Fare hearings begin in Brooklyn

 

 

NOTE: The Long Island hearing will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 27, at the Melville Marriott Long Island, 1350 Walt Whitman Road, Melville.
The Staten Island hearing will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 28, at the College of Staten Island, Center for the Arts, Springer Concert Hall, 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island.

 

On Wednesday, November 7th, fare increase hearings began in Brooklyn despite the onslaught of winter storm Athena.  Not surprisingly turnout was light with only 26 speakers.  Of those, Stuart Goldstein gave testimony on behalf of the NYCTRC and Matt Kessler spoke for the LIRRCC.  Their remarks follow below:

Testimony of the New York City Transit Riders Council
to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
 on Proposed Fare Increases

NY Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
November 7, 2012

 Good Evening. My name is Stuart Goldstein. I am a member of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the New York City Transit riders. I am a Brooklyn resident and daily subway commuter, appointed to the Council by the Governor on the recommendation of the Mayor. 

We believe that the level of increases contained in this proposal is unjust to the users of the NYC Transit system.  MTA riders already pay the highest percentage of the cost of their rides of any transit users in the nation, for subway riders 72 percent of the operating expenditures required to provide service.  In contrast, the average figure for large US transit systems is 38 percent.  An increase of fares in excess of 7.5 percent will reinforce a shift of more and more of the burden of supporting the system to the riders.

The Council recognizes that this proposal follows from a 2009 understanding between the MTA and State that riders, drivers, and the State would all contribute to resolve the funding crisis caused by plunging subsidies in a soft economy and to avoid crippling service cuts.  Within a short time, the new funding sources were generating less than State projections and were under attack by lawmakers, the State was taking $243 million in existing funding from the MTA, and the ill-advised service cuts of 2010 had begun.  Only the riders kept up their end of the bargain, saddled with fare increases that far exceeded the inflation rate. 

We acknowledge that riders share responsibility for funding increased operating costs.  When riders are called upon to pay their share in bridging the gap between rising costs and revenues, however, this Board must understand that any increases will most greatly affect the NYC Transit system’s most frequent riders and must ensure that these riders are protected as much as is possible.

Two years ago, this Board declined to raise the base fare, but placed the burden of  fare increases on riders using 7 day and 30 day MetroCards and purchasers of bonus MetroCards.  Tourists and occasional riders saw stable fares while daily commuters faced double digit cost increases.  We have seen the MetroCard bonus eroded over the years, increasing the burden on the regular riders who pay by the ride. This cannot happen again.  If more is to be asked from riders, any fare increase must include adjustments to the base fare to moderate its impacts on the system’s best customers.

We also need to have an MTA fare structure that makes sense.  In our present fare system, there is more interoperability between NYC Transit and Westchester County’s Bee Line system than between Transit and the MTA’s other operating agencies.  In Brooklyn we have Long Island Rail Road service that has the potential to serve many more riders than it presently does.  The problem is that, especially when riders must pay a fare to travel to or from a commuter rail station, using the LIRR may be unaffordable, forcing riders to choose less direct and efficient routes that nonetheless require only one Transit fare.

The time is right to institute a new fare to allow riders to use any MTA service to travel from point to point within a given area.  We call our concept the Freedom Ticket, and it would, at a cost that is greater than a standard subway fare but less than a commuter rail fare, allow a rider to take any combination of bus, subway, and commuter rail routes to travel from point to point within the City.  We believe that, particularly as commuter rail options expand and new fare technology is implemented in the coming years, this concept is workable at all times on all days. The time to start is now with a positive commitment from this Board that our buses, commuter railroads, and subways constitute a single system that should be used to transport riders as efficiently as possible.

For many years, we have said that the revenues supporting the MTA and NYC Transit must be stable, reliable, and able to grow to meet increasing costs, but our current mix of funding does not meet this standard, in fact $1.8 billion in annual State funding has been ruled to be unconstitutionally enacted.  The MTA must work with our elected representatives to reconsider this mix of fares, tolls, local support, State subsidies, and federal funding and arrive at a formula that is fair to all who benefit from the system.  Our Council asks this Board to join us in pressing this issue with our elected leaders. 

We note that the toll increases in this proposal are likely to further distort traffic flow and result in more congestion, more pollution and more fuel use as drivers increasingly divert to untolled river crossings to avoid the higher charges.  The time is now to take a fresh look at a rational system of crossing charges that promotes efficient traffic flow and supports the transit system that makes driving feasible.  Everything must be on the table to ensure that transit remains affordable.

 

 

Testimony of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council
to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
    on Proposed Fare Increases

 NY Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
November 7, 2012

 

Good Evening. My name is Matthew L. Kessler. I am the Vice-Chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Long Island Rail Road, appointed by the Governor. I represent The Borough of Brooklyn on the Council. 

This past week has been a very difficult one for commuters throughout the MTA region, especially in the LIRR service area. When many have lost so much, the issue of fare increases may seem trivial. Yet, proposed fare increases will affect riders long after we recover from the storm. Thus, we must speak out.

Not even two years since the last hearings and we encounter the same routine. Instead of discussing how to serve the customer better, grow ridership, and make the LIRR integral to Brooklyn, we speak about the narrow subject of how much more riders will pay.

It’s important to understand how we got to this point.  In 2009, an understanding was reached for riders, motorists, and the State to all contribute to resolve the MTA’s financial crisis in exchange for no major service cuts.  Subsequently, NYS took from the MTA’s $243 million in existing funding and service cuts soon followed.  The problem is that the passengers kept up their end of the bargain, enduring fare increases that far exceeded the inflation rate. 

As the representative of LIRR’s Brooklyn riders, we oppose the proposed fare increase. This increase is unrealistically large and further shifts the burden of funding the MTA onto commuters. We understand that commuters need to share in supporting ever-increasing operating expenses, but MTA riders already bear a harsh burden that is increasingly beyond their means.

The LIRRCC knows that this Board is in a difficult position with rapidly increasing costs, some of which are beyond its control, such as debt service that compels the MTA to borrow heavily, in order to provide for the necessary replacement, rehabilitation, and expansion to the system.  The MTA’s current governmental funding will not grow enough to cover these increased costs, even with no repeat of State funding cuts.

Regardless, this Board needs to understand that LIRR commuters are also in an extremely difficult position.  They are being stretched beyond their limits by commuting costs.  The incessant fare increases are making commuters question the value of public transportation.  Pretax dollars that were once available for decreasing commuting expenses has nearly been cut in half.  Taxpaying commuters are being hammered from every direction from other MTA agencies and increased rates for station parking in many communities.

These riders find themselves being called upon to shoulder an ever heavier share of the operating costs of LIRR.  In 2008 the proportion of operating expenditures borne by LIRR riders was 44.3 percent.  This year, it is projected to be 47 percent. 

We need to take action and do less talking, if we will implement equitable fare increases and find ways to lift some of this burden off the riders’ shoulders.

We have a number of recommendations that we believe action must be seriously investigated:
1 – LIRRCC believes that all legitimate fare revenue must be collected and we have frequently and forcefully pressed LIRR to do so.  With other funding sources constrained, riders pay in higher fares or reduced service for every dollar in fares that is not collected.

2 – MTA and LIRR must continue to seek increased efficiency and reduce costs.  We demand that LIRR operations, as well as those of the MTA’s other services, be streamlined.  Let’s find a better way, such as a prepaid longer term passes, and use the cost savings to reduce fare increases.

Let’s also work together to find funding that doesn’t depend on fares.
1 – Excess real estate. A primary example is the Great Neck Station. Significant funds were spent on renovation the area opposite the ticket office to serve as an information center on the Colonial Bridge Project. The Center was open for less than a week, and it has never reopened for any other purpose. Spaces like this are being wasted, as long as they are not being productively used, leased or rented.

2 - Advertising. Increasing maximum use of space in and on stations and platforms could prove to be a source of increased revenue, particularly in Brooklyn where Atlantic Terminal serves as the gateway to the Barclays Center and other attractions.

3 - New markets.

4 – And, lastly and most importantly: thinking outside of the box. We must search for new and inventive revenue sources, try them, and implement those that are successful. 

We all know that the taxes, fees, and other support that State and local governments provide for the MTA is not stable, reliable, and able to grow to meet increasing costs, so let’s work with elected officials to revisit this funding formula.

What is gained by this fare increase? Depressed ridership.  The LIRR at one time carried large numbers of daily riders within the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, but as the fare increased within the City, passengers took notice and this ridership declined.  This fare increase will not make the LIRR more attractive to those attending events in Brooklyn; instead of pushing them away, let’s bring these potential new riders onto the system with a special “Fan Fare.”  There are limits on late night service to Atlantic Terminal and, when East Side Access opens, the end of the one seat ride for some and more difficult transfers for other Brooklyn passengers are planned., changes which we oppose.  Brooklyn passengers have enough challenges; Let’s do something positive for the Brooklyn riders.

Other fare issues depress ridership as well. Many families find using LIRR for weekend outings is likewise unaffordable, thus, LIRR receives no revenue from them. College students pay full undiscounted fares to travel to classes, even as they struggle to afford their education, so they find other options.  Other transit systems in the country find ways to accommodate these riders for free, why can’t we do so here?

We can’t build an improved system by cutting service and raising fares. LIRR’s leaders often speak of the East Side Access project and its ridership growth transforming the system and what it can provide to riders, but in reality we see an unwillingness to provide service for which there is demand, and a fare structure that sends a powerful message not to use the LIRR unless there is no alternative.  To approve this proposal is to continue down this road, and we urge this Board to follow a new path.

 

 

 

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