For weeks, the MTA had promoted their planned Webinar. Join us on Monday, December 10, they said, for an interactive presentation about the fare hike proposals. MTA officials would discuss the new fare hike structure and field questions for thousands of riders sitting at their computers.
But of course, disaster struck, and no one — literally no one that I know — was able to access the Webinar. For their part, the MTA blamed their third-party software provider both in an e-mail to those of us who had registered and in a statement released to the media. MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander spoke for the agency in an e-mail:
Unfortunately, we experienced some technological difficulties which created difficulty for some participants to view the slide presentations being given. For that we sincerely apologize. Even though the technology didn’t work perfectly for us this first time, the webinar format and the extremely successful Public Engagement Workshop we held on November 17th, were noble experiments to expand our public outreach efforts. We learned a lot today and look forward to better employing the electronic element in the future.
Now, I take some exception to Sander’s statement. I along with Chris from East Village Idiot and the good folks at Gothamist tried to access this webinar with no success. But despite this 100 percent lack of participation from the group of people I know, MTA Spokesman Jeremy Soffin said, “There were obviously technical difficulties, although we received hundreds of questions and know that the audio worked as well.”
If someone who heard and saw this presentation with no problems could come forward, I’d love to hear from you. Was it any good? Did they adequately address the issues and concerns raised in this PDF presentation? I’ve seen that slideshow before so it’s not a surprise to me, but was it to you?
Meanwhile, the bigger news of the day — and here I am, burying the lede — is that the failure of the fare hike Webinar and the whole sense of debate no longer matters. New York’s big guns have spoken, and it would be a huge surprise if the MTA’s board failed to pass the fare hike next week.
Exhibit A comes to us from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. For weeks, Bloomberg — and by extension, the four MTA board votes he controls — had been silent. Today, with word of the hike getting out, Bloomberg, speaking to us from China, lifted that veil. Elizabeth Benjamin has the mayor’s statement:
Based on the information that my staff and I have received and reviewed over the past few weeks, I am now satisfied that the MTA budget is a responsible plan that includes important cost reductions. I agree with Governor Spitzer that this fare increase is necessary to maintain an adequate level of service and balance the needs and obligations of all who use this critical part of the region’s infrastructure. Although it is always hard to ask riders to pay more, I will now urge the City’s representatives to support the proposed fare plan that calls for preserving the $2.00 fare and holding the overall fare increase to less than 4%. This was something we couldn’t support until we’d done everything possible to lower operating expenses and to ensure efficiencies.
And Gov. Spitzer, the embattled governor who is screwing us and getting screwed, sounded a similar bell today:
I commend MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger and MTA Executive Director and CEO Lee Sander on the hard work that they and their staff have put into developing a fiscally responsible 2008 budget…I urge the MTA Board to adopt the proposed budget at their meeting next week.
We must now turn our efforts to the long-term funding of the state’s transportation infrastructure, including the needs of the MTA. We need to invest, not only to maintain the system we have, but to make the necessary improvements to grow the system through the 2nd Avenue Subway, East Side Access, Access to Regions Core, and a new Moynihan Station – projects that will ensure the system serves the 21st Century economy.
On the other side of the debate, a few members of the citycouncil and Christine Quinn looking to position herself for a run at the mayorship spoke out against the fare hike. The best statement came from Simcha Felder who slammed Spitzer’s tourist-friendly plan:
I’m not surprised that the MTA has found a new way to rip us off by holding the base fare favored by tourists at $2, while raising every other fare, including the fares of the weekly and monthly unlimited passes. Hard working New Yorkers, who have to deal with crowded trains, delayed and intermittent service, and dirty subway stations every day should be the ones shielded most from fare hikes.
But it doesn’t matter. The big guns have spoken. The fare hike will pass, and the MTA’s efforts at soliciting public opinion came to an inglorious end today.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am in support of this fare hike. Until the MTA has money in hand from the state government, they have to proceed down a fiscally responsible path. The Richard Brodsky’s and John Liu’s of the world can criticize them all they want and offer up empty promises of hundreds of millions of dollars, but that’s not good enough. The MTA controls its own fate right now, and until someone shows me otherwise, it’s the way to go.
One day, we’ll all know what to do with that odd amount of change left on our pay-per-ride MetroCards, and we’ll all learn to re-educate ourselves in the ways of MetroCard mathematics. But for now, the fare hike is a fait accompli. And that’s life in the Big Apple for ya.