Home Service Cuts Cutting the services that make a pleasant commute

Cutting the services that make a pleasant commute

by Benjamin Kabak

When the MTA Board put its stamp on the four-year budget plan this week, it did so more with a grimace than with a smile. On one level, the plan is a strong indication of agency CEO and Chairman Jay Walder’s willingness to cut services, a necessary move his predecessor never implemented, but on the other hand, subway riders are losing more than just money. The authority has to cut some services that make commutes less painful and more pleasant. The subways are becoming austere.

“The foundation of this [Four-Year] Plan,” Walder said, “is the most aggressive and comprehensive overhaul in the history of the MTA. These actions have allowed us to hold true to our commitment regarding fare increases while maintaining the quantity and quality of service that New Yorkers rely on every day. The State’s ongoing fiscal crisis is one of many risks to the Plan, but with continued hard work and the participation of our labor unions I believe that this Plan can be achieved.”

The fares will be raised only 7.5 percent, an amount agreed upon in Albany as a precondition to the 2009 payroll tax funding plan, but the little things will go instead. We’ve already the V and W trains; we’ve already lost countless bus routes; we’ve already seen headways increase during off-peak hours. Now, as Andrew Grossman of The Wall Street Journal details, we’re going to see services scaled back as well.

The cost-cutting measures mentioned in Grossman’s article come from an engagement with the consulting firm Accenture. The savings to the MTA total nearly $202 million annually, but although economic efficient rules the day, Grossman notes that these cuts will “likely lead to an increase in the minor inconveniences of riding Greater New York’s mass transit system.” We’ve already heard about the plan to scale back on turnstile cleanliness, a move that will save the authority $1.8 million, and Grossman highlights a series of other cuts:

Once subway riders get through the turnstiles, they’ll encounter escalators with more debris on them. A program that started in 2007 aimed at cleaning escalators without taking them out of service ended on June 1. When riders get to the platform, they’ll hear fewer announcements about where trains are and whether they’ll be late. The MTA is cutting the number of stations that have dedicated announcers from 183 to 78.

Since June, there have been five fewer green-clad ushers pointing passengers confused by the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Terminal in the right direction. The reductions are part of staff cuts that will save $1.1 million this year and $1.9 million next year…

The Long Island Rail Road has cut its station pigeon-proofing in half. That could mean more droppings landing on passengers as birds nest in platform overhangs. The railroad will have fewer conductors on platforms at Jamaica Station. It won’t trim the trees and branches along its tracks as often as it did.

Commuters looking to railroad drink carts for comfort amid the cuts will find those more expensive, too. Prices for food and drink on the LIRR and Metro-North will go up 3% in September.

None of these cuts are as major as the June decrease in service levels, but combined, they create negative incentives to use transit. If stations are dingier and dustier, if food is more expensive, if people don’t find the system convenient, they will begin to eschew it for other means of transit or fewer trips away from home entirely. Maybe an outer borough denizen won’t spend money on a weekend in Manhattan; maybe a commuter will find it less appealing to wait at a station bombarded with pigeons.

The MTA has tried its best to whether the times, but without support from the state, the authority is left to enact its death by a thousand cuts. The system itself will be maintained, but the amenities will disappear as the trash piles up. “This is not a situation that we’ve created. It’s not a situation that’s occurring because our expenses are up,” Walder said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “It’s not a situation that’s occurring because our ridership is down. It’s a situation that is occurring because our subsidies have not been there and because money has been taken by the state.”

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11 comments

John Paul N. July 30, 2010 - 7:43 am

For better or for worse, cleanliness is next to Godliness. Now we know where we’re headed. 🙂

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Al D July 30, 2010 - 9:04 am

Really, this is all sensationalism, except perhaps the pigeon droppings which speak for themselves. The food and beverage prices should go up commensurate with fares, if in fact MTA controls this. More people will just brown bag it. So what? Escalators already break way too often, and then take a long time to get repaired, so really what’s the difference between waiting 8 or 10 days for an escalator to be fixed. Stations and tracks are already filthy. Station cleanliness is 1 part of the subway that has yet to change since way back and Prendegrast acknowledged such when he spoke of the deteriorating condition of the renovated stations.

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Adam G July 30, 2010 - 10:47 am

If I recall correctly, the prices of drinks in the bar cars have been below market for years anyway, haven’t they?

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Joe July 30, 2010 - 9:38 am

The system as a whole has been in MUCH worse shape than it is now, and still carried millions of people. I remember when Penn Station was much worse than it is now, in the Eighties, and we still used the LIRR because it still beat driving. Manhattan is, and will always be, known as a terrible place to drive into. And drive around, for that matter.

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Eric July 30, 2010 - 1:37 pm

Woo! Lowest common denominator! Who cares if New York isn’t a pleasant place to live! It was much crappier in the ’70s and ’80s!

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bob July 30, 2010 - 3:20 pm

End the contract with Accucenture (and similar ones with all sorts of consultants) and you’ll save a lot more money than anything listed in this article. I sounds like Walder is paying his consulting friends (he used to be one) 200 million to tell him how to save 10 or 20 million. Who here thinks that’s a good deal?

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Benjamin Kabak July 30, 2010 - 3:22 pm

Bob: You alleged in the other post that workers at the MTA are making seven figures, which is blatantly untrue. Now you’re claiming that the MTA is paying the staggering sum of $200 million to a consulting firm. I’m not trying to be an MTA apologist, but those figures are incorrect by a large amount.

I know engineers don’t see the world as consultants do, but consultants come in for a one-time fee and identify millions in cost-savings. It’s not the way to make friends of your employees, but it works wonders on the bottom line. Don’t like it? Me neither, but until Albany comes up with more sensible funding schemes, we’re stuck with it.

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Justin Samuels July 31, 2010 - 1:05 pm

Considering the mess Albany is in, we won’t get any new funding initiatives for operations, especially not with all other state agencies getting cut back. So the consultants will be chopping away. Other large organizations and institutions across the board have been making their own cutbacks.

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Nathanael August 9, 2010 - 8:06 pm

Well, come a new legislature in 2011 and things may improve.

But we only have a chance if Joe Bruno’s Republicans and Espada’s Gang of Four are firmly kicked out of control of the State Senate. I’m not saying that will make things great, but having the State Senate run by people with an interest in something other than lining their own pockets would help.

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Nathanael August 9, 2010 - 8:07 pm

Oh, congrats to Walder for honestly calling out the legislature. Good for him.

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Accenture report highlights MTA bloat, cronyism :: Second Ave. Sagas October 4, 2010 - 1:00 am

[…] expense accounts. The MTA, who paid Accenture $3 million for the report, has already enacted numerous cost-saving suggestions. Earlier this year, the Accenture ideas had saved the MTA $202 million and now the authority says […]

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