September 2, 2014

EDITORIAL: A Call for Cornell to Pay Its Fair Share to TCAT

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Last week, the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit Board of Directors passed a resolution asking the University to increase its subsidy to the transit system in order to address a $740,000 budget shortfall this year. Though President David Skorton said in May that he would keep the bus passes, he added — in a response to a University Assembly resolution — that the University could not find any additional funds to increase the subsidy. As a part-owner of TCAT, the University pays a $2.6 million bulk fare every year for the transit needs of the Cornell community. However, this bulk fare has not increased in line with the increase in Cornell-associated ridership, effectively shortchanging TCAT of $500,000 of expected revenue. We at The Sun believe that the University should pay its fair share to run this vital transit and that the University should work with TCAT to help address its budget shortfall.

According to the TCAT resolution, the University agreed to subsidize fares paid with a Cornell ID at $1 per ride in 2010. Due to the increase in ridership — but no matching increase in subsidy — the effective subsidy is now $0.86 per ride. The resolution asks that the University return to subsidizing rides at $1 per ride. According to data provided by TCAT, Cornell ridership was approximately 71 percent of total TCAT ridership. However, it also important to note that the Cornell bulk fares account for 20 percent of total TCAT revenue. This disparity is contributing to TCAT’s financial distress.

The resolution was also passed at a time when the University’s commitment to TCAT has been called into question. The administration has chosen not to increase the subsidy even though it was expected to do so when Skorton agreed to keep free bus passes for first-year students in response to U.A. and Student Assembly resolutions. The administration’s decision to keep the passes to appease students and faculty without increasing its subsidy was an underhanded way for the University to avoid paying its fair share. Although the University is the major supplier of riders for TCAT, it is necessary for the University to step up and make sure that TCAT continues to be an option for Cornell and the Ithaca community.

We at The Sun believe it is time that the University starts funding TCAT in an equitable manner. Cornell can create a solution within its budget restraints that would allow TCAT to continue to operate in the same manner as it is now. TCAT is a critical system, and by putting it in fiscal distress, the University is doing a disservice to all members of our community.