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Critical Program Called High Density States Program Was Eliminated In House Transportation Bill, Money Sent To More Rural Southern & Western States; Centro Could Now Lose Nearly $2 Million 

Schumer Persuades Senators To Keep Centro Funding in Senate Conference Transportation Bill; Urges House To Do The Same

Schumer: Centro Funding Is Safe In Senate Bill


Standing the Centro Transit Hub in Syracuse, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today made his final push to urge the House of Representatives to restore mass transit funding cuts. Schumer said that the recent House cuts could cost the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority (Centro) nearly $2 million per year and could severely hurt Centro and other Upstate New York transit agencies. Schumer said that he successfully lead the Senate effort to protect Centro and other Upstate New York transit funding in the Senate transportation bill; it is now up to House to do the same.

“The 5340 program provides a critical $2 million in transportation funding to Central New York each year, and is vital to ensuring Centro’s bus service has the resources it needs to operate and keep its 11 million annual passengers safe,” said Schumer. “The House’s proposed cut in funding would deal a devastating blow to Centro – and that is why I am doing everything in my power to reverse these cuts. While I helped protect this funding for Centro and make sure is safe in the Senate bill, it is up to the House to ensure the same. Centro’s service has been a lifeline for Central New Yorkers for years and a driver of the local economy, and should continue to be that way for years to come.”

Schumer explained that, as a part of a transportation bill passed by the House, an amendment was agreed to that completely defunded a critical mass transit program called the 5340 Program, or the High Density States program. This program provides New York and six other high-density states as well as the District of Columbia with millions in additional mass transit funding annually. Specifically, New York and New Jersey combined receive roughly $140 million each year. In 2014, Central New York received a total of $2,043,375 in federal funding under the High Density States program.

Schumer explained that this funding allowed Centro to operate its bus service throughout the Central NY region. Centro covers Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Oswego Counties and provided over 11 million rides to residents and visitors in Central NY in 2014. Centro also employs approximately 630 residents in the four-county area and contributes roughly $30 million to the local economy through its payroll alone. Schumer said this service and local jobs could be threatened if Centro is not provided the $2 million in funding it has anticipated it will receive in 2016 to operate this bus service. Schumer said this loss of nearly $2 million and could severely hurt Centro and other Upstate New York transit agencies.

Schumer said this could be disastrous for Centro’s ridership and the Central NY economy as a whole. This service, Schumer said, is a lifeline for the community, as it brings people to work, school and city centers every day. In addition to the millions of customers for whom it provides bus services annually, it also partners with the Syracuse City School District, Syracuse University (through its connective corridor) and LeMoyne College to bring students downtown and to school. Centro’s Call-a-Bus service also provides roughly 175,000 rides to persons with disabilities. Finally, roughly 80 percent of Centro’s riders do not own a car, and approximately 75 percent earn less than $30,000 annually. As a result, Schumer said any reduction in this affordable bus service, due to a lack of federal funds, would be devastating to the Central NY area as a whole.

That is why Schumer is aggressively urging his colleagues in the House to reverse these cuts and quickly restore this much-needed funding for Upstate New York. As a conferee who is helping negotiate the differences between the House and Senate bills before the final transportation legislation is passed into law, Schumer successfully led the effort in the Senate that protected this critical funding to Centro and many other Upstate NY transit agencies. However, he says the elimination of these funds is still included in the House bill and, if left unchanged, could be devastating for Central NY, especially at time when New York’s infrastructure is crumbling and maintenance costs are skyrocketing.

This potential cut also comes at a time when the local community is urging Centro to add more buses and routes to its services in order to accommodate for more students. That is because, right now, students in the Syracuse City School District who live within the 1.5- to 2-mile radius of the school are required to walk to and from school each day because Centro does not have enough buses to provide for students inside this zone. Local parents and neighborhood advocates say this jeopardizes student safety. However, Schumer said the option of adding buses or routes could be taken off the table if Centro barely has enough funds to operate current services in the first place.

Schumer was joined by Centro CEO Rick Lee, Centro Executive Director Frank Kobliski, Centro workers and Centro users.  

“Centro takes pride in providing quality and affordable transportation to Central New Yorkers. But cuts to federal programs can make that job much more difficult,” said Rick Lee, CEO of Centro. “We at Centro are grateful to have a fighter in Washington like Senator Schumer to ensure this critical funding is preserved.”

In 2005, the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) was signed into law, which established the Growing States and High Density States Formula Program (49 U.S.C. 5340), or “5340 funding.” According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), it was created to apportion additional funds to the some of the most congested and transit-dependent Urbanized Areas (UZAs) in the country, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia. However, Schumer explained this funding is currently in jeopardy because the House of Representatives adopted into its six-year transportation bill – the Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform (STRRA) Act – an amendment that would eliminate the 5340 program and instead further increase funding for a competitive bus grant program that would be disadvantageous to New York. Schumer said that while increasing the funding for discretionary programs like the bus program is widely supported, doing so by stripping funding away from Northeast states, whose transit systems move millions of people and contribute significantly to the national economy, is the wrong approach to take.

The House bill is also funded at the existing baseline, meaning it provides only a slight increase for inflation. The Senate transportation bill, however, includes a 10 percent increase. Schumer said the House version’s tepid increase in overall appropriations, coupled with the fact that funding has been slashed from the High Density States program and diverted into a separate fund, will result in less real dollars for New York State next year should the House Bill become law. This would have a major impact on transit agencies in New York, like the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) that services New York City, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island as well as smaller transit agencies throughout the entire State of New York like Centro.

This 5340 funding is critical to Transit Agencies throughout the State, many of whom rely on the funding to help balance their already tight budgets. Eliminating this direct funding to transit agencies like Centro, the NFTA, RGRTA, and others in Upstate means those agencies will have less funds available for critical maintenance, system upgrades, and to ensure reliable and important service is provide throughout the State. The loss of this funding could also have an indirect impact on other forms of transportation including highway and bridge funding. For example, Schumer said, if a smaller mass transit agency in Upstate New York runs into financial trouble because of the loss of this funding and needs to be made whole by the state, New York State might have to reduce the amount of money they spend in other transportation programs to make up for the loss.

Schumer is therefore urging the House and its conferees, who will also negotiate the final bill, to immediately restore this funding for the 5340 High Density States program. Schumer said these seven states and the District of Columbia could see funding cut by roughly $1.6 billion over the next six years if this funding is not restored in the final bill that is passed by both the House and Senate. Some transit agencies would see their overall apportionments cut by nearly one-third. Schumer explained that because this funding is calculated based on Urbanized Areas rather than states, New York and New Jersey – which are coupled together in this funding apportionment – could lose an estimated $140 million each year. After receiving this funding, the two states then issue a memorandum of understanding (MOU) stating how this funding will be split up. Specifically, New York State stands to lose the roughly $100 million of this $140 million it was set to receive in additional federal transit dollars if this program is not restored at full funding.

Schumer has long fought to keep Centro’s services affordable and a viable service for Central NY riders. In 2010, Schumer helped secure roughly $8 million in federal funding that allowed Centro to purchase 43 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses. This has allowed Cento to save on fuel costs, as an equivalent gallon of natural gas costs up to 50 percent less than a gallon of diesel. Centro’s Onondaga County fleet – 102 buses in total – is the only Upstate NY transit fleet to run off of CNG. Schumer is currently pushing his colleagues to extend the alternative fuel tax credit, which saves Centro over $500,000 a year on its CNG purchases. This tax credit expired at the end of last year. Schumer supported the retroactive reinstatement and extension of this tax credit in the Senate Finance Committee markup of the Tax Increase Prevention Act. This legislation would reinstate and extend through 2016 the $0.50 per gallon alternative fuel tax credit and alternative fuel mixture credit.