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.
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.
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.
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.
Long Island Bus has dominated transportation discussions for the last several months, not only on Long Island but in the entire tri-state region. Essentially, one of the nation’s largest suburban bus systems is about to make the switch from a publically-run system to a privately-run one. The process has been a debacle, with new developments unfolding every week for the last several months.
Several months ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposed severe service cuts as a reaction to an ongoing funding dispute. At the same time, the public felt that the imposition of the MTA payroll tax should at least hold the line on bus service provision through these difficult times. County residents, business owners and lawmakers were furious. Unfortunately, MTA and Nassau County leadership chose a hardball approach to bargaining that left bus riders in the cold.
Now the central player is Nassau County – who owns the buses. The process of ending ties with the MTA and awarding the private bid to Veolia Transportation – a French-owned company with American offices – has been defined by a lack of transparency. The County has yet to hold a public hearing, and the system’s 100,000 daily riders are terrified that their routes will be cut and fares increased. Veolia quietly signed a contract in October, but the details of that contract were not released to the public or the County Legislature—who must review and approve the contract before it is enacted—until two days after Election Day. The latest news is that the contract has passed through the Rules Committee into the full Legislature, who will finally hold a public hearing on December 5th and vote on the contract shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, the MTA has issued 981 layoff notices, and the County passed a 2012 budget with only a $2.5 million contribution for LI Bus – representing a 73% decrease from 2011. Our neighboring suburban counties, which have slightly smaller bus systems than Nassau County, pay between $25 million and $35 million a year to run their public-private partnerships. If Veolia does not take a substantial loss, there will most certainly be service cuts, fare increases and/or layoffs.
There seems to be little hope, but Nassau bus riders and supporters are fighting back and making an impact. Community and business groups have come together to wage a campaign to save Long Island Bus. Vision Long Island is a partner in a long list, which includes Tri-State Transportation Campaign, LI Jobs With Justice, NYPIRG, NY Communities for Change, LI Federation of Labor, Transport Workers Union Local 252, local religious leaders, Chambers of Commerce, and many others. Thousands of bus riders, drivers, students, disabled AbleRide users (who are also at risk of losing service) and more have been mobilized to let the County know how important the buses are to their daily lives.
As a coalition we have held press events, ranging from a funeral for LI Bus to a recent “trick-or-treat” themed event with petitions and letters that we delivered to the County Executive. We have attended countless County Legislature hearings, and even caused some disruptions there. Recently the Presiding Officer walked out of a budget hearing due to riders and drivers yelling at the Legislature to hold a public hearing and preserve the bus system. We have written letters, given testimony, and held meetings with elected officials, as well as the MTA back when they were still involved. In August we held a “People’s Hearing” in absence of a County-run public hearing, where over 200 riders and supporters showed up to voice their concerns along with a bipartisan handful of dedicated County Legislators.
A tremendous amount of local press coverage has been garnered, and earlier this month we were glad to see the media’s decision to make LI Bus an election issue, as all 19 County Legislator seats were up for grabs.
Time is running out to come to a solution. The MTA’s contract expires on December 31st, 2011. Ties with the MTA are severed and there is no alternative private company lined up if the County does not like the Veolia contract. The MTA has made it clear it is willing to continue running the system, but there’s no indication the County will do anything but rush into a contract with Veolia. We can only keep pushing in hopes that the bus system remains reliable, safe and transparent.
We ask that you contact the Nassau County Legislators, and ask that they not adopt a contract that does not adhere to a “Bus Riders’ Bill of Rights.” This includes at least a 5-year freeze on any service cuts and fare increases, free transfers with other MTA transit service as exists today, safe and efficient service, equipment that is in a state of good repair, and transparent and responsive administration of service, which includes giving riders and taxpayers a way to provide input into how county transit is run.
In late September, advocates in New York City told state and federal lawmakers, “Don’t X Out Transit” at two events. That message is just as resonant when it comes to the transit systems in upstate New York. Officials at the Buffalo-area Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority have outlined fare hike and service cut proposals. Earlier this year, the Central NY Regional Transportation Authority hiked bus fares in Syracuse by 75 cents (to $2 per ride, a 60% increase).
A big part of the problem is an outdated funding structure that no longer meets the needs of upstate transit riders. Non-MTA transit systems overwhelmingly rely on state aid and local taxes for their operating needs. While the MTA’s budget includes a set of dedicated taxes and fees in the 12-county MTA region, the sole source of dedicated funding for upstate transit systems is a portion of the petroleum business tax (PBT). Tax revenues have stayed relatively flat over the years, while operating expenses have increased over time. Those revenues have covered less and less of what non-MTA transit systems need annually.
As a result, the upstate transit operating account has become increasingly reliant on one-shot transfers from the General Fund, redirected revenues from the downstate transit account, and redirected capital dollars. But relying on one-shot general fund transfers is not sustainable, especially given Albany’s own financial problems. In 2009, Governor Paterson and the State Legislature swept $120 million in dedicated transportation revenues to the general fund. In 2010, the state again deferred $55 million in transit operating aid to 2011 in hopes that the state economy would be on better footing.
This has led to declining state support for upstate agencies in recent years (see, for example, the Central NY RTA’s figures at right).
Unfortunately, according to projections by the New York Public Transit Association, transit riders upstate and downstate alike will face more fare hikes and service cuts unless Governor Cuomo and the Legislature prioritize transit. Albany officials should keep this in mind when they address transportation funding this fall. Concerns over both the NYSDOT and MTA capital construction programs will have to be addressed by the end of the year; upstate transit needs to be part of the conversation.
By Ya-Ting Liu
Graphics: Top – NYSDOT. Left – Tri-State Transportation Campaign using data from Central New York RTA.
Despite the struggling economic recovery and 9.2% unemployment rate, the debate in Washington D.C. and state capitals around the nation is centered around a singular vision of blindly slashing government spending, rather than creating jobs for Americans. Transportation funding has not been left off Congress’s austerity agenda. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, John Mica (R-FL), recently released his draft transportation re-authorization outline, which proposes transportation funding cuts of roughly 35% and eliminates any set-aside of transportation funds for pedestrian and cycling projects. These cuts are estimated to result in over 44,000 jobs lost for New York State.
The release of this proposal coincided with a conference in D.C. hosted by the Transportation Equity Caucus, a national transportation coalition working on the re-authorization. NYSTEA members were invited to this conference to discuss our state’s transportation equity issues as well as share experiences with other organizations throughout the country. During our visit to D.C. we also delivered our message to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and key members of New York Congressional delegation.
All across New York State, transit agencies are cutting service and increasing fares. Long Island bus riders like Angela Davis (a member of New York Communities for Change) who participated in the D.C. visit, are facing the privatization of their transit system. Congestion, sprawl, dangerous roads for bicyclists and pedestrians, and transit worker layoffs are the norms in many cities and towns across the nation. The current GOP vision for the transportation bill does not address these issues nor does it help our economy and our nation get on the path towards a 21st century transportation system that benefits all New Yorkers regardless of race, color, class, ability, age, and preferred mode of transportation!
The Senate is currently working on their version of the re-authorization and it is critical that New York elected officials stand up against the Mica proposal and support a transportation bill that moves our country and state in a new direction. Before the August recess, NYSTEA plans to deliver a letter to the New York delegation with a strong statement of support from a broad coalition of groups around the state. Please review our letter here and email firstname.lastname@example.org to add your organization’s voice to our effort.