- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ordered the reversal of fare increases for millions of bus, subway and train riders, saying they were illegally misled into thinking the nation’s largest transit agency was in worse financial shape than it was.

State Supreme Court Justice Louis York gave the Metropolitan Transportation Authority two weeks to return city subway fares from $2 to $1.50 and roll back 25 percent increases at two suburban rail lines affecting more than 7 million daily riders. The increases took effect this month.

His ruling was halted, though, when the MTA filed a notice of appeal yesterday.

Lawyers for Straphangers’ Campaign, a commuter group that brought the lawsuit over the fare increase, said they would seek to lift the stay.

Agency attorneys argued in court that rolling back fare increases would cost it $1.2 million a day and pose enormous logistical challenges, including the retrofitting of 12,000 pieces of equipment and all 4,500 city buses.

But Justice York ruled Wednesday that the agency violated a law that requires it to give proper notice of public hearings by releasing incorrect budget information, referring to a “fictitious gap” of $2.8 billion.

Two reports issued last month by the state and city comptrollers concluded that the agency had a $500 million surplus projected over the next two years, which it had decided to use to pay debt.

“The misleading information that the MTA included in the notice had a chilling effect on the public, discouraging an open and complete discussion of the proposals,” Justice York wrote.

February’s 10 public hearings before the March vote on a fare increase, he said, “were based on the false and misleading premise that the MTA was in worse financial condition than it knew itself to be.”

Some commuters were elated by the decision, but many were confused.

“It helps me a lot because I would be spending about $35 more a month,” said Andy Fontanez, a 26-year-old Starbucks employee.

Florist Katalin Varadi, 29, had just purchased a $70 monthly pass, which rose from $63.

“It went back down?” she asked incredulously. “This is too much. … First they changed it up, and now they changed it back. I know they are going to raise it again.”

Justice York’s order didn’t address whether commuters should receive refunds for higher fares they had been paying. The average 33.3 percent increase on subways and buses took effect May 4 for more than 7 million daily riders.

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