Chair, Rockland County Legislature and Chair, Special Committee on Transit
The Rockland County Legislature welcomes the opportunity to share its thoughts with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Reinvention Commission about the need for the MTA to refocus its 2015‐2019 capital program and beyond on the long‐unmet public transit needs of Rockland County. The MTA is the largest transportation agency in the region and bears responsibility for maintaining and improving the transit services for the counties in Downstate New York. One of those counties is Rockland County.
Rockland has long suffered from inadequate transit access to both of its residents’ leading employment centers external to the county – Manhattan and Westchester. Among the counties surrounding Manhattan, Rockland has the lowest percentage of transit trips to the Central
Business District, so there is work ahead to improve the attractiveness of these transit opportunities. In addition, as the report of the Governor’s Mass Transit Task Force demonstrated, there are opportunities for improving transit usage in the I‐287 corridor between Rockland and Westchester counties. Nevertheless, the county has documented for years that the tax revenues generated for MTA support from Rockland far exceed the annual agency expenditures on MTA transit serving the county.
In 2008 Cambridge Systematics and Urbitran completed a value analysis of the MTA’s transit services for the MTA which showed a 53 percent ratio or substantial gap in what Rockland County paid to the MTA in fares and taxes compared to the value of transit services its residents received. In 2012 Cambridge Systematics updated the study for the Rockland County executive and calculated the gap at 62 percent based on 2010 data representing a $42 million difference between revenue collected and services received by our residents.
Later, two key figures were updated using 2011 data to reflect partial repeal of the payroll tax and a 2012 increase in the MTA bridge and tunnel tolls. This resulted in a slightly different value gap: removing $1.95 million and decreasing the value gap to $40 million Given this great disparity and enduring deficiencies in Rocklanders’ mobility opportunities, it is clear that Rockland is long overdue for substantial new investment in our transportation infrastructure. The deficiencies undermine Rockland’s long‐term economic competitiveness and real estate values.
The Commission has asked commentators to discuss “institutional, inter‐governmental and jurisdictional barriers” as well as “innovative investments” that ought to be addressed by this huge agency as it assesses its future role in the region. We believe that “institutional, intergovernmental and jurisdictional barriers” are at the heart of MTA’s insufficient attention to Rockland’s transit needs. They have impaired the MTA’s exercise of its obligations for access to Manhattan for Rockland County’s 17,000 daily commuters, as well as its addressing the
considerable auto commutation (approximately 12,000 daily trips) from Rockland to Westchester County.
The Reinvention Commission has the opportunity to examine these barriers and recommend that both of these Rockland transit needs be significantly elevated in importance within the MTA’s capital agenda. Such recommendations would require innovative investments in the sense that investments in the past have been inadequate to “meet and exceed customer needs.”
Rockland’s geography, being on the west side of the Hudson River, plays a central role in creating these barriers for MTA leaders. For example, the most practical rail route from Rockland County to the Manhattan Central Business District is through New Jersey into Penn Station New York and, via Hoboken, NJ into the PATH system. In each case MTA’s Metro‐North subsidiary must support the service benefiting Rocklanders through a financial arrangement with NJ TRANSIT. Because of its west of Hudson location which requires travel through the neighboring state of New Jersey, Rockland holds dubious “orphan” status—not quite embraced by either New York or New Jersey. There is a huge difference between services provided by the MTA on the East and West banks of the Hudson.
The Mass Transit Task Force identified several projects that could enhance Rockland’s transit access to the Manhattan Central Business: capacity improvements to the Pascack Valley line, inclusion of the “Bergen Loop” in the Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel project (affording Rockland rail
riders a “one‐seat” ride to Penn Station New York) and restoration of West Shore Line passenger service. Despite their recognition in the MTTF report, and public statements by MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast in support of the “Bergen Loop” feature of the Gateway Tunnel project, none of these projects has been included in the draft MTA 2015‐2019 capital plan.
Following the theme of regional collaboration espoused in the Reinvention Commission testimony of NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Veronique (Ronnie) Hakim, the evaluation of these projects would be an excellent agenda for a regional capital planning working consortium, including MTA, Metro‐North, Rockland County and NJ TRANSIT to work on Rockland projects with multiple agency interests. In addition, the MTTF gave considerable time and resources to devising a Bus Rapid Transit project for the I‐287/New NY Bridge corridor to improve transit opportunities for Rockland’s sizable number of commuters to Westchester jobs.
That project poses “institutional, intergovernmental and jurisdictional” issues for all the parties involved, including the MTA, which has, so far, not offered to assume a leadership role. Since the MTTF report did not indicate what agency should be responsible for the BRT’s advancement, implementation and operation, the Reinvention Commission should examine whether leadership on this project would be an appropriate role for the MTA, consistent with its core role of assuring that the New York metropolitan region has an integrated, coordinated, multi‐modal system.
Thus, the Reinvention Commission could serve a most valuable purpose by influencing the MTA to assume a more active role in advancing Rockland projects, such as those outlined above, notwithstanding their “institutional, inter-governmental and jurisdictional barriers.”
Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts.
SUBMITTED BY LEGISLATORS ALDEN WOLFE AND HARRIET CORNELL