Testimony of Ryan Lynch
Metropolitan Transit Authority Hearing on Proposed Fare and Toll Increases
November 5, 2007
 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify tonight. My name is Ryan Lynch, and I am the Senior Planner for Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a policy watchdog organization working for a more equitable and environmentally sound transportation system in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

As it stands, the MTA’s proposed fare hike is unfair to transit riders. In the proposed fare hike, transit riders will be asked to pay approximately 12.5% more on existing fares while drivers will be asked to only pay an increase of 11% of existing tolls.

As we highlighted in testimony given earlier this year, transit riders earn 23% less than Manhattan bound car commuters, and can ill-afford to continue to pay the largest percentage of operating revenue of any transit system in the country - 60% compared to the national average of 40%.

That said, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign understands that the MTA has a serious financial deficit, reaching $1.8 billion by 2010, and desperately needs to generate revenue for maintenance and improved service. We simply ask that any action on a fare hike be delayed until April, after a decision on Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan is made and State budget negotiations have begun. Delaying this action will hold our state elected officials’ “feet to the fire” as they decide how much assistance they will provide to the MTA, and by default, New York City commuters.

The State Legislature will have to take this responsibility seriously - many of them are the same leaders who got the MTA into this financial mess in the first place by approving billions in debt to pay for MTA capital programs instead of allocating more state dollars to the system. Let’s learn from our mistakes, and not let history repeat itself.

The MTA should also expand its City Ticket program, which gives discounts for LIRR and Metro-North trips within NYC boundaries. This program, currently only offered on the weekends, could be a boon for the outer borough neighborhoods poorly served by transit and enable them to take advantage of higher speed commuter rail service at a discounted price.

The Campaign also urges the MTA, as it contemplates fare and toll hikes, to form a more collaborative partnership with New York City and the Port Authority. Working in concert with these entities will ensure a clear, coherent vision and plan for tolling on a regional scale.

As part of this, Tri-State strongly urges the MTA to follow the Port Authority’s lead and bring its toll facilities into the 21st century. First, the agency should adopt a variable pricing toll structure for drivers, similar to the one it is considering for transit riders. Such a system, which charges a higher toll during peak periods, could save drivers time by shifting some trips to less congested, off peak times. In fact, a Tri-State study earlier this year found that a 75-cent increase at crossings during peak periods, with no increase for off-peak periods, would save drivers between 1.2 and 3 million hours per year, and still raise the same amount of revenue as the proposed, flat 50-cent toll hike. In this scenario, the peak is defined as 6 am to 6 pm, the same as in New York City’s proposed congestion pricing plan.

The second way the MTA can bring MTA toll facilities into the 21st century is by implementing high speed tolling facilities at its crossings, especially the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano bridges. The Port Authority and NJ Turnpike Authority have implemented these high speed facilities already, and drivers are able to travel through toll facilities at highway speeds, reducing congestion and pollution, and improving safety.

To conclude, Tri-State urges the MTA to delay any action on fare hikes until April. In addition, development and implementation of 21st century tolling system at MTA crossings is an equitable means of raising funds to meet the MTA growing fiscal needs while also giving something back to the driver.