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Posts from the Transit Funding Category

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Prendergast’s Objections to Toll Reform Don’t Make Any Sense

On WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast joined his boss Andrew Cuomo in dumping cold water on the Move NY toll reform plan as a way to fund the transit authority’s capital program. Trouble is, his critiques don’t make much sense.

Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

Toll reform? Nope and no way, say Cuomo and Prendergast. Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

Lehrer played a clip of Cuomo arguing against toll reform on the radio yesterday, then asked Prendergast what he thought of the idea. The MTA chief said he isn’t being dismissive of the plan and that he’s not opposed to it. He then ticked off what, in his view, are a bunch of reasons to dismiss the plan and oppose it.

First, Prendergast said that Move NY “leaves some bridges free.” Exactly what he’s referring to here is a mystery. Maybe Prendergast is concerned that the plan doesn’t put tolls on the Harlem River bridges. He never explains. “I’m not saying this is my position,” he said, “but there some local elected leaders that are concerned [that] some bridges are left free.”

Then, the MTA head said these mysterious free bridges would lead to toll shopping. “I’m not so sure it accurately predicts what driver behavior will be,” he said of Move NY. “I’ve been other places where people drive a long way out of their way to avoid paying a toll.”

Again, it’s not clear what Prendergast is talking about here. The most fundamental component of Move NY is a consistent toll for driving into the central business district, thereby eliminating the incentive to shop for a free bridge and clog up local streets.

Prendergast was also concerned that Move NY would not provide enough revenue to maintain the existing East River bridges — a cost that’s already paid for in the city’s capital budget.

But Prendergast’s objections don’t stop at the bridges. “There’s also some concerns about what will happen with the 60th Street cordon,” he said, without explaining the problem. “I’ll let others speak to the political process.”

Prendergast was also concerned that toll reform wouldn’t start generating revenue soon enough. “To implement this and see your first dollar of revenue, you measure it in years, not months. You see it in three or four years,” he said. “Let’s not count this capital program dependent on that process.”

Even if it took four years to implement — which Move NY says is unlikely — a portion of the toll revenue could back bonds, which would provide cash for the capital plan more quickly than a purely pay-as-you-go program.

These answers are unlikely to sway the Cuomo administration. Apparently, the governor and his MTA are just not interested in reforming the city’s broken toll system to raise revenue for transit.

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Here Are Six Times the MTA Was a State Entity Under Cuomo’s Control

It’s his authority. Image: NYGovCuomo/YouTube

Yesterday on WCNY’s “Capitol Pressroom,” Susan Arbetter hosted Governor Andrew Cuomo for a discussion of the MTA capital program. Lately, the governor has been pushing City Hall to fund a greater share of the authority’s investment plan. Arbetter, pressing the governor, asked a simple question: “Isn’t the MTA a state entity?”

“It’s not, actually,” Cuomo replied. “It [covers] a metropolitan downstate region.”

The answer, of course, is nonsense. The MTA’s own list of board members reminds the public that “all board members are appointed by the governor, some on the recommendation of city and county officials.” The chair of the authority serves at the governor’s behest. The MTA is chartered by the state, and taxes levied by the state help fund more than a third of its operating budget.

The governor controls more than just board appointments. At the MTA, the governor calls the shots. Perhaps these recent events will remind Cuomo that the MTA is a state entity under his control:

  1. When storms threaten the region, the governor is the one who shuts down the entire transit system.
  2. He smiled for the cameras and brokered a labor deal between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the MTA.
  3. Early in his first term, he cut the Payroll Mobility Tax, one of the authority’s major sources of funding.
  4. Last year, he cut tolls for Staten Island motorists in an election-year ploy, then stuck the MTA with half of the bill.
  5. His budgets regularly include diversions of MTA operating funds to cover expenses in the state’s budget.
  6. Ten days ago, his own budget office directed the MTA to trim the size of its capital plan, which it did [PDF].

The list goes on. While it’s nice to see Cuomo committing to fully funding the (slightly reduced) capital program, it’s hard to take his latest comments seriously until he acknowledges the need for a new source of revenue. Generating billions of dollars over five years is no simple task.

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Anthony Shorris: City Hall Open to Funding Transit Via Toll Reform

After an Albany legislative session that came and went without any serious effort from Governor Cuomo to address the $14 billion shortfall in the MTA’s next five-year capital program, there are faint stirrings of action.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris

Most intriguing: Yesterday, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris sent a letter to MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast outlining the city’s interest in a number of possible funding solutions, including the Move NY toll reform plan [PDF].

Without additional funding, the MTA capital plan — which Cuomo has called “bloated” — will continue to saddle straphangers with excessive debt and bigger fare hikes in the future. Significant investments to increase systemwide capacity could be trimmed, like the MTA’s effort to modernize its ancient signals. With subways getting more crowded and delays becoming more common, transit riders face the prospect of higher prices for worse service if nothing is done.

Previously, the de Blasio administration had sidestepped any discussion of Move NY. In April, Shorris told reporters that he hadn’t actually read the details of the proposal. Recently, the administration has faced some criticism for its silence on toll reform while it cites Manhattan congestion as a reason to limit the growth of Uber and other car services.

Cuomo controls the MTA and is the one elected official with the power to make toll reform a live issue. Previously he has dismissed toll reform as a non-starter, so it’s not surprising de Blasio hasn’t jumped to make the first move. With this letter, the administration is at least keeping the option of Move NY on the table if the governor comes around on it.

Now that City Hall has cracked open the door to toll reform ever so slightly, is there any sign that Cuomo will show some leadership on this issue?

In response to Shorris’s letter, the MTA would only discuss the governor’s involvement in the vaguest terms. “The MTA has been working closely with Governor Cuomo’s office on a plan to meet the essential capital needs of a system that is critical to the City’s daily life and economic strength of the region,” said MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg.

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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:

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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.

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