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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Public transit systems are lifelines"

ALBANY, Oct. 23, 2017 -- The future of rural, upstate New York public transportation has reached the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

As this column is being written, the governor is about to make a critical decision on legislation I sponsored in 2017, which received nearly unanimous legislative approval, to establish an "Upstate Transit Funding Board" within the state the Department of Transportation (DOT). The governor vetoed similar legislation year. Many transportation advocates have joined me in urging the governor to reverse that decision this year. Whatever the governor decides, this issue must be addressed.

The specific concern -- one I’ve sought to address since 2013 -- poses a crisis for the future of rural, upstate public transportation. New York State’s comprehensive Medicaid redesign strategy since 2013 has included a shift in the administration of “Medicaid Non-Emergency Medical Transportation,” or NEMT, from localities to the state. Viewed as a cost-cutting move by state officials, many local transportation leaders have raised concerns about the plan -- especially the impact the state takeover is having on rural communities and populations including the disabled, the elderly, and the rural workforce.

The state Department of Health (DOH) has been transitioning the management of transportation systems from locally based administration to a state-level system operated out of Albany. However, local officials, mobility managers, transportation providers, and community organizations from impacted upstate regions say that the new, one-size-fits-all approach, which might be workable in suburban and urban areas downstate, has not proven cost-effective or efficient in their rural communities.

That represents the crux of the challenge. Many forums and meetings I have held over the past few years have reaffirmed this reality: the transition is not working. We have discussed the shortcomings of the new system, including the elimination of existing transportation routes, the future of locally based cost-efficiency initiatives, and the overall disruption of services.

A number of local systems are at risk (and in Tioga County, for example, already eliminated) by Albany’s attempt at a blanket, statewide approach to their management and operation. Stated another way: think of this transportation network as a wheel and Albany bureaucrats are taking spokes out of the wheel.

The changes have lacked common sense and cost too much. Local officials from numerous counties, including all of the counties I represent as part of the 58th Senate District (Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Yates counties), have highlighted the flaws. We’ve been constantly working to bring more widespread attention to the changes underway, fully assess the consequences, and do what we can to ensure that the impact on rural residents receives a full and a fair hearing.

The legislation I sponsor stresses that fares alone are not sufficient to cover the costs of providing public transit services and the systems must rely on annual state funding. Consequently, the creation of an Upstate Transit Funding Board would ensure that discussions remain ongoing to continually identify sustainable funding options to provide for growth and
stability in public transportation operating assistance, as well as create additional opportunities for supporting mobility options for upstate New York residents.

I believe we make a strong case. This action would ensure the long-term operation and viability of public transportation systems throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and across Upstate New York.

For thousands upon thousands of upstate residents, these systems provide indispensable links to their jobs, medical appointments, schools, shopping destinations, and other needs.

Public transit systems also stand as cornerstones of regional transportation networks vital to economic development, job growth, anti-poverty and housing initiatives, energy and environmental conservation.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Carl Blowers, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Carl Blowers

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Harriett Vickio, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869