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MTA to hold Queens meet on fares, booth shutdowns

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will hold a hearing in Queens next month on its plan to hike transit fares, shut down station booths and end the half-century run of that renowned New York City symbol, the subway token.

“The earliest we could aim for as far as a fare increase is April, but it could be May,” said MTA spokesman Tom Kelly. “This would, of course, come after all the public hearings next month. On the phasing out of the token and other changes, they would come further down the line."

The MTA has scheduled a hearing on a fare increase and other matters at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Queens Borough Hall, Central Jury Room (basement), 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens.

It is one of 10 such hearings in the five boroughs and other locations outside the city since proposed increases in commuter train fares, and bridge and tunnel tolls are also included in the MTA plans.

MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow said in November that some sort of fare increase was unavoidable because of a projected budget gap of $2.8 billion for this year and 2004.

The MTA proposed in November three possibilities for fare increases: one alternative bringing a $1.75 fare but along with it service cuts and two choices including a $2 fare without cutting back service.

The prospect of a fare hike seems certain to attract opponents to the hearings, but the announcement that the MTA remains determined to close subway token booths has in the past brought outbursts from outraged straphangers. Transit officials say token clerks are not needed because most straphangers buy and replenish their MetroCards by using machines in stations. They see millions of dollars in savings from such closings.

In a stormy public hearing at City Hall in 2001, some of those who testified predicted that subway stations — devoid of human beings in token booths — would become dens of crime that fearful subway riders would abandon.

The MTA announced the latest round of hearings just a day or two after three riders of the city’s subway system were attacked in random stabbings at night in Queens and Manhattan.

The New York City Transit Authority said it wants to close 177 token booths, 27 of them in Queens, including:

Full-time booth closings:

No. 7 line: Vernon Blvd.-Jackson Ave.

Part-time booth closures:

J line: Woodhaven Blvd.

A line: Hudson St., Rockaway Blvd., 111th St.

E line: Queens Plaza, 74th St.-Roosevelt Ave., 71st-Continental Ave. (two booths), Union Turnpike, Parsons Blvd.-Archer Ave.

R and V lines: Woodhaven Blvd., 63rd Drive, 67th Ave.

No. 7 line: Vernon Blvd., Jackson Ave., 33rd St., 46th St., 74th St.-Broadway.

G line: 36th, Steinway and 46th Sts (two booths), Northern Blvd.

F line: Sutphin Blvd., Parsons Blvd., 169th St.

The token, first introduced when the fare rose from a dime to 15 cents in 1953, has many defenders but fewer buyers nowadays. The numbers of those who drop tokens into turnstiles has been steadily diminishing since introduction of the electronic MetroCard in 1994.

“The MetroCard and the discounts it provides has made the token obsolete,” MTA spokesman Kelly said.

James Anyansi, a spokesman for the New York Transit Authority, said tokens are still used by 11.8 percent of subway riders and 2.7 percent of bus passengers.

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

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