How Far Would $40 Million Go?

The scenario outlined in the report could improve and restore service on several subway lines, including the W train, which was cut in 2010. | Photo: NY Daily News

The scenario outlined in the report could improve or restore service on many subway lines, including the W train, which was cut in 2010. | Photo: NY Daily News

Today, while legislators in Albany scramble to stop Governor Cuomo’s ill-advised diversion of $40 million in dedicated transit funds during the final hours of State budget negotiations, a report was released outlining just how far $40 million could go to restore and expand transit service in the New York metropolitan area. The report, authored by Riders Alliance and NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, provides a scenario in which the $40 million is spent on transit upgrades, and details how those investments could substantially improve the commutes of the region’s transit riders.

Subways

  • Restore mid-day, nighttime and weekend service that was reduced on the 1, 7, A, F, J, L and M lines in 2010, creating shorter waits for 300,000 riders every weekday and 285,000 riders every weekend ($3.1 million)
  • Add 20 percent more morning rush hour service on the notoriously crowded C train ($1 million)
  • Restore G train service to Forest Hills–71st Avenue in Queens ($1.5 million)
  • Restore W train one-seat service from Astoria to Lower Manhattan ($3.4 million)

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Tri-State and Straphangers Say No to Governor Cuomo’s MTA Diversion

NY Assemblymembers | Photo: Dan Rivoli/AM New York

At a rally earlier this month, Assembly leaders and advocates urge Governor Cuomo to remove a $40 million transit raid. Photo: Dan Rivoli/AM New York

In an op-ed in Newsday and amNY today, Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s executive director Veronica Vanterpool, and Straphangers Campaign staff attorney Gene Russianoff, called on the New York State legislature, particularly the Long Island delegation, to hold firm on its rejection of Governor Cuomo’s proposed $40 million diversion of dedicated transit funds to the State General Fund. Such diversions can lead to service cuts and fare increases, as was the case in 2010 after $260 million in transit funding was used to plug state budget holes. Long Island’s elected officials have already stood up to the proposed diversion in both the Senate and Assembly budgets:

Long Island’s Senate and Assembly members understand the importance of this transit funding. Thanks to the efforts of State Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and senior Assembly members like Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), the proposed budgets of both the Senate and the Assembly withdrew the governor’s $40 million diversion.

But as negotiations for the final budget enter the final days, it is imperative that the Senate and Assembly remain firm in their opposition to the Governor’s proposed diversions. As the op-ed highlights, $40 million could go a long way towards stabilizing the MTA’s tenuous finances, while also potentially restoring previously cut service–like weekend service on the West Hempstead branch–or holding down next year’s proposed fare hike.

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Advocates Call for Additional New York State Funding for Suffolk County Transit

TSTC Associate Director Ryan Lynch was among the advocates who called on Governor Cuomo and the NYS Legislature to boost state funding for Suffolk County Transit today. | Photo: Mike Koehler/Vision Long Island

Suffolk County bus and paratransit riders gathered in Hauppauge with business, labor, planning and transit advocates today to urge Governor [...]

Mapping New York Pedestrian Fatalities and the Legislative Districts Where They Occur

Between 2010 and 2012, more than 900 pedestrians were killed on roads in New York State. To highlight how broad-based these fatalities are, Tri-State released an online map that shows the locations of New York* pedestrian fatalities with clickable layers that display boundaries for counties, congressional districts and state legislative districts. Viewers can turn these administrative boundary [...]

Annual Transit Ridership Grows, but Not on Long Island

Transit ridership is up across the region, except in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. | Photo: Ed Betz/Newsday

Transit ridership is up across the region, except in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. | Photo: Ed Betz/Newsday

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released its annual overview of transit ridership in the United States today, and by and large the news across the country was good. According to the report:

In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years[...]This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads (VMT) went up 0.3 percent, public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent.

In New York, annual transit ridership growth largely mirrored national patterns. The Long Island Rail Road saw annual growth of over 2 percent, and even Metro-North, which had a year that Connecticut General Assembly Transportation Chair Representative Tony Guerrera aptly described as ”appalling,” still saw growth of .6 percent.

Ridership grew by 3.6 percent in New York City; in Westchester County, ridership on the County’s Bee-Line bus system grew by over 1.5 percent.

In New Jersey, ridership on the Port Authority’s transit systems grew by .47 percent and ridership on NJ Transit grew by 1.54 percent.

The lone blemish on the region’s widespread transit ridership growth was Long Island’s bus systems, with both Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) and Suffolk County Transit (SCT) experiencing ridership drops in 2013. With a ridership drop of almost 2.4 percent, NICE ridership fell to its lowest level since 1998. In Suffolk County, ridership fell by just over 3 percent, resulting in the system’s lowest annual ridership since 2005.

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MTA Chief Safety Officer Must Look at Safety Beyond Railbeds

mta-bus-ped

The MTA will focus its safety efforts along the rails, but it must also address safety on the streets. At least nine pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by MTA bus drivers in New York City since January 2013. | Photo: Pearl Gabel/NY Daily News

Last month, in the wake of the tragic derailment of a Metro-North train at Spuyten Duyvil that killed four passengers in December 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced the establishment of a new safety committee on the MTA board and the creation of a Chief Safety Officer position that will report directly to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast.

The new position will be tasked with improving safety through “stepping up reporting responsibilities and management oversight and installing automatic speed protections” on the railroad. The move was applauded across the region as long overdue. While we hope these efforts will improve safety along the rails, oversight on safety issues for the MTA’s new senior management position should not stop there.

Since January 2013, at least nine pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by MTA bus drivers in New York City, and according to a Tri-State analysis, from 2010-2012, 10 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred within a quarter mile of Long Island Rail Road stations in Nassau and Suffolk Counties and Metro-North stations in Westchester County. These fatalities highlight the need for greater coordination between the MTA, the New York City Department of Transportation and state departments of transportation to address the safety of millions of pedestrians who access the railroad and the City’s subways and buses daily. A model example of this type of collaboration can be found in New Jersey, where NJ Transit partners with NJDOT on a Transit Village program which prioritizes making access to transit stations safer.

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Once Again, NYS Comptroller Calls Out Governor Cuomo’s Transit Fund Diversion

dinapoli-report-2014For the second year in a row, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli weighed in on a 2014-2015 state budget maneuver proposed by Governor Cuomo that puts MTA dedicated funds at risk.

In the Comptroller’s review of the Executive Budget, DiNapoli highlighted Governor Cuomo’s proposal to divert “$40 million from the  Metropolitan Mass Transit Operating Assistance (MMTOA) account to the General Debt Service Fund to pay debt service typically paid from the State’s General Fund.” DiNapoli was explicit in calling the move “additional General Fund relief.” The Comptroller also noted that the $40 million are “resources that could otherwise gone to the MTA,” presumably to bolster service on existing transit routes in the region or even go towards helping Mayor Bill de Blasio achieve his goal of 20 additional bus rapid transit routes in the five boroughs. The proposal first drew ire last year.

One area the Comptroller did not address in his budget review was the Governor’s proposal to repeat this diversion beyond this fiscal year. According to the Governor’s Financial Plan, each year beginning in FY2016, the budget will divert $20 million of dedicated transit funding to provide for General Fund Relief. Advocacy groups have signaled the alarm and petitions are circulating.

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How the Tri-State Region’s Universities are Trying to Reduce Driving

Rutgers University shuttle bus in New Brunswick. |Photo: eden.rutgers.edu

Rutgers University shuttle bus in New Brunswick. |Photo: eden.rutgers.edu

Colleges and universities across the nation are pioneering methods to reduce vehicle ownership and use on their campuses, according to a U.S. PIRG/Frontier Group report, released earlier this month. The report highlights strategies like free transit services, car-sharing, and even new infrastructure like biking and walking paths.

Initiatives aimed at decreasing driving on campuses were spurred by a number of reasons, not least because building and maintaining parking is expensive. Stanford University, for example, “has avoided more than $100 million in parking construction costs over the past decade due to its efforts to discourage driving.”

In addition to showing ways colleges and universities are reducing car use, the report also makes clear that municipalities should look to these institutions when seeking to implement policies that discourage driving. Fortunately, municipalities in the tri-state region don’t have to look very far. While the report does not mention any specific examples from the region, MTR did a little digging into the transportation and parking policies of four schools in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut:

Rutgers University  New Jersey’s state university employs almost all of the innovative strategies the PIRG report mentions. There are shuttle buses providing transit to and on the campuses, as well as walking and biking paths. There is a campus bike rental and bike exchange, and the university also provides student discounts for NJ Transit fares and a Rutgers Rideshare program.

SUNY Purchase  According to its website, SUNY Purchase’s adoption of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, as well as its “dedication to overall environmental sustainability,” led Purchase to “offer a variety of convenient alternatives to individual car ownership.” This includes the Purchase Shuttle, Zipcar membership for students, faculty and staff, and Zimride, an online platform that facilitates ridesharing.

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An Open Letter to Suffolk County Legislator Thomas Barraga

Photo: Facebook/Sandy Heins Cutrone

Letter from Suffolk County Legislator Thomas Barraga  | Photo: Sandy Heins Cutrone/Facebook

Late last month, Suffolk County (NY) Legislator Thomas Barraga responded to a letter from a constituent whose mother, Sandy Heins Cutrone, suffered a broken shoulder and head and neck injuries after being struck by a car while bicycling in West Islip.

Barraga’s response, which essentially said “don’t ride a bike in Suffolk County,” has received a fair deal of media attention in the last 24 hours. His response is an unfortunate turn of events. Tri-State has met with Barraga in the past to discuss pedestrian safety in Suffolk County, and believe it or not, Barraga was named a “Winner” last October for writing a letter to the County’s Department of Public Works urging them to conduct a traffic safety study on County Road 13 after a pedestrian and cyclist were killed within one week of each other.

So instead of joining in on the pummeling, we’d like to offer a rebuttal to some of the Legislator’s statements, as well as ideas that he can pursue to make cycling and walking safer in his district of West Islip and Suffolk County as a whole.

Dear Mr. Cutrone,

Thank you for your recent letter concerning bicycle safety and bicycle lanes. Let me at the outset express the hope that your mother will have a complete recovery from her accident in September while riding a bicycle in West Islip.

I have lived in West Islip most of my life and my personal feeling is that no one who lives in our hamlet or for that matter in Suffolk County should ever ride a bicycle or a motorcycle. I cannot tell you how many constitituents over the years have told me that they are taking up bicycling for pleasure and exercise. I have hold them not to do so but they usually do not listen — 90 percent of those people eventually were hit by an automobile many like your mother with serious physical injuries.

If Barraga has had “many constituents over the years” telling him they want to bike more, then there’s clearly a demand for better bicycle infrastructure in Suffolk County. So instead of telling constituents that cycling will get them killed, he should be using the influence of his position to make cycling in Suffolk County safer and easier.

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Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget: $40 Million Taken from Transit, No Dedicated Pedestrian and Bicycling Safety Funding

Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget is a mixed-bag for transit and safe streets advocates. | Photo: Mike Groll/AP

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget is a mixed-bag for transit and safe streets advocates. | Photo: Mike Groll/AP

Governor Andrew Cuomo released his 2014-2015 Executive Budget yesterday and a preliminary look suggests transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists are seeing a lot more take than give.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority

While the budget increases MTA funding by $85 million, Governor Cuomo proposes to use $40 million in ”surplus” transit funds to pay off bonds issued by the State on behalf of the MTA. Until last year, these bonds were serviced with General Funds. In 2013, when Governor Cuomo swept $20 million in transit funds, the move was criticized by transit advocates as well as State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as a diversion of funds. The use of “surplus” funds to service this debt is something the Governor plans to do every year, beginning in FY2016:

Metro Mass Transportation Operating Aid (MMTOA) Debt Service Offset: The budget proposes to offset General Fund support for the MTA debt service costs by utilizing $40 million in dedicated resources from the MMTOA account to the General Debt Service Fund, with $20 million in resources available for the same purpose on an annual basis beginning in FY 2016.

While the Governor’s budget includes $310 million from the State’s General Fund to the MTA to compensate for lost revenue resulting from the rollback of the payroll mobility tax (PMT) in December 2011, this flat amount (which has been included every year since 2012) could be actually shortchanging potential revenue. The New York State Department of Labor estimates that 218,300 jobs were created in the downstate MTA region from November 2011 to November 2013, which means that additional PMT revenue likely would have been generated from these additional jobs, in excess of the $310 million. This additional revenue may have been enough to offset the proposed four percent MTA fare increase in 2015.

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