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Lawmakers Beg Cuomo to Show Some Leadership on MTA Capital Plan Gap

As the end approaches for the Albany legislative session, things are looking bleak for New York City transit riders. With no action from Governor Cuomo to close the $14 billion gap in the MTA capital program, the burden will end up falling on straphangers in the form of greater debt and higher fares.

The man in charge of the MTA has very little to say about its funding gap. Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA on Flickr

The man in charge of the MTA has shown no leadership on closing the gap in the MTA capital plan. Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

A group of 25 Assembly members and 10 state senators, led by Assembly Member James Brennan, sent a plea for help to Cuomo and legislative leaders yesterday [PDF]:

Our transit agencies have experienced a decrease in federal, state, and local monies for far too long. If new sources of funding are not identified soon, agencies will be forced to raise fares and tolls or reduce service to pay for much-needed infrastructure needs — taking more money from the pockets of millions of daily riders, many of whom have no other transportation options. Viable funding options exist to support these initiatives, and the time is now to take action.

“The time is running out in this legislative session to reach consensus on how to make this happen,” Brennan said in a press release. “I hope that our Governor will help us find a solution.”

The solution staring Cuomo in the face is the congestion-busting Move NY toll reform plan. This time around, advocates recruited new allies to support an overhaul of NYC’s dysfunctional toll system, but the governor never showed any interest.

Without leadership from Cuomo, the person ultimately in charge of the MTA, there’s not much incentive for anyone else to make a move.

The likely scenario: super-sized fare hikes in a few years. When that happens, just remember that when the opportunity was there to do some good for transit riders, Cuomo did nothing.

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Transit Advocates Ask Cuomo to Ride the Subway Like a Real New Yorker

Transit ridership is soaring, delays are way up, and the MTA has a $14 billion hole in its capital plan. MTA leadership is sounding the alarm, but Albany doesn’t seem to notice. With the clock ticking on the year’s legislative session, transit advocates are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to hop out of his muscle car and ride the subway with them to experience the MTA’s needs first-hand.

If the governor experienced a typical New Yorker's transit commute, he might be more inclined to fund the MTA capital plan, advocates say. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

If the governor experienced a typical New Yorker’s transit commute, he might be more inclined to fund the MTA capital plan, advocates say. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

The governor has ridden the subway before, but it’s typically a choreographed affair with the press and public officials. His most recent ride, to reassure the public about terrorism preparedness last September, was only tangentially related to transit.

Advocates say it’s time the governor, who has yet to act on funding for the region’s transit investment plan, see a typical morning rush hour. Without a funding plan from Albany, straphangers will be saddled with massive fare increases to pay for debt-financed system upgrades.

“It defies comprehension that Governor Cuomo hasn’t taken up the issue of funding for our subways and buses,” Riders Alliance deputy director Nick Sifuentes said in a release. “The only reason we can think of is that he doesn’t have to deal with the dreadful rush hour commutes that average New Yorkers face every day.”

“New Yorkers are paying more for less and they hate that,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the Straphangers Campaign. “Don’t believe us? Join us on the subway and ask them how they feel about higher fares and poorer service.”

“New Yorkers are fed up with fare hikes, bad service, and overcrowded trains — we’ve been hearing from frustrated riders for months,” Sifuentes said. “It’s about time the governor does too.”

Riders Alliance has launched a petition asking Cuomo to ride the subway. The complete letter to Cuomo is below:

Read more…

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GCA Backed Congestion Pricing — Why Not Bridge Toll Reform?

The General Contractors Association of New York, which represents heavy construction contractors, says it wants a funding solution to the $14 billion gap in the MTA’s capital plan — just not the Move NY toll reform plan that’s being shopped around Albany. It’s a shift in tone from the group’s interest when the plan was being developed a few years ago, and a stark contrast from eight years ago, when the group was one of the biggest backers of congestion pricing.

Denise Richardson of the General Contractors Association of New York. Photo: GCA

General Contractors Association of New York executive director Denise Richardson. Photo: GCA

“I think the Move NY plan has merit,” GCA executive director Denise Richardson said after an event her group hosted this morning in Midtown. But her praise, like the governor’s, stopped after the word “merit.”

“However, I am extremely concerned that the revenue that the Move NY plan is forecast to generate, number one, is optimistic,” Richardson said, “and number two, is being promised in too many directions and so the MTA will not end up with the amount of revenue that it needs to fund its plan.”

She also cast doubt on Move NY’s ability to reduce overall traffic. “If your issue is reducing congestion, why are we talking about lowering tolls on the Throgs Neck and the Whitestone bridges while we’re putting them on the East River bridges?” Richardson asked. “So the whole toll reduction thing as a way to gain public support… I’m not into buying off groups of the population in order to get something done.”

Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen responded:

New York’s most acute congestion problem is in the city’s core, not fringes. But Move NY’s aim is less on congestion busting and more on using fair tolling to generate new revenue for both the city’s transit system and road and bridge network. Right now, we have a tolling system such that many drivers who rely on the city’s outer bridges pay excessively high tolls to subsidize a transit system they get relatively little benefit from. That’s inherently unfair which is why we believe the right solution is to provide them some overdue toll relief while asking those who pay nothing to use the city’s bridges to pay their fair share.

As to Move NY’s revenue projections, the model they’re based on has been vetted by the multiple agencies and civic groups as well as the economic consulting firm HNTB. No one who’s looked at it closely questions the revenue projections. They’re solid. If we are going to get the Move NY plan actually enacted into law, we need it to be a plan that everyone, including the non-Manhattan boroughs and suburbs can get behind. That means it has to distribute the costs and benefits equitably, which it does… Fairness is the name of the game. Without it, the plan goes nowhere. Without the Move NY plan or a plan that raises as much revenue, the city and region are facing a certain future of declining transit service, lousy roads, and skyrocketing fares and tolls imposed on those already paying too much.

If GCA doesn’t back Move NY, what does it support? “Whatever combination of funding sources the legislature wants to come up with, you know, is fine with us,” Richardson said. “Ultimately, it’s the legislature that passes funding legislation.”

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Does Cuomo Plan to Leave Straphangers Holding the Bag?

There’s been a lot of noise so far this week about toll reform and the MTA funding gap, but the people who can actually do something about it remain conspicuously silent. Chief among them: Governor Andrew Cuomo.

It's amazing what this man refuses to deal with. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

The longer he stays silent, the harder straphangers will fall. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Things kicked off on Monday with a dire warning from Robert Foran, the MTA’s chief financial officer. He told board members that if Albany leaves the MTA holding the bag on transit investment, riders should prepare for a 15 percent fare hike.

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Foran’s boss and a recently-renewed Cuomo appointee, issued a statement the next day in an attempt to tamp down concerns splashed across tabloid covers. “Yesterday’s mention of a potential 15 percent fare and toll increase was a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question,” he said. “No one has proposed we pay for our capital needs on the backs of our riders, and no one is considering it.”

Here’s the problem: As both the Times and the Daily News observed, the $14 billion gap in the MTA’s capital plan isn’t going anywhere. Without a funding solution from Albany, straphangers will be stuck with the bill.

Both papers, along with the Regional Plan Association, this week urged Cuomo to look at the Move NY toll reform plan. Signs that the governor is interested are close to nonexistent. He dismissed the idea as it was being developed in 2012 and again in 2013. In February, he said “the concept has merit” but played political pundit, claiming it would fall victim to the same opposition that killed congestion pricing before he took office.

What the governor is ignoring, of course, is the fact that Move NY is designed to address the very problems that led to congestion pricing’s downfall in Albany. Not only does it cut tolls on outer-borough crossings with few transit options, it would have Manhattanites contribute more, through taxi fees and closing a special Manhattan-only parking tax exemption, than they would have under congestion pricing.

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De Blasio Deputy Anthony Shorris Ducks Questions on MTA Funding

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s One New York plan, focused on the intersection of income inequality and the environment, doesn’t hesitate to make big recommendations to the MTA, like a new subway line. To pay for those plans, de Blasio will need Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action, but the mayor isn’t putting forward his own ideas about how to fund the MTA.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. Photo: Wikipedia

While the Move NY toll reform plan aligns with the mayor’s environmental and equity goals, de Blasio has avoided taking a position on it. Today, his top deputy wouldn’t elaborate on City Hall’s position except to note that the mayor is “leading the fight” to pass a federal transportation bill.

After his morning keynote at the annual Regional Plan Association assembly at the Waldorf-Astoria, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris continued the administration’s waltz around the Move NY Fair Plan during a press scrum.

“Look, I think one thing we’ve said from the beginning is the full funding of the MTA capital program is essential to the city, to this mayor’s agenda, and to the whole One New York plan, and even more broadly, to the whole region,” Shorris said. “Everybody’s going to have to figure out how to come together and do that. That’s the city, the state, the MTA itself.”

Then Shorris shifted to Congress.

“It’s also very important that the transportation bill in Washington be passed. There’s actually a critical federal component,” Shorris said.

I asked if that meant the city wouldn’t talk about its transit funding preferences until a new transportation bill passes Congress. “No, it means that we all, though, have to fight to get that transportation bill funded,” Shorris replied, “and the mayor’s leading that fight right now.”

When it comes to funding the MTA, however, federal policy is the wrong place to focus. With power in Washington split between the Obama White House and the GOP Congress, federal transit funding isn’t about to change much. The arena where the mayor has allies and can actually make a difference is Albany.

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13 State and City Elected Officials Sign On to Move NY Toll Reform

The trickle of elected officials endorsing toll reform is starting to become more of a steady stream, and a look at who belongs to the coalition suggests that the politics of the Move NY plan are indeed different than the politics of congestion pricing.

More than a dozen state and city elected officials announced today that they support the Move NY toll reform plan, which establishes consistent tolls to drive into the Manhattan core while lowering tolls on outlying bridges. The signatories include some lawmakers who either sat on the sidelines during the 2008 congestion pricing debate or replaced representatives who actively opposed that proposal. Five of them represent areas of Brooklyn or Queens.

Is he listening? Photo: MTA/Flickr

Is he listening? Photo: MTA/Flickr

In a letter sent yesterday to Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders in Albany, the 13 electeds back a “full-line review” of the A and C trains and enactment of the Move NY toll reform plan to pay for needed fixes [PDF].

The letter is signed by state senators Adriano Espaillat, Brad Hoylman, and Daniel Squadron; assembly members Richard Gottfried, Walter T. Mosley, Linda Rosenthal, and Jo Anne Simon; council members Margaret Chin, Laurie Cumbo, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Donovan Richards; and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

One name that especially stands out is Mosley, who represents the Brooklyn district formerly spoken for by Hakeem Jeffries, a congestion pricing opponent. Also of note: Simon and Squadron replaced Joan Millman and Martin Connor, who only came out as congestion pricing “supporters” after the proposal was defeated in Albany.

The letter urges the MTA to expand full-line reviews so each subway line is reviewed every five years. But without funding, the officials point out, those reports won’t do any good for riders:

[W]hile reviews have led to major service improvements, some of the strongest recommendations from each review are often not feasible to implement because the MTA lacks critical resources…

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Subway Ridership Hits 65-Year High. Does Cuomo Care?

Subway ridership hit a 65-year high in 2014, serving 1.75 billion trips last year, the most since the New York City Transit Authority was formed in 1953. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over 2013 and 12 percent since 2007, according to the MTA. The subway now serves 5.6 million passenger trips on an average weekday, and 6 million on an average two-day weekend.

"Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership." Photo: MTA/Flickr

“Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership.” Photo: MTA/Flickr

The new figures don’t include bus ridership, which has stagnated since a round of service cuts in 2010. However, the growth in subway ridership is a good indication that the transit system continues to absorb the vast majority of additional travel in the city, a trend that goes back to the 1990s. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t put forward any ideas to close the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s five-year capital program, which keeps the system from falling apart, adds capacity, and modernizes signals and stations.

Weekday subway ridership grew 2.7 percent in Brooklyn, 2.5 percent in Manhattan, 2.1 percent in the Bronx, and 1.9 percent in Queens. Here are some more highlights from the numbers:

  • Weekday ridership on the L train increased 4.7 percent, with every station on the line seeing an increase in passengers. Stations in Bushwick saw the largest increases, with weekday ridership at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street  jumping 11.5 percent over the year before.
  • M train stations in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Middle Village saw ridership grow 6.2 percent last year, and are up 23.6 percent since the M was rerouted to serve Midtown in 2009.
  • Long Island City also saw big gains, with weekday ridership up 9.7 percent at Court Square and 12 percent the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue 7 station, where ridership has more than doubled since 2000.
  • The fastest growth in the Bronx was along the 2 and 5 trains, up 3.7 percent. In Manhattan, ridership grew fastest for the 2 and 3 trains on Lenox Avenue, up 3.7 percent over last year.
  • Stations in the Rockaways, which rank among the system’s quietest, saw the highest percentage increase in subway ridership, with many nearly doubling the number of passengers served, as the area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The subway is hitting record ridership during off-peak hours, which is when most maintenance work is performed. That maintenance is more necessary than ever: The subway also had a dramatic increase in delays last year.

Advocates pressed Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action before it’s too late.

Read more…

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Jim Brennan’s Transpo $ Plan: Gas Tax, Income Tax, and Forced City Funding

A bill from Assembly Member Jim Brennan, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, would create a transportation finance authority to collect new taxes and help fund the MTA as well as roads, bridges, and transit statewide. It’s the first major transportation funding proposal to come out of Albany this year.

Brennan's bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Brennan’s bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

“Time is growing short,” Brennan said this afternoon. The legislative session ends in mid-June, and state transportation agencies need assurances about funding before they can begin projects. “This is just a proposal,” he said. “It’s the first piece of legislation to make a proposal.”

The revenue in Brennan’s plan would come from three sources:

  • A 10-cent increase in the state gas tax would yield $500 million annually.
  • A half-percent income tax increase on New Yorkers earning between $500,000 and $2 million each year would raise their rate from 6.85 percent to 7.35 percent, bringing in $750 million annually.
  • A mandatory contribution from New York City, starting at $60 million in the first year and adding an additional $60 million each year until the city’s contribution is capped at $300 million annually.

That makes for a total $1.55 billion annually, which would be bonded against to provide $20 billion in capital funding. Of that, $12 billion would go to the MTA, nearly filling the $15.2 billion gap in its capital program, and the remaining $8 billion would be distributed through the New York State Department of Transportation, which also has a long-term gap in its capital program.

Although Brennan supports and says he would vote for the Move NY plan, road pricing is not included in his bill, so it lacks most of the traffic-busting, safety-enhancing benefits of toll reform. Forcing the city’s hand through state legislation is also a dubious proposition to say the least.

Still, advocates welcomed the bill as the start of negotiations. “It’s important to get all the various funding options out there,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I hope he inspires folks to come forward with other ideas, including the governor.”

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$100 Million in BRT Funding at Stake in Albany Budget Negotiations

There’s $100 million for Bus Rapid Transit in the Assembly’s budget proposal, and advocates are working to ensure the funds emerge intact from closed-door negotiations with Governor Cuomo and the State Senate.

Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Will Governor Cuomo and the State Senate agree to include $100 million for BRT in the state budget? Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The New York League of Conservation Voters, which has joined with Staten Island business interests to advocate for North Shore BRT, is asking supporters to contact lawmakers. The funding stream is also supported by TWU Local 100, which took out a full page ad in City & State backing BRT funding [PDF].

The North Shore plan, which was not included in the MTA capital program, is one of many projects that could benefit from dedicated BRT funds. In a press release, the Assembly said BRT funds would go toward “projects in Staten Island, the Bronx and Brooklyn” — though the budget bill itself doesn’t specify what those projects are.

The funding could also support BRT elsewhere in the state. Albany’s first BusPlus route has proven popular, and the region has a plan for 40 miles of BRT. Suffolk County has been planning BRT routes, and Westchester County has proposed BRT on Central Avenue, which is linked to the bus network planned as part of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

How much BRT could be purchased with $100 million? A typical Select Bus Service project with painted bus lanes, bus bulbs, and off-board fare collection costs about $2-3 million per mile. More intensive street redesign and reconstruction can cost more: The 14-mile Woodhaven Boulevard route, for example, is anticipated to cost $200 million, or about $14 million per mile.

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Fed Up With the Latest Fare Hike? Be Sure to Say #ThanksCuomo

It’s easy to get annoyed with the MTA: Your train is slow and crowded, the station is dirty, the bus is late — and to top it off, you just got hit with another fare hike. You’re paying more for deteriorating service, and the only place to direct your anger is a faceless bureaucracy known as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Is there anyone responsible for this mess?

Andrew "Straphanger" Cuomo. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Meet the man responsible for your fare hike. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Actually, yes. Governor Andrew Cuomo appoints the authority’s leadership and he calls the shots in Albany when it comes to figuring out the MTA’s finances.

So far, the governor’s reaction to his agency’s escalating debt and declining service quality has been little more than a shrug.

In his first term, Cuomo worked with suburban legislators to hack away at one of the MTA’s most important dedicated funding sources, then looted the authority’s budget while denying it was a raid. More recently, he said the authority’s five-year investment plan was “bloated,” and his latest budget actually cuts the state’s contribution to the MTA’s capital program.

When there’s an opportunity to cut tolls before an election or announce post-Sandy recovery initiatives, the governor makes sure the press release comes straight from his office, and he’ll never miss the photo-op.

But when the fare rises or it’s time to keep the system in good working condition? Then the MTA is someone else’s problem.

Cuomo has twice gone out his way to dismiss the plan to reduce the threat of future fare hikes by reforming the region’s dysfunctional toll system. Although former congestion pricing opponents have come around to support the plan, the governor insists that the political reality hasn’t changed since 2008.

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