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$1 Billion and Counting: New York’s Non-MTA Transit Capital Needs · December 8th, 2014

The following content was originally posted by NYSTEA coalition member, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Written by: Nadine Lemmon, New York and Federal Policy Coordinator at TSTC

 

report

NYPTA’s New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

 

Yesterday, the New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) released their report “Five Year Capital Program for Upstate and Downstate Transit” which outlines the critical capital investment needs for non-MTA urban transit systems across the state. While the MTA first issued a multi-year capital program more than 30 years ago, NYPTA’s report represents the first ever comprehensive attempt to develop a five-year capital plan for New York’s non-MTA systems.

And the need is substantial. There are more than 100 systems covering nearly every county in the state, and carrying over 550,000 passengers each and every day. Yet, the projected capital deficit is $577 million. Making matters worse, these system are using capital funds for operations, accelerating the wear and tear on facilities and equipment. The lack of capital investment and dedicated capital and operating funding streams over the years has led to outdated systems that break down, disrupt service and incur higher costs when transit providers attempt to regain a state of good repair. Unfortunately, existing revenues are projected to cover just 43 percent of these identified capital needs.

The report details $1 billion in upcoming infrastructure needs between 2015-2019, with over 80 percent of the identified need going solely to repair and replace existing core system assets. The remaining 20 percent is slated for expansions and upgrades, such as bus rapid transit, to accommodate record transit ridership—for example, the report notes that ridership is up seven percent in the Capital District.

The $1 billion needed is only for urban and suburban systems in the state and even the report’s list for those systems isn’t comprehensive. For example, in the list of projects, there are notable gaps in the Hudson Valley: no specific improvements have been identified for Rockland County, and no funding is identified for robust implementation of Westchester’s Central Avenue BRT. Also noticeably absent are capital funds for the seven new bus routes proposed in the Mass Transit Task Force recommendations for the New NY Bridge, despite the promise the system will launch in 2018, which falls within NYPTA’s five-year window. Suffolk County’s proposed BRT route along Nicolls Roads/Route 110 in Suffolk County needs $40 million. A footnote in the report states that NYPTA intends to work with NYSDOT in order to identify the needs of rural, regional and intercity systems that are not included.

The five-year MTA capital planning process is hailed as a key reason the system was able to rebound. Multi-year capital planning—and especially multi-year dedicated funding—are critical to understanding the needs and finding a way to pay for them which then enables short, medium and long-term planning. Manufacturers, suppliers, businesses, and transit operators need this planning reliability in order to make investments. And elected and agency officials need to know the tally in order to decide how to pay for it.

Approximately 63 percent of the funding for upstate and downstate suburban transit comes from federal sources, with some additional capital funds garnered through the state’s annual appropriations process. Unfortunately, as the report points out, there is no regular state capital funding program for non-MTA systems and annual appropriations “are rarely made available to transit systems.” With the prospects for increased funding from federal government looking “dim,” the report calls on the state to take a “leadership role” in finding new revenue sources. While many legislators have encouraged the use of recent one-shot revenue windfalls to help fund infrastructure, this cannot take the place of a mechanism for long-term sustainable funding.

This report is an effective guide to planning for non-MTA systems that have been struggling with the same challenges as the MTA—changing demographics, growing ridership, climate change—but haven’t received commensurate support to tackle them. In NYPTA’s press release, Tri-State’s Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool stated: “While all eyes have been focused on the MTA’s funding gap, little attention has been given to other transit systems struggling to maintain and expand service in suburban, rural, and upstate communities…The demise of these systems is a result of the inherent inequity of state funding formulas and must be addressed with an increase in dedicated streams.”

New Rider Representation fact sheets · October 24th, 2014

The NYSTEA Rider Representation campaign seeks to have at least two “rider-representatives” appointed to the governing board’s of the five largest public transportation authorities in NY State. A “rider-representative” is a person that meets the FTA criteria of being transit-dependent, and would hold a position with voting power on their respective Board of Directors.

The NYSTEA coalition believes that the appointment of rider-representatives can support the implementation of equitable transit policies in terms of transit service, capital investments, public outreach, and other methods by which transit agencies serve their constituents, especially those dependent on transit.

To learn more about the Rider Representation campaign view the fact sheets below and visit this page.

PDF versions can be downloaded here.

1. New York State Rider Representation Overview 

RiderRep_Overview

2. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) – NYC/Downstate region

RiderRep_MTA

To see more click here.

3. Capital District Transit Authority (CDTA) – Albany region

RiderRep_CDTA

To see more about the CDTA click here.

(more…)

NYSTEA submits letter to Mayor de Blasio asking for Rider Representative on MTA Board · October 24th, 2014

In September of 2014, the NYSTEA coalition submitted a letter to the Mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio, urging him to include as part of his four recommendations submitted to Governor Cuomo, two rider-representatives for appointment to the MTA Board. The letter was endorsed by over 25 local organizations and 30 city councillors.

To learn more about the Rider Representation campaign click here.
To read the letter and see who has endorsed it view the images below and visit this page.

RiderRepLetter-Final_Page_1

RiderRepLetter-Final_Page_2

 

ANNOUNCING THE 2014 NYSTEA TRANSPORTATION EQUITY CONFERENCE · February 7th, 2014

NYSTEA2014flyer

Download flyer here

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget: $40 Million Taken from Transit, No Dedicated Pedestrian and Bicycling Safety Funding · January 23rd, 2014

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.

NYSTEA influences Federal Transit Administration’s Civil Rights Guidance · November 19th, 2012

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.

Image: wsws.orgTransportation 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:

  • Consider non-transportation sources of pollution when siting facilities – Requires analysis at census tract or census block level of surrounding similar facilities when siting transportation facilities, in order to help prevent the accumulation of disparate environmental and health benefits and burdens for communities.
  • Mitigate disparate impacts from service and fare changes – When a disparate impact is identified, transit providers are required try to “avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate” the impacts.
  • LEP guidance – The final Circular provides additional guidance for engaging stake holders with Limited English Proficiency, suggesting use of visual aides, videos, and accessible language for people who do not speak English or are not literate.
  • Disparate impact analyses for DOTs and MPOs – State DOTs and MPOs are now required to analyze their distribution of state and federal funds for disparate impacts.
  • Ridership surveys – Requires surveys of ridership to be completed by December 31, 2013, with information on race, color national origin, English proficiency, languages spoken at home, household income, and travel patterns.  While Census measures can tell us who lives along a transit line, only ridership surveys can tell us who actually rides transit.
  • Transparency and accountability for boards – Transit boards must formally approve the Title VI program, major service change and disparate impact policies and analyses, and acknowledge results of service standards and monitoring.
  • Consultation with EJ communities – Transit authorities should reach out to EJ communities and organizations in order to help create inclusive strategies to minimize impacts to vulnerable populations.

Another important change:

  • Develop “Major Service Change” threshold with public - Transit providers must now engage the public in the decision-making process for setting the threshold that triggers a disparate impact analysis for a major service 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.

Transit Equity in a Down Economy · April 11th, 2012

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.  

Albany Bumps Up Transit in the State Budget · April 3rd, 2012

Albany has passed the 2012-2013 State Budget on time for the second consecutive year. Compared to previous years, transit made out pretty well:

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.

Transportation Gets Attention in Governor Cuomo’s Budget · February 1st, 2012

New York State’s 2012 draft budget gave transportation some much-needed attention.  If the plan is adopted, the state will dispense $4.4 billion to New York’s transit systems ($4 billion to the MTA and $430 million to non-MTA systems).  The increase in aid comes from tax restructuring and revenue increases from various dedicated taxes (MMTOA) that pay for transit.

Here are some of the budget’s notable transportation components:

Upstate transit systems get attention: upstate bus systems have long struggled to deliver service.  Bus systems currently receive revenue from the petroleum business tax, which has brought in less money over the years.  To address this, the Governor proposed a redistribution of the Transmission Tax (also known as the “Long Lines Tax”) more equitably between downstate and upstate systems.  Instead of a yearly transfer of tax revenue between upstate and downstate, funds would be distributed based on population.  This would bring in an additional $11 million in aid to upstate transit systems.  NYSTEA and TSTC have pointed out that existing funding structures have proven inadequate for upstate transit systems; this reform is a good start towards the broader fixes which will be needed.

The MTA gets paid back: thanks to pressure from transit advocacy groups, Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget keeps his promise to fill the $310 million gap in the MTA’s budget caused by the reformed payroll mobility tax deal in December.  The restructuring worried transit advocates, who feared that the drop in yearly revenue would trigger another fare increase and service cut in 2012.  State sources indicate that the MTA will be compensated for the full $310 million over the state’s fiscal year (which runs April 1 through March 31).  The state would also reimburse the MTA for costs associated with an EZ Pass rebate program for Queens residents that use the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The MTA Capital Program gets additional state commitment: the state would give an additional $770 million over the remaining three years of the MTA’s construction effort.  This aid would be accompanied by a $7 billion increase in the MTA’s debt ceiling (from $34 billion to $41 billion), which would finance the bulk of the capital program.  State legislation is required for this action.

Tappan Zee bridge construction bill has not been resolved: the Governor reiterated his proposal to fund the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project with $5 billion from a New York Works Infrastructure Fund, with the New York State Thruway Authority being the responsible entity.  It is still unclear how the Thruway Authority would pay for the replacement, though increased tolls and taxes seem to be the most likely options.  Meanwhile, BRTontheBridge.org was launched earlier this month to advocate for a bridge replacement plan that includes the public transportation communities need.

The draft budget is already having an effect.  In Buffalo, where the Niagara-Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is about to start hearings on a proposed 22% cut in service miles, transit riders are making their voices heard.  According to NFTA Executive Director, Kimberley A. Minkel, the extensive public comment and the additional money from Albany has the Authority considering a change of direction—they’re now considering a $.25 increase in fares and a 5% cut in service instead.

 

Veronica Vanterpool is associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a member of the NYSTEA steering committee.

Deep Service Cuts in Buffalo from Lack of Funding · December 20th, 2011

Yesterday, the commissioners of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) formally adopted a plan to cut 22% of service miles from their Metro transit system.

These cuts attempt to address NFTA’s $7.1 million budget shortfall, which stems from increased operating costs and reduced funding from Albany (money that’s known as State Operating Assistance, or STOA). Since 2009, Buffalo has seen a $3.6 million reduction in STOA and a $7 million increase in operating costs, and they’re not the only transit system in the state that’s suffered from these cutbacks.

NFTA, like many transit systems, isn’t scaling back service because people aren’t taking the bus. With 27 million annual passengers and over 1,600 employees, it’s the second largest transit provider in the state. Approximately 84% of metro riders use the system to get to work, and 77% of these don’t own a car. As a coalition of advocates noted last week, this means that these cuts “will undermine all other efforts to spur economic development in our region—even if we create jobs, people won’t be able to get to them.”

In a city with the 3rd highest poverty rate in the country, these cuts will deeply constrain access to economic recoveryfor many low-income Buffalonians.  Additionally, as America’s 6th most segregated city, these cuts will also likely create a heavy burden on people of color who use the system.  As many vulnerable communities are concentrated near transit hubs, reductions in service will impair their ability to access their jobs.  Riders who “reverse commute” from inner urban areas out to jobs in the suburbs will also be negatively affected as many of these routes will be cut.

Faced with this hard reality—an economically vital transit system that can’t make ends meet—NFTA has requested $10 million from Albany during the 2012-13 fiscal year. They also requested eight megawatts of low-cost power from the New York Power Authority, which would provide $1.8 million in annual operating savings. Buffalo officials have been joined by Erie County and New York State legislators in their calls for help from Governor Cuomo. NYSTEA and several other advocacy organizations have joined this fight.

The situation is dire. Unless NFTA gets more funding, it will have few choices beyond cutting routes and raising fares. Across New York, transportation authorities are implementing cost saving measures, but they can only fasten their belts so much before they cut off circulation entirely.

To help NFTA and other New York transit agencies stay alive, demand that Albany stand up for transit.

Join the Campaign