Regional Plan Association Testimony on the New York State Budget

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony regarding transportation funding in the proposed State Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget.

Regional Plan Association is a nearly 100 year old non-profit civic organization that conducts advocacy, research and planning for improved economic opportunity, mobility, and sustainability in the New York City metropolitan region.

We have long supported congestion pricing as the way to raise revenue needed to modernize the MTA subway, train and bus systems, and as a means to ease the flow of traffic and reduce carbon emissions.

We support the congestion pricing proposal Governor Cuomo laid out in this year’s budget, and hope the house budget will endorse a similar approach. The state must get a congestion pricing program passed in 2019 – we cannot waste any more time to authorize a reliable, sustainable and recurring source of revenue for transit.

New York City and the region cannot function without its transit system. A well functioning public transportation network is necessary to reduce pollution and for maintaining a healthy economy - one that provides more and better access to jobs, education, and cultural opportunities. As the city has added population and jobs at an impressive clip, transit service has not expanded to meet that growth and old infrastructure has not been maintained. The system is struggling.

As service has suffered, transit ridership has started to fall. From 2015 to 2017, subway ridership declined from 1.76 to 1.72 billion rides annually. Bus ridership has plummeted over the past decade, declining by about 65 million rides annually between 2012 and 2017. At the same time, congestion has ballooned as more people turn to other options, like on-demand service from for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft.

Congestion pricing is the policy of charging people to drive in the busiest parts of a city. In New York, though proposals vary, it would generally apply to a cordon south of 60th Street, excluding the FDR. Drivers would pay a toll. The current proposal by the Governor designates the MTA’s TBTA to set toll rates, and puts the border at 60 th Street in Manhattan. The Administration’s proposal does not specify the toll amount, or times of day the tolls would be in effect. It does say that that the annual revenue stream generated must be sufficient to finance a minimum of $15 billion in capital funding to be applied to the MTA’s 2020-24 capital plan, and to future plans. It further stipulates that the revenue must be “lockboxed” in a separate “Congestion Tolling Fund” and supplement existing and enhanced city, state and federal resources. We support this approach.

Congestion pricing is one of the most critical steps we can take to start to claw our way out of our transit and traffic mess. New revenue would pay for improved bus and subway service, and vital upgrades like new station elevators. Streets would be less congested leading to faster travel times, less pollution and a lot less aggravation.

After London passed congestion pricing in 2003, the city saw a 15 percent reduction in traffic, and a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The city added 300 new buses so there was better bus service when the system came online. Once congestion pricing revenue started flowing, the city was able to build new subway lines and made improvements to signals so trains could come more frequently. The air quality benefits translated into nearly 1,900 added years of life for Londoners. In Stockholm, congestion pricing brought similar benefits, and reduced childhood asthma attacks by a whopping 50 percent.

Meanwhile, New York City missed an opportunity to pass congestion pricing in 2008 – the proposal died at the hands of the State Legislature – and the effects are clear. We have not been prepared for our economic and population growth, or for the effects of extreme weather. Our city has also become less fair because the most affordable means of getting around, subways and buses, has deteriorated. In fact, Regional Plan Association research shows that New York City residents have seen their commute times grow substantially. In Queens, for example, 27 percent of commuters were traveling more than an hour to get to work in 2010. In 2017, that number rose to over 32 percent. The other boroughs saw a similar growth in long commutes.

As the Legislature considers their proposals, we urge you to authorize congestion pricing, In addition, we urge you to support a plan that is designed to bring concrete benefits to underserved transit riders in the outer boroughs and suburbs. Andy Byford NYC Transit’s Fast Forward modernization plan will go a long way to help, by fixing bus routes and improving bus speeds, among other improvements. Places like Southeast Queens, Eastern Brooklyn, parts of Staten Island and the Bronx all need better transit access. Another option is for the commuter rail system within the city to do more to serve city residents which is why RPA has long supported the discounted fares on commuter rails service for certain intercity trips.

RPA is a member of the broader Fix Our Transit and we and our coalition partners stand ready to assist you in whatever way we can as you deliberate and craft a final version of congestion pricing.

Thank you again for your time and consideration of this important proposal.

Sincerely,

Kate Slevin and the RPA Team