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Commuters blast MTA service at Long Island fare, toll hike hearing

A public hearing on the Long Island Rail

A public hearing on the Long Island Rail Road's proposed 4 percent fare hike will be held Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, at 5 p.m. at the Hilton Long Island at 598 Broad Hollow Rd. in Melville. Photo Credit: Newsday / Danielle Finkelstein

Long Island commuters Wednesday sounded off about a planned MTA fare and toll increase next year, saying the cost of taking a train shouldn't climb as their service gets worse.

The Melville public hearing -- one of several being held this week and next throughout the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's service area -- comes before the March rate hike, which will see fares and tolls climb by about 4 percent. On the Long Island Rail Road, the cost of a monthly ticket will increase $7 to $19, depending on distance.

In past years, the percentage of fare increases has been more than twice as high for some LIRR riders than others.

The increase is the MTA's fifth since 2008, and another is likely in 2017 as part of the agency's plan to raise fares every other year by 4 percent -- roughly the cost of inflation.

Although turnout was low at yesterday's hearing at the Long Island Hilton, some speakers shared a similar message.

"I understand the need for raising fares . . . [but] how come the Long Island Rail Road or the MTA never say, 'Let's increase or better the service?' " LIRR commuter Vishal Chaudhri, 36, of Wheatley Heights, told a panel of MTA officials, including LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski.

"How do you propose a fare increase in conjunction with decreasing quality of service?" asked Caitlin Meuser, 23, of Huntington Station, who quit her job in Manhattan over the summer because of repeated LIRR service disruptions. "I do not get paid more to do less work. And I have trouble wrapping my head around how the Long Island Rail Road can justify that concept."

MTA officials have said the increase is necessary to help cover the increasing cost of running the system, which has an annual operating budget of about $14 billion. The fare hike is expected to generate an extra $252 million a year.

"Nobody wants to pay more. We don't want to charge more," said MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook, adding that he supports pushing the State Legislature to create a new revenue stream for the MTA, such as congestion pricing, to relieve the burden on transit riders. "We only have one way to get more money: The fares and the tolls . . . We can't do anything else."

LIRR customers can record video testimony on the fare and toll hikes at the Hicksville station from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. Thursday and at the Ronkonkoma station from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Dec. 9. Videos will be limited to 3 minutes.

Comments also can be submitted via email through the MTA website at mta.info or by letter sent to MTA Government Affairs, 347 Madison Ave., 5th floor, New York, NY 10017.

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