Testimony at March 5, 2012 City Council Budget Hearing "What the MTA's 2012 Budget Means for Straphangers"

Prepared Testimony by Noah Budnick, Deputy Director

Thank you, Chairman Vacca, for holding this hearing. My name is Noah Budnick, and I am the Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives.

More than any other city in America, New York is defined by public transit. We all know that New York City wouldn’t be the best city in the world without its transit system. We also know that the current transit finance crisis presents a grave threat to our system—and the millions of New Yorkers who rely on it every day.

City and State governments’ actions and inactions have saddled riders with higher fares and worse service. In three of the last four years, Albany took action and stole dedicated transit funds from riders. Since the early 1990s, inaction from the City and State has meant that their investments in transit operations have remained flat, at about 8% of total operating expenses. Meanwhile, all our MetroCard swipes cover 40% of operations, the highest fare burden in the country. If the MTA raises fares and tolls in 2013 and 2015 as proposed, the riders’ share will have increased by 66% since 2002, twice the rate of inflation. That’s five fare increases in eight years and not one penny increase in City or State transit investment in 20 years.

Public transit is universally recognized as a societal, economic and environmental good—it’s a necessary investment, and it yields returns: in the form of direct and indirect job creation, higher real estate values, tax revenue and reduced public health costs. This means that government should invest in transit. But, this isn’t the case in New York.

Adding insult to injury, riders are being asked to pay more for less. Two years ago, your constituents were saddled with the worst service cuts in a generation—two subway lines, 32 bus lines and 570 bus stops were eliminated. Service was cut back on routes across the city, leading to increased wait times, longer commutes and buses and trains packed beyond capacity.

The City and State’s unwillingness to increase their investment in public transit has created a spiraling crisis for the MTA. The transit authority has only three ways to balance its budget: raise fares, cut service or take on more debt. When the City flat-funds its investment for over twenty years, the MTA is forced to raise fares, cut service or take on more debt. When Albany takes dedicated transit funds to pay for the state’s general fund, it’s picking riders’ pockets, as the MTA must raise fares, cut service or take on more debt, which then puts even more pressure on fares.

This year’s City budget investment in transit is flat-funded, again, and last December, the State cut dedicated taxes to the MTA, again. So, no surprise, the MTA’s plan is to borrow billions of dollars to cover its budget shortfall and raise the fare on riders.

We say, “enough!” Because of the City and State, the MTA is asking riders to pay more for worse service, again. The fares are going up, but the government’s share is going down, putting pressure on the MTA to cut service, again.

A necessity is not something to be taken for granted. It’s something you take care of, and it’s time for the members of the City Council to fight for transit riders, and to tell the Mayor, the Governor, Senate and Assembly that the time for action is now. We need an investment strategy that does not rely solely on asking riders to pay higher fares every two years for worse service. We need new sources of revenue to invest in the system that will continue to make New York a great place to live and work. We need members of the City Council to take the first step down this path and help stop this unfair fare hike.
Thank you,