Hundreds of testy Queens straphangers vented their anger at MTA officials for nearly six hours in Flushing last week, using words like “outrage,” “shame” and “disaster” in denouncing a plan to severely cut service on subways and buses.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder said after another one of the hearings that testimony from frantic riders made him sleepless and uncertain as to how to deal with the debacle.
“It’s tearing my heart out right now,” Walder said following a hearing last Thursday in Manhattan, two days after the Flushing event.
The conduct of the overflow crowd at the Sheraton-LaGuardia Hotel in Flushing ranged from the exuberant to the unruly with a noisy delegation from the Rockaways chanting “No more tolls” just before the hearing began.
It began at 6 p.m. and final speakers were still talking just before midnight.
The MTA faces a $750 million shortfall and said its only hope is trimming both service and personnel, including 1,000 jobs itself. The far-reaching changes will be voted on by the MTA board March 24 and will take effect starting in June.
The Rockaways contingent displayed placards and chanted against the proposed elimination of resident rebates on tolls on the Cross Bay Bridge. Under the plan, Rockaway residents would pay to travel to places in the same ZIP code. Some said such a toll might even be unconstitutional.
“I will never give up this fight,” said state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach), who represents the area. She also appealed to Walder as a former resident of the Rockaways.
The hearing was one of eight held by the MTA throughout the region served by the transit agency and required before a vote on the plan.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who led off the evening, immediately attacked the idea of shutting down the W train and curtailing the G line.
“This would be a bitter pill for our residents to swallow,” Marshall said. “Riders would also have longer waits, longer travel times and more riders per train,” Marshall said. “Just think of riders doing this during major snowstorms like we just had.”
“And bus service is our lifeline and yet you want to eliminate the Q14, Q42, Q74, Q75, Q79, Q89, QM22 and QM23,” Marshall said. “Thousands rely on these as their only means of transportation.”
Some of the strongest verbal vitriol was used in accusing the MTA of victimizing children, the elderly and disabled by taking away free MetroCards from schoolchildren and carrying out drastic cuts in the para-transit service for the elderly and disabled.
Aleksander Roszensuit, 17, who is deaf, communicated in sign language to an interpreter, who spoke the boy’s words to the hearing.
“My parents are having a hard time making ends meet,” Rozsensuit said. “Please don’t cut the student MetroCards.”
Many in the audience rose and applauded the youth, a high school student.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told the MTA is must get money fromthe state Legislature instead of making the transit cuts.
“You must go back to Albany,” Stringer said. “We will go with you, we will walk with you, we will march with you. We will fight with you.”
Many speakers expressed outrage at news that thousands of MTA employees and their families have free transit passes — some for life.
Facing the crowd on the dais with Walder were MTA board members Nancy Shevell, Doreen Frasca, Jim Ferrero, Mark Page, Norman Seabrook and New York City Transit Department of Buses Director Joseph Smith.
Gone were the barricades which, at past hearings, had prevented anyone from approaching MTA officials.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledge
©2010 Community News Group
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