Rockland County requests an exemption from M.T.A. fare hikes, and the M.T.A. says no

A Metro-North train. (Steve.r via Flickr)
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Rockland County executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who's been complaining about his county having to fund the M.T.A. for pretty much his entire tenure, wants the state authority to exempt his county from the coming toll and fare hikes.

In March, the financially beleaguered M.T.A. will once again raise subway, bus and commuter rail fares, and tolls on all of its bridges and tunnels.

The authority needs to raise fares and tolls in part because the state—responding to longstanding suburban animosity toward the authority from officials like Vanderhoef—is constantly gnawing away at its stable funding streams.

On November 30, Vanderhoef, apparently unmoved by the M.T.A.'s widely lauded post-Hurricane Sandy performance, sent a letter to the M.T.A.'s board arguing that Rockland County should be exempt because Rockland County residents send $108 million a year into the M.T.A., and, according to a County-commissioned study, get only $68 million in value in return.

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"Common sense financial fairness would dictate, therefore, that Rockland County be exempt from the proposed fare increases," he wrote. "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 M.T.A. 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."

According to the M.T.A., that's not going to happen.

"Metro-North Railroad and the M.T.A.’s 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," said Aaron Donovan, an M.T.A. spokesman, in a statement. "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."

UPDATE: After this article ran, Vanderhoef sent over the following statement:

Your readers may be interested to know that I agree With MTA Spokesman Aaron Donovan--there is tremendous value in Rockland County's connection to the regional economy via MTA’s transportation network. Increased property values and higher salaries for residents are certainly part of that, but these are intangibles that cannot be quantified in a numbers-based study.

All of the other MTA-member counties get that same intangible value. Is MTA suggesting that all of its members should have a $40 million value gap every year like Rockland does?

Other MTA-member counties--even the suburban ones have had tremendous value “surpluses” instead of “gaps” for many years. And this isn’t Rockland County’s assertion - this fact comes from MTA’s own reports ([MTA County-by-County Cost Beneñt Analysis, prepared for MTA Budget Division, March 2008], for example).

I would be interested in hearing MTA’s explanation for why Rockland should have an annual value gap when other MTA ­member counties--even the suburban ones--get more than they pay for.

In the absence of a credible response, the MTA should grant Rockland’s request for exemption from fare increases.