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M.T.A. Chief Takes to Subway to Promote Fare Increases

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M.T.A. Chief Takes to Subway to Promote Fare Increases

By WILLIAM NEUMAN

Published: July 27, 2007

 

Taking his message of fare increases and a dire financial outlook directly to straphangers yesterday morning, Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, passed out leaflets on a subway platform at Grand Central Terminal.

 

Mr. Sander, dressed in a dark suit, began handing out leaflets at 8 a.m. to hurrying subway riders on the platform of the shuttle train to Times Square.

 

Very few people seemed to recognize him, and only one or two stopped for a chat. Most merely brushed past him: New Yorkers in a hurry to get on or off the train.

 

The leaflet was titled “The Fare Facts,” and it said that growing pension and debt service costs had made “modest increases in fares and tolls” necessary.

 

It did not mention that the rate increase in fares and tolls would average 6.5 percent. And it also did not mention that for the last year the authority has operated with a cash surplus of nearly $1 billion.

 

But the surplus was on the mind of one woman who stopped to speak to Mr. Sander. She asked him where the money had gone.

 

Mr. Sander told her that the authority was facing rising deficits, and he invited her to send her opinions in an e-mail message, through the M.T.A.’s Web site.

 

The woman, Jean Callaham, said it took her two hours to get to work from her home on Staten Island. She told Mr. Sander that the $20 she pays each week in subway fares and the $9 toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that her relatives pay when they visit her were already high enough.

 

Speaking to a reporter afterward, Ms. Callaham, who works at a financial services firm, said she leaves her house at 6:15 a.m., drives to the Staten Island Railway and takes the train to the Staten Island ferry. After crossing the harbor, she takes a subway to Times Square and then takes the shuttle to Grand Central. She gets to work at 8:15.

 

At times she has taken an express bus, which cuts the trip to an hour. But the cost is much higher.

 

Ms. Callaham said that when she got off the shuttle yesterday morning she mistook Mr. Sander for another public official.

 

“I saw a distinguished-looking gentleman standing there, and I thought it was Mayor Bloomberg,” she said. “Then he handed me this flier, and I said, ‘Who are you?’ ”

 

When he told her, it was like kismet.

 

“As it happened, a group of us riding the ferry this morning got into a rather heated discussion about the tolls going up and the fares going up,” she said. “I was kind of riled up from that. And then, there he was, the man who’s raising the fares.”

 

After handing out a thick stack of leaflets, Mr. Sander paused to speak before a gaggle of television cameras.

 

“I expect the public not to be happy,” Mr. Sander said. “In general, the public reaction has been, ‘Why now?’ And it’s our job to explain why this is the prudent way to go.”

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