LIRRCC Testimony – September 20, 2010 – Proposed Fare Increase


Testimony of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council to the
Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Proposed Fare Increases
Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel,
Flushing, NY

September 20, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is Owen Costello.  I am a Nassau County 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 the Nassau and Suffolk County Executives and the Brooklyn and Queens Borough Presidents and appointed by the Governor.

I am here this evening to state our opposition, on behalf of the riders, to the proposed fare increases before you.  We have not reached this position lightly.  We firmly believe that LIRR riders must shoulder their fair share of the load in supporting the operations of the Rail Road, but the riders must not stand alone in this effort.

The current fare proposal has its roots in an agreement reached in May 2009 between the State and MTA that included increased State financial assistance through new taxes and fees on motorists, taxi users, and business and increased rider support through a program of regular fare adjustments.  Planned service cuts were taken off the table as a part of this agreement.

Unfortunately, this agreement has not been fulfilled.  New state revenues have failed to meet projections and $143 million in revenues that have been promised for the operation of MTA services have been used to eliminate deficits in the State’s general fund.  Service has been cut dramatically in some areas.  Only the riders are being held to their substantial responsibilities under this bargain, but now they stand alone.

In the northern part of the LIRR’s Nassau County service area, the impacts on the riders of the failure of the State to provide funding have been great.  Port Washington branch customers have just this month endured major cuts in off peak service, and these actions are on a part of the system that covers an exceptionally large share of its costs of operation.  According to the LIRR’s own figures, released earlier this year during consideration of service cuts, in peak hours the Port Washington branch actually covers its operating costs.

The cuts on the Port Washington branch are in addition to the loss of other train service throughout the system, with trains being removed from the schedule and stops added to express trains to provide network coverage at the cost of substantial inconvenience to other riders.  At the same time these cuts are being implemented, we are not at all convinced that the LIRR is collecting the revenue to which it is entitled.  We regularly receive credible reports of failure to collect tickets on some trains and frequently witness these shortcomings ourselves.  In place of increased emphasis on fare collection, this Board has been presented with proposals for unreasonable expiration dates on single and ten-trip tickets and onerous fees for ticket refunds.  These proposals may serve to limit the reuse of tickets not collected, but a rider who has paid for a ticket should have a reasonable opportunity to use it.  We strenuously oppose these proposals.

We also oppose several additional “stealth” fare increases, such as on-board and step up fares which would be rounded up to the next dollar and the discounts on joint monthly tickets and MetroCards and on Mail and Ride and WebTickets which would be reduced and eliminated, respectively.  While there may be legitimate reasons for adjusting the fare structure, these provisions have an air of increasing demands on the rider while keeping the stated fare yield increase at 7.5 percent.

These fare proposals do not address the fundamental issues facing the MTA.  Riders already pay a substantial share of the cost of operations, recently estimated by MTA management at 53.4 percent for 2010.  If we follow the pattern that MTA management is proposing, this figure will rise to 59.9 percent by 2013, again by management’s own estimates.

The MTA’s current financial problems are in large part a result of the failure of State and local government to fund capital improvements, resulting in their financing through fare backed bonds.  To allow our elected officials to similarly walk away from supporting the MTA now would be repeating this history.  We demand that the members of the MTA Board and MTA senior management work vigorously both internally and with our State and Federal elected officials to find alternative means of filling the gap between costs and revenues; to increasingly shift this burden to riders is unacceptable.

We call on the MTA Board to join with us in rejecting these proposals.