Members of the New York Public Transit Association want Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature to release $6.3 million from a transit fund to help pay for skyrocketing fuel prices.
NYPTA President Scott Sopczyk, at a news conference on Wednesday, said high gasoline prices have led to increases in the number of people using public transportation. Ridership increases range from 9 percent to 17 percent for the first quarter, but increased revenues from fares still aren’t enough to cover major price increases for diesel fuel. He said some transit authorities have seen diesel price increases of between 71.3 percent and 128.3 percent since last year.
“We’re not sure where the price of fuel is going to go. We’re getting demands for new service and we can’t even consider new service because any budget room that we had is going towards the cost of fuel,” Sopczyk said of his own transit system in Glens Falls.
Ray Melleady, the executive director of the Capital District Transportation Authority, said CDTA has a locked-in deal for diesel fuel that will protect the authority from fuel price spikes until May 2009. He said once the deal expires CDTA will face a steep spike in expenses.
“Once our procurement cycle is unlocked, we’ll see a substantial cost increase for fuel and at the point CDTA will have to make some difficult decisions, absent additional state and federal assistant. It could easily be a $1, $1.50 jump per gallon,” he said. “For us, you’re talking about 2.5 million gallons per year so if it’s a dollar that’s a $2.5 million budget gap overnight.”
CDTA officials said the transit authority consumes about 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel per month and probably only generates, after discount programs, about $175,000 for every 250,000 passengers who ride the system.
“That just doesn’t add up,” Melleady said.
State Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, attended the news conference. He said he supports additional state aide for CDTA and the other transit authorities, but acknowledged it will be difficult to get because of the state’s financial problems.
“I think everyone agrees that gas prices will never again be what they were. The solution is to keep the bus trip affordable and comfortable. [That means] more state aid, at a time when we face the biggest budget deficits in modern history,” Breslin said. “I think we need to prioritize and [mass transit] needs to be right at the top of the list.”
Melleady and Sopczyk said raising bus fares is always an option, but not one most transit systems want to resort to during difficult economic times when it is in the public interest to promote mass transit.
“We [in Glens Falls] had a 30 percent fare increase in August 2007 and I’m very hesitant to do it again on the heels of that increase,” Sopczyk said.
Breslin said fare increases could discourage more car users from taking the bus.
“We want to change people’s habits and if you can change people’s habits then you can increase the ridership of mass transit,” he said.