Transit Comes up (VERY) Short in Governor’s Budget

 (John Carl D'Annibale, Times Union)

(John Carl D’Annibale, Times Union)

There is a bumper crop of dollars up for grabs this year in Albany thanks to the state’s sizable bank settlement funds, and after many voices chiming in that our crumbling infrastructure is the fiscally responsible investment for that money, Wednesday was Governor Cuomo’s turn to speak his mind. Unfortunately, the Governor plans to invest only a paltry portion of that on transit.

As the state faces a mind-boggling $33 billion needed for statewide transit systems, it is now up to advocates and legislators to make sure our dollars are spent in a fiscally responsible and sustainable manner. Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve gleaned so far from the transit budget he has proposed:

The Nuts and Bolts of Transit

Ahead of the release of the 2015-16 New York State Executive Budget, statewide transit systems identified $33 billion in capital needs over the next five years ($32 billion for the MTA$1 billion for suburban and upstate transit). Roughly half of that would be funded from a combination of fares, debt, and other revenue sources; transit systems are dependent on the state budget to fill the gap.

The Executive Budget proposes using just $750 million from the settlement funds for MTA capital needs ($150 million a year), which leaves a gaping $14.45 billion ($2.89 billion annually) gap for the MTA. Additionally, in an unprecedented and troubling move, the Governor proposes to take $121.5 million of transit revenues from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance program (MMTOA) that are dedicated to downstate operating needs, and move it to a new capital account, while simultaneously increasing operating funds for the MTA with $37 million from general funds.

The final sleight of hand in this shell game is another diversion of dedicated funds to pay off state debt, this time $20 million from MMTOA, and a promise to repeat the diversions through 2019. The budget does continue to fulfill the Governor’s promise to make the MTA “whole” with a $309.2 million transfer from the General Fund, a promise made after the 2011 budget deal that had slashed MTA revenues derived from the Payroll Mobility Tax.

For non-MTA transit systems, the outlook is equally bleak. The Executive Budget provides $5 million from the NY Works program for capital needs, leaving suburban and upstate systems with a $95 million annual gap in their five-year capital plans. Operating funds for upstate transit are proposed to be flat—not even a bump for inflation—at a time that upstate ridership continues to climb (despite falling gas prices).

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February 3rd in Albany—Join Us

On Tuesday, February 3, New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT) will be teaming up with New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) for a lobby day in Albany to discuss pedestrian, bicycling and transit infrastructure. Join us!

In light of yesterday’s State of the State address, now is the time to let your Albany legislators know that sustainable transportation options are […]

Subtext of a Port Authority Veto: Money, Power and Control

What four different legislative bodies with 612 legislators from two states wanted was a little independent oversight and accountability. What Governors Cuomo and Christie delivered—in the lull between Christmas and New Years when the majority of their constituents were enjoying some well-deserved quiet time—was a veto and a “special report”, both with an ill-disguised subtext: “mine, […]

$1 Billion and Counting: New York’s Non-MTA Transit Capital Needs

NYPTA's New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

NYPTA’s New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

Yesterday, the New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) released their report “Five Year Capital Program for Upstate and Downstate Transit” which outlines the critical capital investment needs for non-MTA urban transit systems across the state. While the MTA first issued a multi-year capital program more than 30 years ago, NYPTA’s report represents the first ever comprehensive attempt to develop a five-year capital plan for New York’s non-MTA systems.

And the need is substantial. There are more than 100 systems covering nearly every county in the state, and carrying over 550,000 passengers each and every day. Yet, the projected capital deficit is $577 million. Making matters worse, these system are using capital funds for operations, accelerating the wear and tear on facilities and equipment. The lack of capital investment and dedicated capital and operating funding streams over the years has led to outdated systems that break down, disrupt service and incur higher costs when transit providers attempt to regain a state of good repair. Unfortunately, existing revenues are projected to cover just 43 percent of these identified capital needs.

The report details $1 billion in upcoming infrastructure needs between 2015-2019, with over 80 percent of the identified need going solely to repair and replace existing core system assets. The remaining 20 percent is slated for expansions and upgrades, such as bus rapid transit, to accommodate record transit ridership—for example, the report notes that ridership is up seven percent in the Capital District.

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Reforming the Port Authority, Part I: Transparency

The next six to twelve months will tell us whether the Port Authority is taking transparency seriously. Many encouraging promises have been made, now they need to be kept. The Port has some work to do to increase fiscal transparency.

John Kaehny, Reinvent Albany

If there’s one good thing that came out of Bridgegate, it was the fact that the public spotlight illuminated the inner workings of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), and revealed the need for a little more “sunshine” to enable the public to keep watch.

Mobilizing the Region asked John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany, what was on his “transparency wish list” for the agency, and we got quite a hefty to-do list in response. One of Kaehny’s biggest wishes is for an improvement to the accessibility of public documents, including Freedom of Information Law requests. He strongly asserted that all documents must be made available online in a downloadable, machine-readable format — including proposed budgets, committee briefing packets, contracts and property transactions. Making these documents easily available would not only increase transparency, but would potentially reduce the number of incoming FOIL requests by making frequently FOIL’ed information easily available to interested parties.

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Cuomo Must Act Regarding Port Authority Transparency

Two key bills that would vastly improve public disclosure and accountability at the beleaguered Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature. Unfortunately, in a recently-released Citizens Union candidate questionnaire, the Governor fails to answer a direct question asking if he supports the bills. Instead, his response appears to […]

MTA’s Capital Plan: A (Partial) Eye Towards Long Island Railroad’s Future

LIRR MTA CPWith 83 million passengers a year, the Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in the nation and the economic engine for Long Island. It is also the nation’s oldest commuter rail system, and as such, the MTA’s proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program allocates nearly 10 percent of total expenditures to the system with a focus on better maintenance of core infrastructure to create a more resilient system

More than 60 percent of the proposed LIRR allocation will go to maintaining the basics—rolling stock, stations, track, communications/signals, power, shops and yards, bridges and viaducts—but the plan also targets service improvements that will get the system ready for its new access point in Manhattan: Grand Central Terminal.

At the moment, Penn Station is the only Manhattan stop for LIRR, and the station is at capacity during crucial points of the day. The completion of East Side Access will provide a much-needed second access point into Grand Central Terminal, enabling increased service opportunities and system redundancy. To get ready for that future day, the Capital Program proposes expanding capacity at Jamaica, a critical transfer station, and adding train storage and track capacity at key locations.

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MTA Capital Program Offers Metro-North Riders New Access

mta_cp_mnrMore than 275,000 daily commuters on Metro-North received good news in the MTA’s newly-released 2015-2019 Capital Program: the agency is moving forward with Penn Station Access, a $743 million project which has spent decades on the drafting table. Benefits of Penn Station Access include:

  • a one-seat ride with substantially reduced travel times to Manhattan’s west side for New Haven Line customers
  • expanded job access for Manhattan’s growing west side and more options for New York’s growing population of reverse commuters
  • improved capacity and tri-state connectivity, improving links between Metro-North, LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak
  • cost-effective use of existing tracks, and no new tunnels
  • four new stations in under-served Bronx neighborhoods expanding transit options and economic and residential development near Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point

This new service can’t begin until after completion of the $10.2 billion East Side Access, which will free up track space at Penn Station. Once complete, it will alleviate congestion at Mott Haven Junction, a system bottleneck where the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Lines all converge.

And in addition to service enhancements, the project will also bolster the transportation system’s resiliency for extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy. Mott Haven Junction, for example, is particularly prone to flooding so increasing redundancy between Manhattan and points north a key fix that can’t be built soon enough.

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Two Reports, Two Angles, Same Message: Infrastructure Needs Unmet in New York State

"Streets that need repair" are identified as the number one problem for NY Voters 50+

“Streets that need repair” are identified as the number one problem for voters in New York State age 50 and over. | Source AARPNY

Back-to-back reports released this week by AARP and the New York State Comptroller take two different approaches to arrive at the same conclusion: New York’s infrastructure needs are not being met.

AARP’s report, 2014 State of the 50+ in New York State, surveyed New Yorkers aged 50 and older to determine their likelihood of staying in New York after retirement, and what factors would impact that decision. The survey revealed that:

  • 60 percent are at least somewhat likely to leave New York after retiring; 27 percent extremely likely
  • 66 percent would be more likely to stay if improvements were made to transportation
  • 80 percent identified “streets that need repair” as a problem in their community
  • 67 percent cited cars not yielding to pedestrians as a problem in their community
  • 52 percent said public transportation was too far away, too limited or too hard to navigate
  • 67 percent said they would “vote for a candidate working on maintaining safe and independent mobility around town”

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On Day of Controversial Loan Vote, NYS Quietly Sends Notice of Sewer/Water Projects That Will Go Unfunded

The Islip LIRR station parking lot during heavy rainfall on August 13. | Photo: MTA

One doesn’t have to look far to find New York State sewer and water projects that need funding. Just this past weekend, Newsday published an article about a denial of funding for the Bay Park Sewage Plant, a plant that […]