A customer purchasing LIRR tickets.


A customer purchasing LIRR tickets.

Credit: Charles Eckert

As representatives of Suffolk and Westchester counties on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, we understand firsthand the value that public transportation brings to the residents and businesses of our communities. With thousands of local residents depending on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North to get to and from their jobs every day, the MTA is not only essential infrastructure and service, but a force that helps drive our local economies.

Over the last decade, Long Island has seen billions in investments in the MTA toward higher capacity and greater efficiencies. With the construction of the Double Track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, the Third Track from Floral Park to Hicksville, and the opening last month of Grand Central Madison, Long Islanders now benefit from greater reliability and more optionality for their commutes. These investments dramatically increased the speed and frequency of LIRR trains, while also allowing for true reverse-peak service, empowering local businesses to better tap into the metro area’s resources for talent, contracts, and networking. The rollout of service to Grand Central Madison had a rocky start, but rapid adjustments have been made and the LIRR will continue to optimize the system to ridership patterns. Over time, our region will be positioned to realize the full benefits of the additions which include, for the first time, direct connectivity to Metro-North.

Growth and development around Metro-North stations such as White Plains, New Rochelle and Harrison indicate the critical role the MTA plays in Westchester's economic vitality. Past MTA investments in the Harlem Line at White Plains and New Haven Line at New Rochelle allow reverse commutes to Westchester from New York City. Metro-North service is also poised to improve in just a few years, when the New Haven Line will provide direct access to Penn Station and West Midtown.

While MTA services have never been more critical, work patterns have changed since COVID-19. LIRR and Metro-North ridership is about 70% of what it was pre-COVID, leading to a significant decline in revenue. Working from home has likely been a welcome change for many people no longer commuting five days a week, but it also means the MTA faces a significant operating budget gap, putting our newly achieved service frequencies at risk and fare increases back on the table.

We strongly believe that now is not the time to lean on commuters and residents, and urge the State Legislature to support Gov. Kathy Hochul’s balanced approach to fully funding the MTA.

Hochul’s executive budget includes a small increase in the top rate of the Payroll Mobility Tax (PMT), from 0.34% to 0.5%. That would raise $800 million a year. The PMT is a fair and effective way to fund public transportation in the region — and it only applies to the region’s largest employers, not individuals. In fact, only 5% of all employers are subject to the PMT increase. Nearly 80% of total PMT revenue is — and will continue to be — generated by New York City businesses. Suffolk's businesses account for less than 6% of all PMT revenue; Westchester accounts for 5%.

Nobody likes a tax increase, but the truth is that economic growth in Westchester and Suffolk — like the region as a whole — depends on a safe, reliable and convenient public transportation system. A small increase in the PMT can give us that and preserve the health of our regional transportation system. We urge our legislators to adopt this proposal.

This guest essay reflects the views of Sammy Chu and Blanca Lopez, MTA board members representing Suffolk and Westchester counties, respectively.

This guest essay reflects the views of Sammy Chu and Blanca Lopez, MTA board members representing Suffolk and Westchester counties, respectively.

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