Testimony of Ryan Lynch, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
MTA Fare Hike Hearing
January 21, 2009
Garden City Hotel, Garden City

Good evening. My name is Ryan Lynch and I am the senior planner and Long Island coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a policy and advocacy organization working for a more balanced transportation network in downstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The proposed 29% fare hike for LIRR and a 62% for Long Island Bus coupled with massive service cuts are simply dreadful. As an organization, as well as a member of the Long Island Transit Coalition and the Empire State Transportation Alliance, we are asking our elected officials to prevent these fare hikes and service cuts by supporting the financing plan proposed by Richard Ravitch, or other ideas that spread the burden of paying for our transit system equally.

The Ravitch report includes measures such as cashless, electronic tolling (in other words, tolls without toll booths) on the East and Harlem River bridges, a payroll ‘mobility’ tax on businesses that benefit from the MTA system, bus rapid transit and a regional bus network that would incorporate Westchester and Nassau bus service under the MTA bus family, actions that are long overdue and ones that will bring additional and better service to millions of people.

This plan, if approved by Governor Paterson and the State Legislature, in addition to reducing fare increases and staving off service cuts, will provide the dollars necessary for a robust multi-year capital construction program, something that is necessary to keep our transit system running and protect many jobs throughout New York State.

But we need leadership from the Governor to implement the tough choices that are necessary to keep the public transportation system afloat.

Failing to do so will not only affect those that ride transit, but also the scores of Long Islanders who drive. Traffic congestion on Long Island roads is already at a breaking point. For example, the Long Island Expressway is known nationwide for its congestion problems. This traffic will only get worse if our elected officials fail to support the transit system.

We believe the Ravitch recommendations offer equitable solutions to save our transit system from ruin and support a strong Long Island economy.

Here are some reasons why:

  • All beneficiaries of transit--commuters, drivers and businesses—are asked to pay for our region’s transit system. Our economy is regional, so the burden to pay for our transportation system should be regional as well.
  • Very few people of low and moderate income households would be paying to drive across the East River, if tolls are enacted. This is because only 3.5% of commuters in the whole of Nassau County drive alone to Manhattan. Those that are commuting ride transit, over 10% of Nassau residents, and are generally of more modest means. Not to mention that 8% of Nassau households don’t have a car and make less than half than those households that do own cars.
  • The plan will benefit the suburbs in particular by creating a regional bus system and will end the annual funding battles between Nassau County, the MTA and the State over who will plug the underfunded existing Long Island Bus system.

Supporting this plan may not be easy for many elected officials, but these are the hard choices that come with the responsibility of elected office and leadership. And while the needed choice may be difficult, that does not mean it is the wrong one.

What is wrong is any measure that would maintain the disproportionate burden of operating expenses via the pockets of the riding public, especially during the current economic downturn. Everyone benefits from the system, so everyone must pay.
It is time to get real about the service and capital needs of the MTA and deal with them head on. We are tired of legislative members who publicly oppose fare hikes and service cuts yet do very little behind legislative doors to prevent this situation from recurring. We applaud the many MTA board members who headed up to Albany last week, but ultimately, the decision rests with the Governor and the State.

In closing, we do not want to ride on infrequent, delayed, crowded and unsafe, or dirty trains and buses. We don’t want our elderly burdened because their bus route has been eliminated or Access-A-Ride has been cut. We don’t want our Long Island Bus riders sleeping overnight at their place of employment because their bus service is inadequate or eliminated. But if nothing is done, it is these dismal scenarios that lay ahead.

The proposed fare hike and service cuts are anything but fair. We want our Legislature to enact what is fair. Transit riders will notice, and transit riders vote.

Thank you.