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Upstate transit systems need funding: Will they get it?

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  • Staff Report 

In Upstate New York, the focus on New York City’s transportation needs often overshadows the importance of strengthening local transit systems. State Senator Jeremy Cooney aims to change that by advocating for a dedicated revenue source to invest in upstate transit. This would put an end to the constant debate over upstate versus downstate funding parity.

As the pandemic recedes and people return to work, upstate transit agencies are looking to increase ridership. Cooney points out that a younger workforce is becoming more reliant on public transit, making it essential to improve mass transit services in upstate cities. The current state budget negotiations between lawmakers and Governor Kathy Hochul present an opportunity to secure the much-needed funding.

However, some proposals for statewide transit funding have proven contentious. The state Assembly has proposed a tax on streaming services like Netflix to support transit systems, drawing criticism from Republican Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, who accuses lawmakers of trying to tax anything they can.

Bill Carpenter of the New York Public Transit Association asserts that transportation agencies are not concerned about where the funding comes from. However, traditional funding sources such as petroleum taxes or landline phone taxes no longer have the same impact. Carpenter suggests choosing a revenue stream that grows alongside economic growth, which transit supports.

Upstate transportation agencies are witnessing riders return, but numbers have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. In addition to this challenge, they face the ambitious goal of fully electrifying their bus fleets in the coming years. As Carpenter highlights, upstate transit agencies share the same issue as the MTA: rising costs and a slow return of riders.

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