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MTA bailout debate drags on in Albany

As the clock ticks ever closer to the spectre of a more costly and diminished city transit system, Albany lawmakers talk on in an effort to keep that from happening.

State Senate and Assembly conferees in Albany spent yet another day on Tuesday trying to come up with proposed MTA bailout legislation that could pass both bodies.

“For days, they have been meeting daily and they have made progress,” said Austin Shafran, press secretary for State Sen. Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans).

The Senate and Assembly are all that stand between a 23 percent fare hike and the end of two entire subway lines and as many as 15 bus lines, along with the near−end of all−night service in some areas.

In fact, it requires 200 pages to list all the reductions in transit service, should legislators fail to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

What is holding up legislative action to bail out the MTA? The answer is opposition from both Republicans and some Democrats over proposed tolls on East River and Harlem River bridges.

In any case, the MTA has said that if no financial rescue is forthcoming, its board will vote March 25 on putting the service reductions into effect. The raises in fares would come perhaps by late May.

The Ravitch Commission came up with the tolls as part of its recommendations to rescue the financially distressed MTA, which is looking at a $1.2 billion budget gap. The commission also recommended a payroll tax in the 12 counties served by the agency.

Anti−toll interests, many from northeast Queens, have been campaigning for weeks, including Monday, when a group of elected officials and civic leaders led by City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) declared “a resounding ‘no’ ” to the idea.

Much of the opposition to bridge tolls comes from eastern Queens, where commuters contend they must drive their cars because even express bus service is inadequate. Under the Ravitch Commission plan, revenue from bridge tolls would go toward a massive increase in express bus service, including BRT super express buses, which was inaugurated last summer in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) suggested bridge tolls target only motorists who do not live in the city by using cameras to record their license plates. Non−residents would pay $4.15.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136.

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