You really have to hand it to the MTA for their ability to make a bad thing worse.
Take the new proposed fare and toll hikes. Service for the most part is just as bad as it’s always been, if not worse. And now the MTA wants to charge more for it.
The MTA is holding a series of public hearings on the proposed hikes, including a hearing on Staten Island today.
The last time I went to a public hearing about fare hikes, a couple of years ago, it was pretty much a useless gesture. The MTA reps on the stage were just there to listen, the audience was told, not to actually engage with the commuters who came to air their complaints.
So it was a lot of impassioned talk on one end, and a lot of nodding and note-taking on the other. It was hard to see how any frustrated commuter left there feeling like their gripes got more than cursory hearing.
Never mind the optics of the whole thing: MTA folks elevated up there on the stage, commuters down below, a performer-audience gulf between them. They may as well have put a line of still photos up there for people to talk to.
Maybe things will be different this time around. Maybe there will be some actual give-and-take. I hope so.
But that frustration aside, when was the last time that you saw a public hearing convince the MTA to refrain from raising tolls and fares? Again, maybe this time will be different.
That’s not the only frustration with the upcoming hearing. The event starts at 5:30 p.m., when most commuters are still on their way home from work. So, many of the folks who have complaints and actually have knowledge of the system will likely not be able to get there in time.
Add to that the fact that the hearing is being held on the second night of Hanukkah, and you can see the potential for a low-attendance event.
But put all that aside. Because there’s never a good time for a fare hike. And there’s no perfect time to hold a public hearing. And no perfect venue. You can always find something to nitpick about.
The main problem I have about the MTA is that there’s no accountability.
And more than that, the authority is designed to have no accountability. Look, if something is wrong at a public school or a public housing complex, or if the snow isn’t plowed or the garbage goes uncollected, I know who to blame.
There are things the mayor is responsible for. There are things that the governor is responsible for. Things that president is responsible for. We get a chance to vote for or against them, based on their performance.
But the MTA is a totally different kind of animal. Some of the board members are appointed by the governor. Some by the mayor. Some by other public officials in the region. Some by transit unions.
The board members are appointed, not elected. And not everybody who does the appointing is answerable to voters. It makes for a lot of buck passing, even if the governor appoints the MTA chair. That should count for something a little bit more, but good luck convincing Gov. Andrew Cuomo about that.
And will any incremental fare hike make enough of a dent to actually boost service? When you look at a budget in the billions, a few dollars here and there is like a tossing a cup of sand onto the beach. It’s big money to us, of course, but is it really addressing the problems?
We’ve had some improvements in express bus service, thanks to Borough President James Oddo, MTA brass and union management and drivers. So there is a way to get things done without fare hikes. It only took a lot of work. Is anybody paying attention?