July 26, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A broad coalition of transit workers, riders and elected officials hoping to press the MTA for the restoration of specific service cuts to underserved communities citywide, rallied outside the agency’s Madison Avenue headquarters yesterday – but instead of success, what they got was fare hikes and what many view is a lot of "lip service" about enhancing the overall system. (Watch Video)
“They have money,” mayoral candidate Bill Thompson told those lining the block across the street from 347 Madison Avenue. “It’s time for them to think about us. They’ve been restoring some of the cuts, but there’s a long way to go. The governor gave them $40 million. They’ve spent $18 million. I can add – I used to be the comptroller of the City of New York – there’s another $22 million that they can spend in restoration.”
Rider advocates are pressing the MTA for the return of discontinued token booths, weekend service on the X28 bus route, and the restoration of the Bx26, Bx28 and QBx1 buses in Co-op City – where senior citizens complain of prolonged waits, double fares and inadequate connections.
“We know that the funding was there this year,” New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said. “We’re grateful for it. But it doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t get out into the system. It doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t get into the underserved communities. It doesn’t mean anything if the people that need it aren’t getting it.”
The MTA is blaming the new round of fare hikes – set for 2015, and again in 2017 – on supposedly rising pension and healthcare costs, as well as other “uncontrollable” debts.
“We don’t want to put one dollar more into services unless we know that it’s going to be sustainable,” MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg told LaborPress. “The worse thing we could do is add a bus route this year and take it back next year.”
The MTA, however, is responding to one direct call – the restoration of the B37 bus in Brooklyn. But riders from Co-op City in the Bronx might have to wait until year’s end and the completion of an MTA study to see if the services they want will be implemented.
“We know what is going on in Co-op City and what is not going on in Co-op City,” senior citizen advocate Helen Atkins said. “We are tired of waiting. It’s warm now, but you know how many days you sat in the rain and snow.”
New York City Councilman Andy King says that the MTA is wasting its time, and that his Co-op City constituents have already told the agency everything it needs to know.
“We’ve already done the survey,” Councilman King said. “You don’t have to spend anymore money. The people have spoken. Now is the time to restore the buses in Co-op City.”
TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen took the MTA brass directly to task for conducting surveys that “go nowhere.”
“What they have to do is put themselves in the shoes of the ordinary, everyday rank and file riders of the New York City Transit system to find out what your needs are – and not what the needs are of the bean counters and fiscal [numbers] crunchers up there at MTA headquarters,” Samuelsen said.
Two pieces of “lockbox” legislation designed to impede efforts to divert of "sweep away" funding specifically dedicated to mass transit, have yet to reach Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk – and it’s unclear if the state’s chief executive will sign them into law if and when they do.
“New York State needs a Green New Deal,” New York Green Party Chair Michael O’Neil said. “Back in 2010, when we should have been expanding subway services as part of a strategy to create jobs and fight climate change, they cut services and hiked our fares. And for what? To pay back interest on debt owed to JP Morgan Chase and Citi Group, and a bunch of banks that the 99 percent had just bailed out? It’s a travesty.”
Assemblyman Bill Colton predicted that continued pressure on the MTA will ultimately result in the restoration of desired services.
“I’m betting that if we continue to work together, if we continue to have a coalition of community organizations, working families, and all of us working together, even the MTA will join that coalition,” Assemblyman Colton said. “Because they may not want to hear it at first, but they cannot ignore that message.”