Tag Archive | "5TRT"

Becoming Transit Independent on the East End

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By Kathleen Cunningham Faraone, President


Recent MTA tax assessment increases levied on East End Businesses, followed by an announcement that LIRR rail service in our region is likely to be reduced or even eliminated, has East End elected officials speaking out with one opposing voice. The time has come for us to leave the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and establish our own Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to meet the public transit needs of the East End Towns. The goal would be to gain what might be called “transit independence” for our region; the ability to make our own decisions about how our transit dollars are spent and to define, develop and operate our own transit services.


Are our local politicians tilting at windmills or is it possible the goal of transit independence is reachable? Five Town Rural Transit, Inc., a citizen-based transit advocacy group formed in 2004 and made up entirely of East End residents, believes the answer is unequivocally yes. In the past five years, 5TRT and the Towns have defined a new level of coordinated rail & bus transit service for our region known as the East End Shuttle. And last year this concept was validated in a study conducted for us by the prestigious US/DOT Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe). According to the Volpe analysis, a slightly modified version of the “Shuttle” concept would be technically feasible and it would cost less to develop than 5TRT originally projected.


5TRT also revealed that East End taxpayers already send over $60 million per year to the MTA in various tax assessments, without receiving a commensurate level of rail service. In fact, the lion’s share is actually used for transit in New York City, not on the East End. Further, the Suffolk County bus services we receive are funded out of County tax dollars. Inexplicably the MTA makes no contribution to bus services in Suffolk County, even though they do in Nassau County and New York City. This County bus service costs East End taxpayers another $3-4 million per year. In this case, at least, we do receive services, although they are in need of improvement and not coordinated with rail.


Could our tax dollars be better spent? Again, the answer is yes. According to Volpe, the entire East End Shuttle concept could operate for less than what we currently pay the MTA each year for the LIRR limited service we receive!

So, the questions of whether we could define and operate a better East End transit service and where the operating dollars would come from have largely been answered. We have a feasible new transit concept and we are already paying for it. The problem is we are not receiving it. Why is that so?


For reasons that are hard to comprehend because of our rural nature, the East End is in the jurisdiction of two New York City based organizations that collectively control our public transit situation. They are the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). NYMTC is a metropolitan planning organization (MPO). It is the gatekeeper for federal funding of transportation projects in its jurisdiction, as mandated by federal law. The MTA, in contrast, develops and operates the transit services in its jurisdiction, including the limited Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) service on the East End. As you might surmise, these two organizations are dominated by “urban” transit interests and needs; few funding dollars or transit services are focused on the “rural” needs of the East End. We represent only 2% of their metropolitan service population area and we receive far less than 1% of their investments. Simply stated, we have no clout.


In order to become transit independent, the East End needs to leave the jurisdiction of these two unresponsive agencies and form our own counterparts. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem. And there are precedents. For example, the Cape Cod region was granted MPO status by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and then established the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) in order to develop and operate its own transit services. The East End could take the following approach:


First, through what we believe would be a New York State DOT approval process, we could establish a Rural Planning Organization (RPO) to legally replace our current status as an insignificant part of NYMTC. Let’s call it the Peconic Transit Commission (PTC), and it would be comprised entirely of East End elected officials, employers and residents. The PTC would become the new gatekeeper for funding transit projects on the East End.


Second, we would then form our own Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to legally replace the MTA. Our NYS legislators Fred Thiele, Marc Alessi and Ken La Valle have collectively filed legislation to establish the Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority (PBRTA) for this very purpose. The PBRTA would eventually become responsible for developing and operating the East End Shuttle.


Establishing our own East End RPO and RTA would make the East End transit independent, but it would not be insure better services. We will also have to work very hard though our U.S. Representative Tim Bishop to acquire the needed one-time federal development funds to establish a new system. Receiving funding for transit is a highly competitive process in Washington. But the time is now.


On East End Public Transit Advocacy

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And A Futile Attempt to Work with the Town of Southampton

On the Coordinated Rail and Bus Network Feasibility Study

 

By Hank de Cillia

 I recently resigned as Executive Director of Five Town Rural Transit (5TRT) Inc., the public transit advocacy group I co-founded that created the East End Shuttle concept and originated the Feasibility Study that has been underway since December of last year. (In case you are not familiar with 5TRT’s East End Shuttle concept, it proposes to use new small-scale rail cars to provide much more frequent rail service on the existing LIRR tracks, coupled with new small-scale connecting buses that would meet the rail cars at most stations and take riders to a final destination.)

 

I am compelled to respond to two recent allegations emanating from Southampton Town that I believe have been used to exclude me from working on this Feasibility Study project as a paid consultant to handle local government and public communications about the work, which is being done by the U.S. DOT Volpe National Transportation Systems Center under contract to the Town of Southampton on behalf of the five East End Towns.

The first allegation is that I “colluded” with former Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney on a “sweetheart deal” to get a contract to work on the project. It is true that 5TRT brought what was then called the East End Shuttle Feasibility Study project to the Town of Southampton via Supervisor Heaney when we learned that only municipalities could apply for the New York State grant, not a non-profit group like 5TRT. The 5TRT Board made several requests in that meeting with Supervisor Heaney: Southampton should become the lead applicant for the NYS grant on behalf of all five towns, the towns should contribute the 10% matching funds required in proportion to their population size, the towns should hire the Volpe Center to be the principal contractor for the study and the towns should hire me as a non-voting member of the 5TRT Board to handle government, public and press communications on the project.

To his credit, Supervisor Heaney immediately embraced the 5TRT proposal. Regarding the last request that I personally be involved on a paid basis, he suggested I work out a subcontract with the Volpe Center once their contract was in place, and I agreed. I went to the Volpe Center people and advised them of Mr. Heaney’s request and they agreed. Over the next 18 months, while the NYS grant was applied for and awarded, and the contract with Volpe was then negotiated, my only contact with the town was through Deputy Supervisor Robert Ross to keep him advised of the progress on my subcontract.

Late last year, as Volpe was finalizing their own contract, they told me they could not do a subcontract after all. The intriguing reason given was that since I was one of the people who formally recommended Volpe for the job, if they gave me a subcontract it would have a “quid pro quo” appearance. I never did get an answer as to why it took them so long to reach this conclusion, nor were they willing to put their opinion in writing after two requests. Nevertheless, by the time I tried to get back to Heaney and Ross, the election had already taken place and they were not returning my calls. There you have a summary of my alleged “collusion” with Skip Heaney.

From that point on 5TRT dealt with new Supervisor Linda Kabot and our first meeting didn’t occur until mid January of this year. She told us the town would have to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for me to work on the study project and I would have to compete for the job. In late February, the town issued the RFP and in mid March I submitted my proposal. But in late June I withdrew it after having had no reply from the town as to its status, including when a decision might be made, for over 90 days. I have since learned my proposal was the only one they received, but that didn’t prevent them from continuing to exclude me.

Which brings me to the second allegation—-that I have a “conflict of interest” in working on this project. The convoluted town logic is that since I am a public transit advocate on the East End, I would have a conflict of interest in communicating information about the Volpe work to the public. By this reasoning I guess, only people who are against public transit or uninformed about the topic could ever be hired to do this work. I’m told the town has even sought an opinion from the NYS Attorney General about my suitability to work in this capacity!

But since the Town of Southampton has raised this allegation, let me identify what I think is a much more significant conflict of interest with its own Town Transportation Director Tom Neely. Although I’m not suggesting “collusion”, Mr. Neely got his job from Supervisor Heaney a few years ago. Prior to that, he had been working for a bus company, the Hampton Jitney. It is clear from his recent public comments that Mr. Neely favors bus solutions for public transit on the East End over rail. So, is it not a conflict of interest that an acknowledged bus advocate with ties to local bus transit providers is managing a “Coordinated Rail and Bus Network Feasibility Study,” as the Volpe work is described now? Further, his own job description on the Southampton Town website says one of his responsibilities is to “advocate for improved public transit.” Doesn’t that mean he has the same “conflict of interest” that I supposedly have? Has the town also sought an opinion from the NYS Attorney General about Mr. Neely’s apparent conflict of interest in this instance?  If not, why not?

In summary, the allegation that I colluded with Skip Heaney to get a contract is simply false and the allegation that I have a conflict of interest makes little sense. Both allegations have been used to prevent me from working on the project, as far as I can see.

This commentary is only provided to defend my reputation because I am no longer willing to work for the current Southampton Town management on this critically important project. I do believe, however, that the five East End Town Councils, together with the 5TRT Board, need to look more carefully into how this study is being managed to insure, amongst other things, that the original project goals and process are still in place.