Testimony of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA
Before the MTA Board on Proposed Reductions to LI Bus Service
Adams Playhouse, Hofstra University
March 23, 2011
Good Afternoon. 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, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC). 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. In my remarks today, I will address the proposals at the center of this hearing and will not comment upon the potential privatization of the system.
I am here today to express the PCAC’s opposition to the proposed service reduction. You’ve heard and will hear from others what these cuts will do to Long Island Bus riders. Long Island Bus is a vital link to work, school, and health care for approximately 100,000 daily riders, many of whom have limited resources and even more limited choices of alternative transportation. We believe that this is a looming disaster for the County, its economy, and its quality of life.
Due to Nassau County’s severe financial constraints and professed inability to meet its funding responsibilities and the MTA’s precariously balanced budget and inability to bridge the gap between costs and identified funding, the MTA proposes to end service on twenty five Long Island Bus lines and to end Saturday and Sunday service on two others. This proposal would impact approximately 15 percent of the system’s current riders and leave much of eastern Nassau County without bus service. It would come on top of 2010 service reductions that discontinued eleven routes and reduced service on seven others.
These cuts would also have the effect of ending access to Able-Ride paratransit service for almost one-fifth of its users. Because Able-Ride service is provided only in areas lying in a corridor extending three-quarters of a mile from Long Island Bus routes, trips to and from most parts of Elmont, Levittown, Massapequa, Amityville, Woodbury, Bethpage, Bellmore, and Hicksville would no longer be eligible for Able-Ride service. This is in addition to previous reductions connected to 2010 service cuts that impacted trips to and from Bayville, Glen Cove, Hicksville, Old Bethpage, Plainview, Oyster Bay, Syosset, and Westbury. These cuts would directly impact individuals who may well have no other transportation options and make it impossible for them to travel.
Today I mainly want to talk with you about the damage that shrinking the Long Island Bus system will have on the transportation network and the economic competitiveness of our region. We are certainly concerned with the impact of reductions on those riders who use LI Bus to connect to Long Island Rail Road, MTA Bus, or NYC Transit services, but the stakes are higher than these hardships alone. Long Island Bus is a vital part of the regional transportation network and cannot be allowed to wither away, at a high cost to our economy.
It is increasingly clear that for public transportation to be relevant in the future, the system must provide riders with multiple options. We can see this in ridership patterns on the LIRR and Metro-North Railroad, which are shifting away from the traditional commute in the morning to Manhattan to a “nine to five” job and then back home again in the evening. Riders are looking for transportation options that will take them in a reverse peak direction or allow them to travel at odd hours or between points that do not include a main rail terminal. Younger riders, and some older ones as well, are seeking transportation options that don’t require them to drive to a station. On Long Island, riders are looking for options to take them north and south, not just east and west. To provide these options requires providing for more connections, not fewer connections, as these proposals would give us.
One response to the current funding shortfall is to shrink the system until it includes only the most heavily traveled routes that require a minimal subsidy to operate. This may be the most obvious solution, but we believe that it is the wrong approach. Instead of reducing service to bare minimum lifeline routes, we must rethink service needs and design a transportation network that meets them. We need a unified regional bus network that is coordinated with commuter rail and subway service and allows riders to move from place to place as seamlessly as possible. There are many possible models of operation and governance for this network, but putting it into place will require strong and decisive leadership from the State level. Accordingly, we call upon the Governor and the leaders of our State Legislature to step forward and develop an achievable path to this network.
In the meantime, we must maintain the bus service that is relied upon to provide over 100,000 daily trips. Meeting Long Island Bus’ resource needs is a challenge, but it is not an insurmountable one. The $24 million dollar gap between LI Bus expenses and funding is not pocket change, but in the context of a $12 billion annual MTA budget and a $133 billion proposed annual State budget, it should be manageable. In evaluating potential sources of funding, our leaders should consider the many sources originally dedicated to transit funding that have been diverted to other uses.
The crisis that faces Long Island Bus presents great risks, but it clearly also presents great opportunities. We urge the MTA Board to reject the easy option of severe service cuts and act in the best interests of the region and state. The question we should be asking ourselves at this point is not “what is the least that we can do,” but instead “what is the best that we can do.”