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Judge Orders N.Y. Transit Fare Hike Canceled

The agency in charge of subways, buses and trains misrepresented its financial records when it imposed a 50-cent raise, jurist rules.

May 15, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A judge on Wednesday ordered the nation's largest public transit system to roll back fare increases for millions of New York subway, bus and train riders, ruling that the agency had deliberately misrepresented its financial records.

State Supreme Court Justice Louis B. York told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to cancel the 50-cent fare hike that more than 7 million daily riders began paying May 4.

York's 19-page decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by a commuter group called the Straphangers Campaign.

The judge said that the MTA had created a "false and misleading premise" about its budget when it hid more than $500 million in surpluses from the public.

The agency, he added, had acted in "blatant disregard" of the principle that it did not have the right to "misinform the public."

The judge said that because public hearings on the new fare were "fundamentally flawed," the decision to institute an increase "must be considered arbitrary and capricious, and, thus, it cannot stand."

New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and city Comptroller William Thompson had charged that the MTA kept two sets of books in order to hide the surplus and stifle public debate.

In his ruling, the judge cited both comptrollers' contention that the agency had created a "fictitious" budget gap of $2.8 billion.

York said that the authority had "wrongfully relegated the public" to the role of helping close a budget gap it knew did not exist.

MTA officials said they would appeal the decision.

During a hearing last week, MTA lawyers argued that rolling back fares would be a logistical nightmare, requiring 12,000 pieces of equipment -- including the city's 4,500 buses -- to be refitted to accept the old $1.50 fare instead of the new $2.

The MTA said the adjustments would cost $2 million.

The decision Wednesday said the fare rollback must take place within two weeks.

Gene Russianoff, a lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, called the decision "a victory for truth and government."

"Clearly the court saw that the MTA was misleading the riding public," he said.

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