Strengthening transit systems in upstate New York can often get overshadowed by a focus on New York City's transportation needs.

State Sen. Jeremy Cooney is trying to change that. 

"Probably the most important thing we can do to invest in upstate transit is to have that dedicated revenue source," he said. "This stops the back and forth process and the narrative of talking about parity, upstate versus downstate, year after year after year." 

Upstate transit is trying to get more riders three years since the start of the pandemic. They hope the budget will get them a dedicated source of funding. 

As state lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul continue to negotiate a state budget, Cooney says he wants to boost ridership on mass transit in upstate cities as more people return to work in the wake of the pandemic. 

"We're seeing very fortunately people returning to work and with a younger workforce more of a reliance on public transit," Cooney said.

But some of the funding proposals for transit statewide have been controversial. In the state Assembly, lawmakers proposed a tax on streaming services like Netflix to help boost transit systems statewide. Republican Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt blasted the idea. 

"It's almost like we're looking for what haven't we taxed," Ortt said. "Tax that. Let's get some money from over there."

But Bill Carpenter of the New York Public Transit Association says transportation agencies are agnostic about where the money comes from. Still, their funding sources like a petroleum tax or a tax on landline phones just do not go as far as they once did. 

"We would think you would pick something in the ecoonomy that as transit supports economic growth, that revenue stream would grow," Carpenter said. 

Upstate transportation agencies see riders returning, but are yet to be back to their pre-pandemic levels. They continue to face challenges as they plan to fully electrifying a bus fleet in the coming years. 

"Upstate transit agencies have the same issue that the MTA does," Carpenter said. "We don't have all our riders back. Costs are going up."