Pheffer Amato MTA Oversight Testimony

Committeemembers and members of the New York City Council,

My name is Stacey Pheffer Amato, and I serve as Assemblywoman for South Queens, including Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Ozone Park and the Rockaway Peninsula – possibly the most under-served part of New York City for mass transit. I was so thrilled to hear of the tour undertaken by the members of the Council and the Assembly around NYC to talk to people about their transit experiences. I understand you got an earful, and New Yorkers are grateful for your proactive efforts to put our key transit challenges on the table.

I'm writing because I know exactly why your tour didn't include South Queens - there's no reasonable way to get here. So, in the spirit of teamwork, I'd like to fill in some of the gaps.

Much of our community is beach, which is famous for two reasons - people love to go here, and superstorms hit us the hardest. Many folks heard of Rockaway for the first time when Sandy hit. But since then, lots of folks have seen the jewel that this community is, and we've experienced a huge surge in activity not seen since the 1960s.

Why the 1960s? Well, for 80 years, from 1880 to 1960, there was a reasonable way to get here – the Rockaway Beach Rail Line. Then they just sort of deactivated it, and people go where there's transit. So that's a problem. It's been sitting dormant for almost 60 years, and it's no wonder that people are seriously talking about reactivating it for the first time in a while. We strongly urge your support on that; 15 years after the Civil War, you could get to Manhattan from where we are in 40 minutes. Now it takes an hour twenty. I don't need to break down the economic impact of that - it's currently being studied by the MTA, NYCT and LIRR together. Please stay on them.

There are several other things that are crucial for equitable transit access in South Queens:

1) We just got a new Ferry, which is great, because it provides the only direct access to the City in under an hour. This is obviously a huge benefit to not only commuters, but seniors, students and the disabled... or it would be, except those with reduced fares are being charged twice. I just called on the EDC to stop forcing senior citizens and the disabled to buy TWO separate monthly reduced-fare passes, which amounts to double-charging, and just start taking MetroCards on the Ferry. This is not just a critical link in our transit infrastructure – as explained above, it's our ONLY reasonable link at the moment. Please help us call on the EDC to make sure there's no surcharge on those who can least afford to pay for using it.

2) The Cross Bay Bridge connects Rockaway to Broad Channel to "mainland" Queens, which is great, except that it's tolled. There's actually a toll on a bridge inside a borough. We're a beach community, which means most of our important economic activity comes in from the outside. But that commercial activity is charged more than $2 each way with an EZPass, and more than $4 each way without one. We get a reimbursement if we live on the Peninsula or in Broad Channel, but again - those who are simply driving within their borough to take advantage of our hospitality aren't so lucky. Since our communities are closely tied together, this means students who go to our schools, folks who shop in our stores or go to our concerts, and everyone visiting family on the other side of the Bay, pays a surcharge - and that's just plain bad for our economy. The Cross Bay Bridge Toll was supposed to be eliminated after the bond was paid off, but that never happened – they just kept charging the toll. We're calling on you to ask the MTA to remove this albatross from our economy's neck.

3) Last but certainly not least, there are common-sense changes the MTA has made from time to time to make the A train route more efficient, running trains directly and reducing long stopovers in Broad Channel. We are asking the MTA to make those changes 24/7/365. The reason is simple: we are not a resort community, and while we understand some of these changes are made dynamically in response to conditions on the ground, fixes to “accommodate” seasonal traffic are not all we need. Almost 130,000 people live on the Rockaway Peninsula year-round. With our lack of transit options, having utmost efficiency applied at all times of year is absolutely paramount. Please work with the MTA to ensure they run our system at peak efficiency for our riders at all times, as real New Yorkers need and deserve.

All New Yorkers deserve access to the transit grid and freedom of movement. Being able to get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time, for the same cost, is fundamental to the assumptions of how New York City works and the guarantees of access that it makes to its citizens. Right now, South Queens is being badly left out of those guarantees, which limits options for employment, education and growth for my community. Please make it a priority to work with us and with the MTA to fix this inequity as part of your broader campaign to bring our transit system up to par.

Thank you again for accepting our testimony and for what you're doing for present and future generations of New Yorkers. I look forward to working with you to build a more just, accessible and resilient system that, at long last, serves all New Yorkers.



Stacey Pheffer Amato

Member of Assembly, 23rd District