Testimony of Kate Slevin
MTA Board Meeting
November 20, 2008
 

Good morning. I am Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit policy organization working for a more balanced regional transportation network.

The news coming out of today’s meeting is not going to be pretty, and comes at a time when many in the country are struggling to make ends meet. Subway, bus, and commuter rail line cuts and fare hikes are the last things we want to hear about at a time when transit ridership is the highest it has been in decades, our economy is faltering, and business and employees alike are concerned about their financial situations.

Is the MTA debt hole credible?
While the MTA is far from perfect, it’s worth noting that many of its problems are out of its control. They stem from broad economic trends or poor decisions of City and State elected officials who have not taken the needs of our transit system seriously.

No matter the history, the MTA is deeply in debt. The agency should continue with internal cost cutting measures, but here’s the reality check-- no amount of internal belt tightening will fill the MTA’s budget hole. The agency is broke, the hole too big, and if the system doesn’t get more money from all sources, subway, bus, and commuter rail riders will be the ones who are hurt, along with our economy and our environment.

That’s a lot of money, why support transit?
We have no choice but to fund our transit network because it is the spine of our region. According to the American Public Transit Association, every $10 million invested in transit capital projects yields $30 million in business sales, and the same investment in transit operations produces $32 million. For every $1.2 billion we spend on building transit, we create over 51,000 jobs. The inverse is also true-- cut transit service and jobs are lost, the economy suffers. In other words, there are reasons why Nobel Prize winners like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman think that investing in our infrastructure will help boost our economy. Transit benefits everyone from the family of the bus driver who drives the B41 down Flatbush Ave to the small businesswoman who needs her deliveries made on time to the corporate CEO attracted to the region’s large labor pool.

It’s worth noting that, in New York, the benefits of investing in the MTA are seen both upstate and down. Upstate, construction of train cars and buses in places like Plattsburgh, Utica, and Troy create jobs.

How do we get there? Where’s the money?
There are many ideas to raise the money the transit system needs. We strongly support two options that have been discussed, congestion pricing and/or East River Bridge tolls because they less regressive than fare hikes or other tax increases. In fact, congestion pricing is one of the most equitable means of raising transportation money. Those who say otherwise are simply wrong.

We also think variable tolling, or charging drivers more during busy periods, has been downplayed as a way to reduce congestion and raise more revenue. A 2007 study conducted by Komanoff Energy Associates found that implementing such a plan could dramatically reduce the burden on transit riders, and yield significant time savings for drivers.

There are three other issues that require more attention.

Long Island Bus should not be slashed
First, we are gravely concerned about the future of Long Island Bus. This summer, the MTA announced a 20% (or $4 million) cut to its allocation to Long Island Bus. Today, we fear that cut will grow. Everyone must help pay for the system-- there is no reason why bus riders on Long Island should be disproportionately affected especially when they make much less than their driving counterparts. The 8% of Nassau County households that don’t own a car and rely solely on transit service like Long Island Bus make $40,000, while those who own cars make nearly $100,000.

We need Regional Bus
Second, we need a regional bus system, that treats Long Island and Bee-Line Bus systems as what they are, vital parts of our regional transit network. Regional bus could create stable funding sources for nearby suburban bus systems and ensure bus riders are not left out in the cold. Such a move should come now because it could streamline the agencies, resulting in significant savings.

We need leadership
Third, going forward, we are eager to see the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission, but note that they are only that-- recommendations. Implementing those recommendations will require strong leadership from Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, our State Legislators, County Executives and NYC City Council.

Raising the money to pay for this hole is going to be painful for everyone, because after we fill the $1.2 billion dollar operating gap, we have to find a way to fund the next MTA capital program, which could be anywhere from $25 to $30 billion dollars. That’s why everyone must chip in.

In summary, during the congestion pricing debate last year, many state elected officials said, “If you want money for transit—just ask.” Well, transit advocates, business groups, labor, environmentalists, and transit riders are asking because we are worried, deeply worried, about the future of our region. Thank you.