MTA board members, including authority CEO Dale Hemmerdinger, sat in silence as they listened to the testimony of several hundred people, virtually all of whom voiced strong opposition to the authority's plans.
Last December, the MTA announced plans to raise fares by 23 percent, cut some bus and subway services, and shut down several bus and subway lines altogether in order to help reduce its staggering budget deficit of $1.2 billion.
MTA representatives have said the authority will implement the fare increase and service cuts starting in June unless it is given a large package of emergency funding from the state government.
If the MTA doesn't receive the state aid - or implement recommendations made by the Ravitch Commission, which suggested a more modest eight percent fare hike - the price of a single fare could rise to $2.50, monthly MetroCards would jump more than $20, and the average fares under the Access-a-Ride program, which serves people with disabilities, would be doubled to $5 a ride.
"You people are ruthless in what you're doing," Irving Hart told the board. "It’s not fair. Enough is enough."
Like many of the residents who spoke at the hearing, Hart is disabled and relies on the Access-a-Ride system to get around the city.
"Public transportation is very important for us," said Jean Ryan, vice president of Disabled In Action, a disabled rights advocacy group. "Without it, we'd be literally stuck in our homes."
Ryan said the fare increases unfairly target disabled people who live on fixed incomes and won't be able to afford the more expensive fares.
Dozens of residents and several elected officials also criticized the MTA for its plan to cut back transit operations. and eliminate bus lines, like the B25, which service low-income Central Brooklyn neighborhoods.
"What are you trying to do?" Councilman Dominic Recchia told the board, his voice rising as people cheered him on, "Wake up! Let's help people who need it most."
Instead of raising the fares during a recession, Patricia Hutchinson and other Brooklynites asked the MTA to find a way to lower them.
"The fares are killing me," said Hutchinson. "I'm asking you to please look into the fares and make them cheaper. Please help us."
Residents suggested several ways the MTA could raise money without raising fares, such as charging MTA employees who currently use the system for free, and even proposed staging a citywide boycott of the transit system in protest of the MTA's plans.
Councilman David Yassky suggested the authority sell some of its real estate holdings - like the unused building at 370 Jay Street - in order to close the budget deficit. Raising fares, said Yassky, is not a good long-term solution.
"The public transit system is the lifeblood of the city," Yassky said in his testimony to the board. "The plan you have put forward I will say to you frankly is a bad plan. It will take the city backwards. It will take hard-working people backwards."
Members of the MTA board did not respond at the hearing, which was held to inform Brooklyn residents about the proposed plans and give them an opportunity to comment publicly.
State Senator Daniel Squadron praised the MTA for holding the hearing, one of seven in the greater New York metropolitan area, but said the authority should have scheduled more.
"The fact that we're having hearings is a crucial part of the process," said Squadron, “but I don't think there are enough. I think the MTA is doing a minimal number."
Squadron called on state government to implement most of the alternative financing recommendations made by the Ravitch Commission and provide the MTA with increased state aid so the fare hikes can be avoided.
"If we don't step up the MTA will be forced" to increase fares and cut services, Squadron said.
"These cuts and fare increases will probably affect the people least able to deal with them," said Squadron. "For a lot of us it really feels like a slap in the face."