Unlike the previous round of raucous public hearings in March, last night's face-off at Cooper Union between straphangers and the MTA board was relatively subdued, with only 150 or so people showing up for the first of nine rant-a-thons. The Times reports that empty seats outnumbered the audience, but there were still some good jabs from disgruntled commuters, like the one who reportedly told the board, "I'm a disabled veteran. I've got hearing aids here. What did I fight for? So I have to jump a turnstile to ride the train?" And another straphanger bitterly declared, "You don't ride the system. You ride in limousines and you laugh at us."
The low turnout may suggest that riders have accepted that the fare hikes are inevitable, and Trudy L. Mason, a former executive at the transportation authority and a member of the New York City Transit Riders Council., tells the Times, "I think people have just given up. They’re saying, 'What’s the use? Why bother?' " Indeed, MTA chief Jay Walder, on his way into the hearing, conceded the Authority has no choice but to raise fares. "We're dealing with a financial situation that I believe is going to require a fare increase," Walder told the Daily News. The MTA says it needs to raise revenues by 7.5%, and had proposed a bitter cocktail of fare hikes.
The only good news to emerge yesterday, if you believe it, was a prediction that there will be no more service cuts for a while. "We looked ahead four years, and service cuts between now and 2014 are not on the table," said Hilary Ring, the MTA’s director of government affairs, told the City Council’s Transportation Committee. But the MTA's debt has gone from $13 billion in 2000 to $31 billion in 2010, and Ring also told the City Council that "debt will continue to increase substantially." Ridership is on the rise, funding is down, debt is spiking, but you heard Ring: No more service cuts! Doesn't that make you feel very secure and warm inside? There are more public hearings if you're not quite convinced.