Monday, September 8, 2008

IBC News: MTA bigs still have 20% of recalled MetroCards and E-Z Passes

Former MTA honchos kept one in five lifetime passes that the agency recalled after a Daily News exposé - and their electronic freebies will be switched off within days.

Ex-Metropolitan Transit Authority big shots still have three free E-Z Passes, 10 MetroCards and at least 16 suburban rail passes more than two months after they were told to hand in a total of 143 perks, officials said.

"Our former board members have been very cooperative, and we expect to have all of the passes returned shortly," MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.

Soffin refused to name those who failed to return the passes and said some of them may not know about the recall because of summer vacations.

He noted that nearly 80% of the passes were returned.

The agency plans to pull the plug on the E-Z Passes and MetroCards by the end of the week, meaning some of the ex-bosses may find themselves stuck at bridge toll gates or subway turnstiles, officials said.

The passes for Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road are paper and cannot be electronically deactivated.

For decades, the MTA doled out the lifetime perks to board members and some of their spouses, which the MTA called a token of appreciation for unsalaried service.

A firestorm about the perks erupted in May when The News reported on the distribution of free E-Z Pass tags to nearly 60 past and present board members.

Former MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow, a multimillionaire with an extensive classic car collection, had been granted eight E-ZPass tags.

After The News report, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo told the MTA that the passes were illegal compensation because board members are supposed to serve for free.

The MTA disagreed but ultimately decided not to fight it out in court, calling the freebies a distraction from more pressing problems, like major gaps in its operating and capital budgets.

In a June letter, the MTA ordered dozens of pass holders, including ex-board members and their spouses and spouses of sitting board members, to return the freebies.

Former board member Warren Dolny on Friday reluctantly mailed his E-ZPass tag and MetroCard to the MTA.

"I'm disappointed," Dolny said, adding that he plans to file a lawsuit and wouldn't comment further on the advice of his lawyer. He previously said he worked hard for no pay, adding that at age 79 he was still working to pay the bills.

The MTA can't do much about the commuter rail passes because those passes are shown to conductors, not swiped or scanned like MetroCards and E-ZPass tags.

Current board members were allowed to keep their passes, but they are supposed to use them only on official MTA business.
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