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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has narrowly approved taking away free E-ZPasses from all city employees, including firefighters and police, in a move to save $10 million a year.
The decision followed contentious debate at the MTA board's monthly meeting Sept. 24 with some members warning that eliminating the passes could worsen relations with City Hall. Others said the MTA could not afford not to.
The MTA board approved ending the free E-ZPasses, which provide access to bridges and tunnels, by a 7-6 vote.
MTA officials said they wanted to make clear that taking away E-ZPasses would in no way hinder police and firefighters on emergency runs.
City agencies will obtain E-ZPasses in the same way as regular straphangers. MTA officials said the changeover might take around six weeks.
The MTA said revocation of about 22,000 free E-ZPasses to municipal workers would bring the cash-strapped transit agency about $10 million annually.
Mark Page, City Budget director and one of four members of the MTA board appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said he believed withdrawing the E-ZPasses was ill-advised.
Page said there were a number of financial issues that the city and MTA still must resolve
Page said he believed "ill-will arising from this proposal is going to be expensive."
But board member Doreen Frasca said: "I want to be able to say to all the hard-working people who use our system that the MTA is not giving a free ride to anyone."
Mayor spokesman Mark La Vorgna said: "If they want more money, they should be forthright and ask instead of lamely disguising this as E-ZPass reform."
The MTA has been trying to come up with money to offset an expected $900 million deficit and has called managers to prepare plans for service cuts as a last resort.
The MTA is already pressing for a raise in subway, bus and commuter rail fares next year, a proposal the agency will vote on in December.
Gene Russianoff, attorney for the transit activist agency Straphangers Campaign, said the city is providing only 8.5 percent of financing for a system that is "at the very heart of our regions's economy and mobility."
"The city of New York objects to the E-ZPass resolution, saying that asking them to pay unfairly singles them out and will raise only $10 million" Russianoff said.
"The city says the MTA must take actions on its own to be more efficient and to raise revenues," he said. "Well, that's exactly what the MTA is doing here."
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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