Testimony to MTA Board on State Gas Tax “Holiday” and Open Data Implementation


Testimony to MTA Board

March 30, 2022

Re: State Gas Tax “Holiday” Bad Policy for NYS and MTA;
High Hopes for MTA Open Data Implementation

Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable NY government, including for authorities like the MTA.

First, I would like to highlight our opposition to a state gas tax “holiday.” We and 15 other organizations including the Community Service Society, Riders Alliance, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA released a statement calling on the Governor and Legislature to not include this proposal in the state budget. It does little to help those New Yorkers most hurt by rising prices, takes revenue away from needed road and transit investments, and completely contradicts New York’s climate goals. MTA CEO/Chair Janno Lieber said that it would be damaging to the MTA’s bond ratings. Further, this would set a terrible precedent for the MTA’s dedicated taxes, particularly as it seeks new state dedicated revenues as federal funding runs out.

Second, as I wrote in an op-ed for Gotham Gazette earlier this month, we have high hopes for implementation of the MTA Open Data Law – signed by Governor Kathy Hochul in October 2021, and sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie and Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Next month, April 2022, the MTA must publish a catalog of its public datasets and a schedule for releasing data within the next three years. As the MTA develops the catalog and schedule, we encourage staff to look at three important opportunities highlighted in my Op-ed:

  1. Ridership Projections – The MTA currently posts daily ridership on its website, compared to 2019 levels (I note that LIRR and MNR data is only available through February 28th and should be updated). We are pleased that this data is now on the state open data portal. However, ridership projections from McKinsey, which have been the basis for MTA financial projections, are not currently released as open data. As part of the MTA’s new contract for updated ridership projections, this new data should be released as open data.
  2. Congestion Pricing Environmental Assessment – The MTA is in the process of conducting an environmental review of its congestion pricing program, and is expected to release its draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in May 2022. The results of EA data modeling are typically released as appendices to large PDFs that can be hundreds of pages long. The MTA can and should do better. Open data on congestion pricing will help advocates help the MTA. Advocates and researchers should have easy access to data that will help make the case for congestion pricing, and support the MTA’s efforts.
  3. 20-Year Needs Assessment – As discussed at the February MTA Board meeting, MTA staff are currently working on an updated 20-year needs assessment. Ahead of the state-mandated, September 2023 release, the MTA should prepare assessment data in an open format. This will help researchers and oversight entities better match up the MTA’s needs with its capital spending to ensure the right investments are being made.

Thank you for your consideration.