Testimony From Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.

MTA Public Hearing – March 8, 2010, Riverhead, New York
March 9, 2010
“I wish to thank the MTA for scheduling this additional public hearing in Riverhead at the request of East End public officials.

We stand here tonight at a crossroads. The transportation future of Eastern Long Island is at stake. We can continue down the current road of failure: a never ending cycle of inadequate service, low ridership, closed train stations, and service reductions which result in budget deficits; budget deficits that result in more new taxes, increased fares, and further service reductions. The alternative is to create a new paradigm which provides service that people actually can use, which will grow the demand for increased public transportation services.

The MTA is broken and it can’t be fixed by new taxes or reduced services. This too-large, unaccountable, unresponsive bureaucracy is incapable of meeting our future transportation needs. The MTA has only learned one song: moving people to Manhattan in the morning and back to Long Island at night. Even there they are often off key. They have never adapted to our changing demographics and economy. Today most Long Islanders now work on Long Island. On the East End, nearly everyone does. They need to commute on Long Island not to New York City. Yet, the MTA has woefully failed to adapt to the commuting needs of the public.

It’s even worse on the East End. The service that is provided from here to New York City is scheduled infrequently for most of the year and at times when no one could possibly use it. While the MTA has failed to meet service needs, the private sector has stepped in to provide service. The success of the Hampton Jitney is certainly due to the entrepreneurial spirit of its owners, but it is also due to the fact that the MTA, despite all of its market advantages, failed to meet the public need for transportation. The MTA fails to provide the service that residents are crying for and then cuts the limited service that is available because no one rides the train. It is business plan destined to fail.

Yet, regardless of inadequate service, we still pay the MTA. We pay the mortgage recording tax. We pay an increased sales tax, we pay increased driver license fees, we pay increased car registration fee, and now we pay a payroll tax, all to subsidize the MTA for service we do not get.

One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When it comes to transportation, we need a whole new everything.

In the short term, the answer is not to cut service to the East End, the answer is to keep the trains, modify the existing schedule to meet the needs for public transit. For example, we can change the schedule to fit the needs of people coming to the courts in Riverhead. Secondly, why does the train leave Greenport before the first ferry arrives there in the morning? The MTA needs to grow its ridership to be solvent, not cut its service.

In the long term, Eastern Long Island needs to control its transportation future. We can start now by the adoption of legislation in Albany sponsored by myself and Assemblyman Marc Alessi and Senator Ken LaValle to provide for an advisory referendum this November to create a Peconic Bay Transportation Authority to replace the MTA.

Based on the recently completed Volpe Study, I am confident that Eastern Long Island can use its own money now going to subsidize the MTA to provide better and more frequent service at a lower cost. The integrated bus and rail concept created by 5 Town Rural Transit and validated by Volpe is the future of transportation on Eastern Long Island. It is the right answer to mounting traffic congestion; it is the right answer for our economy and for our environment. Cape Cod did it, why not us?

During the American Revolution, Thomas Paine said “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Since 1995, I have pleaded with the MTA to provide the leadership on public transit in Eastern Long Island. They failed. Now, it is time for the MTA to get out of the way.