From Rockland County, a silly call for a fare hike exemption


Rockland County is at it again. The perennial anti-MTA leaders of this exurban region are once again making noises about transit policy. This time, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who, earlier this year, proposed withdrawing from the MTA, believes his area should be exempt from fare hikes, and his reasoning is just as spurious this time as it was in March.

In a letter to MTA officials, Vanderhoef argues that Rockland County pays more to the MTA than it receives in services. It must be subsidizing something, but what?! Let’s find out. First, Vanderhoef’s argument:

Regarding the proposed fare increases: I believe the suburbs need to pay their fair share for the MTA services they receive both in their communities, and for those services that residents use when they are in the City. That said, Rockland County residents pay $108 million each year to the MTA. The problem is this: Rockland County’s “share” is far from “fair” because we only get about $68 million in value back from MTA each year. That leaves us with a $40 million value “gap” [MTA Value Gap Analysis (February 2012)]. Public documents, commissioned studies and MTA’s own reports have consistently shown that Rockland County has been overpaying MTA in this manner for more than 25 years.

Perhaps a few of you may feel inclined to dismiss Rockland County’s $40 million value “gap”, believing we should pay more because we are suburban and we benefit from and use other MTA services. Well, the value gap reports account for that, and there is still a gap. The latest report includes not only the “value” of rail services Rockland residents receive on the West side of the Hudson, but also the value of services on the East side, the value of NYC Transit services such as buses and subways, the value of the MTA’s bridges and tunnels, the value of MTA’s capital investments throughout the entire region, the value of MTA’s police department, and even the value of MTA’s administrative services. All told, about $68 million in annual “value” – a figure that actually (ironically) almost rivals our annual $40 million “gap”…

Common sense financial fairness would dictate, therefore, that Rockland County be exempt from the proposed fare increases. During my 20-year tenure as Rockland County Executive and a NYMTC Principal, it is with a deep conviction rooted in justice that I have fought for Rockland County’s fair share from the MTA. Rockland County is burdened by its orphan status as a New York community on the West side of the Hudson River – deep in NJ Transit territory. Rockland County’s “bi-state” political circumstance has resulted in decades of sub-par train service along with neglected and sub-par stations.

To make this argument Vanderhoef is relying largely on a study he commissioned earlier this year that supported his belief that Rockland County would be better off without the MTA. The MTA just laughed. In a statement to Capital New York, the Authority opined as such:

“Metro-North Railroad and the MTA’ss transportation network connect Rockland County to a $1.26 trillion regional economy, bringing enormous value to its residents and businesses in ways that are ignored by the flawed study referenced by County Executive Vanderhoef. Rockland residents enjoy higher property values, Rockland’s Metro-North commuters bring home higher salaries, and Rockland’s overall economy benefits from the regional economy and its robust transportation system. Rockland’s contribution to the M.T.A. supports its entire system, benefiting even the Rockland residents who commute to NYC by car and who wouldn’t be employed as police officers or firemen or construction workers or teachers in New York City if there were no MTA to make the City run.”

But what of this so-called value gap? To a certain degree, it exists, and that’s where Cap’n Transit comes in. The answer, you will be not at all shocked to hear, involves debt. Here’s his take:

Sure enough, Rockland’s share of the MTA’s $1.91 billion debt service comes out to $41.9 million. The so-called “value gap” is just Rockland’s share of the bond payments. The Cambridge Systematics report didn’t pick up on that because they decided from the beginning to ignored debt service. Oh, and all this debt was racked up under Vanderhoef’s comrade in arms Governor George Pataki, who Rockland voted for in 1994, 1996 and 2002.

As Rubenstein pointed out, Vanderhoef has been complaining that the MTA short-changes Rockland since 1997. It probably wasn’t true then, and it’s definitely not true now. I’m glad she’s found people to call him on this, but none of them seem to pick up on the point that the entire “value gap” is nothing but payments on the debt that Vanderhoef himself supported.

Should Rockland get better transit service? Absolutely. But not to make things equal, just to fix the county’s broken transportation system.

There’s no value gap; there’s just a debt gap.

So what do you with Rockland County? Vanderhoes has been the County Executive since 1994 and shows no signs of leaving any time soon. Should we let Rockland County secede from the MTA and remove its transit service? That could send a lesson but would harm its residents. Perhaps, then, we should just let him rant, knowing that no one is listening or taking him all that seriously.

Categories : MTA Economics

42 Responses to “From Rockland County, a silly call for a fare hike exemption”

  1. Kevin says:

    Why the hate for this? NJ and CT both benefit from NY’s economy, but don’t raise their fares and give a share of it to NY whenever the MTA does the same. Rockland’s direct benefit from rail service is pitiful, and I’m sure many more people take Coach Buses into the city than do the mad dash at Secaucus. The county would be better off without the MTA, just like NJ and CT are now.

    • BenW says:

      Since the state of Connecticut pays 60% (I believe) of the operating costs for the New Haven line, and sets the fare to and from stations within Connecticut, I’m not sure how much force your Connecticut point has.

    • Vinny says:

      Exactly. And not for nothing, but the only MTA-related services in Rockland are the two train lines (Pascack and Port Jervis) both of which are operated by NJ Transit, and both of which cost a minimum of $12 each way into Penn Station.

      Basically, the MTA provides ZERO service to Rockland, and if we’re using bridges or tunnels, we’re paying tolls to do so (not to mention taxes that go toward the roads in the entire state) so kindly stop lecturing Rockland on what it takes and so on. We get the least and we still pay for it, so you’ll pardon the outrage of being asked to shell out MORE for the tiny bit we do get.

      • VLM says:

        Here are two fun opinions:

        1. If you want more transit service, be prepared to pay for it. There’s a reason Rockland County has only two train lines that cost a considerable amount of money.

        2. If you want more transit service, move out of Rockland County entirely.

        • Vinny says:

          You mean pay for it in terms of fares? Sure. I pay $25 a day when I go to the city.

          The city, on the other hand, subsidizes a HUGE chunk of the subway and bus ride for people it serves.

          Let’s be honest. The MTA provides nothing to Rockland, NJ Transit does. If it were up to the MTA, they’d renovate every Metro North station and add new service (see: Yankee Stadium, Cortlandt, and the planned expansion into the East Bronx) and cut off Rockland entirely.

          And we’d probably still end up paying for it because none of the people using the system (aside from Westchester residents) pay any measurable property taxes to back up their use thereof.

          End of story.

          • Ron says:

            The MTA may not provide anything directly to Rockland, but they pay NJT to run the trains up there. It’s a Metro North service that happens to be operated by NJT.

          • Lou says:

            The MTA pays NJT to run the service. NJT would stop trains at the border in a heartbeat. There might even eliminate Suffern altogether.

            • Lou says:

              also MTA Pays for the express trains that dont stop at NJ suburban stations on both lines. Check the schedule for MTA express service.

          • Phantom says:

            Very many residents of Rockland, Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk and other counties ( and NJ and CT ) take the NYC subway all the time – incl half the people in my office.

          • AG says:

            Vinny – just for the record – the expense per passenger is higher on commuter rails than it is on the subway. think about it this way… if you ran a business that made deliveries… which do you think would be more “expensive” for your operations? A truck that you have packed full going short distances…. or the route where it’s packed much less and you have to travel much farther distances? Any operations manager will tell you which they prefer. Of course there is much more that goes into it… but that’s the basics.

      • pete says:

        Either the MTA provides bus and rail or metro or provides nothing. A tiny once every 2 hour rail line is no reason to charge as if you are operating an underground metro in Rockland County.

      • Lou says:

        MTA maintains the tracks and owns the stations and pays NJT to run the service. Plus MTA just spent a boat load of money to fix the Port Jervis Line.

      • AG says:

        Well Governor believes you all don’t want a one seat ride into NYC. He stated the reason that rail is not being built on the Tappan Zee is because Rockland and Orange aren’t going to want to pay for the rail lines that would need to be built to go over it.

        And as others pointed out…. NJ only does it because Metro North pays them to run to Rockland.

  2. corey best says:

    Its not at all silly , why have all the projects that would have served the County like the I-287 , Old Piermont and West Shore line been shelved or canceled they were supported by most residents and would serviced 70% of the county… And Don’t tell me these projects weren’t needed….they were all needed the West Shore line and I-287 were the most important…. The Bus Network is starting to crack and the highways are over capacity….there isn’t much to add other then rail.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    The fares on the Tappan Zee Bridge is set to soar because rather than just replacing it, the state wants to expand it from 7 lanes to in effect 14.

    Who uses all that capacity at rush hour? Residents of Rockland and Orange County. Everyone except residents of Rockland and Orange County should be exempt from the higher Tappan Zee toll, which would be drastically higher still for Rockland and Orange County residents.

    If, that is, residents of the rest of the state are as selfish as Vanderhoes presents Rockland County residents as.

  4. Dan D'Agostino says:

    As a native son of Rockland County (who lives in Queens now), I find it a little bad that this article sounds so dismissive right off the bat. If anything, Rockland county is an area underserved by public transit. I understand Vanderhoef’s complaint. Increasing ticket prices will make Rockland’s limited options even less attractive.

    But, in the end I am in complete agreement with the analysis presented in this post. Vanderhoef is just using the debt service as an excuse to complain and is hoping most people will just look at the $41.9 million number and say “OOOOH THAT’S SO MUCH.” He is a politician, what do you expect? Also, what would be the plan if Rockland was not associated with the MTA? What would happen to the tracks and trains in real terms?

    • Sure, it’s a very underserved area, but if Vanderhoef is complaining of funding current service levels, I can’t imagine he’s willing to even entertain the concept of expanding service.

      As to what would happen if Rockland seceded from the MTA — which it won’t because it can’t without state approval — it would be in charge of all costs of operating transit service within the county. Check out what Nassau has done with MTA Bus vs. Veolia for a similar comparison.

  5. PaulRomaine says:

    Secession is probably an idle threat. Vanderhoef’s tactic reminds me of Sen Daniel Moynihan’s publicizing the money that NYS sent to Washington, while the rural states complained about urban areas mooching off of Washington–but the problem is that Moynihan’s tactic was truthful while Vanderhoef’s is disingenuous. He’s an old-timer and generally liked in Rockland. He’s either looking for benefits (less sucky service?), money (ha!) or he’s appealing for votes from the commuters, which is not a very large population, I would guess.

    Ironically, local pols (not Vanderhoef) frequently harass NJ Transit about the safety of its tracks going through Spring Valley and Suffern. Some of them feel that even fencing isn’t enough–and you wonder whether these guys have ever worked outside of their home town. (As a native Rocklander, these guys embarrass me.) Thank, Ben for highlighting this news story.

  6. John-2 says:

    To be fair, back in July Vanderhoef did say he wanted to see commuter rail service to Grand Central across the new Tappan Zee Bridge. So he’s not someone dead set against mass transit in his county. He’s just your average pol who wants to find someone else to fund the projects.

    • Vinny says:

      No, I think he’s just tired of seeing increased funding for a transportation network that has invested precisely zero in the county he’s managing.

      Westchester has gotten renovation after renovation on Metro North, the Yankees got a new stop on Metro North, and Metro North is looking to expand into the East Bronx in my old neighborhood. In Rockland? Oh sorry, yeah you’ll pay more money, but you won’t be getting anything for it. You’ll still have two lines and 12 stops for the ENTIRE county.

      I’m sure he’d be thinking differently if someone was actually spending money on projects IN HIS COUNTY. Instead, everyone else seems to be just basking in the service and expanding it while Rockland gets to chip in and is told to shut up and like what they have.

      • John-2 says:

        If that’s the case he needs to emphasize his and the county’s desire for the Tappan Zee rail option as the bridge project (glacially) moves forward. At the very least, that would give him a tangible bargaining chip in the debate over the county’s MTA contribution vs. current and future services provided.

        • Nathanael says:

          This is important given Cuomo’s inexplicable decision to kill rail on the Tappan Zee in favor of giant, wasteful extra roadway lanes. Vanderhoef could be an important voice getting the Tappan Zee project back to being *something useful* if he focused on rail-on-Tappan-Zee.

          • AG says:

            but if he’s arguing about money now… how will the lines to connect to the bridge get built. that was actually cuomo’s reason for not including it on the bridge (saying Orange and Rockland can’t afford to pay for the connecting rail).

      • AG says:

        it’s not really complicated… Rockland is smaller and has less money than Westchester. The east Bronx 4 proposed stations would serve more ppl than the entire Rockland County.

        • Vinny says:

          AG: And you base that on…

          Yeah. Didn’t think so.

          • The east Bronx 4 proposed stations would serve more ppl than the entire Rockland County.

            I mean, ridership figures? The 4 proposed West Side Access Bronx MNR stations would indeed serve more riders than the Rockland County MNR service combined. That’s just addition.

            • SEAN says:

              Exactly. Rockland County has around 290,000 residents while Bronx County has around 1.3 million. Infact Co-op City is one of the most densely populated areas in not just New York, but the entire US & that is one of the proposed station locations. That is smart planning by the MTA.

              If the loop track were ever constructed in Secaucus or raill was added to the new TZB, more residents would use those services. As it is transit riders for the most part ride Coach USA busses from Rockland. .

              I need to make one correction – The Suffern station although in New York, is NOT a MNR station. It is owned by NJ Transit. This semes to be a common misconseption.

              I was in Rockland last Saturday & unless the bus driver I spoke to was mistaken, the Metrocard will be accepted on busses starting this January.

          • AG says:

            Vinny – simple addition… you claim you are from the east Bronx. CoOp – MOrris Park – Parkchester – Hunts Point have populations along that corridor with a greater population than Rockland County…. beside the fact that ppl in Rockland drive at much higher rents. I don’t see how you could even possibly question it. Aside from the fact it’s offering one seat rides to Stamford and Penn Station. If you don’t see the potential I don’t know what to tell you.

      • ajedrez says:

        You do realize that Orange & Rockland Counties combined have about half the total population of The Bronx, spread out over a much larger area, right? Obviously transit service is going to be better in The Bronx because there’s more demand for it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    You state at the end that Vanderhoef isn’t going anywhere. That is not true; he already announced he was not running for re-election and there will be a new County Executive elected in 2013.

    • Vinny says:

      Of course why let the fact that candidates (including my Mayor) are lining up for the job get in the way of a good argument?

      Proves what I believed when I read this the first time. This site should stick to the five boroughs because it has no clue what goes on outside of them.

      • VLM says:

        When all else fails and you have no legit counter-argument, personally bash the author. Sometimes, I just love the Internet.

  8. dungone says:

    The proper response of the MTA be to accept the claims at face value and propose to remedy it by charging them 1.9 million more to make up for the apparent shortfall in their fair share of the debt burden.

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