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Appeals court upholds bus, subway fare hike

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By Philip Newman

To the dismay of transit riding Queens multitudes, five appeals court judges have unanimously ruled that the $2 transit fare is here to stay after all.

But Gene Russianoff of the transit advocacy agency Straphangers Campaign said the decision would be appealed.

The judges of the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division in Manhattan Tuesday overruled a lower court decision ordering a rollback of the hike of subway and bus fares, commuter rail fares and bridge and tunnel tolls.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter Kalikow said his agency was “pleased” and called the appellate decision “appropriate and proper.”

Appeals Court judges Joseph Sullivan, Ernst Rosenberger, Betty Weinberg Ellerin, Alfred Lerner and George Marlow were unanimous in overturning a May 14 decision by State Supreme Court Justice Louis York ordering a rollback of the fare and toll increases.

The appellate court judges wrote in a 28-page opinion that they were unmoved by the lawsuit’s claim that the MTA had given the public insufficient and inaccurate information about the agency’s finances.

“The level of disclosure that a governmental agency must meet is a legislative, not a judicial decision,” the judges wrote.

“While it may be beneficial to include some financial information,” the judges concluded that such action is not legally required.

And the judges said the MTA’s report of a projected $2.8 billion budget gap through the years 2003 and 2004 were “not fictitious.”

But Bryan O'Dwyer of the Straphangers said the MTA provided false financial information, perhaps in violation of state law in notices for its 10 public hearings, including one in Kew Gardens Feb. 19.

The MTA was required to hold the hearings before it decided to raise fares on subways and buses by 50 cents to $2, boost commuter railroad tickets, hike tolls and shut down subway token booths, including 12 in Queens.

Both New York City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi conducted financial reviews of the MTA books and concluded that the agency had misled the public about the agency’s finances by hiding by more than a half million dollars in surpluses. Hevesi accused the MTA of arrogance and contempt for the public and of keeping two sets of books, one for public consumption.

Both comptrollers agreed that a fare hike likely would have been necessary in 2004 but not yet. Neither accused the MTA of any criminal wrongdoing.

MTA officials denied the charges by Thompson and Hevesi and termed them politically motivated.

“It was not a good decision for us,” Russianoff said of the appellate court decision. “We will appeal on behalf of riders and all New Yorkers who want honest, open government.”

The appellate court judges’ decision covers not only subway and bus fares and commuter railroad fares but bridge and tunnel tolls.

Among those who expressed disappointment at the decision was City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee.

“This ruling does not change the fundamental reality that the public has lost faith in the MTA and its Transit Authority,” Liu said. “No matter what the legal or technical arguments put forth during the lawsuit were, the fact remains that New Yorkers were and continue to be disappointed by the MTA’s deliberate attempts to mislead the public with regard to its financial position and the process through which the fare and toll increase decisions wee made.”

Thompson said in a statement “both state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and I established the fact that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority misled the public when the fare was raised to $2. The lower court’s ruling was clear: the hearings held by the MTA before it approved the hike were a sham.”

Kalikow said “over the past several months, while this issue was before the court, the MTA has adopted a series of sweeping financial changes to make its budget process even more public and transparent.”

The furor over what the MTA’s finances were and were not came after assertions by critics of the agency that all information about adverse finances and the need for a fare hike were kept quiet until after the re-election of Republican Gov. George Pataki. The governor appoints most of the MTA’s 23 members.

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

Posted 7:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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