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Posts from the Transit Funding Category

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How Cities Stopped Panicking About Fare Evasion and Made Transit Faster

All-door boarding could significantly speed up bus rides for millions of New Yorkers, but MTA officials have refused to endorse it as citywide practice, citing “the very real threat of fare evasion.”

Transit agencies in other cities, meanwhile, aren’t hiding behind that excuse.

Speaking at TransitCenter last night, transportation officials from Boston, San Francisco, London, and Oslo shared how their agencies put the rider experience at the center of fare modernization efforts. They see the possibilities to provide fast, convenient service, and they are seizing them.

“Fare payment isn’t the point of running a bus system, [the point] is getting people to the places they want to get to,” said David Block-Schachter, the chief technology officer at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which like the MTA is currently accepting proposals for a new fare payment system.

Unlike the MTA, however, MBTA is making sure its fare collection upgrade makes all-door boarding “inevitable,” Block-Schachter said. “Our solution is putting the technology in place to enable those policy decisions to be made further down the line.”

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Why Is the MTA OK With High-Speed Car Tolls But Not High-Speed Bus Fares?

Without a fare system that facilitates proof of payment, bus riders will be stuck with the same slow boarding process for another generation. Photo: Ben Fried

MTA officials revealed today that the MetroCard will linger until 2022, though the agency still intends to phase in a new fare payment system starting in 2018. What remains unknown is whether the new system will enable electronic proof of payment, a fare collection method that promises to speed up NYC’s snail-paced buses.

The matter came up briefly during an MTA board meeting, after New York City Transit Vice President for Procurement and Material Steve Plochochi requested approval for an extension of the agency’s contract with Cubic, the company that built the MetroCard system.

Plochochi affirmed that a new fare payment system is still on track to begin deployment in 2018, but said the agency does not want to take a “cold turkey” approach and replace the MetroCard in one fell swoop.

Other than that, Plochochi didn’t divulge anything about the agency’s thinking with regards to the MetroCard replacement. “I really can’t go into details of the proposals,” he said.

Transit advocates have pressed the MTA to commit to a fare system that will facilitate electronic proof of payment on buses. By allowing riders to quickly tap a farecard or mobile device at any door, the technology could significantly shorten the boarding process and speed up buses systemwide.

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How the MTA Can Improve Access-a-Ride Service While Cutting Costs

The per-ride cost of New York's paratransit service far outpaces those of other cities. Image: Citizens Budget Commission of NY

The cost per trip of the MTA’s paratransit service is staggering. Table: Citizens Budget Commission of NY

For customers, the price of a trip on Access-A-Ride, the MTA’s service for New Yorkers with disabilities, is the same as a subway fare. But for the MTA, the cost of providing the service is much higher. At $72.65 per trip (the cost has risen since 2014, when the figures for the above table were compiled), Access-A-Ride is the most expensive paratransit system to operate in the nation. The high costs of the program eat into the MTA’s ability to provide subway and bus service.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The MTA can provide service for passengers with disabilities at much lower cost while improving the customer experience, according to a new report by the Citizens Budget Commission with support from TransitCenter [PDF].

The MTA began operating Access-A-Ride in the early 1990s, taking over a city program created after the Americans with Disabilities Act required “door-to-destination” service for people unable to access fixed-route subway and bus lines. As Access-a-Ride use grew in the first decade of the 2000s, costs more than doubled.

When the recession took out a big chunk of MTA revenues, the agency took steps to rein in Access-A-Ride costs by renegotiating contracts, tightening eligibility requirements, and increasing the use of taxis and livery vehicles instead of large vans. While the program isn’t growing as fast as it was a few years ago, the cost per trip continues to escalate.

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Cuomo’s $27 Billion Transportation Plan Needs Some Sunlight

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Transportation has billions of dollars at its disposal to spend on capital projects but doesn’t tell the public what it plans to do with the money. A bipartisan bill in both houses of the state legislature aims to change that.

Current state law lets New York Governor Cuomo determine state DOT's list of capital projects before the state legislature has gotten a chance to see it. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Current law lets the Cuomo administration determine how state DOT will spend billions before the public gets a chance to weigh in. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Unlike the MTA capital plan, which is open to public scrutiny, the state DOT’s project list for its five-year capital program remains a mystery, even after the state legislature approved $27 billion dollars for it in April.

The process used to be more open, with the legislature and governor openly discussing the DOT’s annual list of projects. But that basic level of transparency ended some years ago, said Tri-State Transportation Campaign New York Director Nadine Lemmon. Now when legislators ask for the project list, the Cuomo administration fails to deliver it.

The opaque process makes it harder to hold the governor’s office and the state DOT accountable. For the last few years, for instance, Tri-State has called on the Cuomo administration to dedicate $20 million annually to complete streets projects. Without a list of projects, there’s no way to know if that request has been met. Lemmon said she’s had to piece together the DOT’s project list from press releases and recent statements by Cuomo and his staff.

A project list that’s shielded from scrutiny is more susceptible to political horse-trading and less likely to reflect public priorities. “There is some public value to seeing [the list] before it gets passed,” Lemmon said. “[Otherwise] it’s behind closed doors. It’s subject to all the terrible things that could happen in a political process.”

On Friday, the Albany Times Union editorial board blasted the budgeting approach. The lack of transparency “makes these decisions too easily subject to unhealthy considerations — like political rewards and punishments,” the paper wrote. “While it may not take the politics out of the process altogether, opening these spending decisions to greater public scrutiny would certainly help. If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no reason to keep it secret.”

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Move NY Toll Reform Picks Up Eight Sponsors in Assembly

Momentum is building in the state assembly for the Move NY toll reform plan. Image: Move NY

Momentum is building in the Assembly for the Move NY toll reform plan. Image: Move NY

Eight more Assembly members are supporting the Move NY toll reform plan, which would cut traffic and raise revenue for transit by increasing the price of driving into the Manhattan core while lowering tolls on outlying bridges. The Move NY bill (A09633) now has 23 sponsors in the 150-member Assembly and four (all Democrats) in the Republican-controlled, 62-member State Senate.

East Harlem Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez introduced legislation in March based on the plan. At the time it had 15 sponsors in the Assembly. A little more than 50 are needed to secure a majority of votes representing the 12-county MTA service region.

Today the coalition announced the support of eight additional assembly members from across the New York metropolitan region: Brian Kavanaugh of Manhattan; Annette Robinson of Brooklyn; Vivian Cook of eastern Queens; Tom Abinanti, David Buchwald, and Amy Paulin of Westchester County; and Earlene Hooper and Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Long Island.

Two of those legislators — Cook and Hooper — decided to get behind the plan without meeting with proponents, Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen told Streetsblog.

“We think the fact that this bill continues to attract attention and assembly members are coming forward to support the plan and put their name on the bill — it suggests that we have growing momentum,” Matthiessen said.

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Robert Rodriguez Introduces Toll Reform Bill in State Assembly

Komanoff-pic-_-Move-NY-launch-at-Park-+-125th-_-Robert-Rodriguez-at-podium-_-cropped-_-24-March-2016

Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez announced his toll reform legislation under the train at 125th Street and Park Avenue this morning. Photo: Charles Komanoff

For the first time, a state legislator is sponsoring legislation in Albany to enact the Move NY toll reform plan. By creating a more rational toll system in New York City, the plan would significantly reduce traffic and raise revenue to invest in improving transit.

Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez introduced a bill today, A09633, that would toll the four East River bridges and a cordon across 60th Street in Manhattan while reducing tolls on crossings farther from the city core. Rodriguez represents East Harlem and has agitated for timely completion of phase two of the Second Avenue Subway, which would serve his district.

The new tolls around the Manhattan core would be set at the same rate as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and Queens Midtown Tunnel — currently $5.54 with E-ZPass — and would be issued without tollbooths. Taxis and for-hire vehicles would be assessed additional fees per mile when traveling in the area of Manhattan below 110th Street on the West Side and 96th Street on the East Side, but would be exempt from the new tolls.

Creating a consistent price to drive into the Manhattan central business district will cut traffic on and around the East River bridges, where motorists currently get a free ride, with congestion-reducing ripple effects throughout the city’s street network. Additional revenue from the new toll structure would be plowed into fixing up, modernizing, and expanding the New York region’s transit network, and into maintaining the East River bridges.

At a press conference this morning, Rodriguez framed Move NY as a fairer plan than using general state revenue to fill the gap in the MTA capital program. “As legislators, we need to fund the MTA capital plan,” he said. “And we will, but we don’t have to do it solely on the back of taxpayers who don’t have to use the system.”

Under the legislation, additional revenue would be divvied up among a few agencies and authorities, with most of it being bonded against and allocated to the MTA:

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Transit Riders: The MTA Can’t Run on Cuomo’s IOUs

Riders Alliance organizer Masha Burina speaking outside the Bowling Green subway station this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Straphangers can’t pay the MTA with an IOU, so why should Governor Andrew Cuomo get away with it?

That’s the message Riders Alliance members brought to the MTA board meeting this morning. After trying and failing to swipe into the Bowling Green subway station with a giant “IOU” Metrocard, the group proceeded to MTA headquarters.

In October, Cuomo committed to contribute $7.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program on top of $1 billion provided in last year’s budget. This year’s budget, however, includes zero dollars for the capital plan (but somehow musters $3.4 billion for roads). Instead, Cuomo’s proposal makes a vague gesture to provide that money sometime in the future — once the MTA has exhausted all other funding sources.

“The machine wouldn’t take it, the agent wouldn’t take, and the turnstile wouldn’t take it,” Riders Alliance member Macartney Morris told the board. “If I can’t use an IOU, Governor Cuomo shouldn’t either.”

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers’ Campaign called Cuomo’s funding scheme “magical” and questioned the sincerity of the governor’s commitment. “It’s like in one of those fairy tales, you know, ‘I’ll give you the money, but first go pick up a clover, and then some blonde hair, and then magic potion,’” he said. “Only for you, the MTA, it’s, ‘First go out and spend $100 million, and then buy a big building — two big buildings, three big buildings — sell them, then go charge your customers $6 billion.’ This is not a good IOU for you or the public.”

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Cuomo’s Capital Budget: $3,400,000,000 for Roads, $0 for MTA

Here’s something NYC representatives should be screaming about in Albany: Governor Cuomo’s budget allocates more than $3 billion to roads and bridges but nothing to the MTA’s capital program, according to an analysis released today by the Riders Alliance. The discrepancy amounts to a gigantic transfer of resources from the New York City region to the statewide road program.

When Cuomo announced a few months ago that the state would commit $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program, upstate representatives started howling about “parity” between funding for roads and bridges and funding for NYC transit. They saw the MTA getting a slice of state funds, and they wanted a cut for their districts.

But once the governor revealed his executive budget, the disparity actually ran in the other direction: Billions in direct subsidies were slated for roads and bridges, and no state money had been set aside for the MTA this year.

There’s no public policy rationale for transportation funding “parity” — just a political tradition of divvying up state resources in a manner that can garner a majority of votes in the state legislature. Viewing Cuomo’s budget proposal in that light, why should New York City’s assembly members and state senators vote for a spending plan that blatantly swindles their constituents?

Over the full five-year capital plan for roads and bridges, Cuomo is planning for $11.9 billion in direct state funding for the Department of Transportation, plus $2 billion in subsidies for the Thruway Authority, according to the Riders Alliance. By contrast, Cuomo has only spent $1 billion on the MTA’s five-year capital program. While the governor promised $7.3 billion in additional support, his budget delays that contribution indefinitely, essentially letting Cuomo avoid funding the MTA for as long as he remains in office.

And while the NYC region pays for a sizable share of the MTA capital plan — $11 billion — out of its own collective pocket through fares, tolls, and dedicated regional taxes, none of the state DOT’s capital funds come from local, dedicated revenue streams, the Riders Alliance reports. If the state continues to leave the MTA capital plan unfunded, subway and bus riders will end up shouldering more of the burden through higher fares.

This current budget proposal shows the huge imbalance created by Cuomo’s big dodge on MTA funding. Unless Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and NYC’s representatives change the governor’s budget, roads will get $3.4 billion in direct state subsidies plus $200 million in bank settlement funds, and New York City transit will get zilch.

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Independent Watchdogs on Cuomo’s MTA Budget: Show Us the Money

Add the Independent Budget Office to the transit advocates and New York City electeds who aren’t buying Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that the state has met its commitment to fund the MTA. The IBO sums up the reasons not to take Cuomo at his word in a short brief released this week.

In October, Cuomo agreed that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program. Last year’s state budget accounted for $1 billion of that, but when Cuomo released his executive budget in January, it included no additional state funds for the capital program. Cuomo is still short $7.3 billion.

“Basically, it signals an alarm that funding for the system is precarious and uncertain,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool said at a press conference in January. “It pushes the state’s pledge potentially into another administration.”

The IBO’s brief is wonky but short, and totally worth a read if you want to see the workings of MTA capital funding laid out in detail.

In theory, Cuomo’s budget obliges the state to follow through on its financial commitment, but here’s why that commitment remains very shaky, in bullet point form:

  • Cuomo’s budget kicks the can down the road by requiring the MTA to exhaust all other funding sources, include loans, before it receives state money. This could take several years.
  • The bill doesn’t require the state to make good on its funding commitment until FY 2025-2026 or “by the completion of the capital program,” which could be even later. (That’s because, while every five years the capital program lists projects to receive funding, the process of constructing those projects often takes much longer.)
  • Because the state and city agreed to make their MTA contributions on “the same schedule on a proportionate basis,” and the city is waiting on firm funding from the state, the city’s share ($2.5 billion) isn’t going to materialize as long as the state keeps delaying.

So Cuomo can say he’s solved the MTA funding problem, while in fact all he’s done is tee it up to become someone else’s problem in several years, when he’s no longer governor.

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36 Assembly Members to Cuomo: Stop Playing Games and Fund the MTA

Andrew Cuomo wants New Yorkers to think he’s taken care of the multi-billion dollar funding shortfall for the MTA capital program, even though his new budget allocates no new funds for the MTA. Well, 36 members of the Assembly aren’t buying it.

In a letter to Cuomo, Brooklyn Assembly Member Jim Brennan called on the governor to commit $1.825 billion annually over the next four years to the MTA. This would cover the $7.3 billion gap that remains in the capital program, the five-year package of critical maintenance projects and upgrades for the region’s transit system. Another 35 members of the Assembly have signed on to the letter.

In October, Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio reached an agreement in which the city would contribute $2.5 billion and the state $8.3 billion to the capital plan. The state had already allocated $1 billion of its share in previous budgets, but Cuomo’s proposed FY 2017 budget does not allocate any additional funding. Instead, it says the state will follow-through on its commitment to the capital plan only when the MTA has exhausted all other sources of funding, including loans.

Transit advocates and budget watchdogs pointed out that Cuomo was not making a real commitment, and that his stalling tactics could lead to excessive borrowing or a slowdown of necessary work on the capital program.

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