By Maura Yates
March 04, 2010, 12:16AM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. --- The MTA's decision to host multiple public hearings across the city as transit riders brace for service cuts meant the MTA's leadership and board members were divided, and only a handful could attend either forum.
While Queens residents had an audience with MTA Chairman Jay Walder and six of the MTA's 16 board members Tuesday night, an overflow crowd of Staten Islanders got to vent to New York City Transit President Tom Prendergast and three board members, Allen Cappelli, Jeff Kay and Mitchell Pally, among other MTA brass including Staten Island Railway Chief John Gaul.
The double booking wasn't the only logistical problem, as state Sen. Diane Savino, stuck in Albany for a legislative session and unable to attend, objected to the location of the borough's meeting at the College of Staten Island. She proposed moving future meetings to a more easily-accessible venue like the St. George Theatre, so more residents, and board members could attend.
Last night's hearings were divided between the Bronx and Brooklyn, and another two will be held tonight in Manhattan and Suffern, N.Y.
"I find it insulting that Staten Islanders cannot even get their own hearing," she said in a statement yesterday. "There were 1,500 Island residents attending last night's hearing, desperate to protect their bus service. Five board members listened to 400 Queens residents, while we apparently only merited three. I call on the full board to come and hear how these proposed cuts will devastate Staten Island, in a venue accessible by mass transit and with a greater capacity, like the St. George Theatre."
Cappelli, who attended every fare and toll hike hearing throughout the city last year, save for one on a similarly double-booked night, said he wished he could have heard from riders in Queens as well and also thought the St. George Theatre might be a more accessible venue.
Sen. Savino urged Island bus riders to sign her online petition against the cuts, and to complete a survey of conditions of the borough's express buses. The petition and survey can be found at www.nysenate.gov/petition/tell-mta-no-express-bus-reductions.
Meanwhile, Borough President James Molinaro proposed a new tolling idea that would spare most residents while raising more revenue to undo some of the proposed cuts to borough bus lines.
By hiking the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge cash toll $1 to $12, he said, the MTA could raise $77 million a year, which could offset some of the service cuts. The bulk of Islanders who use the bridge use E-ZPass, he said, and therefore wouldn't be affected, while tourists and visitors would have to pony up.
"I'm not going to cry over people from Ohio or Wyoming who would have to pay a dollar more," Molinaro said.
In addition, an increase in E-ZPass use to avoid the hiked toll would help ease traffic flow and improve air quality from cars queuing up to pay the toll.