Statement of the New York City Transit Riders Council to the
Committee on Transportation of the New York City Council
on New York City Areas Underserved by Public Transportation
June 19, 2012
My name is William Henderson and I serve as Executive Director of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC). The NYCTRC, which was established in 1981, is the legislatively mandated representative of New York City Transit riders, created by the State Legislature in 1981 to represent the users of the New York City Transit system. The Council consists of fifteen volunteer members appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Mayor, the Public Advocate and the five Borough Presidents.
The Council appreciates this Committee’s interest in ensuring that all areas of the City are adequately served by public transportation. In 2007, the umbrella organization of the NYCTRC, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC), conducted a study of public transportation options into Manhattan from selected neighborhoods and found serious gaps in service for riders in many parts of the City. In our report, A Long Day’s Journey into Work, the PCAC reported the results of case studies of Southeast Queens, the Co-Op City area of the Bronx, Southwest Staten Island, and the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. In each of these areas, the modest physical distance to Manhattan belies the time and effort required for the daily commute.
Unfortunately, there are no perfect or easy answers to improve transit in the underserved areas. The expense and impacts of extending subway service make this option largely infeasible. Buses, including new services building from Bus Rapid Transit principles, must play an increasing role in providing the flexible and economically viable service that meets riders’ needs. Increasingly, we need to look at our transportation system as a network, and not as individual services confined to their individual silos. This will require close coordination between the City, the MTA, and other transportation providers. The work that has been done on Select Bus Service is a step in the right direction, but it is only a beginning.
The NYCTRC also believes that the commuter rail lines that serve stations in New York City can be critical in providing better public transportation. The Transit Rider’s Council has long championed revising current fare structures to allow riders to travel throughout the City using the most suitable transit that is available. A major roadblock to more effective use of the commuter railroads, however, is the affordability of fares for travel within the City. Because of high commuter rail fares, we see City riders living within walking distance of stations where they could reach Manhattan in 30 minutes instead boarding buses or dollar vans to begin a two-hour trip to the CBD. This is not an efficient use of resources.
You may be aware that through the efforts of the NYCTRC and PCAC, the MTA in 2004 created a program that allows weekend travelers to pay a reduced fare, currently $3.75, to ride either the Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North railroad between two New York City Stations. While this program has officially remained a pilot program, it has worked well and points the way toward options for better serving City riders with our commuter rail assets.
We propose what we call a Freedom Ticket. The concept of the Freedom Ticket is simple; it would, for a single fare, allow customers to use any MTA facility or service that meets their needs for travel within a given zone. This would include not only buses and subways, but also commuter rail lines and would provide for transfers between modes to most efficiently travel between two points. The details of this system are a subject for discussion, but we cannot afford to leave parts of our public transportation network underutilized while so many riders face punishing commutes.
The need to provide for transportation needs in all areas of the City highlights the need for stable and sufficient funding of the NYC Transit system. The MTA’s 2010 budget driven service cuts are a case in point. While strong opposition to the initially proposed cuts saved service to some areas by either retaining or modifying existing routes, many riders saw their options reduced or eliminated altogether. Because elimination of bus service is one of the few ways that the MTA can rapidly reduce operating costs, parts of the city that are dependent on buses and have limited transit options are particularly vulnerable to the budget axe.
In the June 2010 service cuts, we saw riders in the Bronx subjected to long walks to reach alternative service and the loss of all bus service in Little Neck, Queens. Some Brooklyn neighborhoods lost service as routes were truncated to save money, while other Brooklyn riders faced long walks to restructured service. In addition, bus service between Brooklyn and Manhattan, a lifeline to those who are unable to navigate the non-accessible subway stations in Downtown, Brooklyn Heights, and lower Manhattan, was eliminated.
Finally, we can improve access to information and the efficiency of our system, and this can improve access to underserved areas. Improvements such as the countdown clocks in the subways and the BusTime information system that is now being rolled out Citywide are promising technologies that make their systems more usable for riders. We have begun to see the ways in which mobile phone apps can make riders more aware of their options and give them a greater sense of control, but further development of these tools depends on continued opening of data to application developers.
Technology is also important in the operation of the system itself. Improved subway signal systems can increase the number of trains and passengers that can travel on a given line, and technologies such as traffic signal prioritization can make bus travel more efficient. These technologies will of course require sufficient capital funding and in some cases coordination between the MTA and City.
I appreciate the opportunity to testify before this Committee and am glad to answer any questions that you may have.