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MTA: 'We're not deaf' amid fare hike gripes


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MTA: 'We're not deaf' amid fare hike gripes



Sunday, November 4th 2007, 4:00 AM



MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger[/float]On the eve of the first public hearing on proposed fare and toll hikes, new MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger says he has an open mind on the issue.


Hemmerdinger, Gov. Spitzer's choice to lead the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, said he's taken note of the escalating clamor from legislators, transit advocates, political leaders and riders who want fares to remain unchanged.


"I'm paying attention, myself and the board members," Hemmerdinger told the Daily News, which has launched a Halt the Hike campaign. "No one is ignoring what we're hearing from the public and the legislators. We're not deaf."


The state Senate approved Hemmerdinger's nomination on Oct. 22, several months after MTA staff proposed a series of higher prices for the subways, buses, commuter trains and regional bridges and tunnels.


A real estate developer, Hemmerdinger is meeting regularly with senior MTA staff and reading transit reports to be prepared for the board's December meeting when a vote on a 2008 budget will be held.


The MTA is holding public hearings on the proposed hikes, starting tomorrow.


"Working families and the Daily News are on the side of the little guy," said Dan Cantor, executive director of the political Working Families Party. "We need to know, 'Is Hemmerdinger on the same side?' "


The Working Families Party was the first to endorse Spitzer, who also installed MTA CEO Elliot Sander, the top administrator at the authority.


Cantor urged Hemmerdinger to appeal to the state for more funds than the amount the MTA already is expecting from Albany and has included in its preliminary budget.


"There's no guarantees that he'll succeed," Cantor said. "If he doesn't ask the Legislature for help, that's malpractice. He needs to be on the side of regular folks who ride the buses and subways."


Sander has proposed generating $262 million next year through higher fares and tolls - even though the MTA is going to end this year with a surplus and doesn't need the hikes to balance its budget next year either, according to budget documents and fiscal watchdogs.


Sander says the extra revenue is needed to start addressing huge deficits expected in 2009.


More than 110 state Assembly and Senate members have come out against the increases; the vast majority want at least a delay to April 15.


That would allow them to pursue alternative funds during state budget deliberations early next year, which could spare riders from their third hike since 2003, legislators said.

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