New coalition fights planned MTA fare hikes

October 24, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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`Take that to the bank,’ they say

A number of grass-roots community-groups, including at least one from Brooklyn, have formed a coalition called “Transit Forward,” whose purpose is to fight against the planned MTA fare hikes.

Among the leaders of this efforts are Yetta Kurland, a Manhattan activist who once ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary against City Coucil Speaker Christine Quinn; Estevan Nembhard, a community organizer with the Westchester Latino group La Fuente; Mona Davids, head of the New York Parents Union, who grew up in Brooklyn; and Elizabeth Yeampierre, leader of the Sunset Park-based environmental organization UPROSE.

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The MTA fare hike would be the fourth increase in five years. The transit agency has basically blamed the situation on factors beyond its control.

“Costs that the MTA does not exercise control over, namely those for debt service, pensions, energy, paratransit, and employee and retiree health care, continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota.

However, Transit Forward replies that the MTA could instead save money by renegotiating more than $100 million in fees it is paying to banks.

The payments, known as “interest rate swap agreements,” are a complicated financial device designed to lower the costs of borrowing by, in essence, converting variable interest rates on municipal bonds into fixed interest rates.

These agreements were arrived at before the 2008 recession, which lowered interest rates dramatically and translated into a liability for the MTA, according to the coalition.

“UPROSE has joined this Transit Forward because transportation access for low-income New Yorkers is at the heart of creating sustainably just communities,” said Yeampierre. “For our communities, it a livability issue and everything must be done to ensure that we do not prevent our communities from getting to work, to school, to medical facilities or much-needed social services.”

Yeampierre, asked about other Brooklyn groups or officials supporting the effort, replied that the coalition is just starting up and is still in the process of adding supporters.

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