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Riders Alliance, Other Groups Urge Hochul To Increase Transit Funding by $500M

February 16, 2022 Riders Alliance
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Dear Governor Hochul: We urge you to invest in New York City’s transit service for millions of New Yorkers who depend on it and a city and state reliant on its recovery. We applaud your energy and intention, in just a few months’ time, to transform Penn Station, extend the Second Avenue Subway, and build the Interborough Express. We also appreciate your commitment to improve outreach to unhoused New Yorkers living on the subway.

At the same time, New York riders – including millions of essential workers, students, and people without cars – urgently need better service, faster transit and paratransit trips, and accessible stations to complement these other initiatives.

As with so much else, the pandemic accelerated trends and laid bare inequities in public transit.

As the New York City Comptroller’s Office put it, “round the clock is the new rush hour” in the essential service sector. According to TransitCenter’s new Equity Dashboard, white New Yorkers live within reach of twice as many jobs as Black New Yorkers. Meanwhile, an estimated half million New Yorkers are excluded from the subway because they have trouble with stairs.

A B35 bus rides down Church Avenue in Brooklyn.
Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

When MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber took the job on an acting basis last August, he said in his first interview: “I’m prioritizing service, service, service.” He described the imperative to rebuild ridership lost to the pandemic: “We need our riders back for financial reasons, for existential reasons. The city and the region need the MTA to facilitate the economic revival of New York.” He recognized the need to attract people to transit in new ways and followed up with fare discounts in December.

As you well know, there is little the MTA can do for its own bottom line. Now, more than ever, with ridership and fare revenue halved, transit depends on state support of its essential services. Record federal aid and infrastructure spending and a $6.4 billion state budget surplus are funding major capital projects that won’t come to fruition for many years.

Transit service needs a lifeline to keep operating and increased investment to rebuild and grow service.

We respectfully request you to fund a fare freeze for five years and subway and bus service every six minutes on most lines and to work with the MTA to double the pace of station accessibility upgrades.

Guaranteeing affordability during a lengthy recovery and adding frequency to provide faster transit trips are two sides of the same coin. Along with full accessibility, they respect, recruit, and retain existing and returning riders alike. At $500 million, they’re affordable investments in New York’s future, ones we cannot afford to pass up.

Billions in additional federal infrastructure aid create a special opportunity this year to flip the allocation of the downstate transportation taxes that flow to transit and highways.

People waiting for a subway train in Southern Brooklyn.
Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

With $4.6 billion more in federal highway funding for New York, the infrastructure bill allows the state to free up its own funds to invest in public transit. Flipping the transportation tax split will send upwards of $600 million more each year to the MTA to provide affordable and frequent service for riders.

Even with the flip, New York could still set a record for highway construction while prioritizing the transit system that will determine the nature of our recovery and future.

More off-peak service will honor essential work, help close New York’s racial gap in access to opportunity and critical services, and make transit safer by cutting long wait times that can stretch from 12 to 20 minutes on empty subway platforms and at deserted bus stops. Affordable, frequent and accessible service will attract more riders to transit, further enhancing safety and improving the MTA’s revenue forecast at a pivotal time for New York’s future.

Public transit is essential to our shared recovery. For the city and state to come back strong and fair, the same must be true for the transit system we depend on.

Without more state support for transit service, the new megaprojects will not reach their potential to rebuild our economy and to become more resilient against challenges posed by climate change. We need to leverage public transit to the hilt as we emerge from one crisis and confront the next head on. To fight climate change effectively, public transit needs more riders and riders need to be able to count on safe, accessible, frequent and affordable service.

We look forward to working with you on a budget consistent with these priorities this spring.

Sincerely,

Riders Alliance


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