On Thursday, March 4, Chairman Jay Walder came to the quarterly PCAC meeting and spoke very frankly about the financial crisis of the MTA. Walder, who came to the MTA most recently from London, previously worked for the MTA in the 1980s. He pointed out that when he started in 1983, the MTA was a national symbol of urban decay. He pressed the group to be proud of the success in bringing the New York transit system back. He admitted that things are certainly not perfect, but he vowed to “break down barriers”, such as the myriad of phone numbers across the agencies. He admitted, too, that the organization needed to “trim the administrative belt.”
Still, the financial crisis is “not an excuse for standing still”. Walder cited the new website as an example of moving forward with minimum investment. Likewise, implementation of real time arrival information should be a priority, he noted. Much of the technology has been initiated and efforts in this area can be continued with available in-house resources. He said that we may have to do some things as pilots, but he plans to keep moving forward.
Mr. Walder spent a fair amount of time giving his feelings about the current service cut hearings. He emphasized that they are not a “charade”: “We are listening and the riders’ pain comes through loud and clear.”
As to the resolution of the financial crisis, Walder was not optimistic, “I don’t know what the answer is.” He stated, “You have heard this before. This is 1977 [all over again]– the MTA is broke! This time we don’t want to make the same mistakes that we did in the 1970s.” He implored the audience to recognize where we have been and not let the system deteriorate.
Council chairs then made brief statements and asked questions. Maureen Michaels, LIRRCC, gave a litany of issues with the Rail Road — the gap, customer service, ticket collection, dirty stations and right of way, etc. Chairman Walder acknowledged that the LIRR problems are long-standing and asked for patience.
David Buchwald, Vice-Chair of MNRCC, spoke to the severity of the West of Hudson service cuts, asked about the decision for service reduction vs. fare hikes and the possibility to reduce labor costs by outsourcing. Mr. Walder explained that predictable fare increases should be the predictable part of a business plan. MTA fare increases are not scheduled until 2011 and he wanted to keep to that schedule. He has looked at salaries/pensions/benefits of compensation agreements but there seems to be no counter requirement for productively. He noted that he has met with labor representatives and implored them to understand the financial situation — “we need to have a common understanding of the problem.”
Andrew Albert, NYCTRC, directed his comments to security in the subways –“removal of booth agents will put the public in harms way … cameras and intercoms are often in places where there are no HEETS (high entry and exit turnstiles) or agents.” Walder responded, “the way of selling tickets has changed.” He noted that the system has the lowest crime rate in its history. He observed the following:
- Every station will be staffed
- 2,500 NYPD are on patrol across the system
- Over 2,000 cleaning staff are present throughout the system
- Technology can play an important part in providing safety
- There is disappointment in the customer service intercom implementation which will have to be addressed
Unfortunately, there was not sufficient time to ask about the MTA capital program re-submission or the results of the Accenture study on staffing and organization. It is clear, however, that advocates need to speak strongly and loudly to Albany legislators to put the MTA back on a sound, long-term financial footing.