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Editorial: Hands off ATMs

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Remember when the phrase "bankers hours" really meant something? Remember those days when, if you didn't get to the bank by 3 p.m. Friday, you couldn't touch your money until Monday morning? Most people would agree that the ATM cash machines that make their money available 24 hours a day, seven days a week are a tremendous convenience. And most people appreciate the fact that they can withdraw their money from the ATMs at almost any bank.

But not all people can see the obvious. On both coasts, misguided politicians are taking steps that could pull the plug on these ATM machines. In San Francisco, the City Council passed a law last month that prohibits banks from charging non-customers a fee for using ATM machines. The banks have challenged the new law in court and they may be successful in blocking it. However, if they don't succeed, the banks say they simply will not allow non-customers to use their machines.

For the consumer, this is a disaster. But don't blame the banks. They are in business to make a profit. The ATM machines are a service and the banks have a right in a free-market economy to charge for the services they offer. Existing law requires that the machines notify the customer in advance how much the service will cost. The customer who thinks a bank's fee is too high has the option of going to another bank. Indeed there are several banks in New York City that do not charge non-customers for this service. That's their prerogative. That's how a free-market economy works.

Rather than learning from the fiasco in California, the New York City Council is about to make the same shortsighted mistake. The man who would be mayor, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, will hold hearings to explore the possibility of limiting ATM charges or abolishing them all together. His primary target is the "double dipping" a practice in which the customer incurs charges from his own bank as well as the bank he is visiting. But Vallone is leaving the door wide open.

Vallone and Co. should keep their fingers off the ATMs. Unlike the City Council, the ATMs actually perform a public service and they do it very well. Most banks do not charge their own customers and people who don't wish to pay the fee at a guest bank, which can be as much as $1.50, can opt to only use the ATMs in their own bank. Meanwhile, those who think the charges are worth the convenience will not be deprived.

In truth, we have a great deal more confidence in the forces of the free market than we do in the City Council. If you value having access to your money when and where you need it, tell the City Council to keep its hands off the ATMs.

The Flushing promise

More than 100 years before the Bill of Rights was introduced, 31 freeholders gathered in the Town of Flushing to author a document that would guarantee freedom of religion. That document, which came to be known as the Flushing Remonstrance was recently put on display at the new Flushing Library. It serves as a poignant reminder that Flushing is the true birthplace of tolerance in the America.

The Remonstrance was originally intended to protect the Quakers, who had been persecuted by the government of Peter Syuyvesant. In essence, the founding fathers were saying that all people would be welcome in Flushing, which is now one of the most ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse communities in America.

Today, virtually every major religion is represented in Flushing. And although there have been tensions, the people who have come to Flushing from all parts of the world live in harmony. It's worth noting that the seeds for this accomplishment were planted 342 years ago.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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