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Public Sounds Off In Two Boroughs On MTA Cuts

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Residents of Queens and Staten Island voiced their concerns Tuesday night over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposal to cut services and eliminate MetroCards for city students.

At a public hearing in Flushing, commuters packed the ballroom at the Sheraton La Guardia East to voice their displeasure with the agency.

Among the most vocal were residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel who are upset about the MTA's proposal to eliminate the toll rebate on the Cross Bay Bridge.

"We're the only place in all of the United States, forget New York, where people have to pay a toll in their own zip code. We're not going nowhere, it's own zip code," said one Rockaway resident.

Others spoke about the agency's plan to phase out free student MetroCards. A deaf student who attended the hearing garnered a standing ovation when he talked about what the cuts would mean to students.

"Please don't make these cuts. Please, please try to focus in on resolving these issues," said the student.

Elected officials also took aim at the MTA, saying the agency is out of touch and needs to consider other alternatives to the cuts.

"I get it. I get it. You have to have these hearings. Some of you aren't even paying attention," said Assemblyman Jose Peralta.

"Demand the commuter tax, demand federal stimulus money. We'll walk with you, but you have to meet us halfway, you have to join us today," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the public hearings are an important part of the process as the agency figures out how to close its nearly $800 million budget gap.

"All of this is part of the discussions that can take place after the public hearings, but I don't want to mislead anybody. There are no easy answers to deal with a shortfall of the magnitude we have to deal with, so we're going to have to take steps to deal with it," Walder said.

The MTA has also proposed eliminating the W and M subway lines.

If the W vanishes, the Q train would be extended to Astoria, Queens. But local officials and riders who rallied against the cuts Tuesday morning said it would create even more headaches for commuters.

Meanwhile, another public hearing was held on Staten Island where the agency is looking to alter or totally eliminate 17 local and express bus routes.

Those who came out to the hearing said the buses are the only way to get around, since many residents don't have cars, and their borough has no subways.

"I think it's totally unacceptable," said one Island resident. "The MTA cries about its deficit every single year; it's time that they find another way to close the gap aside from service cuts and fare hikes."

"Why are we paying more as a whole? Whether you ride the bus or not, your taxes are paying for these services and yet these services are being reduced," said another. "What is being done with the money?"

Round two of the public hearings begin Wednesday.

One meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Brooklyn Museum. The second will also begin at 6 p.m. at the Paradise Theater in the Bronx.

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