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Scary Transit Issues

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What Halloween would be complete without the annual Straphangers Campaign trick o' treat of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority?

The Campaign has always found that the approach of Halloween provides an opportunity to raise key issues with decision makers and riders. Like the year we handed out transit-themed fortune cookies to Board members with special messages such as "Raising fares will wreak havoc with your love life" and "If you cut transit service, this cookie will give you heartburn."

Humor is often a good way to get your point across.

That's why on Wednesday, October 28 -- when the 21-member board of the MTA had its monthly meeting -- we handed out six specially doctored Halloween candies to illustrate some of the "scary" issues that will be facing the new MTA chairman, Jay Walder.

By state law, each MTA Board meeting starts with a public comment period. Riders get a chance -- two minutes apiece -- to make their points to the "big cheeses."

I started off my public comments by first joining in wishing Mr. Walder a good, if "extremely brief, honeymoon period." Which is why we handed out packets of Kisses and Best Wishes.

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Then I noted that the MTA's biggest challenge would be find the money to run and repair the transit system.

I said: "On the operating side, subway riders now pay more than 70% of the costs of their ride, by far the highest fare box burden in the nation. The MTA needs to set as a goal keeping fares affordable and not hitting riders too hard. Because to your riders, it just feels like it's More and More." (These candies were formerly M&M's.)

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"Then there's the giant hole in your next five-year capital program. So here's bite-sized $9.9 Billion Bars, way up from the original $100,000 Grand bar."

"Riders are counting on improved relations between you and transit workers. So, we have Reese's Labor Peaces (and that's spelled P-E-A-C-E-S.)"

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"There's also the need for the MTA to become a more open and transparent operation then it is now. So we have some Milky MTA Bars."

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"And last but not least: What do riders want most from the MTA?: The want Good and Plenty Service."

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Here's hoping that the MTA leaders enjoy their candies -- and are up to facing the challenges.