Testimony of Nadine Lemmon, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
MTA Public Hearing, Orange County, NY
September 13, 2010

Good evening. My name is Nadine Lemmon and I am speaking on behalf of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional policy watchdog organization. I’m also speaking on behalf of the New York State Transportation Equity Alliance, a coalition of over 70 organizations statewide advocating for a balanced and sustainable transportation system.

We cannot support the proposed fare hikes—Hudson Valley transit riders have endured five hikes since 2003, and enough is enough. It is time for city, state and federal leaders to recognize that public transportation is crucial to our economic well-being. We need to find secure, dedicated funding sources for transit….now.

Before the recent recession, Metro-North’s record-setting ridership numbers (80 million customers) highlighted the growing importance of transit to our region. A recent 3-county regional housing needs assessment study showed that a substantial number of our workers commute outside of their respective home counties for work: 30.8% in Dutchess County, 34.5% in Orange County, and 33.5% in Ulster County. Many Hudson Valley commuters rely on Metro-North to get to and from their jobs and their incomes help to boost our local economy.

The more that these workers use transit, the lower the impact on our local roads — and our highway budgets — and the lower the impact on our environment. Higher fares drive them to cars.

Transportation also has a direct impact on the affordability of our region—it is the second biggest item in most household budgets. The 3-county study showed that this region is already facing substantial challenges meeting its affordable housing needs. Raise the transit fares, and you’re affecting the ability of our homeowners to meet their mortgage payments.

And if defaults rise, local economies can spiral.

The MTA is not to blame for this budget gap. Jay Walder has done a good job of finding efficiencies and, in this economy, funding sources such as the payroll tax have brought in much less than predicted.

Albany, on the other hand, stole $143 million dollars in funds that were statutorily dedicated to transit. In an election year, they used these funds, that should have gone to transit, to balance their own budget. Simultaneously, Washington has failed to act on a $2 billion package that would help states with much-needed transit operating expenses. And the transit rider is now being asked to fill the gap.

There are other options than fare hikes:

Thank you.