By Yepoka Yeebo
EAST VILLAGE — The MTA fare hike hearings got off to a loud, angry start Monday evening as residents called for the ousting of MTA head Jay Walder and raged against proposals to limit "'unlimited" MetroCards.
The hearing at Cooper Union was the first in a series the MTA is legally mandated to host to gather feedback from the public on cost-savings measures. The MTA board will choose among a number of possibilites, including a plan to increase the price of a 30-day unlimited MetroCard to $104, an alternative proposal to raise the price to $99 but institute a 90-ride cap, and a separate plan to charge people $1 whenever they buy a new MetroCard instead of refilling an old one.
"We are here to speak on behalf of the millions of beleaguered New York City subway and bus riders," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers campaign, speaking at a small protest before the hearing. "Riders are unfairly being asked to pay more for less, with a fare hike close on the heels of the worst service cuts in decades."
Inside the hearing, protesters chanted "Fire the MTA" and booed MTA board chair Jay Walder.
"I don't think that's really the choice we have right now," Walder said of the proposed cuts, before walking into the hearing, the Daily News reported. "We're dealing with a financial situation that I believe is going to require a fare increase."
Pulling out a bus map and pointing to sections of Manhattan, Nina Lublin, 56, said she came to the meeting because the recent cuts had left entire chunks of the city, especially downtown and the west side, without buses.
"You're asking people to pay a lot more money for a lot less service," said Lublin, from Roosevelt Island. "I don't get excited about a lot of things, but this really rubs me up the wrong way."
Lublin, who works for a non-profit, also said she wanted to find out exactly who was on the MTA board, because they will be making the final decision on the proposals in October.
"I wanted to find out who they represent, because they're appointed, not elected," Lublin explained.
Gavriella Gemma, 61, said the real problem was that the board was not representative of the majority of New Yorkers.
"If you look at who's on the board, it's lawyers and developers and CEOs," said Gemma, who had filed several Freedom of Information requests for information about the MTA board. "And they don't even use the transit system."
Velda Fyler, 80, from Washington Heights, wagged her finger at the board and asked them to consider the impact on New Yorkers in a down economy.
"Where are you supposed to get more money just because they say so?" she asked.
A bit of good news did come out of the meeting, as the MTA's Director of Government affairs, Hilary Ring, announced that the agency would not cut services again for at least another four years, according to the New York Post.
"We looked ahead four years, and service cuts between now and 2014 are not on the table," Ring said, according to the paper.
In the mean time, the MTA is considering plans to axe the one-day and 14-day unlimited MetroCards and reduce the pay-per-ride bonus from 15 to 7 percent.
Other plans up for consideration include toll increases for bridges and tunnels. The full proposal is on the MTA's website.
The hearings come as the cash-strapped MTA is looking to increase its revenue by 7.5 percent because of an agreement it made with the state Legislature.
Public hearings are planned in the outer boroughs, in New Jersey and upstate before the MTA board votes on the proposals in October.