The following post was originally published on 1/22/2014, by Ryan Lynch of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Governor Andrew Cuomo released his 2014-2015 Executive Budget yesterday and a preliminary look suggests transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists are seeing a lot more take than give.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
While the budget increases MTA funding by $85 million, Governor Cuomo proposes to use $40 million in ”surplus” transit funds to pay off bonds issued by the State on behalf of the MTA. Until last year, these bonds were serviced with General Funds. In 2013, when Governor Cuomo swept $20 million in transit funds, the move was criticized by transit advocates as well as State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as a diversion of funds. The use of “surplus” funds to service this debt is something the Governor plans to do every year, beginning in FY2016:
Metro Mass Transportation Operating Aid (MMTOA) Debt Service Offset: The budget proposes to offset General Fund support for the MTA debt service costs by utilizing $40 million in dedicated resources from the MMTOA account to the General Debt Service Fund, with $20 million in resources available for the same purpose on an annual basis beginning in FY 2016.
While the Governor’s budget includes $310 million from the State’s General Fund to the MTA to compensate for lost revenue resulting from the rollback of the payroll mobility tax (PMT) in December 2011, this flat amount (which has been included every year since 2012) could be actually shortchanging potential revenue. The New York State Department of Labor estimates that 218,300 jobs were created in the downstate MTA region from November 2011 to November 2013, which means that additional PMT revenue likely would have been generated from these additional jobs, in excess of the $310 million. This additional revenue may have been enough to offset the proposed four percent MTA fare increase in 2015.
Non-MTA Transit Systems
Upstate transit systems will receive a total of $175.9 million from the budget, an increase of only $2.3 million over last year’s allocation. In addition, according to the budget, non-MTA downstate transit systems like Nassau Inter-County Express, Westchester Bee Line and Suffolk County Transit, will be sharing an increase of only $5.6 million. As a point of comparison, last year, NICE bus alone received $5.1 million in additional state support for transit operations.
New York State Department of Transportation
The Executive Budget provides $3.4 billion to cover the second year of NYSDOT’s two year capital program. The budget allocates $155 million in funding for the New York Works program that will accelerate future projects into 2014-2015. The budget does maintain Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and Marchiselli program funding at $477.8 million. These programs are key sources of funding for local public works departments for projects like repaving and maintenance of roadways. Unfortunately for pedestrian and cycling advocates, the Governor did not consider an ask for $20 million in annual dedicated pedestrian and cycling funding that advocates have called for in recent weeks. While the Transportation Enhancements Program, which helps pay for municipal pedestrian and bike projects, received a more than 50 percent increase from the Governor last week, this one time increase does not sustain the growing demand for these projects as an annual appropriation would.
New York State Thruway Authority
For another year, taxpayer funds will be used to offset the New York State Thruway Authority’s truck toll hike proposal that was dropped from consideration in December 2012. The State will continue to pay the costs of NYSTA State Trooper obligations out of the General Fund, keeping $86 million in NYSTA’s budget, and negating the need for a commercial toll increase.
As most are aware, the MTA is considering raising fares again for the 4th time in 5 years. This time around, equity should be a primary concern. Everyone is impacted when fares skyrocket, but some communities are usually hit harder than others. The last fare hike saw inequitable impacts, when low-income communities and communities of color were pushed to use more single-rides and weekly passes, as the $104 monthly MetroCard became unaffordable for many families.
In order to help prevent such disparities, transit providers are regulated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by agencies that receive federal money. Additionally the Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice, protects low-income people and people of color from inequitable shares of environmental benefits and burdens in federal programs.
Transportation projects have historically come under investigation for violations of civil rights. From the siting of diesel bus depots in communities of color, to the diversion of funding for buses that serve predominantly people of color to build rail projects, to the exclusion of minority communities from access to stations on a new light rail project, public transportation continues to need monitoring to prevent discrimination.
Title VI distinguishes between two types of discrimination: intentional discrimination and disparate impact. Intentional discrimination occurs when a policy or action by an agency is explicitly designed to disadvantage or privilege people based on race, color, or national origin. Disparate impact discrimination is a policy or action that on the surface is racially neutral, yet results in a discriminatory outcome.
In the fall of 2011, the Federal Transit Administration set out to provide revised guidance documents for Title VI and Environmental Justice. When the public hearings did not include New York State – the state that accounts for around one third of all transit trips in the country – NYSTEA secured a meeting with FTA officials to hear from New York. NYSTEA then submitted its own comments to the docket for further consideration.
The FTA has now released the circulars. There are many important changes to prevent discrimination. Here are some specific recommendations from NYSTEA that made it in to the final Circular:
Another important change:
NYSTEA commends the FTA for setting out on this process to strengthen civil rights protections in transportation. These new provisions create helpful new tools to ensure that transit service is provided equitably for all.
We are already seeing the effects of NYSTEA’s advocacy as the new circulars playing out. In the MTA’s public comment period, it has already reached out to Environmental Justice and other Social Justice community organizations in the MTA service area to weigh in on the fare hike proposals. Meaningful engagement over the short and long term with communities, organizations, and riders are crucial for achieving transportation equity.
In the summer of 2009, AVillage, Inc., a grassroots organization committed to improving the quality of life in Albany’s South End neighborhood, engaged my services. The advocacy group sought direct CDTA bus service from this low income, inner city neighborhood to the corridor housing three of the City’s major medical centers (i.e. Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Hospital). Joining this effort were its community partners – Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region,Grand Street Community Arts Center, and Westminster Presbyterian Church.
As an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, a high percentage of South End residents do not have cars, making them dependent on transit to meet their transportation needs. While transit service was available in the neighborhood, it was impractical to reach the hospitals. It required residents to take a bus or walk downtown, significantly lengthening their commute, or walk up steep Morton Avenue to catch cross-town service, a difficult climb, particularly for the community’s disabled and large senior population. Too often, residents would miss appointments or pay expensive cab fares to make these trips. The requested service would give South End residents direct access to job opportunities, medical appointments, shopping and other businesses as well as transfers to buses serving the greater Capital District.
Our first step in addressing the transit issue was to speak with transportation staff. They were unconvinced of the level of demand for service and doubtful that even if the demand were there, we would see any new service given CDTA’s shrinking funding. In response we decided to approach the CDTA Board. Looking at the composition of its members, we noted that: 1) none of the nine members came from one of the four cities within the Capital District, 2) none were actual transit riders though one was a transit advocate; and 3) there was an Albany County seat vacancy.
Soon thereafter we approached the CDTA Board with a petition signed by over 1,300 people, the majority of whom were from the South End or the other inner city neighborhoods which would benefit the most from this service. We also presented the results of a transportation questionnaire showing a large pent up demand for the service especially for medical and work trips, and its anticipated frequent use (2-5X/week). Finally, we gave them support letters from fourteen prominent individuals and organizations, among them Albany Medical Center, City of Albany Common Council members, the Albany Housing Authority, local housing and human service groups, church leaders, and neighborhood associations.
Ultimately the service was created through a new transit loop serving not only the South End but Arbor Hill and West Hill as well, giving all three inner city neighborhoods a direct connection to the medical centers. (CDTA has since reported that ridership on this new route is double what was expected to the point that overcrowding is now an issue.)
On November 13, 2011 I joined about a hundred South End residents and community leaders gathered at the Union Missionary Baptist Church on Morton Avenue. We chanted “this is how democracy works” as the new CDTA bus #100 pulled up for the first time. A major victory had been won for both the neighborhood and for CDTA.
By Monique Wahba, Principal and Owner of MW Planning (www.mwplanning.org)
CDTA and local organizations have proven that system operators throughout New York State can make positive steps forward by engaging communities to best utilize existing resources. But we here at the New York State Transportation Equity Alliance (NYSTEA) and our 80+ coalition members see that there are fundamental statewide issues that need to be addressed. Join NYSTEA as we make the case for voting rider representation on transit authority boards. Riders can and should have the right to be recognized as a transit stakeholder.
MTA Capital Plan
In the end, the State decided to support the MTA’s Capital Program, despite the Senate’s proposal to scratch $770 million in capital funding and refuse to raise the agency’s debt limit. The State’s support will go a long way to help prop up the underfunded program that maintains and expands the MTA network. The capital program creates 350,000 jobs and $44 billion in economic benefit for New York State, in part due to the state’s extensive transit manufacturing sector.
Unfortunately, the heavy reliance on outside lending has troubling repercussions down the road. Already, 17% of the operating budget goes to debt service on current and past projects. The NYS Comptroller estimates annual debt service will grow to $3.3 billion (over 22% of the operating budget) in 2018, with the increased debt burden putting further strain on fares and service levels. Riders are preparing for the MTA’s upcoming fare hike at the beginning of next year. Like the last fare increase, this is likely to have a particularly burdensome effect on low-income communities and communities of color in the outer boroughs. Fare increases are also planned for 2015 and 2017.
Upstate transit gets some help
Upstate systems will be helped by a 6.95% increase in operating funding. A corporate and utilities tax, which is collected statewide but has previously gone only to downstate systems, will now go to fund transit across the state for the next year. The Governor’s budget proposed this as a permanent reform, but backlash from the Assembly constrained it to only one year. The state is also releasing $16 million of capital moneypreviously allocated for upstate transit providers. It’s unclear whether the funding increase will be enough to stop a double-digit-percentage fare hike and 6% service reduction for NFTA riders, or hold back layoffs and route reductions for the CDTA, but this is certainly a welcome improvement over previous years.
BRT on the Tappan Zee Bridge
Unfortunately, the budget did not include language to secure Bus Rapid Transit as part of the rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge (in fact, funding has not been identified for the bridge itself). Senators Martin Dilan and John Bonacic issued a bipartisan call for Tappan Zee BRT, which would provide affordable and environmentally friendly transit trips across the Hudson River.