The tax, found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, currently provides 15 percent of the agency’s operating budget. Lhota, speaking over a breakfast of quiche, sausage and potatoes at Abigail Kirsch’s Tappan Hill Mansion, warned the business leaders opposing the tax – and not coming up with replacement funding – could imperil the entire region’s economic health.
“Saying ‘No’ to the PMT is not enough,” he said. “If not the PMT, then what are we going to have?”
Guests at the morning session were greeted by copies of the Tax Watch column on Sept. 1 which detailed the benefits of the region’s mass transit system to Westchester’s economy.
Lhota rattled off some statistics about the mass-transit system that revealed both its breadth and importance to the region. The average income to those commuting into NYC was $180,000, which means the train is the vehicle to bring back the bacon that gets spent in our stores, and supports the housing values – and property wealth – of our region.
Metro-North, it turns out, is the nation’s largest commuter rail system, with a ridership of 1 million a year –three times more than the entire Amtrak system, Lhoto said. Metro-North riders also cover operating costs at the highest rate of any commuter rail system in the country – 60 percent.
Funding pressures preclude making mass-transit a part of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, he said, noting it could double the cost of the $5 billion project. But he says making it feasible down the road was important, saying that that a bus rapid transit system had the best chance for success.
Metro-North President Howard Permut told the audience that studies are underway regarding a rail link to Stewart Airport in Newburgh. It’s five miles from the current line, and work was needed to make sure that the transit agency maintains the rights to the corridor, which is now under development pressures.
“We don’t have the money to build it, but we need to work to preserve the right-of-way,” he said. “We need to land-bank it so it can be built.”
Permut also mentioned the expansion of Metro-North’s service, with 230 new trains scheduled in the system, which will make it more likely that trains will run from your station every half hour, instead of once an hour during midday and weekends.
In response to questions, Lhota said his biggest surprise with running the agency was the way its operating units – Metro North, Long Island Railroad, NYC transit, and the agencies bridges and tunnels – ran as independent entities. He said that economies were possible by merging functions carried out by the disparate agencies. Already underway is a plan to combine the purchasing department s at Metro-North and Long Island Railroad.
Photo: MTA CEO Joe Lhota addressing Business Council at Abigail Kirsch Tappan Hill Mansion. Photo/David McKay Wilson