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NEW YORK CITY-Public transportation dominated speeches, panels and conversations at the Regional Plan Assoc.’s “America 2050: Building the Next Economy” on Friday. Richard Ravitch, former chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and more recently chair of a commission to recommend a solution to MTA’s current financial crisis, was honored with the RPA lifetime achievement award.

In introducing Ravitch, Gov. David Paterson called him the hero of the subway system for engineering the MTA’s first-ever capital campaign back in the 1980s, a plan of action many credit with turning around what had become an increasingly unreliable and chaotic labyrinth of a transit system.

Now, over 20 year later, the MTA again finds itself in a state of financial crisis, and Paterson told Friday’s audience that the Ravitch Commission plan to resolve the previous crisis “won the approval of every reasonable point of view from different sides” of the political spectrum.

Nonetheless, the Ravitch plan now finds itself in the middle of a fight among lawmakers in Albany. At stake is implementation of a solution that could close an estimated $1.5-billion gap in the MTA budget. Without a solution, subway riders will see dramatic service cuts and the improvements first initiated by Ravitch in the early’80s will come to a screeching halt.

Transit advocates say the resulting fallout is sure to be felt in the real estate community as neighborhoods beyond the close confines of Manhattan become more difficult to reach, and thus less appealing. For example, if the MTA budget gaps are not remedied, express service along the J and Z subway lines to neighborhoods like East New York in Brooklyn and Ozone Park in Queens would be permanently eliminated.

According to the Straphangers Campaign, a project of the New York Public Interest Research Group, these service reductions would increase commute times in many of those neighborhoods by at least one hour. “I’ve got to believe that an hour increase would be a factor in someone deciding ‘is this the right neighborhood for me,’” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, tells Globest.com. “Obviously, neighborhoods are coping with the overall real estate trauma of the day, and these cuts are not going to be good for them.” He adds that even nightlife stands to suffer.

“Late night, trains now come every 20 minutes,” says Russianoff, calling this level of frequency the “platonic ideal.” Under the planned service cuts, “they’re going to be arriving every half hour or so, and ultimately, that’s going to impact people’s decisions to go out or not.”

Apparently, the biggest point of contention in the Ravitch Plan has been a proposal to charge automobiles crossing the East and Harlem rivers to come into Manhattan. That proposal has met stiff opposition from a group of state Senators, primarily Karl Krueger of Brooklyn’s district 27, Pedro Espada from the Bronx’s district 33 and Rueben Diaz of the Bronx’s district 32.

Even a plan that included lower bridge toll fees, part of a compromised version of the Ravitch Plan proposed by Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was not acceptable to toll opponents. As New York Building Congress president Richard Anderson told GlobeSt.com in March, “it seems clear, the state senate is being driven by avoidance of Harlem River and East River tolls.”

Interestingly, the number of residents who drive to work in the districts represented by opponents to the Ravitch Plan are tally almost 2-to-1 public transit users. In fact, according to RPA data, of the 100,529 residents who commute to work in Krueger’s district, 44,534 drive to work while 55,995 take public transit.

Similarly, of the 82,015 commuters in Diaz’s district, 22,936 drive daily while 50,906 take the subway and/or bus. In Espada’s district, 77,284 commute daily. Of those, 54,348 take public transit while only 22,936 drive a car. Drivers did slightly outnumber transit takers among Brooklyn district 26 and Bronx district 32 residents who earn more than $100,000 per year.

But, despite the number of residents who will be affected by steep fare increases, as well as the elimination of several bus routes in each of those districts, the opponents to the Ravitch plan remain firm. In March, Espada expressed what he said was outer borough frustration with what he called broken promises of local capital improvements. He told Globest.com that there is little trust with “this notion of ‘trust me, give me the money, I’ll give you a plan.’ Common sense should prevail.”

Despite that, some worry that if something is not done soon, the cuts will begin, and millions will be negatively impacted because of the actions of a small group of arguably defiant leaders. “For whatever reasons, these senators appear willing to sacrifice huge numbers of transit riders in their own districts to save a few drivers from having to pay a toll,” an RPA spokeswoman tells GlobeSt.com. “The inequity of it is astonishing.”

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