Statement by Assemblyman Michael J. Fitzpatrick regarding MTA proposed rate hikes and service changes pertaining to Long Island Rail Road

Public Hearing at Huntington Hilton, Melville, NY, November 9, 2004

I appreciate the effort which goes into these public hearings being conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and appreciate the opportunity to be heard. Given the potential impact on our local communities, it is imperative that a straightforward and comprehensive public process unfold to disseminate the facts and to gain public confidence.

Unfortunately, public confidence in the MTA seems to be at a record low level. Even the most recent announcement of additional revenues which will lessen the impact of proposed rate hikes comes as a surprise. This surprise comes on the heels of widespread questioning of MTA finances by my legislative colleagues and respected journalists. In addition to these regional questions, the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road have made fatally flawed choices for a potential electric train storage yard in my own Assembly district. While we can all acknowledge the important need to improve mass transit, these improvements cannot come at the cost of overly burdensome fares, environmental damage, and losing quality-of-life tradeoffs.

At the risk of oversimplifying the matter before the MTA and the local community, there are two essential questions before us: first, what are the MTA’s true financial needs? And, second, what is the acceptable funding share from federal sources, state sources and the MTA’s ridership?

As to need, there is no doubt of the necessity for maintaining and improving a viable system of mass transit for the metropolitan region, and maintaining and improving our commuter rail backbone, especially the Long Island Rail Road. As the demographics and job patterns of Long Island have evolved, it has become even more important to ensure a modern transportation infrastructure to support the economies of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

As I noted in the hearings regarding the LIRR’s proposed rail yard – for which we need to find an appropriate site at the end of an electrified branch line the question of need goes beyond the commuters and other railroad riders who embark from the platforms in our township, although those residents are of special concern to me. It is about the creation of a truly modern transportation system, beyond just rush hour commuting. It is about our ability to encourage and expand our local growth and economic opportunities on Long Island, as well as exploiting our proximity to New York City.

Nevertheless, the MTA must be open and straightforward. This process should provide the facts for the public to understand the need and to justify any rate hike, no matter how small.

We all recognize that we live on an island, a fact of geography that imposes certain choices and restrictions upon us. For reasons of economic and environmental necessity, we must take steps to move to modern mass transit to get beyond the days of bumper-to-bumper, one-driver, one-car traffic. If we expect to reduce pollution by getting people out of their cars, we must have reasonably priced transportation alternatives in place.

Still, while massive projects such as East Side Access for the LIRR can provide solutions in the future, we must recognize that most Long Islanders travel not to New York City, but to other places on Long Island in their daily commute. The real growth is to the east.

Thus, I believe we should look as far to the future as we can, and push forward to electrifying the entire length of the Port Jefferson Branch. Halfway measures are not the answer.

Toward full solutions, I commit to my constituents and the MTA that I will work wholeheartedly on the state level, and together with officials at all levels, to fight for funding that is proven to be necessary. I will fight for the necessary funding to complete the electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch and — if increased ridership demands a rail yard — to finding an appropriate site beyond Smithtown for that yard.

At the same time, I will fight to ensure that the MTA answers all relevant questions regarding its finances, the broad needs of which I spoke, and the concerns of our mutual constituents, the commuters of Long Island.

Thank you.