Testimony of Paul Steely White, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives to New York City Council

Good morning. I’m Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives.

Firstly, I’d like to echo Speaker Quinn and many other Council Members who have called on the MTA to apply 10% of its federal stimulus funding to reduce the shortfall in its 2010 operating budget. We recognize the pitfalls of using capital funding to sustain operations, but it makes no sense to lay off bus drivers in order to hire construction workers. These are extraordinary times, and this stimulus funding—representing just a small fraction of the overall package—can save bus and subway lines that are currently on the chopping block. To not make use of this funding for operations—as Congress foresaw we might—would negatively affect future efforts to bring future federal operating subsides to the MTA.

Of course, these short term solutions do not replace the need for new sustainable funding from Albany and City Hall. The transit system must maintain levels of service and maintenance regardless of the business cycle, and the current $391 million shortfall clearly illustrates how current revenue streams do not adequately provide this stability.

Everyone here knows that the MTA cannot currently deliver the service New Yorkers expect without more revenue.

We applaud Speaker Quinn’s commitment to restore the City’s commitment to student Metrocards, but this can only be part of the City’s response to the transit crisis. Unwillingness to also revisit and increase the City’s annual contributions to the MTA, which have been in decline for years, implicitly ensures that the MTA’s customers will ultimately foot the bill. Balancing the books solely on the backs of straphangers—and the backpacks of students—is patently unfair. Straphangers and businesses bore the full weight of the 2009 crisis, shouldering a 25 cent fare hike and a payroll tax. As advocates for sustainable transit funding, we pushed hard for bridge tolls to round out the package proposed by former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch, ultimately without success. In the months ahead, we will be pushing again for tolls or congestion pricing to help defray the burden which is once again falling on the region’s transit commuters.

Be it Assembly Member Sheldon Silver’s 2009 plan to instate bridge tolls pegged to transit fares, a version of congestion pricing, or some other innovation, we believe drivers to the city’s core—spared twice from sharing the burden over the last two years—have a role to play in sustaining the transit system crucial to all of our livelihoods and mobility.

In April 2008, City Council took a far-sighted decision on congestion pricing that would have made the current MTA crisis far less severe. I encourage the Council to be similarly innovative and forward thinking in the present, to consider every possible alternative within its power to more justly spread the burden beyond riders alone.

Secondary Title
Committee on Transportation Hearing on MTA Service Cuts