• Coming Soon: Service cuts, in detail · Unfortunately, I’m in the middle of a long take-home exam for one of my law school classes and do not right now have the opportunity to go in-depth on the MTA’s planned service cuts. They are very extensive though with students and the disabled getting hit the worst. In a way, it’s a great political ploy by the MTA, but it’s sure to engender more outrage toward an agency with few other choices. I’ll have a detailed post on the cuts up as soon as I’m through with this final. · (13)
  • Succinctly pointing a finger at Albany · A brief New York Times article summarizing the various service cuts the MTA will consider over the next few weeks as it struggles to balance its budget and close a gap near $500 million ends with a kicker. After running through the service changes — subway and bus elimination and less frequent midday service, student MetroCard Cuts and a plan to scale back Access-A-Ride service — Michael Grynbaum drops in a devastatingly effective quote from Andrew Albert, an MTA Board member and chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council: “To have this situation in the most transit-dependent city in the country is a complete failure of government.”

    In a sense, that’s what Second Ave. Sagas is all about. Although this site started out on the wheels of the Second Ave. Subway, it has, over the last three years, morphed into an all-encompassing platform for transit advocacy in New York City. I try to explore every facet of MTA operations within the five boroughs (and often outside the city), and one major theme has been the utter lack of financial respect Albany and City Hall give the MTA. Albert is right; this situation is an embarrassing failure of government in a city more reliant on its transit network than any other in the country. For now, though, I’ll just keep fighting the good fight in my corner of the Internet and hope for a better transit future in New York. · (11)

studentmetrocards Faced with a budget gap of a few hundred million dollars, the MTA may be targeting a politically sensitive giveaway that is bound to get New Yorkers riled up over the looming service cuts. According to a report in the Daily News, the authority is considering eliminating student MetroCards as part of a multi-faceted approach to closing its new-found budget gap.

Amongst the TWU’s arbitration award, the payroll tax short fall and the state appropriations cut, the MTA may face a budget gap as large as $500 million this year, and the Student MetroCards have long been a sore subject for the agency. According to Pete Donohue, the authority doles out approximately 550,000 Student MetroCards each year that allow the city’s pupils to ride the rails for free. Once jointly fully funded by the city and state, both political bodies have cut back their student-based contributions to the MTA, and the agency runs annual deficits on this program.

In fact, two years ago, City Comptroller William Thompson reported on the student MetroCard funding programs. Because the city and state contribute just $90 million to a program that costs $161.5 million to administer, the agency effectively loses $71.5 million per year on Student MetroCards. To make matters worse, this has been the status quo for these student passes since the mid-1990s. Why should an authority tasked with balancing its budget dole out free rides when the city and state have long ago reneged on their pledges to fully fund student transit subsidies?

The Student MetroCard program is based solely on how far away a student lives from his or her school and not on need, and parents are up in arms over the rumored cuts to it. The comments three Daily News reporters dug up are as expected. Parents say they won’t be able to afford to send their children to school via public transit, and kids say some of their classmates simply won’t go to school because they would have way to get there. Education experts too worry about the loss of free transit.

“If you’re going to eliminate neighborhood high schools as the mayor has in most of the city, it’s absolutely critical to have free transportation for kids, especially because children are required by law to go to school,” Clara Hemphill, a New School education expert, said. “Some kids are traveling up to 90 minutes by public transportation. There’s absolutely no way to get there without the subway and bus.”

In a rather absurd column, Michael Daly goes after the MTA for this plan as well. He claims that smart kids may “risk arrest” by jumping turnstiles to get to school and that the city will lose federal education funding because the authority’s cuts to the MetroCard program will cause truancy rates to rise. With this charge, we might be nearing the point where someone has managed to blame the MTA for just about any potential problem in the city.

The reality, though, is far from simple. It’s true that, for an eight-month school year, 30-day unlimited ride MetroCards would cost families $712 per child, but the MTA could opt to go for a reduced rate for students. Even a $1 or 50-cent student ride would enable the MTA to capture additional revenue while eliminating a $70-million loss from the agency’s books.

Furthermore, the agency should not be expected to simply foot the bill when the city and state refuse to pony up for a program they originally promised to fund. The MTA provides student MetroCards at the request of New York’s politicians. It is under no legal obligation to do so, and it is well within its right to threaten to eliminate this program as a way to draw more attention to its fiscal plight and more funds for its severely strained coffers.

Cutting Student MetroCards and those three free rides a day will hurt. Families will be forced to pay more money to send their children to school, and others won’t be able to attend schools far from home. But the MTA has its back against the wall, and it is fighting back with all of its might. End the great student MetroCard swindle and that huge budget gap will look a little bit smaller.

Categories : MetroCard, Service Cuts
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A New York State Court judge has backed the Transport Workers Union of American, Local 100 in its fight against the MTA to secure its binding arbitration award. In a ruling issued late Friday, Judge O. Peter Sherwood declined to grant the MTA an injunction against the arbitration award that guaranteed TWU workers 11 percent in wage raises over the next three years.

Noting that the court has “limited authority in this case,” Sherwood upheld the arbitration award on the grounds the arbitrators’ decision was “plausible or had a plausible basis” in reality. As long as the award criteria were “considered in good faith” and not unconscionable, the judge could not vacate the TWU’s victory. In plain English, basically, Sherwood noted that unless the arbitrators did not follow the rule of the law and were not unreasonable in explaining their decision, he would have to uphold the ruling.

As Sherwood noted, the arbitration panel followed the Taylor Law’s six criteria in determining the arbitration award. Since the arbitration decision was not “affected by misconduct, bias or procedural defects,” Sherwood upheld the award. “Although the [MTA] disagrees with the [arbitration panel] Majority’s analysis of MTA finances, it has not shown that the findings of the Majority are not supported by substantial evidence and do not have a plausible basis,” he wrote. (The full decision is embedded after the jump and available here as a PDF.)

In response to this decision, the MTA, which will soon announce a salary reduction for all non-union employees and substantial cuts to transit service across the city, decried the economic impact of this ruling. According to the authority, this court-mandated pay increase will add $100 million to the agency’s bottom line in 2010 and another $200 million in 2011.

“Last night the MTA learned that our appeal of the TWU Local 100 arbitration award was unsuccessful. We are extremely disappointed by this decision, which will force the MTA to pay wage increases that are inconsistent with the economic crisis in New York,” the authority said in a statement issued Saturday. “The ruling will have severe financial impacts on the MTA budget, coming on the heels of a State budget cut and reduction in payroll tax proceeds.”

The agency also fired the first salvo in what promises to be a bitter war of words between them and the TWU workers. In no uncertain terms, the MTA noted that the arbitration award may guarantee more money for union workers but will come at a high public cost. “We are working through the weekend to incorporate this news into the balanced 2010 budget that must be presented on Monday to the Finance Committee of the MTA Board,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the magnitude of these changes makes it increasingly difficult to limit the impact this budget will have on the MTA, our employees and customers.”

For its part, the TWU offered up a more conciliatory tone. “The MTA has had their day in court and the judge ruled against them,” John Samuelsen, the new head of Local 100, said. “Now it’s time for them to stop wasting more of the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on lawyers’ fees and honor our lawfully obtained contract. I cannot think of a better way for the MTA to start this new labor/management relationship off on the right foot then to release our wage increases.”

Interestingly, Judge Sherwood himself questioned the economic wisdom of the arbitration award, but he was bound by law to uphold the decision. “In the current economic environment, the award of wage and benefits increases over three years of approximately 11.5 percent is a rich package but it is not unique. Were the court assigned direct responsibility for applying the criteria set forth in the Taylor Law to the package of economic benefits demanded by the union, the court might weigh them differently than did the Majority in this instance,” he said.

In the end, the MTA will have to find another $100 million it doesn’t have to institute a four-percent wage increase for thousands of TWU members across the city. Although the agency continues to maintain that it will not raise fares in 2010, the sweeping service cuts needed to cover this even greater gap would utterly cripple the system. I don’t see how, with the appropriations cutbacks, the payroll tax short fall and this arbitration ruling, a fare hike can be avoided.

As of now, the authority does not know if it will appeal the state court’s ruling.

Click through for the full opinion from Judge Sherwood or access it here as a PDF. Read More→

Categories : TWU
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  • Non-union employees to face 10 percent pay cut · As the MTA looks to seal an unexpected $343 million gap in its budget, we know that last year’s Doomsday cuts proposal is back on the table. Today, Sewell Chan of The Times reports that the MTA’s non-union employees will take a pay cut as part of the gap-closing measures. The authority’s 6000 non-workers workers will see their salaries slashed by 10 percent across the board. The agency says these pay cuts could last indefinitely and will either take the form of mandatory furloughs or an indefinite payroll lag.

    For the MTA, this announcement comes at a time of labor unrest as its unionized workers fight for a four-percent raise. Although these pay cuts are a necessary component of any gap-closing proposal, it certainly helps the MTA’s arbitration appeal if the authority can point to problems covering payroll. TWU officials have already warned against any efforts to cut unionized workers’ salaries.

    In the end, Chan also confirms that the service cuts but no fare hikes will remain on the table, and I have to question the wisdom of that decision. With these payroll cuts — and perhaps some management trimming — the MTA will still face a gap of $250 million. A fare hike of around 5 percent across the board will cover that, and for me, at least, that’s a more palatable solution than service cuts. Unfortunately, the MTA promised not to raise fares in 2010, and the state legislature appears more than willing to hold the authority to its word. · (29)

December really is the best month for subway travel. With tourists descending upon New York, the MTA has scaled back subway work so that just a few lines are impacted this weekend. This is what life would be like without a grand plan to maintain a state of good repair. I think I’ll take a modern subway and some weekend changes rather than a crumbling system and regular weekend service.

Anyway, that’s about it from me for today. We spent a lot of time this week talking about the immediate financial future of the MTA, and I’ll probably toss up a post or two this weekend as well. Don’t forget about the Nostalgia Train this weekend. It runs on the V line on Sundays.

For the rest of the weekend changes, you know the drill. Don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s version right here or by clicking on the image below. Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. The specific alerts follow.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, December 12 to 10 p.m. Sunday, December 13, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, and 82nd Streets due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 12, Sunday, December 13 and Monday, December 14, uptown A trains skip Spring, 23rd and 50th Streets due to track maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 14, uptown A/C trains skip 135th, 155th, and 163rd Streets due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, December 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 14, free shuttle buses replace AS trains between Howard Beach-JFK Airport and Far Rockaway due to South Channel Bridge repairs and track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 14, uptown D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street. (The D replaces the suspended C at 135th Street.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 14, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue due to track cable work.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 12, Sunday, December 13 and Monday, December 14, uptown E trains skip Spring and 23rd Streets due to track maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 12, Manhattan-bound F trains skip 169th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, December 13, Jamaica-bound F trains skip 169th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 14, Jamaica-bound F trains, after leaving 47th-50th Sts., will run on the E from 5th Avenue-53rd Street to Roosevelt Avenue due to signal maintenance, inspections, testing, track work and grouting.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday, December 12, Sunday, December 13 and Monday, December 14, Brooklyn-bound G trains run express from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue due to track cable work.

Categories : Service Advisories
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We already know that Carl Kruger will take no responsibility for his own bad bailout plan. Now another Senator — Martin Malave Dilan — is pointing fingers at the MTA in a way that just doesn’t make sense.

In an open letter to MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder, Dilan sounds personally offended that Walder did not tell Dilan about the agnecy’s financial woes before word leaked to the press. Never mind the fact that Dilan is one of the Senators who passed a reduced state budget with $143 million in appropriations taken away from the MTA. Never mind that the MTA is more important to the state than Dilan. It is all about him.

The full letter is embedded below the jump. I’ll excerpt the best parts right here:

Specifically, I find it disappointing that members of your staff would notify the media, while excluding my colleagues and I in the Legislature.

To be clear, my sentiments are not rooted within the action of notifying the press, I simply believe your organization should provide the Legislature with the same consideration we have provided you. Both, prior to your arrival, with the new revenue package advanced in May, and throughout your nomination process, we have continually relied and agreed upon the importance of an open dialogue. I am disappointed that your commitment to an openness within the MTA and initiating a new era of accountability and transparency has not begun to take shape.

It is an affront to our burgeoning partnership, often discussed in previous months, to exclude us from this critical information. Additionally, it is difficult to think that our exclusion was not simply a matter of being overlooked. One can only conclude that by going to the press first, your organization was in fact using the media to once again stir the bees’ nest, rallying fears of insufficient funding and potential fare increases and service cuts.

This is, without a doubt, the most self-important letter a State Senator has ever written to another in charge of the MTA. Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News believes that this letter “does not bode well” for future relations between Walder and Albany. Somehow, the MTA head is responsible for one of the recipients of Gary Dellaverson’s letter leaking it to the press.

In my opinion, though, this letter just reinforces my belief that Albany doesn’t know what to do with the MTA and is intent on choking off New York City’s transportation lifeline. Dilan is a Democrat from District 17, an area in Brooklyn in which approximately 65 percent of those who commute do so via public transit. If he wants to form an adversarial relationship with the agency, let him.

In a sweeping piece on the MTA’s financial crisis, Nicole Gelinas urges the authority to target its cuts to areas represented by those who oppose the agency. She wants Transit to penalize Sheldon Silver’s inability to deliver congestion pricing by slicing up Lower Manhattan; she urges the agency to cut services to Carl Kruger’s and Pedro Espada’s transit-dependent districts. I would add Dilan to this list, and when they foolishly allow the MTA to fail, we can send them packing.

For the full text of Sen. Dilan’s letter, click through. Read More→

Categories : MTA Politics
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Although the MTA will not officially unveil its plans to close a $200 million budget gap until Monday, the Daily News is reporting that the Doomsday cuts are back on the table. As I speculated on Wesdnesday, the MTA will be proposing the same sweeping service reductions the agency nearly implemented earlier this year before Albany’s half-hearted bailout came to be.

The sweeping reductions would include the deaths of the W and Z lines, the overnight shuttering of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn stations along the BMT Broadway (N/R) line and the elimination of numerous low-ridership bus lines in the city’s outer boroughs. Pete Donohue has more:

Facing a massive budget crisis, the cash-squeezed MTA is moving to implement sweeping service cuts – again – including shutting down dozens of bus routes. Two subway lines also would be wiped off the map and four stations would be shuttered overnight under the plan expected to go before a Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee on Monday. If it sounds familiar, it is. The lineup is the same roster of reductions threatened earlier this year when the MTA was lobbying for a state bailout. The cuts never happened.

But in recent weeks the MTA has been rocked by bad news. The state – struggling with its own budget mess – slashed transit funding by $143 million. And cash from state payroll taxes is coming in about $200 million short of what the state had planned for mass transit. Even with 2010 service cuts, the MTA will have to find other ways to plug the sudden budget gap, sources said.

“We’re not going to rely on anyone else to do anything for us. We’re going to rely on ourselves,” MTA board member Mitchell Pally said.

Transit watchdogs were quick to bemoan the latest news. Relying on its call to use stimulus funds to cover the budget gap, Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers Campaign came out swinging today: “For the MTA, reviving these cuts would shred their credibility. The riding public was told last May that there would be no service cuts when the legislature bailed out the MTA. Riders held up their part of the bargain with a fare hike last June, yet now they are threatened with getting substantially less while paying more. Riders have every right to be mad as hell.”

Russianoff acknowledged that the latest budget problems are a result of “actions by Governor Paterson and the state legislature.” He stressed, however, his opinion that the MTA should do anything possible to avoid cuts to service because those cuts are rarely restored lately when the financials improve. “The Straphangers Campaign,” he said, “believes the MTA has the resources to prevent the service cuts, especially if it uses available federal stimulus funds and capital funds now coming out of the operating budget.”

Meanwhile, in the Daily News article, new TWU head John Samuelsen urged the MTA to look inward. “Before the MTA takes any action that adversely affects riders or workers, they should look to cut their own wasteful spending,” Samuelsen said. Considering the public opinion of TWU workers these days, Samuelsen should be careful with his words. Most riders may not be big fans of the MTA, but they are hardly on the side of the employees either.

In the end, I want to toss the ball to another player. Michael Bloomberg campaigned heavily on a plan to fix the MTA and improve mass transit for all New Yorkers. He has been noticeably silent this week as the MTA’s financial picture has taken a huge hit. It’s time for the Mayor to step up to the plate for the MTA. He can use his political clout to gain some monetary concessions for the authority, and he can show to those who voted for him that they were not misguided in putting faith in his transit proposal. Now’s the time; next week just might be too late.

Categories : Service Cuts
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493_09 Cold weather250 The poster at left — click it to enlarge — has gone up through the subway system. It is a rather innocuous warning about the impending winter. Because snow will slow down above-ground and at-grade subway lines, Transit is warning customers now, before it snows, to allow for travel time on service changes when the snows start to fall.

In cars along the BMT Brighton Line — the Q and the B — a similar sign has gone up in recent weeks. This one — available at the end of this post in full — warns of leaves on the tracks. Because much of the line from Prospect Park to Coney Island is in a tree-covered trench, falling leaves tend to create slippery rail conditions. Trains may experience problems braking, and although not frequent, delays may plague the lines as a result.

For Transit, these two signs represent the new face of customer relations. The agency is trying to keep straphangers in the loop about problems that may crop up along popular subway lines. Yet, as Sewell Chan explored, some people simply do not trust the MTA no matter what. In an article on the sign, Chan managed to track down a bunch of riders who accuse the MTA of making excuses for sub-par service.

“Because of leaves?” one rider, Sylis Gordon, asked incredulously on Wednesday as she waited for the Q train at the Parkside Avenue station. “That’s new.” She looked around her, noticing garbage on the tracks, but said, “There aren’t that many leaves.”

Kate Jassin, 29, a doctoral student at the New School who was waiting for the shuttle at the Prospect Park station, exclaimed: “Delays because of leaves? That’s amazing.”

To counter the problem, the transit agency has operated a vacuum train that sucks up leaves and other debris over the tracks once a week, as well as a special rail-adhesion train that applies “a gritty material that helps create some friction between the wheel and the rail” each night, said James E. Leopard, the line general manager for the B and Q and the Franklin Avenue shuttle.

Mr. Leopard said he decided to post the roughly 500 signs — focusing on 14 stations at or below street level, as well as in subway-car windows — starting in the middle of last month. The signs are to be taken down by early next week.

Now, I don’t believe that Ms. Jassin’s and Ms. Gordon’s comments are indicative of any sort of widespread popular opinion. Plus, these two probably know about as much about running a transit system as I do Medieval French literature. But these comments don’t exist in a vacuum: People — riders, customers, advocates — simply do not trust the MTA.

I believe this sense of distrust comes from Albany. It comes about when Carl Kruger blames the MTA for his own mistakes. It comes about when corrupt comptrollers level false charges of bad booking at the agency, and it comes about because our city and state leaders cannot make the commitment to mass transit that the area requires and demands.

The MTA isn’t creating excuses that aren’t there. Leaves, trash, snow, anything outside can get on the tracks and slow down trains. By knowing ahead of time, most rational riders would simply allow a few minutes. But with the MTA, few in New York are rational, and overcoming this PR problem is just as much a solution toward public acceptance and support as finding $200 million to cover an unexpected budget gap is.

Click through for a full view of the leaves poster. Read More→

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  • Adjusting to the new hybrid buses · As Transit gears up to replace the city’s bus fleet with hybrid vehicles while planning to expand and improve the bus network, the introduction of new technology has not been without its problems. amNew York’s Heather Haddon explored those issues today and found three major areas of concerns. Some of the new Orion hybrids have problems with the heating system that causes spontaneous fires; the acceleration systems are more sensitive than in the current fleet; and the shocks system can sometimes degrade.

    In light of these problems, the MTA and Orion are working to address these concerns. Orion and the transit agency have a $500 million contract for 850 fuel-efficient vehicles, and the MTA has already asked for $1.6 million for late delivery. Officials have already solved the combustion problem, and the hybrids have now received smoother acceleration systems. It’s all a part of the technological growing pains as the authority adapts to a new fleet of buses. · (4)
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