Transit Industry Key to State Recovery

Transit association testifies at State Assembly transportation hearing

ALBANY, NY (10/23/2020) (readMedia)-- New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) President Bill Carpenter today testified at a public hearing of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Transportation on the impact of the NYSDOT Capital Program. In his testimony, Carpenter highlighted the operational and financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on New York's transit systems; transit's role as the mobility safety net for our state's communities; transit as the foundation of New York's recovery; and the importance of a well-funded transportation capital program.

Following are Carpenter's remarks as prepared for delivery:

"Thank you, Chairman Magnarelli and members of the Transportation Committee, for giving NYPTA the opportunity to testify today.

"I will highlight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on transit systems in upstate New York and in the downstate suburbs.

"The 2021 state budget held great promise for transit systems across the state. It contained:

• A 4% increase in STOA for upstate transit

• A 16% increase for downstate transit

• And $130 million in non-MTA capital funding, including $20 million to begin the conversion to electric vehicles.

"Then the world changed – as COVID-19 spread, forcing stay at home orders, business closings and severely reducing travel.

"Today transit systems face a different reality, and the loss of dedicated revenues could have long-term consequences to transit and the communities we serve.

"But there is good news and many examples of transit providing critical links for New Yorkers during the crisis. Links that kept people and the economy moving.

"Simply put, as the state closed, we went to work, providing transportation for essential workers and a lifeline to access jobs, food, and healthcare.

"With safety paramount, transit providers rapidly implemented new cleaning and disinfecting protocols and operational changes to protect the safety of customers and employees.

"Transit stepped up during the pandemic under stressful conditions to maintain service, provide a safety net to support their communities and help the economy recover.

"To help our systems deal with the pandemic, NYPTA created a Recovery and Restoration Task Force that developed guidelines and best practices for transit operations.

"NYPTA members are educating the public that transit is safe, and we developed a "Mask Transit" campaign to promote facial coverings when using transit vehicles.

"The fiscal impact of the coronavirus crisis has been devastating to everyone, including public transit.

"Immediately, there was a dramatic loss of riders and revenue. In Rochester, our ridership plummeted to 47% of prior year levels.

"Revenue losses continued through the summer as most systems stopped collecting fares and boarded buses from the rear door to protect employees and customers.

"Reduced state revenues led to a 27% reduction in STOA payments, which has a significant impact, as STOA funds 50% of most transit system operating budgets.

"State revenues dedicated to transit, including fuel taxes and the new upstate auto rental fee, have been hit hard and the return to normal levels could take years.

"Operating budgets absorbed new costs for PPE for employees and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles and facilities.

"The federal CARES Act saved transit in the short term, providing a stopgap to maintain service.

"CARES funding allowed transit systems to keep communities connected to jobs and essential services, but these funds will be depleted early next year.

"Without federal or state relief, the loss of revenues caused by the pandemic will force transit systems to reduce service to balance their budgets.

"Capital projects will be deferred, which will slow the economic recovery.

"The very people who we kept connected to jobs and vital services risk being disenfranchised, and those looking to re-enter the workforce will need our reliability to find jobs and get to work.

"The connections that transit provides are more important than ever before.

"As reopening continues, meeting state and federal guidelines for social distancing on transit vehicles will require full or even expanded service levels.

"Working together, we can address the critical fiscal situation facing transit, including the long-standing revenue shortfall for Upstate Transit, by dedicating more revenue to the Upstate Transit account.

"The upstate account is funded primarily from the petroleum business tax, which has been flat for years; and the new auto rental fee is severely constrained by the travel impacts of the pandemic.

"This lack of revenue growth has caused transit systems to divert capital funds to cover operating expenses, which is an unsustainable strategy.

"We have attached a list of revenue options for transit funding for you to consider in upcoming discussions on the State Budget.

"Capital investment must continue – to replace over-age vehicles, repair outdated facilities and keep transit safe.

"Last year, NYPTA documented the need for $1.7 billion in infrastructure investments over the next 5 years for non-MTA transit, but only $700 million in available revenue, leaving an unfunded gap of $1 billion.

"The 2020-21 state budget held our capital funding flat except for $20 million for electric vehicles.

"Without adequate funding, infrastructure conditions will worsen, and the backlog of unmet needs will grow.

"Our transit systems understand that upcoming state budgets are challenging.

"We also know that investments in transit service provide the mobility needed for the state to recover and the economy to reopen.

"Transit capital funding equals economic stimulus and jobs.

"Please consider the benefits of investing in transit and the important role we play in New York's recovery.

"Thank you."

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