Testimony of Ryan Lynch, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
MTA Public Hearing, Garden City, NY
September 17, 2010

Good evening. My name is Ryan Lynch, and I am the senior planner and LI coordinator of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign a regional policy watchdog organization.

The MTA has put forth many cost saving proposals that unfairly saddle the transit user with more costs for less service. Among these are the proposal to raise fares on LIRR service in 2011 and a drastic cut of $26 million to LI Bus that could decimate one of the largest suburban bus systems in the country.

We oppose both.

Circumstances have changed since 2009 when we supported an overall funding package that included fare increases in 2009 and 2011. The state stole $143 million earmarked for the MTA and revenue from the funding package was lower than projected. These circumstances forced the agency to cut service when it promised riders it would not (to put this in perspective, the most recent service cuts saved $93 million). Riders are now left with more crowded trains and buses and longer waits while paying more of the system's costs.

The MTA’s proposal to cut its $26 million contribution to LI Bus is particularly egregious. Without this funding, the system will crumble and riders will be left stranded. This is bad news for the 8% of Nassau County households that do not own a car and the 33 million LI Bus riders who rely on the bus system.

The MTA’s plan to cut its contribution is also especially hasty. A regional bus study, which could put LI Bus on firm financial footing, is included in the MTA’s current capital plan. Any decisions made before the results of that study are premature and misguided. The MTA must take a step back from its hard-line position, a position that will only cause great suffering for LI Bus riders.
But the MTA’s ill-conceived proposal is only half the story.

County Executive Mangano’s proposal to privatize LI Bus, and the MTA’s implicit support, puts bus riders in the lurch. Privatization will possibly lead to a loss of free MetroCard transfers and can be considered a step backward as LI Bus was once a system of 10 separate private lines that were consolidated in 1973 because the private lines couldn’t provide the level of service needed for the County. Equipment was old, fares varied and the service was far from seamless, resulting in uncoordinated transfers and disjointed connections. Is this what County Executive Mangano wants for 104,000 daily LI Bus riders? And, if the County can’t find the money to increase its contribution to the MTA, as it says, where will it find the money for a privatized system?

Instead, Nassau County should put bus riders first now by increasing its contribution to LI Bus and working with the MTA to identify a sustainable funding stream. Nassau County currently contributes only $9.1 million a year and should follow the lead of other suburban counties, like Westchester and Suffolk who, while also facing uncertain economic times, fund their systems to the tune of $30 million and approximately $25 million a year even without MTA support.

Other options to plug budget holes should be considered before funding cuts and fare hikes. It’s time to reconsider East River bridge tolls or congestion pricing (with cashless, electronic tolling and no toll booths) as a more equitable solution to our transit funding woes. It is inequitable to keep asking transit riders to contribute more to the system while drivers, who reap the congestion busting benefits of our transit system, can still travel into the densest city in America for free.

Not only are tolls and congestion pricing good revenue generators for transit, but they are also win-win policies for the residents of Nassau County. These policies would impact few while delivering economic, environmental and quality of life benefits for all. In fact, only 3.5% of Nassau residents would be impacted by East River bridge tolls. Even fewer would have paid the congestion pricing fee under Mayor Bloomberg’s 2008 plan.

We must blame the MTA, but this blame is not exclusive. We also should blame Albany for stealing dedicated transit funds, the City of New York for continuing to fund the MTA at 1995 levels, Nassau County for contributing half as much to its bus system as it did 10 years ago and even Congress for not passing a $2 billion dollar emergency transit funding package that could help the region’s transit riders. Elected officials who simply point fingers at the MTA are dodging their responsibility to ensure our region’s transit service remains safe, affordable, and reliable. Voters angry about the recent service cuts, especially Long Island bus riders, should ask candidates how they plan on dealing with the MTA’s financial crisis.

In the mean time, there is still time to consider other options. The current ones that include fare hikes, funding cuts and privatization are simply unacceptable.