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Posts from the Transit Funding Category

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Uber Should Pay an MTA Fee Like Yellow Cabs, But the Fee Should Be Smarter

One of the points of debate over Uber’s operations in New York is whether its trips should contribute the same 50-cent surcharge to the MTA that yellow and green taxis do. It’s an easy question to answer in some ways: It doesn’t matter whether a car is yellow, green, or black — if some for-hire vehicles have to pay an MTA fee, they all should. But as long as this taxi surcharge is in the public eye, there’s also an opportunity to rethink the fee itself and make it smarter.

It shouldn't matter what color your taxi is -- but it should matter where the trip goes. Photo: Shuggy/Flickr

It shouldn’t matter what color your taxi is — but it should matter where the trip goes. Photo: Shuggy/Flickr

Ideally, the surcharge paid by yellow taxis, Uber, and other for-hire services would be higher in the congested Manhattan core than in outer-borough neighborhoods lacking decent transit service. While that wouldn’t be a substitute for real congestion pricing of all motor vehicle trips, it could set a precedent and demonstrate the impact of congestion-based fees on a substantial portion of Manhattan traffic.

Here’s the way things are set up today: A 50-cent surcharge on all green and yellow taxi trips will generate an estimated $87 million for the MTA this year, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. Black cars, including Uber and Lyft, are subject to a sales tax that isn’t paid by metered taxis. A sliver of that — slightly more than one-third of one percent — will generate an estimated $7 million for the MTA this year.

Because of this imbalance, Uber’s growth is poised to eat into MTA funding. CBC projects the MTA will actually lose revenue as Uber trips grow and taxi trips continue to decline.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about the problem on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show last week. “We also have to support the MTA, which is in the interest of all of us, and that happens right now through a certain number of taxis, but it doesn’t happen through Uber, for example,” he said.

The fee could also be restructured in a way that addresses problems beyond the MTA’s coffers.

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Trottenberg: DOT Will Soon Propose Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane

DOT will release a long-awaited proposal for a bike lane and other traffic calming measures on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side this September or October, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says her agency will propose a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in the next couple months. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says DOT will propose a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in the next couple months. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The announcement comes after years of requests from local advocates and Manhattan Community Board 7 for a northbound pair to the southbound protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, who represent the area, have also backed a protected bike lane on Amsterdam, which was recently repaved. Citi Bike will expand to the Upper West Side this fall.

“Amsterdam Avenue is challenging… Just the way the traffic moves and the configuration of the roadway do make it a more challenging road to redesign [than Columbus],” Trottenberg said. “But we’re going to come up with some plans and we’re going to lay them out for the community board and for everyone who’s interested.”

The wide-ranging interview also discussed a proposal from Assembly Member Aravella Simotas for a car-free Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park (“We are taking a look at it,” Trottenberg said) and the redesign of Queens Boulevard, which she called one of DOT’s “marquee” projects. Noting the new bike lanes on Queens Boulevard, Lehrer said callers are often “more afraid of the bicycles, because they seem to go every which way, than they are of the cars.”

Much of the interview was driven by Lehrer’s focus on congestion and bikes.

“Is there an upside to congestion?” he asked Trottenberg. “Like, is traffic congestion good for Vision Zero, because you want cars to go slower in general?”

“They’re really two separate issues, and I understand why people put them together,” Trottenberg said, before explaining the difference between making sure free-flowing traffic moves at a safe speed and combatting gridlock in the Central Business District, which is attracting fewer cars each day even as congestion has worsened.

Cruising by Uber drivers and other growing for-hire services is a likely cause of the additional congestion, Trottenberg said, and she acknowledged other factors, such as deliveries. The city will study CBD congestion after backing away from legislation to cap the number of cars operated by Uber.

“How about the bikes as a factor?” Lehrer asked.

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Cuomo and Christie Play Chicken With Trans-Hudson Train Commuters

It’s been almost five years since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC tunnel. Things haven’t improved since.

The existing two-track rail tunnel, already at capacity, has continued to shoulder growing ridership comprised mostly of NJ Transit commuters. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy added a dose of corrosive salt water to the century-old tunnels. Amtrak warns that one or both of the tubes must shut down in the next couple decades, forcing trains going both directions to share a single track. Commuters got a taste of this nightmare scenario just weeks ago when high-voltage power cables in the tunnel failed, cutting service to and from Penn Station.

Moving those commuters onto buses is unlikely. Like the rail tunnel, the Port Authority Bus Terminal is both falling apart and at capacity. Replacing and expanding that facility would cost up to $11 billion — a number the Port Authority is struggling to come to terms with.

Amtrak’s plan for a new tunnel, known as Gateway, has stalled without backing from Christie or his New York counterpart, Governor Andrew Cuomo. This morning, Senator Charles Schumer of New York pushed the governors to take the first of many necessary steps to getting the project built. Schumer wants a new partnership, which he’s dubbed the Gateway Development Corporation, to build the tunnel.

The partnership, comprised of Amtrak, the Port Authority, the MTA, and the two states, would be able to access a wide range of funding sources. “Amtrak can’t access federal mass transit funding. The Port Authority and regional transit agencies can’t access federal railroad dollars the way Amtrak can,” Schumer said, reported the Observer. “We’ll only get Gateway done by adding up several pieces of financing, with an eye toward getting the maximum amount possible from the federal government.”

Neither governor has yet agreed to the partnership. Last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asked the governors to meet with him about the Gateway project, but the two executives want cash from the feds, not just loans, before they’ll commit to anything.

In fact, the governors — neither of whom hesitates to spend big on highways and airports — have tried to portray the rail tunnel between their two states as somehow not their problem.

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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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