22 bus lines, as well as the M21, the Houston St. cross-town route.
“They provide the few cross-town bus lines in Lower Manhattan,” Chin said. “Eliminating or drastically reducing service on those lines would be devastating, especially to seniors. This is also true of service in the Village on the M5 line.”
Mendez said the proposal to eliminate night and weekend service on the M8 bus, which crosses river to river on Eighth, Ninth and 10th Sts., would negatively impact communities in the East and West Village.
“This route provides the only cross-town service between Houston and 14th Sts. and connects with two PATH stations, the No. 6 train at Astor Place, the Eighth St. station on Broadway and the Christopher St. station on the No. 1 line,” she said, adding that the bus route serves the densely populated housing developments on Avenue D.
Doris Howie, who came to the hearing with fellow residents of 505 LaGuardia Place, pleaded with the M.T.A. board to maintain Houston St. bus service because the line allows seniors to transfer at First Ave. for bus service to Bellevue Hospital and New York University Medical Center.
“The real story is outside,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, which covers the East Village and Lower East Side between 14th St. and the Brooklyn Bridge. Stetzer referred to the demonstration on Seventh Ave. between 27th and 30th Sts. by transit workers and students while the hearing was in progress. “Who ever heard of a hearing when people can’t even get on the block?” Stetzer said.
Mendez also said that, at one point, the F.I.T. auditorium was not accessible because of crowds outside.
Stetzer claimed that 80 percent of residents in the C.B. 3 district don’t have cars and that the district thus clearly needs the bus service. Residents of the east end of Grand St. are especially cut off from the rest of Manhattan, she said.
“There is a perfect bus route, but the bus never comes,” said Stetzer, referring to the M9. “Longer waits mean fewer people will take the bus.”
George Haikalis, a transit advocate, also said service cuts would shift riders away from public transit. He suggested that private transport should be discouraged by enacting significant tolls at the East River bridges, and that the M.T.A. itself should be disbanded and its function transferred to a general government body directly accountable to the public.
The testimony took radical and vindictive turns before long.
“Something phony is going on here. Where is Chancellor Klein?” said Joseph Morris, referring to the city’s schools chancellor, Joel Klein. Morris said the M.T.A. was only 55 percent of the problem. Student MetroCards should be provided by the Department of Education, Morris said.
Seth Rosenberg, a transit worker who identified himself as a socialist, said the M.T.A. pays 20 percent of its revenue to service its debts.
“The money goes to Wall St. and bankers, and the cuts come out of us,” he said.
Eric Josephson, a trackwalker who said he was a supporter of the Revolutionary Transit Workers, also denounced interest payments to lenders, and called for a general strike of all workers.
“Just like Greece!” came a shout from the audience.
“Just like Greece, but we should strike until we win,” said Josephson, referring to recent demonstrations in Greece.
One woman said that Walder, previous head of London Transport and drafter of London’s bid for the 2006 Olympics, was an expert at firing people.
“This board does not represent anybody,” she said, adding, “The M.T.A. was created to get around the state cap on the amount of money that can be paid to the banks.”
Witnesses at the hearing also suggested that the proposed No. 7 line extension from Times Square to 10th Ave. and down to 34th St. be dropped and the capital funds be devoted to maintaining full service on existing train and bus lines.