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Council assails Ravitch over transit revenue

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Former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Richard Ravitch answered a barrage of questions by City Council members Tuesday about his committee’s suggestions for rescuing the MTA from financial straits.

He said that “the world is changing and many people out there want change,” including clean water and air and mass transit over the automobile.

Ravitch, appointed along with a dozen other people by Gov. David Paterson to come up with ways to provide revenue for the MTA, appeared at City Hall along with more than a dozen other persons representing a variety of organizations and agencies.

The first to testify were Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives, and Kate Slevin of the Tri State Transportation Campaign. When they all said they approved of East River tolls, Brooklyn and Queens Council members took issue.

“Where I stand on this issue is no secret,” said Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), a staunch foe of tolls.

Councilmen John Liu (D-Flushing) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) both weighed in against tolls, with Liu suggesting tolls were not the most effective way to raise revenue.

Councilmen Lewis Fidler (D-Brooklyn) and Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) both assailed the tolls.

“Why not start out with a concept that has a chance, not bridge tolls, which are dead on arrival?” said Fidler.

Weprin ticked off a list of his objections to bridge tolls to Ravitch, who mentioned the estimated $600 proceeds would go to vastly increasing express bus service to outer borough areas, where there is inadequate or no subway service.

“I understand that you must consider that many of your constituents oppose tolls,” Ravitci said, “but I tell you the world is changing. There are many people out there who don’t want to live by the old shibboleths and seek change; people who want cleaner water and air and who, in many cases, are turning to mass transit over the automobile.”

Ravitch hailed what he called “courageous decisions” more than a century ago to build the city’s subway system, but suggested that to expand and improve, it must go on.

“If we do not invest in our mass transit system, we will not be able take advantage of a growing economy in the future,” Ravitch said.

The Council also heard from Theodore Kheel, 93, a renowned attorney, public advocate and labor mediator, who spoke on his plan to revolutionize city public transit.

Kheel’s plan would bring free transit buses 24 hours a day; free subways except during rush hour, but significantly reduced fares during rush hour; $1 billion in revenue annually for the MTA; daytime traffic speeds which would increase by 34 percent in Manhattan south of 60th Street; less congested subways during rush hour; and 15 percent to 20 percent faster bus service.

Liu called the plan “visionary.”

Other Queens Council members attending were Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills).

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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