From the Staten Island Advance:
Commuters can sound off on the MTA's plan to hike tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to $12 as well as the new higher-priced MetroCards on Thursday.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. --- It won't be culture-seekers gathering Thursday night in the St. George Theatre, but rather angry commuters lining up for their turn to tell the MTA what they think about a proposed fare and toll hike set to kick in on New Year's Day.
The MTA's fare and toll hike hearing is set to begin at 6 p.m. in the landmark building on Hyatt Street, which marks a more transit-friendly venue from the College of Staten Island, where previous hearings were held.
MTA Board Members will hear from the public regarding a proposal to increase transit costs by 7.5 percent, along with a 10 percent toll hike, which would amount to a whopping $12 cash toll at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, along with a rise in the discounted fares paid by Staten Island residents who rely on the bridge.
The hikes are part of a plan to keep afloat in the face of a looming budget gap over the next four years.
The proposed fare hike would keep the base fare at the current $2.25 for local bus, subway or Staten Island Railway trips. But the plan calls for a 25 cent increase in the cost of a single-ride ticket. Express bus fares would remain $5.50.
MetroCard bonuses would decrease under the proposal, from a 15 percent bonus with a minimum purchase of $8, to a 7 percent bonus with a minimum $10 purchase.
The cost of 7-day and 30-day passes would also rise. The plan calls for 7-day MetroCards to rise from $27 for an unlimited-ride card to $29, or $28 for a pass capped at 22 trips over the seven days. The monthly pass, now $89, could rise to $104 for unlimited rides, or $99 for the month, capped at 90 trips.
A 7-day express bus MetroCard, now $45, could rise to $50 for unlimited rides, or $48 for 22 trips taken over the seven days.
The borough's representative on the MTA Board, Allen Cappelli, said while the hikes have been in the works for some time, with one last year and another planned for 2013, it doesn't make it any easier for already cash-strapped straphangers to swallow.
But it's the financial and philosophical impact of the rising Verrazano Bridge levy that will hit Islanders hard-est, he said.
"This bridge is really used as a cash cow to fund public transit that we are not adequately served by," Cappelli said. He has proposed a more equitable tolling system that spreads out the burden among the other boroughs. A similar plan that called for adding tolls to the Harlem and East River bridges was rejected by the state legislature in the past.
As an alternative source of revenue for the authority, Borough President James Molinaro has proposed charging an additional $1 toll for drivers who don't use E-ZPass, thereby putting the burden on tourists and drivers just passing through, while sparing regular commuters and Islanders who already enjoy a resident discount. Doing so, Molinaro said, would raise $77 million a year, which would be enough to undo the borough's recent transit service cuts, and then some.
The idea "makes a lot of sense," Cappelli said, and "hopefully it will be discussed."
The MTA Board is expected to vote on the proposed hikes in October, and the increases will kick in on Jan. 1. Another hike is already planned for Jan. 1, 2013.