LIRRCC Testimony – March 1, 2010 – Service Cuts

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Testimony of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council
Before the MTA Board on Proposals for Service
and Administrative Changes
Chateau Briand, Carle Place, NY

March 1, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is Larry Rubinstein and I am a member of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Long Island Rail Road riders.  The LIRRCC was established in 1981 by the State Legislature to represent the LIRR riders.  Our volunteer members are recommended by senior elected officials of each county and borough, and appointed by the Governor of the state.

The members of the LIRRCC not only represent the riders, but we are riders ourselves.  Our experiences led us to discover areas where improvements can be made and advocate for better service on the LIRR, but we are not here to discuss improvements. Instead, we are here to express our alarm at the service cuts that are before you this evening and belief that they threaten to degrade service on the Rail Road for years to come and to start us down the path where fewer people who have a choice will ride the railroad.  We also recognize that there are great financial challenges ahead and are concerned that these proposed reductions are but a first step in a downward progression of service cuts.

The eliminations of individual trains are troubling enough for LIRR riders.  The list of trains eliminated, trains combined, and trains shortened, distributed across the system to spread the burden over Long Island, will in the best of circumstances result in a slower, more crowded ride for those of us who use the Rail Road.   When there are problems in the system, these cuts remove some of the capacity and flexibility that is sorely needed when service is disrupted. The LIRR is a complex system and we all know that there are operational problems from time to time.  Further, as a rider with a varied schedule who uses the Rail Road in the early morning hours, I’m particularly concerned that the LIRR is headed down a path of restricting the range of options open to commuters.

More disturbing are the proposed reductions that would end entire classes of service.  These proposed cuts would end regular service to Greenport, end Belmont Park service except for the Belmont Stakes, end weekend service on the West Hempstead branch and discontinue overnight service to Brooklyn.   Eliminating some trains and combining others may be limited to a set of targeted cuts that preserves the basic structure of service, but these actions diminish the system itself.   Add in cuts like the elimination of half-hourly service on the Port Washington line, despite substantial population and strong ridership, and we see real damage being done to the system.  I emphasize that these are not reductions made as a result of declining ridership.  There is a purpose and demand for each of the services that is being eliminated.

Sadly, all of these cuts fail to do much to fill the financial hole in which the MTA finds itself, as their value at $7.6 million is only about one percent of the MTA’s projected three-quarter of a billion dollar deficit for this year.  The MTA’s financial problems are clearly not a result of operating too much service.  Instead they are the product of $143 million in State funding cuts in the Governor’s Deficit Reduction Program and shortfalls of $229 million and $378 million in 2009 and 2010 tax receipts from the levels projected by the State.    We question what is being lost in making these cuts and whether the savings generated can justify the impact on riders and on the region.

We are asking this Board to not decide on service cuts and other measures without first meeting with riders and those that use system on a daily basis. Too many times management gets held up looking at numbers, and they don’t deal with the reality of what will happen to the riders who are using the trains every day. We are the ones that ride the Rail Road every day, and we have some ideas and ways to save money that you may have not looked at before. The Council and its members are an asset that you need to tap.  Our members and the members of our sister Councils represent the riders of both of the MTA’s commuter railroads, as well as the City’s transit riders. We are more then happy to meet with this Board anytime.  The PCAC office is in the MTA building; talk to us.  We might have things to put on the table that can help all the commuters in the MTA region, and lessen the blow to riders.

Thank you

Testimony of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Before the MTA Board on Proposals for Fare and Crossing Charges and
Service Administrative Changes
White Plains Performing Arts Center, White Plains, NY

March 1, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is David Buchwald. I am Vice-Chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Metro-North Railroad riders.  Over the past 25 years, Metro-North has risen from a collection of castoff passenger lines to a preeminent position among American railroads.  Our members are concerned that the proposals before you will erode that position and with it the benefits that Metro-North provides for the economy and quality of life of our region and State.

The proposed reductions of car consists will make for more crowded conditions on Metro-North East of Hudson trains.  It is stunning that for an annual savings of $2.8 million, a rounding error in MTA terms, the Railroad is considering inflicting upon a total of 12,000 daily customers a situation where some riders will regularly find it difficult to secure a seat.  Yes, we are aware that the loading standards are proposed to be increased to a point where 5 percent or more of seats will be unoccupied, but the reality is that passengers do not distribute themselves evenly throughout the train, and we are convinced that substantial crowding will occur, even as seats are available elsewhere in the train.

The trains proposed to be discontinued or combined are also of great concern to the MNRCC.  While the West of Hudson lines face proportionately greater reductions, we will address them at the Suffern hearing.  Here, we will address the proposal to discontinue or combine 13 East of Hudson trains and the alternative to discontinue or combine 8 trains in lieu of Port Jervis line cuts.  With these reductions, we are creating gaps in service and less convenient schedules that will affect customers’ decisions to ride.  Again, the potential savings from these cuts is small at $1.6 million.

Look at the proposed elimination of the 1:15 a.m. outbound train to Stamford.  This train makes local stops on the New York portion of the New Haven line.  If it is eliminated, passengers who are unable to make the 12:25 a.m. train will not have a way home for another 88 minutes, when the 1:53 train leaves Grand Central.  We do not believe that “going your way . . .  eventually” is the message that the MTA should be sending to those who rely upon late night service to return home after an evening’s work or attending an event in the City.  This cut sends a clear message about whether one can rely on this service that goes far beyond the number of riders on any given day.

The MTA’s financial problems are clearly not a result of operating too much service.  The impact of $143 million in State funding cuts in the Governor’s Deficit Reduction Program and shortfalls of $229 million and $378 million in 2009 and 2010 tax receipts dwarf the savings that can be gained here.  While Metro-North management has sought to impact the least possible number of riders, there is demonstrated demand for each of the services that is being eliminated.  We question what is being lost in making these cuts and whether the savings generated can justify the impact on riders and on the region.  We are asking this Board to critically examine this issue along with us.

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