MTA board meets to discuss public hearings

June 9, 2010 9:34:12 AM PDT
Commuters are tired of paying the price for the MTA's budget shortfall, and things got heated during a hearing Wedensday morning regarding plans to close subway station booths and to cut 500 workers.

The MTA board voted unanimously to hold four public meetings next month to elicit comment about proposed layoffs.

"We will take the public hearing process seriously," MTA chairman Jay Walder said. "We will engage it in the way that we should engage it. We will take public comment and we will make decisions following them."

On Tuesday, a judge ordered the MTA to re-open dozens of customer service kiosks in the subways and reinstate the more than 200 station agents who manned those kiosks. MTA officials say the cuts were necessitated by a severe budget shortfall.

More than 200 other workers were set to be laid off this month. But the judge halted the layoffs, saying the agency had to hold public hearings before any jobs could be cut.

On Wednesday, the station agents made their case to the board.

"On 9/11, my train came to a dead halt when the first tower fell down," train operator Kevin Harrington said. "At that time, I was forced to evacuate up to 600 people with myself and my conductor, and the station agent helped me."

The MTA will appeal the judge's order to keep open the kiosks. The appeal will trigger an automatic hold on the order and thus, temporarily, close the kiosks. Walder says keeping them open costs the MTA $40,000 a day.

"We conducted numerous public hearings earlier this year," he said. "We took the process seriously. We took public input and made changes as a result of this process."

The MTA's financial picture isn't any better now than it was when the agency ordered the layoffs. Still, the chairman says the public hearings will not be a mere formality.

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