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LIRRCC Testimony – September 20, 2010 – Proposed Fare Increase

Testimony of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council
Before the MTA Board on the Proposed Fare Increases
Suffolk County Legislature
Smithtown, Suffolk County, NY

September 20, 2010

Good Evening.  My name is Mark Epstein.  I am the Suffolk County representative of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC), the legislatively mandated representatives of the Long Island Rail Road riders.   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.

I’m here tonight, in a location that the Commuter Council strongly objected to because it is not truly accessible to LIRR riders, to register our strong opposition to the proposed fare increases and to ask the members of this Board to reject them.  We object to the MTA’s increasing reliance on riders to fill the mounting budget deficits that it faces year after year.

The current fare proposal has its roots in an agreement reached in May 2009 between the State and MTA that included increased State financial assistance through new taxes and fees on motorists, taxi users, and business and increased rider support through a program of regular fare adjustments.  Planned service cuts were taken off the table as a part of this agreement.  This solution was consistent with historic MTA funding patterns, where a wide range of beneficiaries of MTA service, including riders but also motorists, businesses, and property owners, share responsibility in supporting mass transportation.

Unfortunately, this agreement has not been fulfilled.  New state revenues have failed to meet projections and $143 million in revenues that have been promised for the operation of MTA services have been used to eliminate deficits in the State’s general fund.  Service has been cut dramatically in some areas.  Only the riders are being held to their substantial responsibilities under this bargain, but now they stand alone.

Riders are not only being asked for more money to support the MTA, they have already paid dearly for emerging budget gaps through reduction in the quantity and quality of service.  Trains have been removed from the schedule across the system.  Weekend service to Greenport is gone for the season and weekend service on the West Hempstead branch is gone permanently.  To compensate for cuts elsewhere peak hour trains to Suffolk County are being converted from express trains to local trains, making many more additional stops in Nassau County.  This not only lengthens the commuting time for thousands of residents, but it discourages the incentive and benefit of being able to live on Long Island and work in New York City.

At the same time these cuts are being implemented, we are not at all convinced that the LIRR is collecting the revenue to which it is entitled.  We regularly receive credible reports of failure to collect tickets on some trains and frequently witness these shortcomings ourselves.  In place of increased emphasis on fare collection, this Board has been presented with proposals for unreasonable expiration dates on single and ten-trip tickets and onerous fees for ticket refunds.  These proposals may serve to limit the reuse of tickets not collected, but a rider who has paid for a ticket should have a reasonable opportunity to use it.

We also oppose several additional “stealth” fare increases, such as on-board and step up fares which would be rounded up to the next dollar and the discounts on joint monthly tickets and MetroCards and on Mail and Ride and WebTickets which would be reduced and eliminated, respectively.  While there may be legitimate reasons for adjusting the fare structure, these provisions have an air of increasing demands on the rider while keeping the stated fare yield increase at 7.5 percent.  Do not forget that LIRR commuters also rely on subways to reach their employment destination. Taken together, the proposals before you are poison for Long Island.  They will harm our economy and the livability of our Island, and they will contribute to our neighbors’ choices to leave this community.

The sad thing is that these fare proposals do not address the fundamental issues facing the MTA.  Riders already pay a substantial share of the cost of operations, recently estimated by MTA management at 53.4 percent for 2010.  If we follow the pattern that MTA management is proposing, this figure will rise to 59.9 percent by 2013, again by management’s own estimates.

The MTA’s current financial problems are in large part a result of the failure of State and local government to fund capital improvements, resulting in their financing through fare backed bonds.  To allow our elected officials to similarly walk away from supporting the MTA now would be repeating this history.  We demand that the members of the MTA Board and MTA senior management work vigorously both internally and with our State and Federal elected officials to find alternative means of filling the gap between costs and revenues; to increasingly shift this burden to riders is unacceptable.

We call on the MTA Board, especially those representing Long Island, to join with us in rejecting these proposals.