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Posts from the Transit Funding Category

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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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On Transit Funding, Emperor Cuomo Has No Clothes

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget includes no new funds for the MTA capital program — a brazen departure from the funding pledge Cuomo made just a few months ago. Transit advocates laid out the broken promises at a press conference in Brooklyn this morning.

Back in October, Cuomo reached an agreement with Mayor de Blasio that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year, $26 billion capital program if the city chipped in $2.5 billion. Cuomo didn’t reveal how the state would meet its obligation, however.

Then earlier this month, Cuomo announced his 2016 transportation agenda at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, committing to “thinking bigger and better and building the 21st century transit system New Yorkers deserve.” Was that the prelude to a big reveal with specifics on the governor’s plan to pay for transit?

Transit advocates say the governor's proposed budget breaks his promise to fund the MTA capital plan. Photo: David Meyer

Transit advocates held Governor Cuomo to his October pledge to fill the gap in the MTA capital plan, funding that’s nowhere to be found in his executive budget. Photo: David Meyer

Nope. The budget Cuomo put forward later that week includes no additional funding for the capital program. The state had previously provided $1 billion to the MTA, leaving a hole of $7.3 billion unaccounted for.

Instead of spelling out where that money will come from, Cuomo’s budget delays any allocations until after the MTA has exhausted other means of paying for the capital program. In vague, non-binding language, the document says the state doesn’t have to meet its obligation until 2026, which would enable Cuomo to kick the can until he’s out of office.

Speaking outside the museum this morning,Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said Cuomo’s transit commitment was not really a commitment at all.

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Here’s the Risk to Straphangers of Kicking the Can on the MTA Capital Plan

Rumors are swirling that the long-awaited answer to the key question vexing the MTA — how the state’s $8.3 billion share of the unfunded portion of the MTA capital plan will be paid for — is that dreaded four-letter word: D-E-B-T.

According to the terms of a deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio in October, any additional debt should not be backed by MTA fares. But that deal could unravel — now, or in the future, when Cuomo is out of office.

What is the risk to straphangers if the deal implodes? I took a shot at calculating the answer, using my Balanced Transportation Analyzer model (Excel file).

The bottom line is that if the October agreement doesn’t hold up, financing the entire $8.3 billion “on the backs of transit users” would raise fares around 22-23 cents per ride. That would equate to an average 12 percent fare hike on top of the current average fare of $1.92. (That figure takes into account unlimiteds, free transfers, senior discounts, etc. and thus is well below the nominal $2.75 single-ride rate.)

The current 30-day unlimited price of $116.50 would rise by $14.00, shooting to $130.50, with the annualized increase of $168 surpassing the $149 cost of a Citi Bike membership. And the increase would be on top of the 4 percent biennial fare hikes the MTA has programmed indefinitely to cover rising operations costs.

As harsh as that would be, it’s a mere half of the impact I estimated here last May, before the MTA trimmed both the scope and cost of its 2015-2019 capital plan and before Governor Cuomo offloaded $2.5 billion in financing obligations onto Mayor de Blasio, reducing the state’s unfunded commitment to $8.3 billion.

On the other hand, holding the hit to 12 percent assumes favorable financing, notwithstanding the Federal Reserve’s boost in interest rates last month as well as the potential strain on the state’s borrowing capacity from other infrastructure projects that the governor announced last week. Just a one point increase in the MTA’s borrowing rate, to 5 percent instead of the 4 percent I’ve assumed, would tack another three or four cents onto the required fare hike.

In addition to further impoverishing millions of low-income New Yorkers, a 12 percent increase in subway and bus fares would be projected to have these consequences, based on the BTA model:

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The Looming Transit Breakdown That Threatens America’s Economy

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Categories of maintenance needs, in billions of dollars, for America’s large transit agencies. Graph: RPA

While federal transit funding stagnates, the nation’s largest rail and bus systems have been delaying critical maintenance projects. Without sustained efforts to fix infrastructure and vehicles, the effects of deteriorating service in big American cities could ripple across the national economy, according to a new report from the Regional Plan Association [PDF].

RPA focuses on ten of the nation’s largest transit agencies — in Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Between them, these agencies face about $102 billion in deferred maintenance costs. To bring the systems into a state of good repair will require about $13 billion in maintenance spending per year — more than twice the current rate of investment.

These regions house about one-fifth of the country’s population and produce about 27 percent of the nation’s economic output. They also carry about 60 percent of the nation’s total transit ridership, up from 55 percent 20 years ago. That’s a reflection of how transit has become increasingly important in these regions, with passenger trips growing 54 percent over the same period.

That level of ridership growth can’t be sustained if the transit systems aren’t maintained properly. RPA cites a 2012 report from San Francisco’s BART that says if the system is allowed to deteriorate…

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Will Council Members Who Want Transit Improvements Back Toll Reform?

At yesterday’s City Council transportation committee hearing, chair Ydanis Rodriguez hoped to engage the MTA and DOT concerning areas of the city that need more transit options. But despite being invited, according to Rodriguez, the MTA refused to send anyone.

Instead, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg promised to pressure the MTA to invest in transportation projects to improve commuter times between Manhattan and the edges of the city.

A bill introduced by Rodriguez and Daneek Miller would require DOT and the MTA to assess transportation availability in neighborhoods identified as “transit deserts.” Another bill would mandate that the two agencies study the feasibility of a new light rail system. Trottenberg requested that those proposals be folded into a study already underway, commissioned by the council earlier this year, on options for improved bus rapid transit.

Since Mayor de Blasio has upped the city’s MTA contribution, the administration is in a position to “exert pressure” on the MTA “to see that they are equitably serving the parts of the city that have traditionally been so under-served,” Trottenberg said. “That is very high on our agenda.”

Council members expressed skepticism that the MTA would pull through on outer-borough transit projects. Miller said that new Hudson Yards subway service, a capital project funded by the city, serves far fewer passengers per day than proposed projects in eastern Queens. “We want to make sure the services are being provided equitably, and I think right now they are not,” he said.

Bronx rep Jimmy Vacca urged Trottenberg to act urgently on improving express buses. “People in my district, and people in the Bronx, are asking for relief,” he told Trottenberg. “Now that we’re having this discussion, we can’t wait for long-term plans. We have to do what we can do now.”

Among the specific projects discussed was expansion of the MTA CityTicket program, which makes commuter rail tickets cheaper for city residents. The council is currently considering a resolution calling on the MTA to equalize the cost of commuter train travel within city limits with the cost of a subway ride.

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