Cornell Payments to TCAT Will Increase by $1.125 Million

Cornell will increase its payment to the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit by $1.125 million over the next three years...

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By Sofia Hu, via the Cornell Daily Sun, 10/15/14

Correction appended; Updated Wednesday with additional information

Cornell will increase its payment to the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit by $1.125 million over the next three years, President David Skorton said in a letter to TCAT released Monday.

The announcement follows months of student activism in support of TCAT and comes as a compromise after Skorton said in May that Cornell could not subsidize TCAT further to address its $740,000 deficit.

The University currently pays the organization $2.6 million annually for rides made with Cornell IDs, amounting to a $0.83 per ride subsidy.

In order to increase this number, the University will pay TCAT an extra $250,000 in the 2016 fiscal year, with additional increases of $125,000 for both the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, Skorton said, bringing the annual payment to $3.1 million by 2018.

Payment amounts after 2018 will be determined by a memorandum of understanding that the University hopes to sign with the TCAT Board of Directors, according to Skorton.

According to Alderperson Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward), who is also TCAT’s board secretary and treasurer, the MOU will create a “sustainable funding model” that ties Cornell’s payments to the cost of student ridership.

The additional payments, however, may not be enough for the University to reach the $1 per ride figure originally requested by the TCAT Board of Directors during its Aug. 28 meeting.

From 2008 to 2013, Cornell ridership increased by 31.5 percent from approximately 2.4 million to 3.13 million rides, according to TCAT. If Cornell ridership — which currently accounts for 71 percent of all TCAT ridership — continues to increase, the added $500,000 by fiscal year 2018 will not bring Cornell’s payments to $1 per ride made.

In his letter, Skorton said the University’s contributions alone cannot help the bus service achieve a long-term, sustainable solution.

TCAT will need to conduct a “comprehensive review” of its operations and “any potential sources of funding” — including revenues from Tompkins County’s mortgage recording tax — Skorton said.

Skorton has also asked Cornell’s Transportation Services to establish a task force that will help the administration identify ways to create a sustainable funding model.

This task force will include students, who have recently launched several protests against the University’s initial decision to not increase its TCAT payments, according to Skorton.

Murtagh said he was “really glad” about the University’s decision.

“A lot of work went into this on behalf of multiple parties, and I understand it wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Murtagh said. “I believe our hope is to get the MOU hammered out quickly, within the next few months, so that the MOU is in place at the start of TCAT’s next fiscal year.”

TCAT General Manager Joe Turcotte said he thanks Skorton for his “commitment to help maintaining the excellent level of service” that TCAT provides.

“We applaud both President Skorton as well as a delegation of our board members … for all sitting down together to figure out ways to help us maintain what has been a highly successful transit operation,” Turcotte said. “We believe [Skorton’s] suggestion to create a task force made up of a broad representation of the University is a great step in the right direction.”

According to Frank Howells, a TCAT bus driver and unit negotiating chair for the United Auto Workers, the Cornell student body “made [the annual payment increase] happen.”

“The students helped move the issue forward through their outspoken determination,” Howells said.

In a statement from the Save the Pass Coalition, a group of students and organizations concerned with TCAT funding, Allison Lapehn ’17 said the group was “wary to start celebrating” the decision.

“Although we are pleased that President Skorton has started to make funding the TCAT bus system a priority, the statements released were very vague,” Laphen said. “We from Save the Pass Coalition would like to see an explicit commitment to funding the TCAT bus system that will be sustainable for the long term.”

Daniel Marshall ’15, a member of the Coalition, agreed, adding that he thought Skorton’s announcement is not “the end of this struggle” for students or TCAT workers.

“Until Cornell has made a binding commitment to pay a cost-neutral amount per ride in the future and TCAT Management has pledged to use that increase in funds to fairly compensate workers for their labor, the situation hasn’t changed,” Marshall said. “Piecemeal reforms are better than nothing, but it is important to reiterate that only a systemic change in the way that Cornell relates to its workers and local community will solve the problems at hand.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the University will increase its payments to TCAT by $1.25 million over the next three years. In fact, the increase is $1.125 million, not $1.25 million.

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