MTA to hear fare-hike testimony on video

A look at an undated image of the A look at an undated image of the Port Washington Long Island Rail Road MTA station. On Nov. 13 at Hicksville and Nov. 14 at Ronkonkoma, morning commuters will be able to record their testimony on video cameras set up inside station buildings. Photo Credit: Chris Ware

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Long Island commuters will have only one chance to go face-to-face with MTA officials regarding the agency's planned fare hike next year. But they'll also have a couple of chances to go face-to-camera.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has released its schedule of public hearings on its plan to increase fare revenue by 7.5 percent next year. Unlike in the past, the agency will hold only one hearing on Long Island, rather than one each in Nassau and Suffolk.

That hearing will be 5 p.m. Nov. 7 at Farmingdale State College.

However, to give Long Island Rail Road riders further opportunity to sound off on the increases, the MTA has announced plans for "video conference hearings" at two key LIRR stations.

On Nov. 13 at Hicksville and Nov. 14 at Ronkonkoma, morning commuters will be able to record their testimony on video cameras set up inside station buildings. Those videos will be reviewed by the MTA board before it votes on Dec. 19 whether to raise fares.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the video hearings represent the agency's "unprecedented efforts to engage the public in this process."

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The agency chose Farmingdale as the location for the lone Long Island hearing because its location near the Nassau and Suffolk border makes it convenient for residents of both counties, Ortiz said.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said that while he thought the video system could be a fine supplement to public hearings, delivering a message on tape is a poor substitute for commenting in person.

"When you see someone testify, you remember that. It makes an impact," said Epstein, who expressed skepticism that the video testimony would be given the same weight. "How many videos are they going to go through, really?"

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Epstein also noted that, because the MTA has a second public hearing scheduled in Brooklyn on the same night as the one in Farmingdale, speakers won't be able to address all board members.

MTA board member Mitchell Pally supported the agency's approach to gathering public opinion on the fare plan, and said he intends to seriously consider the video testimony.

Pally said he thought the video system would prove convenient for opinionated commuters on the go.

"People who are at that specific station don't have to go anywhere. They're there anyway," he said. "Hopefully, the system works well."

On Monday, the MTA will release various proposals on how to increase fares. The agency is aiming to bring in $450 million in new revenue each year. For subway and bus riders, the hikes could involve raising the cost of the $2.25 base fare or reducing built-in discounts on unlimited MetroCards, or both.

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The last time the MTA raised fares, in January 2011, the plan included reducing how long LIRR tickets were valid and instituting a $10 processing fee on ticket refunds. Pally said he did not expect either of those options to be on the table this time.

The new fares would take effect in March.

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