Statement of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee
to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Before the
Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions
Evaluating Transit Priorities for Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Good morning, my name is William Henderson. I am the Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC). The PCAC was established by the New York State Legislature as the umbrella organization for three legislatively-mandated Councils that represent the interests of riders of the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit system. A representative from each Council also participates as a non-voting member on the MTA Board. The Councils were created by the New York State Legislature in 1981.
We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the upcoming MTA 2015-2019 Capital Program. We do so with some apprehension, as the Transit system’s needs are great, but the resources to meet these needs have not yet been identified. It is crucial to identify and allocate these resources in a timely manner so that critical work is not interrupted and our system does not begin to deteriorate. Although its infrastructure has been stabilized and reliability improved greatly from the 1970’s and early 1980’s, our City’s Transit system requires a constant infrastructure renewal and maintenance effort to support this improved service.
We are very concerned by the MTA’s recently proposed financial plan, which would redirect $80 million of operating funding per year from expenditures on capital improvements to meet higher labor costs as a result of wage settlements negotiated with unions representing the MTA’s workers. While the PCAC has misgivings about using existing MTA revenue sources to meet future capital needs and believes the State should be ultimately responsible for ensuring that funding is adequate to cover necessary capital investments, we are even more concerned by the prospect of the MTA issuing even more fare backed debt.
The PCAC’s position is that issuing debt without a carefully crafted program of dedicated revenues to support borrowing constitutes a serious threat to the future of the system and the stability of the fare. Unfortunately, in the absence of other funding, debt will finance 61 percent of the current capital program, and some may look to debt financing to do more in the future, in view of State Comptroller DiNapoli’s concern that the next Capital Program could have a $12 billion or greater funding gap.
Borrowing to fill this $12 billion gap is not a viable option. Currently, the MTA’s debt exceeds $34 billion, and the cost of servicing this debt is projected to grow to over $2.9 billion annually by 2018. To provide some perspective, by 2018 the cost of debt service on the MTA’s borrowing is projected to amount to over 49 percent of fare revenues collected.
Clearly a system of funding must be created to ensure adequate resources without exerting pressure on the fare. In past years both the State and City of New York provided substantial capital funding for the MTA. Presently, the MTA receives no regular capital funding from the State, and, other than funding for the 7 line extension, the City’s contributions to the MTA Capital Program have remained stagnant for almost 20 years, after being cut significantly in the 1990’s, and amount to about 2 percent of MTA capital spending. In the first two MTA Capital Programs, the State provided 19 percent of the necessary resources, while the City provided between 10 and 14 percent. We must return to this pattern of support.
Capital Program Priorities
In terms of spending priorities, the MTA’s next Capital Program should first focus on maintaining a state of good repair within the system. Much of this work is centered on replacing and refurbishing assets as they reach the end of their useful lives, but this effort is also focused on restoring some parts of the system to proper operation and replacing existing obsolete infrastructure with more technologically advanced equipment. The MTA estimates that merely meeting its continuing needs for capital investment between 2015 and 2019 will require $26.6 billion, $17.1 billion of which is required to maintain NYC Transit and MTA Bus Company infrastructure.
In Brooklyn and Queens and on Staten Island critical state of good repair work includes maintaining rail stations, rights-of-way, track, signals and other equipment necessary for the operations of the subway and the Staten Island Railway. These investments are fundamental to the operation of the system and must be given priority, as failing to invest in them will lead to rapid deterioration in these systems’ condition and performance. The process of normal replacement is also an opportunity to improve the system with new technology, such as investments in communication based train control that are planned for the Queens Boulevard lines, the countdown clock network that was made possible by the upgrade of train control systems on the numbered subway lines, and the BusTime bus tracking system that shares infrastructure with as yet unutilized fare collection technology that has been installed throughout the bus fleet.
The replacement of rolling stock is also a substantial need for the system. Subway cars and buses have normal useful lives of 40 and 12 years, respectively, and their periodic replacement is crucial to a reliable transit system. Several car classes on the B Division, or lettered subway lines, either exceed or are approaching the end of their useful lives. The R32 and R42 cars, which operate on the C, J, and Z lines, are scheduled to be replaced by currently funded new cars. The principal need in the new capital program is for funding of new R211 cars that will allow the R46 cars used on the A and F lines and the R44 cars used on the Staten Island Railway to be retired. NYC Transit is engaged in planning for these new cars, but they must be funded in the next capital program.
Because of expansion of bus ridership in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s following the introduction of free MetroCard transfers, NYC Transit purchased a large number of new buses that are now near or past the end of their useful lives. Even with planned bus purchases in the current capital program, the MTA Bus Operations fleet will have approximately 900 over-age buses out of a total fleet of about 5,700. In addition to the continuing replacement program for buses reaching the end of their useful life, the next capital program must address the current backlog in replacements. Bringing the bus fleet to a state of good repair will improve vehicle reliability and improve the service provided to riders, particularly riders with disabilities who rely on buses to have working ramps and lifts and have noted an increasing number of failures of these features as the bus fleet ages.
In terms of expenditures for expanded service in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, there are a number of areas that are not conveniently served by existing transit. For most of these areas, buses are the most appropriate form of transit in terms of both demand and cost. The MTA Board has for the past several years allocated funds to add bus service that meets existing and emerging needs and we urge its members to continue to do so. The next Capital Program must address the need for additional fleet vehicles and support facilities to allow for continued service expansion, as well as the replacement of existing vehicles.
Finally, we should not ignore the potential for the MTA’s commuter railroads to provide transportation to underserved areas of Brooklyn and Queens. In the past the Long Island Rail Road has been an important local transportation resource for Brooklyn and Queens and trips west of Jamaica made up a substantial portion of the Rail Road’s ridership. Increasing automobile use and the closure of City stations in conjunctions with the LIRR’s transition to elevated platforms reduced the importance of the Rail Road for local transportation, but the LIRR is still able to fill in many of the gaps in the City’s public transportation network.
Taking full advantage of this resource will create capital funding needs in terms of improving the condition and capabilities of stations, but robust use of commuter rail for transportation in the City will require the MTA to rethink fare policies as they apply to City Zone passengers. Currently, full fares for transportation within City limits on the LIRR are simply too high to attract riders, at either $8.00 or $9.50 for a peak period one way trip. As a result, potential riders located near LIRR stations often make long and inconvenient trips using a combination of dollar vans, buses, and subways to reach their destinations. The PCAC proposed and championed the CityTicket fare that is currently in effect on the commuter railroads on weekends, and we call for its expansion and the development of a “Freedom Ticket” that will allow riders to use any means of public transportation that most effectively allows them to reach their destinations.
We must also ensure that capital improvements do not have a negative impact on the usability of the LIRR within the five boroughs. Recently, with the growth of Downtown Brooklyn and special events at the Barclays Center, LIRR service to Brooklyn has been a particular bright spot in the Rail Road’s ridership growth. Changes to the configuration of Jamaica Station related to the East Side Access project, however, will eliminate through service between stations east of Jamaica and Brooklyn and provide all LIRR access to Brooklyn through a shuttle train running between a dedicated platform in Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal.
We appreciate the opportunity to testify today, and I would be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have.