December 30, 2010
by Alfonso A. Castillo
On the second-to-last day of a year that included some of the deepest service cuts and worst disruptions in the 176-year history of the Long Island Rail Road, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Thursday enacted its plan to increase fare revenue by 7.5 percent overall.
For LIRR riders, that meant ticket price increases of as much as 9.4 percent, plus new surcharges and shorter ticket-expiration dates.
The new fares took effect on a day when LIRR customers were eager for some normalcy in their commute. After four days of disruptions caused by Sunday's blizzard, LIRR officials said service Thursday finally was back to normal.
Vincent Giambanco, 54, a pharmacy director from Muttontown who takes the train daily from Syosset, called the hikes "a slap in the face."
"It's not only what happened this week, it's constant," Giambanco said at Penn Station. "If you don't like it, you have no other option."
The fare hikes were part of the State Legislature's 2009 rescue of the MTA as it faced a ballooning multimillion-dollar budget deficit. But even some people who initially supported that plan have spoken against the latest hikes, because the MTA earlier this year put in place the same service cuts it had sought to avoid through the fare hikes.
"We are paying more for service that is systematically being degraded," said LIRR Commuter's Council chairwoman Maureen Michaels.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said he sympathizes with riders who believe the increases seem unfair, especially coming after this week's weather-related service disruptions.
"That's unfortunate, unfair, whatever words we want to put together. But it's part of the agreement that we've made," said Pally, who added that the MTA has tried to administer the hikes as fairly as possible and to cut costs to keep the size of the increases minimal. "There was a good chance that it was going to be much higher than it finally came out to be."
Despite the MTA's budget woes, board member Patrick Foye, who represents Nassau, voted against the fare hikes, and stuck by his decision Thursday.
"Long Island Rail Road commuters are strapped," said Foye, of Port Washington, who added that the state should do more to support transit and avoid such hikes. "I think taking it out of the hides of beleaguered Long Island Rail Road commuters is inappropriate."
In a statement, state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) called the fare hikes "another step by the MTA in taking the state in the wrong direction." Steve Persoff, 55, a Wantagh accountant, used a ticket machine at Penn Station as he calculated monthly transportation-related increases for the LIRR, the subway and the increased cost of gas.
"Add $30 to the train ticket and $8 to the subway and the price of gas," said Persoff, a daily commuter, "and between all three it's a big hit."
With Marc Beja