Home MTA Politics Peralta joins the MTA Deniers Club in Albany

Peralta joins the MTA Deniers Club in Albany

by Benjamin Kabak

Meet Jose Peralta. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because one of the newest State Senators made headlines when he won the special election of fill Hiram Monserrate’s seat earlier this year. He represents the 13th District which consists of East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona, three neighborhoods very dependent upon public transportation, but he now joins a growing list of elected officials who won’t fess up to the truth about transit.

Peralta has attracted my ire with an open letter to Jay Walder that the Queens Village Times printed late last week. Peralta attempts to blame the MTA for Albany’s failures and does so in spectacular fashion. Let’s break it down.

I am writing to express my concerns with the MTA’s latest plan to balance its budget on the backs of my constituents. I am not surprised the MTA is facing another crisis…

Peralta starts out on a typically populist note. Someone must teach politicians to blame the MTA for balancing the budget on the back of constituents as part of an Albany orientation package. After all, the authority isn’t about to balance its budget on the backs of State Senators or Assembly representatives. But Peralta ends on an optimistic note here: He isn’t surprised that the MTA is facing another crisis. Could it be that he’s going to admit that Albany stole money from the beleaguered authority?

— given the history of fiscal incompetency, fare hikes and services cuts this agency has imposed on riders. Rather than addressing the real problem, which is the MTA’s long history of mismanagement and overspending, you are once again expecting the public to pay the price for your mistakes.

Nope. Of course not. Ignoring history and the fact that fare hikes come about to either keep up with inflation or keep the subways running, Peralta pinpoints “fiscal incompetency,” a great catch-all that doesn’t catch anything. I wonder why Peralta doesn’t talk about the long history of Albany’s inability to fund transit or create a lockbox for revenues that are supposed to be dedicated to the MTA so that the legislature can’t later remove those to the general fund.

Common sense dictates you cannot cut an entire subway line or slash express service like the latest No. 7 train cut proposal and not expect these measures to negatively affect New Yorkers. You do not cut services to a borough like Queens, where the population is growing.

Of course, Peralta ignores the fact that even though two subway lines were cut, rush hour train service in Queens has remained the same with the Q taking over for the W and the M covering the V’s stops. The MTA doesn’t want to cut services to growing areas of the city, but when facing an $800 million budget gap, what choices does it have? Peralta, though, really gets rolling with the next paragraph.

The MTA is once again facing an astounding budget deficit. The MTA deficit will continue to grow unless the systemic problems that have plagued this agency, including mismanagement, overspending and duplication of services, are finally addressed. And while the state Senate is working to restore public transportation cuts, the MTA has chosen to distort this fact in an effort to conceal its own budgetary failures. This is deceptive and counterproductive in seeking a solution to the growing deficit.

Here, Peralta ignores how Walder himself has engaged in an effort to make every dollar count and to trim the fat. He discounts the millions in internal savings the authority has already identified and the ways in which the new MTA management is streamlining operations while eliminating overspending and duplications of services (such as media relations and communications staffs). Meanwhile, Peralta who, in December while still in the Assembly, voted for the bill that took $143 million in dedicated MTA revenue away from the authority, claims the MTA is using this to “distort the fact” that it has budget problems. In reality, that misappropriation is one of the main drivers behind the need to implement service cuts and the budget deficit. It isn’t deceptive or counterproductive; it’s just honesty.

I don’t expect anything less or anything more from Peralta. He openly extols his opposition to congestion pricing and has shown no knowledge of transit issues. Despite his attempts at phrasing his critique of the MTA as some sort of constituent fight against the Big Bad Wolf, he’s not doing those he purports to represent any favors. Welcome to the club, Senator Peralta.

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Scott E July 6, 2010 - 8:15 am

Unfortunately, the game of politics is not about facts and truths, it’s about results. To the general, uninformed public, everything Peralta says is right, and the MTA is an evil, corrupt money-pit. As long as this “truth” exists, the source of these problems will be deflected away from the elected officials and towards a common scapegoat that everyone loves to hate. The residents feel like their voices are being heard by their political representatives, those politicians become one of “the good ones”, and the MTA just bends over and takes it. Sometimes they even back off ever-so-slightly on their proposed fare hikes and service cuts. It’s a win-win. Sort of.

Only the MTA, or an third-party MTA advocate, has the power to change this perception (more likely the latter). For fear of biting the hand that feeds it, the MTA seems afraid to wage a public campaign against Albany, citing the insufficiency and unpredictability of its funds. When Bloomberg ran for mayor on a pro-transit platform, the MTA never bothered to force him to detail the specifics. They just remained quiet, as usual. We hear radio commercials all the time which point out, by name, the “good” politicians who oppose the governor’s proposed “beverage tax”, but no one gets the true message out about transit funding – which undeniably has a bigger effect on the city than the cost of a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi.

C’mon MTA, you know exactly what, and who, is doing you wrong. You see something. Now say something.

John Paul N. July 6, 2010 - 11:24 am

On the issue of third-party MTA advocacy, it is definitely desirable to have such a strong advocacy. But the strongest candidates to be one, the TWU and ATU unions, are too self-absorbed in their own interest (from the public’s view) to be effective in the public’s mind and an endorsement for greater MTA funding by either one can be a double-edged sword depending on individuals’ perceptions. Right or wrong, as long as they are combative with the MTA, they will not be advocates of the MTA.

For reasons I cannot think of, the Straphangers Campaign once seemed to be an effective advocate for the improvement of the MTA within its means, now all it desires is media sound bites and populism that isn’t particularly helpful to the MTA. Nonetheless, if a strong third-party MTA advocate emerges and gains favor with the public, and will also acknowledge that the MTA has its flaws as well as strengths (the MTA will continue to “make every dollar count”), that can sway the single-minded politicans.

(My suspicion for the beverage tax withdrawal is that it was an oversight for the state to dismiss the fact that Pepsi is headquartered in Purchase, NY. But the ensuing “no beverage tax campaign” is the kind of persuasion that MTA advocates dream of.)

Brian Weinberg July 6, 2010 - 8:52 am

Excellent post! Very well said.

I too am sick and tired of these completely clueless politicians. Unfortunately I do not see any end to this. These clueless politicians are just repeating the misguided beliefs of many of their constituents. You’d hope that politicians would know better but when it comes to the MTA, it seems many do not.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines July 6, 2010 - 9:06 am

[…] José Peralta Jockeys for Spot as Top MTA Basher (SAS)  […]

Kid Twist July 6, 2010 - 9:42 am

Wait. You expected a legislator to blame … the Legislature?!

Benjamin Kabak July 6, 2010 - 10:07 am

Of course not. Peralta and his ilk will never accept blame, but these comments shouldn’t go unchallenged.

Colby July 7, 2010 - 9:59 am

Absolutely not.

BrooklynBus July 6, 2010 - 10:26 am

I’m not going to sit back while everyone claims the MTA is innocent. As I’ve stated before, they have to run their operations more efficiently, and be customer oriented which they are not and not so budget-oriented that they are pennywise and pound foolish. Examples from this weekend.

Several times this weekend I needed the bus to make a short trip of a mile. The buses I use happens to be near the beach. Each time I had to walk about a mile in the heat because no buses arrived for about a half hour, then another bus five minutes later, just when I reached my destination. There are operational measures that can be taken to help the buses adhere to schedule which are not taken because there are practically no field personnel on duty and you just can’t blame traffic all the time. The heavy passenger loads are more of a factor.

On July 4th, the service was so deficient that most people just walked the three-quarters of a mile with all their beach gear back to the subway at the end of the day, rather than wait for a bus that would have been too crowded to stop. There used to a time when extra buses would have been put on for a hot summery 95 degree day, but not anymore.

The worst part, is that at 7PM yesterday when everyone was trying to leave the beach, the MTA was sending buses back to the depot not in service rather than making partial trips, so the buses that did run were jam packed. Where is the sense in that? The bus still expends fuel and has the labor cost but arrives at the depot five minutes early while other buses are too crowded as they fill up more and most likely cannot fit everyone into the first bus so people have to wait another fifteen minutes or more. All this inconvenience for the MTA is save $10 in labor costs per bus. Really makes a lot of sense.

I know there is a better way because I was part of it. As I’ve written before, in 1981 when I was head of Bus Planning, I had them redo the schedules so that partial trips around 7PM on the B49 which only went to Avenue U were extended to Farragut Road before running off making them useful to the people leaving the beach. It ended up costing less and twelve additional trips were provided and the buses were half as crowded. Rather than taking the time to analyze schedules to determine where else they can get extra trips for no cost by making them more efficient, they just keep reducing trips where they are needed.

Now nearly 30 years later, not only have they eliminated those Farragut Road trips but also the ones to Avenue U. If money really is that tight, those buses could at least pick up passengers to Sheepshead Bay Station before running off if the MTA had any concern at all about serving needed demand. So let’s place blame where it really does belong on the MTA for not giving a damn. (I’m speaking about the top brass, not the field people and bus operators who I know do care about the passengers but are limited in what they can do and are not rewarded for caring.)

Van Lingle Mungo July 6, 2010 - 10:41 am

Pardon me for perhaps overstepping my bounds here, but what does your 1000th rant about bad bus service have to do with Ben’s comments about Jose Peralta’s idiotic letter? No one is claiming the MTA is innocent (although you do have some vendetta against your former employer), but considering Ben’s recent posts on customer service, don’t you think this long and rambling comment isn’t on topic or appropriate for this Peralta post?

Anyway, why would you want to defend Peralta anyway? He’s barely a step up from Monserrate.

Kid Twist July 6, 2010 - 10:58 am

I love your handle, Van.

BrooklynBus July 6, 2010 - 11:41 am

First of all I do not agree that Peralta’s letter is idiotic.

This is what he says:

“MTA is facing another crisis — given the history of fiscal incompetency, fare hikes and services cuts this agency has imposed on riders…” He concludes by calling for the: “MTA to open its books and develop a rational, longterm financial plan that will ensure New Yorkers receive reliable and affordable public transportation.” Nothing could be more true.

In a large part, anyone who has been around for a while and has seen the MTA in action since its beginnings in 1968 can understand how the MTA is responsible for its own failures. It doesn’t matter how much money you pour into the agency, when it is not spent efficiently and a lot is just wasted, they will always be short of money. When you don’t make bus routing changes that have been needed for 50 years to make the system more useful, but instead choose to erode your customer base, do poor planning, are the subject of constant inspector general investigations which you can’t dispute, you are indeed the cause of your own problems.

And to answer your question, I am angry at the MTA as my former employer, because I had the skills and the knowledge to make some subatantive and meaningful changes which they prevented because of their non- interest in customer service and focus of serving itself rather than the people they have been chartered to serve, creating departments and reorganizing merely to rationalize promotions for their cronies so that now they are very overpaid compared to other City agencies. I had to spend my entire career in a series of jobs I had no interest in, some of which I really wasn’t even qualified for with no opportunity to get back into planning where by degree and expertise was, although I tried many times.

I’m not defending Peralta or the hypocritical State legislature, but his comments are on the mark here. The customer service articles were good but it seems they have already been forgotten.

Van Lingle Mungo July 6, 2010 - 11:50 am

You claim “nothing could be more true” of Peralta’s letter, but I have to wonder if your status as a disgruntled former employee is clouding your judgment. If you want to see the MTA open its books, why don’t you read through the voluminous budget information available on its website. If you want to see a “rational, longterm financial plan” that will ensure “reliable and affordable public transportation,” look at Jay Walder’s planning documents and his proposals about “making every dollar count.” Look at congestion pricing plans or bridge tolls that would deliver revenue to an MTA lockbox that Albany can’t touch. Don’t look at Peralta, a representative who voted to take $143 million away from the MTA and then had the gall to say the MTA is using that appropriations vote/theft to “conceal its own budgetary failures.”

Yes, the MTA has been poorly run for decades. Yes, the MTA has some deep-seated problems that run to the politics behind its founding in 1968. Yes, it has long suffered through bad eras of customer service. But you can’t dispute that the agency needs money and no one who wants to see better transit in NYC can dispute that Albany stole $143 million from the MTA. That money could have theoretically averted the $91 million in service cuts implemented last week. The MTA is what we New Yorkers have, for better or worse, and we can either fund it properly or allow grandstanding populists like Senator Peralta distort the truth of the funding matters.

I think you are conflating two issues here. One, you are very upset with the way the MTA treated you when you work there, and you won’t acknowledge that current leadership is doing something right by working to correct problems of management you’ve identified. Two, the MTA has a customer service issue that exists separate from its budget problems. Yes, it should have better service problems. Yes, it should take into account the desires of riders. But it needs a steady source of funds to do that. Don’t allow some Albany politicians to distort the truth of the economics just because you’ve seen how it works (or doesn’t) first hand.

I mean no disrespect, Sir. I think you are dead on with many points about the MTA, but for better or worse, we’re stuck with the MTA. Jay Walder appears to be the most forward-thinking leader the authority has had so far, and I believe he deserves a chance. He can’t, however, do his work while Albany takes with its left hand and criticizes with the right. These legislatures are wrong to bash the MTA, and Ben is right to target them even if yours and Peralta’s customer service points carry water.

I’ve had my say. I’ll now go back to lurking.

BrooklynBus July 6, 2010 - 12:41 pm

I’m not going to disagree with much of what you say because you make some very valid points. You also haven’t seen me critcize Jay Walder personally. I’m certainly willing to give him a chance. The only problem I have with him is that he believes everything he is told (as all top officials do) and I don’t believe he is given all the proper or necessary information.

I do disagree, however, in that I don’t think you can divorce customer service from budgetary problems. They go hand in hand. Sending buses not in service at times when they are needed in service is a perfect example.

As far as a steady source of income, Peralta recognizes that. So let Walder respond and suggest a steady source of income. Then it’s up to the State legislature to put it’s money where it’s mouth is.

Robert Hale July 8, 2010 - 10:53 pm

You are absolutely right–customer service quality is directly correlated with the financial situation. This is precisely what is pissing everybody off here–Peralta refuses to acknowledge the very biggest of the “systemic problems that have plagued this agency”: a long history of Albany failing to fund its portion of the MTA revenue stream. Transportation is a low-yield business with very high demand elasticity. It will always require operating and capital subsidy, and it is only appropriate that the state contribute its fair share of the cost of such a vital service. As for inefficiency, you find it at any firm–public or private. My father–an accountant–has plenty of stories from PR Newswire (and had more from Dow Jones) of employees at any level not doing their jobs. Furthermore, I didn’t hear Peralta or his predecessor standing up to the unions to tell them that the state could not afford to fund their requested raises, nor did I hear him or his colleagues push for changes to the work rules that would have enabled the MTA to streamline its subway operations (if I recall a recent post correctly, Ben). There could very well be more the MTA could be doing ideally, but under these circumstances, I think it is very difficult to contemplate serious structural reform beyond the streamlining proposed by Walder. Peralta and his colleagues refuse to acknowledge a basic rule of infrastructure–you get what you pay for. Or, judging by the lack of any reference to the legislature’s role in the MTA budget crisis, maybe preserving service levels is not nearly as important to this senator as his language suggests.

Scott E July 6, 2010 - 11:52 am

“…develop a rational, longterm financial plan…”
Therein lies the problem. Unless and until the MTA has a stable source of funding, there’s no way to develop such a plan. It’s like trying to get a home mortgage with little more than an unstable part-time job.

Alon Levy July 7, 2010 - 4:48 pm

Actually, the Peraltas and Giulianis are one of the reasons why the MTA wastes so much money. In construction, the best way to save on costs is to have in-house design and engineering, instead of outsource it to consultants. In-house experts are rewarded by their employer when they save money; consultants are rewarded when they make their consultancy more money in management fees. It creates perverse incentives. The pitchfork populists and the Republicans in the state legislature are part of the problem, with their insistence that the MTA be as penny-wise in engineering as possible.

John July 6, 2010 - 6:50 pm

I have similar opinions to yours. I wasn’t really interested in bus transportation when I lived in Brighton Beach, as I had the subway, but now that I live on Staten Island, I see the direct effect of those “Not In Service Buses”. I suggested that buses that areb deadheading either make a partial run, as you said, or run as another bus back to the depot. I suggested that the S78, which is based out of Castleton Depot until the Charleston Depot opens up run back to the Castlton Depot as an S46. I also suggested that S59 trips deadheading to the Yukon Depot from Port Richmond be sent back as partial runs, or even be stored in Port Richmond for the midday, yet I constantly see “Not in Service” buses along Richmond Avenue.
I also suggested that the S93 be extended to Mariners Harbor to provide a direct connection from Victory Blvd to Forest Avenue, in additoion to expanding service to other neighborhoods along the way (one of my alignments even served a brand new corridor), yet they only “forwarded it to the planning department” and I have yet to hear from them. I even said that if they couldn’t extend it westward, they should extend it northward along the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway, since those buses are deadheading back to the depot, or even if they had to return to make another trip, that would add 10-15 minutes at most to the travel time. I reasoned that that extension would cost close to nothing, as increased patronage would result as a result of a direct route and fast speed-2 things that discourage people from using bus service.
The MTA has to get over the mentality that demand is constant. I said that by increasing the number of connections provided, that would increase patronage, and, therefore, revenue. Yet all they can think about is reducing service.
Even with your observations, those customers who walked a 3/4 of a mile to the train station with their beach gear would’ve been paying customers had 2-fare zones still existed.

BrooklynBus July 6, 2010 - 8:16 pm

Where I live, it is not unusual during certain parts of the day for up to six not in service buses to pass by during certain times of the day before a bus stops. What’s crazier is to send a bus not in service from Manhattanville Depot at 4:30 AM to Abington Square to begin its first trip there when the headways are like every hour. How much time is saved at 4:30? (I heard about this from a bus dispatcher on another forum.) Yet no one questions the MTA about these ridiculous practices. They used to have to provide statistics for revenue vs. non-revenue miles, which I don’t think is still required. The public needs to know what they are doing.

As far as your routing suggestions for some buses to use other routes to run on and run off, there may be some union issues involved here. I believe that historically only MaBSTOA used to practice this. NYCTA never did. If there are union problems in doing this, that is one giveback the MTA needs to make sure is eliminated in the next contract negotiations. Obsolete union rules should not prevent more efficient operations. Beginning all trips at the beginnings of routes is totally inefficient and non-sensical, which is happening more and more. These are nothing but unannounced service cutbacks.

“The MTA has to get over the mentality that demand is constant. I said that by increasing the number of connections provided, that would increase patronage, and, therefore, revenue. Yet all they can think about is reducing service.”

I’ve been saying this for years and it is totally correct. Now they blame the budget situation. But they still found excuses when they had a surplus. They would say things like “we can’t anticipate increased ridership. If it happens great, but we can’t plan for it.” They only look at operating costs with zero additional revenue projections when planning new routes. I remember when they claimed they couldn’t get enough drivers to volunteer for overtime for summer beach extras. When that wan’t a problem, they claimed a bus shortage prevented additional service. There is always a reason. They will claima zero cost sugestion will cost money, then reject it for as little as $50,000 per year of additional operating cost. Broken dowm by bus trip, all that is needed to balance this cost may be two or three additonal passengers per bus trip, but zero is always the forecast in MTA projections.
I’d be interested in hearing your reply from Planning. I have a stack of replies about six inches thick, all with conflicting and non-sensical reasoning. They are just against making improvements and if they do make any, they couple them with service cuts elsewhere so they never invest additional monies into operations.

John July 11, 2010 - 5:35 pm

As far as the reply goes, it has been almost 3 weeks since I went down to the NYCT Comittee Meeting at their headquarters (347 Madison Avenue). So far, although I gave them my name, phone number and email address, they have yet to respond on anything. They even tried to find me an internship (I’m a high school student and they were impressed that I had thought of these suggestions) and when they couldn’t find one, I suggested that I can work from home and study my own proposals for free to find out the cost estimates. No response on that.
They have to be more open in accepting suggestions from their customers, especially when it costs them close to nothing. (I would’ve been willing to do it for free, since I couldn’t find a summer job)

John Paul N. July 6, 2010 - 11:29 am

Why isn’t inflation a greater factor in deciding the levels of funding (through fare increases or governmental funding)?

BrooklynBus July 6, 2010 - 3:04 pm

My question is why the City always has money to contribute to new baseball stadiums every thirty years through tax breaks or other direct money contributions, but never has any money to increase its subsidy to mass transit.

Cap'n Transit July 6, 2010 - 3:49 pm

Inflation is actually almost zero these days … which makes it even crazier that the TWU and ATU got a raise for their members.

SEAN July 6, 2010 - 6:52 pm

0% inflation is something of a myth. The PPI & CPI reported figgures are recalculated to factor out any item whose price suddenly jumped beyond exceptable levels. So if chicken prices went up 6% & pork dropped 1%, pork goes in the calculation & chicken is excluted.

Always pay atention to these words EXCLUDING “FOOD & ENERGY.” Those items are the most price sensitive & are sometimes discounted to give what is known as “THE CORE RATE” of inflation, AKA a lot of bullshit. We all need food & energy don’t we?

When SS payment figgures came out last year there was no COLA, yet food prices jumped.

Taking all into account a 3% pay raise per year is not out of wack.

zz July 6, 2010 - 11:33 pm

Jose Peralta doesn’t really care if what he says is true. Sadly, most of his constituents don’t seem to care, either. And most astoundingly, our city’s full-time transit advocates don’t seem to care, either. Sigh.

Benjamin Kabak July 6, 2010 - 11:35 pm

And most astoundingly, our city’s full-time transit advocates don’t seem to care, either.

How’s that?

zz July 7, 2010 - 2:08 am

That wasn’t aimed at you! You’re doing heroic work here. I was bemoaning the unwillingness of Straphangers, TA, and others to provide meaningful leadership on this issue.

From Staten Island, an insight into Albany’s crazy thinking :: Second Ave. Sagas July 7, 2010 - 1:33 am

[…] the MTA’s role in the budget crisis and their duties to their constituents. Yesterday, I challenged Jose Peralta’s open letter to Jay Walder. Today, even more state officials are commenting in ways that are both stunningly inept and […]


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