I Only Ride Because It Is Free

MTA Board Vice Chairman David S. Mack; Photo courtesy of the MTA

This sentiment was shared by Metropolitan Transportation Authority Vice Chairman David S. Mack when discussing the Long Island Rail Road. His exact quote was:

Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?

He had even more to say even going as far as throwing the MTA under the bus when he compared him calling in to report problems on MTA Bridges & Tunnels to everyday riders doing so by stating:

If you saw something and called it in, it goes right there (he refers to a trash can). When the normal public calls it in, you know what happens with the bureaucracy — they don’t get the response that a board member would get.

Here is a report by Steve Ritea of Newsday on Mr. Mack’s comments:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board’s vice chairman is all for taking the Long Island Rail Road — but only if it’s a free ride, courtesy of the systemwide passes he and his colleagues receive as perks.

“Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?” David S. Mack, Nassau County‘s only voting member on the 22-person board, said Wednesday when asked during a break in MTA committee meetings if he would use the LIRR if not for the free pass.

Mack, 66, a wealthy real estate investor who lives in Kings Point and was appointed to the MTA board in 1993, said he rides the railroad five to 10 times a year. A regular attendee at MTA board and committee meetings at least twice a month in Manhattan, Mack also is senior vice president of a construction firm based in Fort Lee, N.J.

His comments came a week before the MTA board is expected to decide whether to revise a policy that has allowed all 22 current board members and 37 former members to hold systemwide free passes — for all MTA bridge and tunnel crossings, the subway and both commuter rails — and use them freely.

Mack did not address former board members’ use of the passes.

Mack also said that when he drives across MTA bridges he regularly calls bridge managers to alert them to any problems he perceives while crossing.

“When I see it, I call it in immediately and it’s corrected,” he said.

“We’re invaluable,” he later added, referring to MTA board members.

“If you saw something and called it in, it goes right there,” he said, kicking the lid of a nearby trash can. “When the normal public calls it in, you know what happens with the bureaucracy — they don’t get the response that a board member would get.”

The MTA has encouraged riders to report suspicious activity through its “If you see something, say something” slogan and also solicits feedback through a variety of forums.

In a statement Wednesday, the agency did not respond specifically to Mack’s remarks. “Board members play a critical and unique role in overseeing the transit system,” the statement said. “We have also made enormous strides in gathering customer input, via rider report cards, webinars and public workshops, which has already helped shape policy at the MTA.”

Board chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, asked about Mack’s comments, declined to respond specifically.

“I think it would be a tragedy if the board members didn’t use the system whenever possible,” Hemmerdinger said.

Later in the conversation Wednesday, Mack seemed to backpedal on his statements, saying: “It has nothing to do with free or not free; we want to encourage to use it, so if they see something, they’ll say something.”

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said board members “lead by example” and “if people who run the system get a free pass, it’s a terrible message” to riders.

“It should hit them in the pocketbook the way it hits their customers,” Russianoff said.

Last month, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo wrote a letter to the MTA asking that all free passes given to board members and former members, who hold lifetime passes for all segments of the system, be revoked. Cuomo called it “illegal compensation.”

Board members originally responded with a plan to ask for their own legal opinion on the matter. But a day later, the MTA announced plans to amend its policy, taking lifetime passes away from former members and asking sitting members to only use their passes “in the performance of their official MTA duties.”

Hemmerdinger acknowledged the new policy would be self-policing. A board vote is expected next week.

In a statement, Benjamin Lawsky, special assistant to Cuomo, said: “If the board rejects its own leadership, we are prepared to enforce our position, because no one is above the law.”

Here is Pete Donohue’s report on Mack’s comments:

In one of those believe-it-or-not moments, a top MTA honcho admitted Wednesday he wouldn’t use authority trains if he couldn’t ride for free, sources said.

“Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?” asked David Mack, vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, according to sources who overheard his comments at MTA headquarters.

The wealthy Long Island developer also suggested the MTA tosses complaints from the general public into the trash can – but takes corrective action when he calls with a gripe, observers said.

Mack’s wacky rant took place between committee meetings Wednesday morning in the MTA’s public meeting room.

Mack is chairman of two MTA committees: the LIRR committee, and the bridge and tunnel oversight panel.

As is his custom, Mack didn’t return a reporter’s telephone call seeking comment.

After an exclusive Daily News report on the number of free E-Z Pass tags granted to past and present MTA board members, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office warned the authority the freebies are illegal – and told the MTA to halt the free-travel privileges.

The MTA plans to bring to the board next week a resolution changing its policy to give free travel only to current board members on official duty.

Some board members are opposed to giving up the perk and want MTA staff to ask a judge to interpret the law.

Mack – who was granted six no-charge E-ZPasses – claimed through a spokesman he put the passes on his credit card, vowing to pay his own way all the time.

But behind the scenes, he’s been trying to get other board members to fight for the free travel passes, sources said.

“I don’t get it,” one board member said of Mack’s campaign. “Nobody on the board needs it.”

Several MTA board members are multi-millionaires who have made sizeable contributions to politicians like former Govs. George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer.

Benjamin Lawsky, special assistant to Cuomo, warned board members to rescind the perks.

“It is ironic that at a time when the MTA claims to be strapped for money, they can still afford free E-ZPasses and other privileges for board members who are not supposed to be paid,” Lawsky said.

“Chairman [Dale] Hemmerdinger and Executive Director [Elliot] Sander have both indicated they now agree with the attorney general’s position. If the board rejects its own leadership, we are prepared to enforce our position, because no one is above the law.”

The attorney general could take legal action seeking that board members pay the authority for past travel.

Is anyone surprised by the comments from this smug bastard? I am good at reading people & his picture alone gives off a smug bastard vibe. This would be obvious to pick up on even for someone who does not read people. However his picture is not the main story. I will even go as far to say that his comments about the Long Island Rail Road are not either. What is really telling if not expected is what the MTA thinks of the riding public.

While many will not be surprised that a request from a V.I.P. as compared to the “everyday person” would lead to faster results, it does not change the fact that this is completely unacceptable. The MTA is supposed to serve us, the riding public. The days of us getting treated like second class citizens has to come to end especially when the V.I.P.’s could use the help of “everyday people” to help secure funding from our government.

In the grand scheme of things, we the people need to get our voices heard & find a way to get people who best represent who we are in upper management positions as compared to the out of touch individuals like David S. Mack who are “me first” all the time.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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[…] that rocked the MTA Board. The scandal started with MTA Board Vice Chairman David S. Mack who said he only rode the Long Island Rail Road because it was free. Let me quickly refresh you on some of his statements from last June: 1. Why should I ride and […]

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