Sunday, December 27, 2009

MTA Fails Woodhaven with Drastic Cuts by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Here we go again.

For the second time in a year, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has announced drastic cuts that officials and residents say will cripple residents in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill.

In an effort to fill in a $334 million budget hole, the authority will sever both the W and Z trains, the latter of which runs from Jamaica to Manhattan, making four stops along Jamaica Avenue, and 24 bus routes, including the Q56 bus — which passes through Jamaica, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven on its way to East New York, Brooklyn. The bus is known for transporting residents to Jamaica Hospital, the Woodhaven and downtown Jamaica business districts and several area schools.

Other debilitating MTA cuts include slashing MetroCard funding for students, limiting paratransit services that will only transport the elderly and handicapped to and from bus and subway stops and — in another classic case of déjà vu — eliminating the Rockaway rebate program.

“We fought this fight last year,” said Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. Executive Director Maria Thomson at an emergency press conference held Tuesday in the new Woodhaven offices of Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) and attended by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Thomson pointed out that the MTA’s plan to cut the Q56 hurts seniors who are unable to take the subway because of the steep, and often unkempt, staircase. “They [MTA] don’t know us and they don’t see it, but we’re going to make them see it — we’re going to fight.”

Ulrich called the decision a “direct slap in the face,” not only to children and seniors, but to the small businesses along Jamaica Avenue that rely on patrons who use public transportation. “When Jamaica Avenue fails, the entire community fails,” Ulrich said. “The MTA is saying to them: We don’t care about small businesses, children or senior citizens.”

Another MTA cutback, the reduction of Access-a-Ride service, which provides approximately 27,000 rides per day, will result in fewer seniors getting out and about to socialize and take advantage of vital programs, says Roseann Rosado, executive director of Queens Multi Service in Glendale, which provides services such as food stamps and Medicaid assistance. “We do not need our seniors and our disabled citizens home, isolated and alone,” Rosado said.

Although few seemed floored that the MTA had decided, yet again, to toy with Rockaway residents’ rebate program, which allows free passage on the Cross Bay Bridge, Lancman reminded conference attendees that, while negotiating its terms for a bailout last April, the rebate was one of the programs the MTA had promised to keep alive.

“MTA has lost credibility with state legislators and obviously with the public,” Lancman said. “All of us feel a great sense of betrayal that the services we fought for are back on the chopping block.”

Adding insult to injury, Ulrich said, families affected by the Department of Education’s phasing out of Broad Channel High School in the Rockaways face a double whammy — those students who may not get a seat at the new facility may have to pay tolls to get to school or full MetroCard fare.

“Public school education is supposed to be free,” he said.

Miller agreed: “An additional $89 a month for families to pay for a MetroCard — at that point they’re going to have to make a decision between sending them to school and putting food on the table.” He added, “We’re not going to take it; we’re going to fight.”