2009-03-20 / Editorial/Opinion

MTA Critical To Rockaway Quality Of Life

There are two truisms when the question turns to the quality of life for those who live in Rockaway. The first is that Rockaway is geographically and politically isolated from the city in which it stands. The second is that public transportation is critical to that quality of life for many local residents, especially those who have to commute to Manhattan each workday. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who represents all of Rockaway, said at a press conference on Tuesday morning that 85 percent of his constituents use public transportation. That sounds high to us, but he is certainly right that the express buses and the A Train that serve the peninsula provide a vital lifeline to jobs in other parts of the city. Faced with a staggering $1.128 billion operating deficit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the semi-public agency that runs public transportation in the city and Nassau County, knew something had to be done. What Smith and his colleagues have recommended may well be a dollar short and a day late. Instead of following the Ravitch Commission guidelines, which call for a payroll tax, a fare increase of eight percent and tolls on the East River bridges (rather than the draconian 30 percent increase the MTA had proposed earlier), in the Senate plan, the potential bridge tolls are eliminated and the payroll tax would be reduced from 33 cents on $100 to payroll to 25 cents. In addition, the fare increase would be reduced to four percent rather than the eight suggested by Ravitch and the 30 percent recommended by the MTA board. While we are opposed to fare increases of any kind, we believe that the Senate plan is a good compromise to both the MTA plan and the Ravitch plan. We can only question, however, if the Senate plan will raise the additional revenue to keep the MTA solvent. If not, then the next step should be implementing the Ravitch Plan for East River tolls. The MTA is too valuable for the government to allow it to fall apart at the seams.

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Perhaps the MTA management could learn a thing or two from The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit system they have recently lowered the annual bus pass from $240 to $60 and increased service.
Maybe those newer residents who have 15 year tax abatements on their property should have to buy an annual pass for peak time traffic, therefore giving the district a solid base to approach the deficit. And perhaps annual transit passes should be rolled into tuition at colleges, and benifit packages of employees to further save the costs of counting coins and paying third parties to collect.
The long term gas savings of a new fleet of Hybrids might ensure solvency as well.
If the Community Board 14 concerned itself with enhancing the area rather than trying to give away public areas for concession contracts, residents might find less reason to leave to spend money locally.
Perhaps some of those drivers would appreciate a tax abatement on a home in an area where being "house poor" is a reality, rather than a union fee and taxable raise.

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