Cuomo’s MTA Commission Declines to Endorse New Funding Source

If you were hoping the release of the MTA Reinvention Commission report would be the moment when Governor Andrew Cuomo comes to his senses and makes an aggressive push to fund the region’s transit system by fixing its dysfunctional tolling structure, don’t hold your breath.

It's in Cuomo's hands now: The MTA Reinvention Commission is set to release its final report soon. Photo: MTA/Flickr
It’s in his hands now: The MTA Reinvention Commission is set to release its final report soon. A draft didn’t tackle many specific funding questions. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Yesterday, Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York published a draft copy of the report [PDF 1, 2, 3]. While the MTA won’t say when the commission plans on releasing the final version, it should be coming soon. A commission member tells Streetsblog that the panel met today to go over the document before its publication.

The report examines the current state of MTA funding and operations, using case studies from cities around the world to offer examples of how its recommendations could be put into practice. It covers a wide breadth of issues, including the management of large capital projects, how to improve customer service, and better regional planning and coordination with other agencies.

The recommendations are grouped into seven “strategies,” leaving funding for last. The report emphasizes the need to keep the Payroll Mobility Tax in place, and suggests revenue enhancements like requiring all-cash real estate transactions to pay a version of the mortgage recording tax, increasing the use of value capture throughout the region, and squeezing more revenue from advertising, which is already on the rise.

When it comes to larger revenue sources, the report is more circumspect. It raises the possibility of congestion pricing, parking fees, and even distance-based subway fares, which Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign called “the mother of all non-starters.” In the end, the draft report refuses to pick sides, suggesting “a comprehensive study that re-examines the MTA’s approach to fares and tolls.”

“It was beyond the scope of this Commission to recommend a specific set of revenue-raisers,” reads the report. “[But] existing sources fall short of what will be needed for sustaining a truly great regional transportation system in the years ahead.” In short: Albany will have to make a decision, so stay tuned.

There’s a lot more to the report than the funding section. The first strategy deals with how the MTA could reform its procurement and project delivery methods. It suggests greater use of public-private partnerships and design-build contracts in a bid to encourage “risk sharing with the private sector” and to reduce the costs and timelines of MTA projects.

The report also recommends greater coordination between the MTA and other agencies, not only at the city and state level but also across state lines. Coordinating transit investment with rezoning and housing plans, for example, would be key to getting the most bang for the buck when it comes to system expansion. Coordination with NJ Transit and Amtrak will be necessary for through-running of trains at Penn Station to work seamlessly. The Port Authority would also have to be involved in the creation of a unified regional fare card.

Expanding the MTA system will require a focus on areas that have already drawn significant investment, like overburdened subway lines in Manhattan, the report says, but also by looking beyond rail and beyond the central business district. It calls for expanding Select Bus Service features like off-board fare collection and transit signal priority to all bus routes, and implementing “a true, dedicated Bus Rapid Transit Route within the next three years” before expanding BRT to 20 routes by 2020. The report also takes a strange turn into semantics, calling for eliminating the word “bus” from “Select Bus Service” in an attempt to appeal to riders who don’t like buses.

While it doesn’t offer a forceful solution to the looming funding question, the report does set the table for debate in Albany and lays out a broad vision for areas the MTA should focus on to reduce costs and improve service.

One line in the report best sums up the fact that a blue ribbon commission, by itself, is never going to be a savior: “This report is only the first step in a long journey… an ongoing and durable commitment to relentless improvement by the MTA has to be paired with the political and financial support that will make it possible.”

  • ahwr

    Telling everyone you can solve this with moveny lets the city and state off the hook for another five years. Moveny+increased city and state funds+ cost cutting can eliminate the MTA s deficit. If you wait until 2020 to do so then you need to come up with an extra billion dollars per year. Because the billion annually from moveny would be going to debt. You can only tell the public the MTA is fixed so many times before there’s backlash to bailling them out again. If a billion in cost cutting and a billion in city+state funds is too hard now, why would three billion between the two be easier in five years after everyone thought the agency was fixed. You already hear people screaming about two sets of books. The backlash against semiannual MTA crises is growing. Setting up a big one in five years could lead to the very underinvestment you want to avoid.

  • Bolwerk

    Where did I did say moveny solves it? I just pointed out you weren’t calculating the capital program “gap” correctly. MoveNY probably has a bigger impact than you think, however, because debt is always being retired.

    Two sets of books was a lie, anyway. That “backlash” you see is political fingerpointing.

  • ahwr

    It resonates well. That’s a big threat when you are counting on legislators and the governor to back necessarily anti union cost cutting and lots of new revenues in five years.

    You want to finance the program with debt. Back that debt by toll revenues and you have moveny.

    How much debt is being retired over the next five years?

  • Bolwerk

    How much? Too much for me to ruin my Friday night coming up with an answer! But a glance at their report seems to say the number is well, well, well, into the eight figures at least.

  • Komanoff

    Hey again. Am writing 5 days later to encourage you to check out this thoughtful read about the “Reinvention Commission”: http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/what-is-the-mta-reinventing-anyway/. Inter alia, it urges the MTA to move some SOGR items from capital to operating, just as you were suggesting. Hope it’s useful.

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