Meeting Minutes Dec 18, 2008

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A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon on December 18, 2008 in the 3rd floor MTA Police conference room of MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

Andrew Albert
Thomas Jost
Shirley Genn
Trudy Mason
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
Edith Prentiss
William K. Guild
Sharon Santa Maria
Marisol Halpern
Michael Sinansky
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
The following members were absent:

Toya Williford
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation planner
Bruce Zimmern – Concerned citizen
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
Joseph Garber – Concerned citizen
Meg Reed Mian – Concerned citizen
Linda Black – Concerned citizen
Alan Flacks – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the December 18, 2008 meeting was approved. The minutes of the November 20, 2008 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
We have a full plate today as we discuss our next steps following the passage of a truly horrendous 2009 MTA budget, so we’ll have a brief Chair’s report today.

Much of the activity since we met last month has been focused on the MTA budget. I’ll go into greater detail on the MTA Board meeting yesterday in my Board report, but as I’m sure you’ve seen in the news yesterday and this morning, the MTA Board yesterday passed the budget presented in November, with some minor changes that don’t affect NYC Transit. There was only one dissenting vote, from member Norman Seabrook, a Governor’s appointee.

Leading up to the Budget vote, we expressed our objections to the harmful elements of the now approved budget. I have been quoted in several newspaper articles discussing the pain that the proposals would impose on the riders, as has Bill Henderson. Our member Edith Prentiss appeared this past Tuesday with City Comptroller William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to raise objections to the potential 150 percent increase in Access-A-Ride fares that has been set in motion with the passage of the Budget. Bill Henderson met with the Transportation Committee of Manhattan Community Board 6 to discuss the hardships that East Side residents would face if the Budget is implemented, and we’ve presented the NYCTRC’s position in the public speaking and business portions of MTA New York City Transit Committee and Board meetings.

To save riders from the fare increases of 25 percent or more, closings of station booths and reduced system cleaning, and most importantly, severe service cuts will require prompt action by the state. The Commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority Financing, better known as the Ravitch Commission, released its findings on December 4. The PCAC issued a press release supporting this report as a basis for ensuring adequate operating and capital funding for the MTA in 2009 and into the future. Bill Guild’s quote from this release was picked up by the NY Times in its City Room blog. PCAC also joined in the statement of the Empire State Transportation Alliance on the Ravitch Commission report, which included a quote from Bill Henderson. Bill Henderson also testified on behalf of the PCAC at a joint meeting of the NYC Council Finance and Transportation committees this past Tuesday.

In the midst of the budgetary gloom and doom, I have some positive items to report. On November 25, just in time for Thanksgiving weekend, the MTA went live with its Text Messaging and Email Alert system. This system makes timely information about subway and bus service diversions available to riders through their email, cell phones, or mobile devices that receive email or text messages. As a result, NYC Transit customers can now receive service information as commuter railroad customers have been able to do for the past several years. We also received some encouraging responses to the PCAC’s last research report on ADA issues. Ellyn Shannon and Karyl Cafiero met with Chris Boylan and Rick Osborne to discuss ADA improvements to the website. Mr. Osborne said that he would work with the PCAC to improve the location of the Elevator/Escalator outage link and agreed to work with us to improve other issues raised at the meeting.

Board Report
Andrew Albert gave the Board report. He said that a number of the MTA Board members are distressed about the service cuts contained in the proposed 2009 budget. He said that he and other Board members want to know the trade-offs between fare increases and service cuts with an eye toward preserving service.

Mr. Albert also said that it is important to break down the service cuts by State legislative and City Council districts so that elected representatives can be shown what their constituents stand to lose if the cuts are implemented. Bill Henderson said that staff will obtain the cuts by district so that they can be incorporated into a letter to legislators.

Mr. Albert said that while many riders will face hardships if the proposed fare increases and service cuts are implemented, the Mayor’s appointees had secured a reduction of the previously proposed 50 percent increase in the express bus fare. The proposal to raise the Access-A-Ride fare to twice the transit base fare still remains, he noted, and it is an obscenity.

Old Business
The Council discussed the proposed fare increases and service cuts and its response to them. Trudy Mason suggested that copies of the letters sent to legislators be sent to the Speaker of the State Assembly and the Majority Leader of the State Senate. She also suggested letters that outline the cuts by district and fare increases be sent to New York City Council members and Borough Presidents. Several members asked if they could get copies of the cuts by district so that they could contact legislators personally. Mr. Henderson said that he would get copies of the service cuts by district to NYCTRC members.

Mr. Albert discussed the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission and what adoption of the recommendations would mean for NYC Transit. Mike Sinansky said that he supports the Ravitch Commission recommendations and in particular supports its call for the establishment of the MTA Capital Finance Authority (CFA) and the lock box provisions applicable to the additional funding specified in the recommendations. He said that it is vital that these funds be used only for public transportation projects and that the Council should emphasize the importance of the CFA and lock box in its letters to legislators.

Mr. Albert asked what should be done when a public transportation link runs over a multimodal link, such as a bridge. Mr. Sinansky acknowledged that in this case bridge maintenance would be a legitimate use of lock box funding, similar to the expenditures for maintenance of MTA Bridges and Tunnels facilities. He stated, however, that the funding provided by sources recommended in the Ravitch Commission report must not be used as an excuse for City and State governments to reduce existing funding.

Mr. Sinansky also noted the Ravitch Commission recommendations pertaining to strengthening the governance of the MTA. He said that establishing qualifications for Board members is a positive step. Mr. Sinansky also stated that the implementation of improved bus service before any collection of additional bridge tolls begins is a positive element of the Ravitch Commission report. Trudy Mason said that the letter should include support for an improved regional bus system. Ellyn Shannon noted that there are public bus services, such as the Bee Line system in Westchester County, that are currently working well and that we would not want to undermine them. The members agreed that the Council should support improved bus service but felt that more exploration is necessary before a particular model of service is chosen.

Mr. Albert asked members’ opinions of the payroll tax recommended in the Ravitch Commission report. Marisol Halpern asked how the payroll tax would differ from a commuter tax. Mr. Henderson said that the payroll tax would apply to all workers without regard to place of residence and be paid by employers.

Ms. Halpern asked who would make up the governing board of the Capital Finance Authority (CFA) proposed in the Ravitch Commission report. Mr. Henderson said that Richard Ravitch had stated that the existing MTA Board would also serve as the governing board of the CFA, but that he would verify that information.

Mr. Albert asked for comments about the procedure for fare increases in the Ravitch Commission’s proposal. Ms. Mason said that although fare increases without public hearings would be limited to the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index, the recommendation provides only that the Board would be empowered to raise fares, and not that they would be required to increase fares. Several Council members expressed concern about reduced public participation due to this change.

Tom Jost said that the Council should call for other means of ensuring effective public participation if this change is implemented. Jessica Rojas said that better use could be made of the MTA website for collecting and sharing comments. Mr. Albert said that public hearings do have value and about one in eight persons speaking says something new that is valuable to the Board members. Ms. Mason said that the Council should advocate for public hearings on the MTA budget.

Shirley Genn agreed that better public participation is needed, but that many persons don’t have access to or knowledge of the technologies, such as the internet, that are being proposed for expanding public participation. Mr. Albert said that public access television could be used as one means of increasing public participation and that multiple means should be used to reach the public. Ms. Halpern agreed that public access television could be valuable. Ms. Mason said that she would look into the possibility of getting MTA meetings and hearings on public access television.

Mr. Albert asked for opinions on the Ravitch Commissions recommendations on tolling the East and Harlem River bridges. The members voted unanimously to support the Commission’s recommendation on tolls. Mr. Albert said that representatives of the other riders’ councils should be consulted on this matter to ensure that there is not a conflict of interests between the Councils.

Ms. Genn raised the issue of several staircases at the Avenue N (F line) station. She said that the staircases have been out of service for several months and that several dates for completion of repairs have been posted, each later than the previous one. She said that she wished to pursue this matter and get a definitive answer on the date that these staircases will be returned to service.

Mr. Albert asked for comments on the proposed reductions in bus service included in the MTA 2009 budget. Edith Prentiss said that Manhattan Borough President Stringer has produced a map that shows the lines being cut in comparison to accessible subway stations and that it shows that the service being cut is not redundant. Mr. Albert said that it is absurd to say that bus service parallel to subways is redundant, as different needs are being served. Ms. Mason said that no cuts should be made to crosstown buses in Manhattan. She said that the elimination of service is in many areas a safety issue, as the walk to alternative service can be difficult or dangerous for some riders.

Mr. Jost said that the Council should unilaterally reject reductions in bus service. Ms. Prentiss suggested that individual members talk to their elected officials and point out service cuts in their districts. Alan Flacks commented that the service cuts in the 2009 MTA budget will also require public hearings.

New Business
No New Business was discussed.

Adjournment
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

William Henderson
Executive Director

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