OK, OK. Maybe there’s no Jeffrey Lebowski to ask for money, but New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli can’t seem to find around $12 billion for the MTA’s next capital plan. This is hardly a breaking piece of news for anyone who’s watched the recent politicking behind the MTA’s looming need to present a new five-year spending plan, but DiNapoli’s report drives home the fact that the MTA has to spend a lot of money it doesn’t have to keep our trains and buses running smoothly.
“Millions of New Yorkers rely on the MTA transit system and while it is in far better condition than it was 30 years ago, much more needs to be done,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The MTA has to find a way to finance improvements without putting the financial burden on riders. This can be achieved only by working closely with the federal government, New York state and New York City to develop a long-term financing program and by using resources effectively and efficiently. Otherwise, needed repairs will be pushed even further into the future, and fares and tolls could rise even faster.”
DiNapoli’s main point isn’t necessarily that $12 billion is missing, but rather that $12 billion in funding will not materialize without sending the agency further into debt. In his short report, the New York State Comptroller analyzes the spending needs for the MTA and concludes, as we know, that the next capital plan isn’t a sexy one. Unless the MTA is aggressive in requesting funding for future phases of the Second Ave. Subway or work beyond the never-ending East Side Access plan, the capital program will fund much-needed signal and infrastructure upgrades and rolling stock purchases.
That’s not to say that these aren’t 100 percent necessary for the future healthy of New York City; they are. But when it comes to headlines, few New Yorkers are going to read about signal modernization and long delays caused by the work with any joy. This is stuff we never see even if our daily rides depend on it. Still, says DiNapoli, despite 30 years of investment, the system is not in a state of good repair and may never get there without considerably more investment.
As DiNapoli notes, this funding gap was a problem with the last five-year plan, and the MTA “solved” this problem by cutting expenditures and bonding out its obligations, thus adding more debt to the ledger. Debt service in 2018, notes the Comptroller, will be three times what it was in 2005. How long can this go on?
Ultimately, then, the issue isn’t that $12 billion is missing from the MTA’s capital budget. Rather, the issue is that the MTA will have to continue to go into debt to cover the funding gap. Can they add another round of debt to their finances without beginning to impact service? As debt counts against the operations budget, already riders pay for this debt as fares go up to cover operating obligations. DiNapoli doesn’t offer a stark picture for the future, but the meaning is there. Someone will pay for that $12 billion. Either the MTA doesn’t perform work or somehow it gets paid. Either way, without direct contributions from outside sources, riders alone will foot that bill.
As I write this at 10:10 p.m. on Friday evening, we’re approximately 45 minutes away from the last Church Ave.-bound G train’s departure from Court Sq. That train is set to leave at around 10:52, and then the Greenpoint Tubes will be shut down until Sept. 2. The MTA has to shutter these tunnels to make repairs from Sandy, and in the coming months, we’ll hear about more Sandy-related work that must be repair and fortify the system.
Meanwhile, there’s now a free out-of-system transfer between the G at Broadway and J/M trains at Lorimer in South Williamsburg, and if you’re a G train rider, Uber has a deal for you. They’re offering a free transfer deal for Greenpoint and Long Island City riders. Essentially it’s one free ride anywhere between Nassau Ave. and Court Sq. for the next few weeks. Check out their blog for more information.
Meanwhile, here’s the rest of your weekend work.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 26 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 27, due to track panel installation south of Prospect Av, and overcoat painting south of Jackson Av, 2 trains will run in two sections:
- Between 241 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse with Manhattan-bound 2 trains running express from E 180 St to 3 Av-149 St.
- Between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Flatbush Av.
From 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 26 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, July 27, and from 11:00 p.m. Sunday, July 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, Crown Hts-Utica Av-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Cantral-42 St due to CPM cable work south of 125 St.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 26, and from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, July 27, 5 trains are suspended between E 180 St and Bowling Green due to track panel installation south of Prospect Av, and overcoat painting south of Jackson Av. 4 trains make all 5 station stops between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green. 5 shuttle service operates all weekend between Dyre Av and E 180 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 25 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to station rehabilitation work at Buhre Av and Zerega Av, and platform edge and canopy work at Pelham Bay Park.
From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 26, and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, July 27, 6 trains run every 14 minutes between Pelham Bay Park and Parkchester. The last stop for some trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is Parkchester, due to station rehabilitation work at Buhre Av and Zerega Av, and platform edge and canopy work at Pelham Bay Park.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, Times Sq-42 St-bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to 74 St-Broadway due to CBTC related work on the Flushing line.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, A trains are suspended in both directions between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd due to CPM station rehabilitation work at 88 St and 104 St stations. Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A trains skip 88 St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service via 80 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, E trains will run local in Queens due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke, and CPM track tie renewal at 65 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, F trains will run local in Queens due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke, and CPM track tie renewal at 65 St
Beginning 10:30 p.m. Friday, July 25, until 5:00 a.m. Tuesday, September 2, G trains are suspended between Long Island City-Court Sq and Nassau Av due to MOW Fix & Fortify Sandy Recovery Work in the Greenpoint Tube. Transfer out-of-system (with MetroCard) between the Broadway G station and Lorimer St JM stations. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service along two routes:
- Via Manhattan Av between Nassau Av and Court Sq, stopping at Greenpoint Av and 21 St.
- Via McGuinness Blvd between Lorimer St L and Court Sq, stopping near G stations at Nassau Av, Greenpoint Av, and 21 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, N trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza due to MOW Track and plated work in the 60 St Tube, chip and pour south of 5 Av, and switch work south of Queensboro Plaza. Take the 7 or Q instead.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 28, Q trains will run local in Queens due to MOW Track and plated work in the 60 St Tube, chip and pour south of 5 Av, and switch work south of Queensboro Plaza.
From 5:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, due to MOW Track and plated work in the 60 St Tube, chip and pour south of 5 Av, and switch work south of Queensboro Plaza, R trains are rerouted on the D and M lines in both directions as follows:
- Via the D line between DeKalb Av and B’way-Lafayette St.
- Via the M line between B’way-Lafayette St and Queens Plaza.
No one in his or her right mind would ever mistake the Port Authority Bus Terminal as a pleasant place to spend any amount of time. It’s dirty and dingy with little in the way of amenities and much in the way of dripping and collapsing ceilings, permanent residents and an overall feeling that it’s best days aren’t just decades in the past but may never have happened at all. The building is an eyesore amidst Midtown Manhattan and somehow manages to shepherd 225,000 per day through its doors. Imagine if it were actually something approaching state of the art.
At some point, the Port Authority will have to figure out how to tear down and rebuild Port Authority without disrupting travel plans. They should get around to advocating for permanent bi-directional bus lanes through the Lincoln Tunnel as well. For now, though, the PA is going to slap $90 million worth of improvements on the Bus Terminal and call it a day — or a Quality of Commute program. The problem is that $90 million in New York City just doesn’t go that far.
In a release on Wednesday, the PA heads announced the new expenditure. “The Port Authority Board of Commissioners today authorized $90 million to a “Quality of Commute’ improvement program for the Port Authority Bus Terminal,” Executed Director Pat Foye and Deputy Executive Director Deborah Gramiccioni said. “The functionally obsolete facility no longer meets the transportation needs of the hundreds of thousands of riders that pass through the terminal every day, and the Port Authority is committed to identifying comprehensive improvements within the context of its existing Capital Plan. This initiative will make interim improvements to the terminal as the agency explores a program to deliver a redeveloped facility.”
The exact details of the investments will be unveiled at a Port Authority board meeting in September, but PA officials let slip some details surrounding the plans. According to Foye, the bus terminal will see an improved heating and air conditioning system, better cellphone and wireless service and a more aggressive outreach program for the homeless New Yorkers who, for better or worse, call the bus terminal home. The bathrooms too may see some upgrades.
Ultimately and unfortunately, it’s insulting to pigs to say this is putting lipstick on a pig. The Port Authority Bus Terminal, simply speaking, is an embarrassment and likely an impediment to more transit service in New York City. People eschew buses because trying to travel through the terminal is a singularly unpleasant experience. But something is better than nothing.
At some point, the Port Authority will have to make some tough decisions with regards to its bus terminal. The agency estimates that it could take 10-15 years and at least $1 billion to replace the thing (though a future replacement could include lucrative air rights and development upward). For now, we get air conditioning and some better cell service. I guess that’s forward progress, but it sure ain’t reinventing something that sorely needs to be reinvented.
Under other circumstances, last week would have been a big one for the long-term future of the MTA. For three days, the MTA Reinvention Commission paraded a series of bold-faced transit names through the MTA offices as it fielded suggestions concerning the future of transit. Eventually, it will develop action items aimed at considering and responding to “changes in customer expectations, commuting trends and extreme weather patterns” while focusing on future capital plans. Of course, the LIRR negotiations stole the show, but the Reinvention Commission’s work isn’t done.
As I could, I followed along with the commission’s happenings. I couldn’t attend the meeting, but various transit reporters and other news websites covered the happenings. As you can see from the three-hour video above, the MTA recorded (and streamed) the proceedings, and at times, I wasn’t overly impressed with what I saw. You can, if you wish, watch nearly all the sessions on YouTube.
Early on, the meetings delved into a policy discussion on affordable housing, and many of the subsequent comments concerned fairly obvious initiatives that aren’t so much about reinvention as they are about forward progress. We know the MTA hasn’t been able to move quickly on a MetroCard replacement program, and we know the costs of maintaining the current fare payment system will balloon in five years. That’s old news.
In a way, one set of testimony sums up the need for reinvention and the problem with last week’s commission hearings. It came from REBNY, and as Dana Rubinstein previewed last week, it focused again around the idea to send the 7 line to Secaucus. The idea, seemingly born on the back of a cocktail napkin by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, involves an ambitious plan to send the subway beyond New York’s border to a densely populated area of New Jersey.
“It has been more than 100 years since we have built a rail connection under the Hudson River,” outgoing REBNY head Steven Spinola said. “Since then, the city’s population has almost doubled and the population of the counties west of the Hudson has tripled. More significantly, almost a third of the city’s workforce is comprised of suburban workers, with a growing share coming from New Jersey.”
As always, the MTA expressed lukewarm but noted that “the Transportation Reinvention Commission exists to consider a wide variety of ideas from a wide variety of stakeholders.” The real issue though remains costs. To reinvent the MTA involves asking tough questions about why every construction project costs so much and can’t wrap on time. Once those hard issues are resolved, the MTA can focus more on expansion, improvement and reinvention.
In a related vein, last week for The Atlantic’s City Lab site, I focused on the Second Ave. Subway and wrote about the MTA’s need to build and need to control costs. The two are at loggerheads right now with no real solution in sight. I’ve written about the need to think big on this site before, and here’s a selection from my piece:
At $2.23 billion per mile, the Second Avenue subway is orders of magnitude more expensive than similar projects across the world. At various times, MTA officials have blamed the exceedingly high price tag on overstaffing due to onerous union requirements, the environmental review process, NIMBY opposition, the cost of working in New York, and the number of eligible contractors. The dollars present a major impediment to the future of the Second Avenue subway and to citywide transit expansion at large. Few politicians will fund projects that outlast their terms and cost so much money.
Meanwhile, New York faces a capacity problem. The city is expected to add one million residents over the next few decades, and river crossings—a key barrier separating where people live from where they work—are increasingly nearing capacity. Economically, the city can’t support construction that costs more than $2 billion per mile and takes a decade to build out a mere two of them. And New Yorkers are facing a future where political inaction could prevent badly needed subway expansion projects from seeing the light of day…Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.
I don’t have the answers; if I did, I could head up the Reinvention Commission. But that issue — the cost vs. the need — should be the primary focus of any effort to reform the MTA. We can’t build subway lines that cost a few billion per mile, and we can’t move enough people through half-hearted Select Bus Service lines. Hopefully, the reinvention commission can look beyond the reiterative interest group politics at play and find some way to reform the MTA.
Over the past few years — since the MTA extended the G train to Church Ave. — I’ve come to appreciate this underappreciated line. I don’t have to rely on it during peak hours, and I generally find that the train shows us as promised and offers a quick ride from Park Slope to Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City. I can get up to Alewife, Brouwerij Lane, Torst or Fornino with little trouble and no transfers.
For a few weeks this summer, that convenience will disappear thanks to 2012′s Superstorm Sandy. As part of the repairs needed in the aftermath of the storm, beginning this Friday at 10:30 p.m., the G train will run no further north than Nassau Ave., and for five weeks trains will not run between Nassau Ave. and Long Island City’s Court Square. Businesses and residents in Greenpoint and LIC aren’t too happy, but this short shutdown is the least painful choice amongst a series of bad options.
“Our goal is to complete this work as quickly and efficiently as possible while exposing our customers to as little inconvenience as we possibly can by using the more lightly-traveled summer weeks to make repairs,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement last week. “To that end, we are providing an extraordinary amount of information to help our customers navigate around this vital work.”
According to the MTA, the Greenpoint Tubes suffered series damage when they filled with 3 million gallons of brackish salt water. Pump controls, electrical, communications, fan control and signal system suffered, and power cables essentially melted away. Some systems — ventilation, lighting and communications — were completely destroyed, and the MTA needs the dedicated shutdown to wrap up repairs. Train service will be restored at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, September 2 — the day after Labor Day.
During this outage, the MTA will run two shuttle buses. One will run via Manhattan Av to and from Nassau Ave. while the other will run via McGuinness Boulevard to and from the Lorimer St/Metropolitan Av L station. Additionally, the MTA has announced a temporary free out-of-system transfer between the G train at Broadway and the J/M trains at Lorimer St. It seems likely that ferry service will return to India St. before Friday’s shutdown as well.
For Greenpointers, Long Island City residents and G train riders, this is an annoying inconvenience, albeit a temporary one. Unlike the R train, this work doesn’t require a 14-month diversion, but unlike the R train, there are no nearby subway offerings to pick up the slack. This also won’t be the last of the Sandy-related service changes. Even though the storm was nearly two years ago, the MTA has a few more tunnels to repair. The agency has been tight-lipped on future diversions because they don’t yet know how this will play out. But the L train’s 14th St. tunnels need work as do numerous other East River subway tunnels. In three months, the G and R trains will both be up and running. What’s next looms large.
Before we delve into this weekend’s service changes, allow me to direct your attention to The Atlantic’s CityLab. Earlier this week, the site published a piece on mine on the high costs and need to build the Second Ave. Subway. I’ll write more about it next week, but it provides some food this weekend.
Meanwhile, here’s what you’re up against this weekend. It’s busy.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Van Cortlandt Park-242 St-bound 1 trains run express from 96 St to 145 St due to CPM repair work on portal and elevated steel structure near 125 St.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 20, due to track panel installation south of Prospect Av, electrical work near 3Av-149 St, and overcoat painting south of Jackson Av, 2 trains will run in two sections:
- Between 241 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse with Manhattan-bound 2 trains running express from E 180 St to 3 Av-149 St.
- Between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Flatbush Av.
From 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 19 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, July 20, and from 11:00 p.m. Sunday, July 20 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Crown Hts-Utica Av-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Cantral-42 St due to CPM cable work south of 125 St.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 19, and from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, July 20, 5 trains are suspended between E 180 St and Bowling Green due to track panel installation south of Prospect Av, electrical work near 3Av-149 St, and overcoat painting south of Jackson Av. 4 trains make all 5 station stops between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3Av-138 St to Hunts Point Av due to equipment preparation for Dyre Avenue Signals.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to CPM station rehabilitation work at Zerega Av and Buhre Av.
From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, July 19, to 4:30 a.m. Monday, July 21, 7 trains are suspended between Times Square-42 St and Queensboro Plaza in both directions due to CBTC related work and track panel installation south of Queensboro Plaza. EFNQS and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. Q service is extended to Astoria Ditmars Blvd on Saturday, July 19, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on Sunday, July 20, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Shuttle buses operate between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza making station stops at Queensboro Plaza, Queens Plaza, Court Square, Hunters Point Av and Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av.
From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, July 19, and Sunday, July 20, expect longer wait times between Queensboro Plaza and 74 St-Broadway. 7 service runs less frequently due to CBTC related work and track panel installation south of Queensboro Plaza. The last stop on some 7 trains headed toward Queensboro Plaza will be 74 St-Broadway.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 18, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, A trains are suspended in both directions between 168 St and Inwood-207 St due to MOW track tie renewal near 181 St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd-bound A trains skip 111 St due to station rehabilitation work at 104 St. Use the Q112 bus as a travel alternative.
From 11:45 p.m to 6:30 a.m. Friday, July 18 to Sunday, July 20, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 20 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St due to MOW rail and plate renewal south of W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19, and Sunday, July 20, C trains are suspended in both directions between 145 St and 168 St due to MOW track tie renewal near 181 St. Take the A train as a travel alternative. A trains run local between 145 St and 168 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19, and Sunday, July 20, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St due to MOW rail and plate renewal south of W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Coney Island-bound D trains skip 182-183 Sts due to MOW track tie renewal south of Bedford Pk Blvd.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Coney Island-Stillwell Av-bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Streets due to Second Avenue Subway construction work.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Coney Island-Stillwell Av-bound F trains are rerouted via the A line from W 4 St-Wash Sq to Jay St-MetroTech due to MOW rail and plate renewal south of W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 21, Coney Island Stillwell Av-bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd and 75 Av due to rail work south of Parsons Blvd.
From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, July 19, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, July 20, Q trains are extended to Astoria Ditmars Blvd due to CBTC related work and track panel installation south of Queensboro Plaza on the 7 line.
(42 St Shuttle)
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday, July 19, and Sunday, July 20, the 42 St Shuttle operates overnight due to CBTC related work and track panel installation south of Queensboro Plaza on the 7 line.
Shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a show of riding in on a white horse to rescue the Long Island Rail Road riders when no one else would, the MTA and its Long Island unions have brokered a deal ensuring labor peace. Word of the deal first leaked late Thursday morning through a statement issued by IBEW Local 589, the LIRR’s electricians union, and Cuomo brought together MTA Chair and CEO Tom Prendergast and United Transportation Union President Anthony Simon to announce the deal this afternoon.
During the press conference, details were sparse, and not until reporters asked did Cuomo unveil that the LIRR workers will get a deal markedly similar to that in the two Presidential Emergency Board decisions but with some key differences. “This is a compromise by both parties,” Cuomo stated. “Neither side gets everything they wanted to get.”
The degree to which Cuomo’s statement is an accurate reflection of the outcome can be debated for a while. The LIRR union workers will earn raises totaling 17 percent over 6.5 years after the MTA initially proposed no wage increases. As Cuomo and Prendergast repeatedly noted that these wage increases will have no affect on the MTA’s fare structure or capital plans, the money will come from the benefits pool (as well as from future hires who, by definition, are never represented in labor discussions). For the first time in LIRR history, employees will contribute to their health insurance costs while new employees will have, according to a subsequent release, “different wage progressions and pension plan contributions.” The unions will vote on this plan over the next month while the MTA Board members will receive a full assessment of its economic impact prior to their September meetings.
“The agreement we reached today with the assistance of Governor Cuomo is just what he advocated – a fair and reasonable contract that will enable the nation’s busiest commuter railroad to continue to serve the people of Long Island,” Prendergast said. “Both sides have compromised to reach an agreement that gives our employees the raises they deserve while also providing for the MTA’s long-term financial stability.”
Throughout the short press conference, Simon continued to note that “this was about the riders,” and he pressed that angle to a degree that seemed nearly insincere. Had this been about the riders, the MTA would have pushed for work rule reform, and the unions would have accepted it. Instead, under pressure from Cuomo, the MTA squandered again a chance to enact real labor reforms that would improve efficiency and cut down on unnecessary spending. Although 300,000 riders won’t have to experience the pain of a strike, this wasn’t really about the riders at all.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away from the press conference touting this deal, the MTA Reinvention Commission soldiered onward. It was hard not to think that the MTA had let a prime opportunity for reinvention slip through its fingers. Such are the costs of labor peace.
The funny thing about labor discussions, disputes and negotiations is that they are nearly impossible to predict. It’s hard to separate theater and posturing from actually productive conversations and negotiations, and whatever’s happening with the LIRR unions is proving this point perfectly. A day ago, I would have said a strike was a near-certainty. Today, after some politicking from Albany and revived discussions, I’m hedging my bets. With just under three days until the MTA has to start paring back service, time is definitely of the essence.
After a few days of posturing in which the MTA went hard after the union and the union seemed to dig in for a strike, Andrew Cuomo, as expected, slowly started to step in. He issued a terse statement (and apparently had a chat with his people at the MTA as well). “The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City. We must do everything we can to prevent Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters,” he said. “Both the MTA and the LIRR unions need to put the interests of New Yorkers first by returning to the table today and working continuously to avoid a strike.”
Later that day, the MTA and LIRR unions pledged to talk, and the LIRR labor leaders have since dialed back the rhetoric. They’re no longer vowing a strike, but significant differences remain. Matt Flegenheimer summed up Wednesday’s goings-on:
Four days before a possible strike, the Long Island Rail Road and its unions resumed talks on Wednesday and pledged to continue informal discussions throughout the night — a conspicuous shift in tone after negotiations broke down earlier in the week. The sides were expected to remain in touch by phone and video conference on Wednesday evening and return for face-to-face meetings on Thursday morning.
The gathering came hours after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called on both sides to return to the negotiating table. Transportation experts have long expected Mr. Cuomo to intervene to head off a possible strike on the railroad, which handles about 300,000 rider trips on weekdays. He oversees the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the railroad. Less than an hour after Mr. Cuomo’s statement, the transportation authority said that it had asked its unions to resume negotiations.
Anthony Simon, the leader of the railroad’s largest labor group, said the unions “never wanted to leave the table.” Earlier in the week, Mr. Simon predicted that a strike was all but certain. On Wednesday, he was much more reserved. “Let’s leave the percentages off for now,” he said when asked about his past claim that the chances of a shutdown were 100 percent. “We don’t want to alarm the public anymore.”
It’s worth noting that the MTA’s offers to date have been generous, and I don’t believe the MTA should move from their position. According to materials the agency released after talks fell apart on Monday, the MTA has promised 17 percent raises in exchange for some health care contribution concessions. It’s unclear if badly needed pension and work-rule reforms are on the table, but so far, the MTA hasn’t shown a willingness to fight for much reform in a way that would overhaul the labor problems the agency currently faces.
I’m worried about Cuomo’s interference because the MTA almost needs the strike. In the short term, it would mean headaches for subway riders and major hassles for Long Island commutes (including reverse commuters), but in the long time, the MTA has to fix systematic problems with LIRR workrules, pensions and other benefit obligations. They won’t be able to do so if Gov. Cuomo is putting pressure on to settle before voters get upset. Such are the travails of labor relations during an election year. Can we look beyond the next three months?
A few updates on some stories I’ve been following:
MTA Reinvention Commission kicks off meetings
Last week, I shared my thoughts on the MTA Reinvention Commission and the august body’s need to focus on overhauling how the MTA works and how the agency does business. Today, the group kicked off their first set of meetings. (You can follow along via webcast.)
So far, the panel has spent a lot of time talking about affordable housing, and I’m growing worried that their focus is wrong. Reinventing the MTA requires asking hard questions and proposing top-to-bottom solutions for streamlining procurement, cutting extremely high capital costs and improving agency operations. It’s not about using the MTA to advance city policy goals. The MTA, I would argue, already does more than anything else for affordable housing than any one agency in the city, and the early framing on policy goals rather than MTA problems bodes ill for this Commission’s future, especially when a largely unfunded $30 billion capital plan looms. Affordable housing, for instance, is an outcome of sound transit policy, and without reinvention such that subways do not cost over $2 billion per mile, the policy goals will remain elusive.
On the bright side, Dana Rubinstein spoke with the Commission’s heads, and they expect results. “I don’t think any of these very busy people, any of these very important and smart people, would be involved in this if they didn’t think that these recommendations would be carried out,” Ray La Hood said to Rubinstein. Hopefully, the recommendations are expansive enough.
amNY: Where is New York’s better bus terminal?
The Port Authority Bus Terminal is low-hanging fruit, but it pays to remember just how sorry a spot it is. In an editorial today, amNew York urges the Port Authority to redevelop the bus terminal. “Midtown Manhattan urgently needs a brand-new, world-class bus station,” and with air rights value at an all-time high, the money to realize this dream — $500 million to $1 billion depending upon the scope of the project — could materialize.
G train shutdown looms as ferry questions remain
When Greenpoint’s India St. ferry stop collapsed earlier this year, everyone in the know knew that city had around four months to fix the dock before the summer shutdown of the G train for Sandy-related repairs. Now, with 11 days to go before the five-week outage, the ferry stop is not yet open, and no one knows when repairs will be complete. Brooklyn politicians are demanding answers, but concrete details are not forthcoming. This is one spot sorely in need of its ferry service and soon.
A short post with some links for your Monday morning leisure. Clearly, this is important if you work on Long Island, employ people who live on Long Island or otherwise commute in from areas of Queens and Brooklyn that are accessible to Long Islanders. Things could get messy next few week.
First up, there’s no new news to report after Friday’s announcement of contingency planning. The MTA and its Long Island unions have not reached an agreement, and the MTA continues to urge people to stay home, telecommute, take vacation or do whatever it takes to avoid traversing Long Island Rail Road routes if trains aren’t running. Obviously, that’s not practical for everyone, but absent the overnight invention of teleportation technology, it’s the best of a bad situation. It may not, however, come to this.
In The Post this weekend, Nicole Gelinas writes on how she is concerned that Andrew Cuomo will give in to the LIRR unions. Although he tried to punt the issue to Congress last week, the Congress declined to do much about it, and the ball is firmly in the MTA’s — and Gov. Cuomo’s — court. If he gives the order to give in, the MTA will oblige.
With contingency plans in place, Gelinas feels the MTA is in a position of strength. “In fact,” she writes, “the MTA should take advantage of any strike to cram down work-rule changes as the price for workers to be allowed back on the job. Cuomo will be tempted to prod the MTA into giving away the store, though — so that he can look like a fearless leader in avoiding a strike.” If he does that, taxpayers will be on the hook for over $730 million, and that is money likely to come out of any future capital plan.
The MTA meanwhile has laid its cards on the table. While attempting to reach a middle ground, the MTA has moved its offers numerous times while the unions haven’t. Now, MTA officials warn that any further concessions could impact fares or the so-called “state of good repair” programs. “When we say we can afford it within the current financial plan, we’re affording it at great sacrifice,” Newsday quoted MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast as stating. Union officials beg to differ and claim the MTA could afford these raises.
Finally, for more coverage, keep an eye on The LIRR Today. Patrick has all the news and info you need to know building up to a strike as well as plans in the event there is no Long Island Rail Road service one week from today. I’ll continue, as always, to follow this story.