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Queens pols, activists slam possible transit fare hike

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By Philip Newman

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s warnings on the city’s financial distress have raised concern the $1.50 transit fare is in jeopardy, but few Queens activists or politicians believe that generating more money at the turnstile is the solution.

Bloomberg, probably the first mayor to regularly ride the No. 6 train to work, contends the city can no longer pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority $500 million annually to subsidize mass transit.

“Somebody’s going to have to pay for it,” Bloomberg said.

Many straphangers fear the “somebody” will turn out to be them as the first fare hike since 1995 takes effect.

Bloomberg has yet to actually request a fare increase, which most political observers say would take place only after the November election when his fellow Republican, Gov. George Pataki, runs for a third term.

“In the first place, a fare increase would not be fair,” said Gene Russianoff, attorney for Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group.

“New York City provides 84 percent of all mass transportation in the state of New York,” Russianoff said. “Yet New York City receives only 62 percent of the mass transit money from Albany.”

He added, “That’s $325 million we should be receiving and which would go a long way toward making a fare hike unnecessary.”

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who chairs the Council’s Transportation Committee, said “it is absolutely the worst time for a fare increase. It is a time when the service has declined and besides that, the commuter tax should be restored to take up the slack.”

During the Giuliani administration the commuter tax on people who worked in the city but lived outside state boundaries in Connecticut and New Jersey was eliminated.

Liu pointed out that last year $350 million was found to avert a hike in subway and bus fares this year.

“It is my hope they find money this year and not raise the fare after the election in which Gov. Pataki is running for re-election,” he said.

Bob Harris of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association said his group opposes a fare increase for several reasons.

“Before asking subway and bus patrons to pay more, the Transit Authority should cut down on it own bureaucracy and overhead,” he said.

“We have a large work force and a large group of senior citizens among subway and bus riders,” Harris said. “Many of these people have limited income and cannot afford a fare increase.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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