As Gov. David Paterson introduced Jay Walder as his pick to head the MTA, he expressed his desire to see the Senate rubber-stamp this appointee in short order. In fact, he was gunning for a Wednesday confirmation, but considering the pace of the State Senate these days and Paterson’s low approval ratings, Malcolm Smith and Pedro Espada aren’t rushing off to OK Walder quite yet.

In fact, the opposite is true. In a prepared statement co-signed by Smith, Espada, John Sampson and Carl Kruger, the Senate leadership warned of a protracted confirmation process:

With oversight responsibility and jurisdiction vested in the Senate, it is our responsibility to make sure the next MTA Chairman can run the ship better than his predecessors. As the recent MTA bailout debate proved – the MTA needs new management and must deliver greater transparency and accountability.

We intend to hold several joint hearings in the MTA region as we move forward with this confirmation. We look forward to meeting Mr. Walder and bringing him before our respective committees to exchange ideas about MTA management, the need to protect commuters from greater fare increases, and the imperative to improve service and better manage capital projects.

As the Senate heads to a summer recess soon, Walder’s confirmation will sit in limbo until the fall. That potential delay didn’t stop Kruger, one of the Fare Hike Four, from making an utter ass of himself. The Brooklyn native had a few choice comments about Walder’s promise of fiscal reform: “We’ll look at it over the course of the next couple of months,” he said. “I come from Missouri; don’t show me, tell me. I mean, everybody says they’re for oversight and accountability. What does that mean? What does it mean?”

Brad Aaron said it best: This news just writes itself sometimes.

Meanwhile, the real news from Walder’s press conference was his focus on fiscal responsibility and an adequately funded capital program. Right now, the MTA is on the verge of releasing its next five-year plan, but the agency has money for only the next two years. After that, the future is in limbo. “We must have a long-term financial solution for the MTA,” he said. “It’s critically important to have a capital program.”

The potential head of the MTA had a lot to say about fiscal balancing. Walder said that he may have to make some unpopular decisions concerning late-night service to keep fares affordable. He also expressed his belief that his new role — the joint Chair and CEO job — “is sufficiently independent to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions.”

As I mentioned briefly yesterday afternoon, one of those decisions, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, should be to eschew more debt service. The MTA’s capital campaigns have recently been funded through fare-backed bombs that come due over time and lead to crushing debt service payments and potentially crippling restructuring. Steven Higashide at Mobilizing the Region sums it up succinctly:

Like a hot potato, the debt bomb was passed from governor to govenor until it went off last year, creating a crisis that was barely averted through the efforts of an even larger coalition of advocates, officials, and members of the public. Having had the MTA debt bomb go off in his hands, Gov. Paterson surely understands that the worst course of action would be for he and MTA chief Jay Walder to light it again.

All of this, meanwhile, is just the beginning. Tuesday wasn’t even Jay Walder’s first day on the job, and already, he is getting himself a crash course in MTA politics and economics. Once the Senate realizes he’s the right man for the job, his education will begin in earnest.

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A few hours ago, New York State Gov. David Paterson made official what we all knew: Barring a disaster in the State Senate, Jay Walder will be the next Chair and executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. When he will be confirmed, though, is up to the whims of a State Senate soon to be on vacation until the fall.

Walder worked at the MTA for 12 years, most recently as the agency’s CFO in 1995. He served — and earned extensive praise for his work — at Transport for London. There, he was instrumental in ushering in the Oyster Card contact-less fare system. Most recently, while a consultant at McKinsey, Walder had recently urged the MTA to eschew the MetroCard in favor of more modern RFID/contact-less technology. By all accounts, Walder is supremely qualified and a transit innovator. Yesterday, I offered up my take on and praise for Walder.

As the announcement became official nearly three hours ago, transit advocates listened into the introductory press conference, and Walder seemingly said the right things. “There’s no question,” he said, “the taxpayer and the riding public need to understand, need to demonstrate, need to see and need to believe that they’re getting value for the money in the way we operate the trains and the buses and the bridges and tunnels, in the way that we undertake the massive capital investments that are underway. And that has to be an immediate focus.”

He went on: “We must restore the public trust and confidence to this organization. We won’t have the credibility to argue for the capital program that this system needs unless we restore the accountability of public trust and public confidence. I believe we can do that. I’m certain we can achieve that.”

With those words, I and other transit watchers can begin to feel confident that Walder knows what he must do to win the media battle. As Ben Fried at Streetsblog noted, one of former CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander’s biggest problems was the PR push. Sander suffered from a lack of media savviness and could not win the print war. Fried writes:

Transit riders will be well-served if Walder can manage to drive the media narrative about the MTA more successfully than his predecessor, Lee Sander. It’s a tall order. Casting aspersions on the MTA is a favored tactic for legislators looking to deflect blame for their own lack of leadership on transit policy, and the press corps often appears to serve as a willing accomplice. The riding public needs someone who not only manages the agency capably, but also shapes the MTA’s public image as deftly as possible.

I couldn’t agree more. How Walder presents the MTA to the public will be just as important, if not more so, than the changes he can affect while at the head of the organization.

At this point, we have to wait for the Senate to confirm him, but he is certainly qualified for the role. Don’t, however, expect the Senate, one week away from vacation, to approve this nominee quite so quickly. Michael Grynbaum of The Times hunted down MTA antagonist Carl Kruger, and the Senator had some brusque words. “This week? That’s ludicrous,” Kruger said when asked if his committee would grill Walder this week. “This is the MTA. It’s not as if we’re confirming somebody to be game warden of the Adirondack Park.”

Those Senators, they’ll never miss a chance to unfairly and uninformedly bash the MTA while stealing the spotlight for themselves. With this nomination seemingly tabled until the fall, current Chair Dale Hemmerdinger and interim CEO and Executive Director Helena Williams will serve until Walder is confirmed.

After the jump, the Straphangers and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign respond to the Walder nomination. Read More→

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  • The perils and benefits of outsourced transit operations · While we focus on New York around these parts, transit systems across the nation are suffering financially. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal examined a recent cost-saving phenomenon sweeping the transportation nation: Municipalities are outsourcing their transit operations to private companies to save money. Through streamlined management and the ability to pay below-union wages, these companies can bring cost savings to those cities have the flexibility to bring them aboard.

    Of course, it isn’t all wine and roses. As Elana Schor at Streetsblog Capitol Hill noted yesterday, some outsourced deals — companies are loathe to use the word “privatization” — seemingly come with safety trade-offs. Organized labor suffers as well under these deals. The fight to make transit affordable continues. · (10)

Over the last few years, we’ve tracked the progress of the line manager program from an idea to a pilot program on the L and 7 lines to a system-wide level of management. This week, according to amNew York’s Heather Haddon, the line manager program will officially be in place throughout the system.

While some transit advocates see this is a move that should benefit New York City Transit’s customer service and customer interaction, I’m still on the fence. In the end, according to Haddon, the program will include 36 manager — and that means 36 managerial salaries. Transit, however, says this program will actually save money. Haddon explains:

The 36 managers act as the CEOs of their lines, coordinating all departments, from platform cleaning to track maintenance. Six of the general managers oversee more than one line.

Officials must analyze train performance and respond to customer complaints, according to the job description. The managers take training before starting, and are to ride trains and visit stations along their lines.

Transit estimated it would save $7 million by cutting managerial jobs. The program is the first major managerial reorganization of the subways in more than 50 years.

Since this program debuted in 2007, Transit and MTA watchdogs have engaged in a back-and-forth over its effectiveness. Transit has noted that lines with the line managers have been cleaner and saw a bump in performance during the second round of the Rider Report Cards. As Haddon notes, though, the 7 and L were also the recipients of more cleaners. With service cut backs on tap, the rest of the system will not enjoy that benefit.

In April, when the Permanent Citizen’s Advisory Committee to the MTA evaluated Transit in 2008, they reserved judgment on the line managers. Said the report, “It has imparted a sense of ownership to managers and helped quantify what it takes to provide a reliable level of service and well-maintained stations. However, it is still not clear how success is going to be measured.”

Even with a full roll-out, it’s hard to say more about the managers. Already, straphangers can e-mail their line managers if they have complaints or criticisms. Beyond that, though, we’ll have to see how performance improves. There is, after all, only so much one manager can do in the face of an underfunded and under-resourced subway system.

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The BMT Canarsie Line L train covered in graffiti in 1976. (Photo by Ed McKernan/NYC Subway)

For the better part of three decades, the debate over subway graffiti has consumed New Yorkers. As I explored in April, some feel graffiti is art while others believe graffiti exhibits simply glorify vandalism. No matter the outcome, New York City Transit and the NYPD are hard at work combating these markings.

Just two weeks after famed graffiti artist Iz the Wiz passed away, Transit and the NYPD say that graffiti hits are down by 46 percent this year over 2007. Pete Donohue has more:

Police patrols and Transit surveillance teams have slashed the number of subway graffiti attacks nearly in half, officials told the Daily News. Between January and May 2007, vandals trespassing in dark subway tunnels and railyards ringed with razor wire carried out 98 major spray-paint “hits.” They have managed just 53 graffiti raids this year – a 46% drop – according to NYC Transit statistics.

“The word is getting out,” NYC Transit Vice President Vincent DeMarino said. “It’s not so easy in New York anymore. You have a good chance of getting caught.”

After a dramatic spike in vandalism, NYC Transit launched the “Eagle Team,” a surveillance outfit comprising mostly retired police detectives and supervisors, two years ago. The agency also struck a new arrangement with city police: The agency would focus on the far-flung railyards while NYPD squads would target tracks between stations, where some trains are parked overnight. With increased cooperation and manpower, they have been able to cover more ground and get results, DeMarino said.

No matter anyone’s personal views on graffiti in the art-vs.-vandalism debate, it is no doubt expensive to maintain graffiti-free cars. As part of an effort to deter graffiti, Transit will not put vandalized trains on the tracks until they are clean, and it can take the agency up to three hours to clean the outside of a car. According to Donohue’s sources, the MTA spent $350,000 in 2007 and just $125,000 in 2008 to clean up the trains.

Over the years, the agency has tried to combat another form of more destructive graffiti — scratchiti, the use of acid to etch glass windows — with less success. As Donohue reminds us, Transit unveiled a pilot program of scratch-resistant ads late last year. That program, according to Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges, is too expensive to implement throughout the MTA’s rolling stock.

In the end, combating graffiti will always be a battle. Those who perpetrate the crime think it a victimless one and will not stop while those fighting it will have to stay one step ahead of artists who have the run of a wide open system. The fight goes on.

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  • Event: The future of the MTA at the Museum of the City of New York · Alyson Cluck from the Museum of the City of New York e-mailed me late last week with word of a panel discussion at the museum. The topic will be the future of the MTA. At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a group of elected officials and advocates will gather to talk about the authority’s short- and long-term prospects. Henry Stern, director of New York Civic, will talk with Assemblyman Richard Brodsky; City Council Member Gale Brewer; Nicole Gelinas, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; and Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. While the panel is lacking a voice from the MTA — say the recently-ousted Elliot Sander — it should be informative. The audience should really gear up to grill Brodsky on his anti-congestion pricing stance. · (2)

As Pedro Espada has ended his flirtation with the Republicans and the New York State Senate can get back to work, one of the items on the upcoming agenda concerns the future head of the MTA. While rumors have flown concerning the identity of the next person to hold the reins of this financially troubled authority, one man — Jay Walder, formerly of both the MTA and Transport for London — has emerged as a leading candidate.

When Albany passed the bailout, the Senate did so with the condition that both Elliot Sander, former CEO and executive director, and Dale Hemmerdinger, the MTA chair, would step down. Sander is out, and Hemmerdinger will be as soon as a replacement is named. According to Pete Donohue of The Daily News, Gov. Paterson may be days away from naming Walder as the new chair and executive director. He comes with an impressive track record of transit innovation and would be the first to hold the streamlined sole position atop the MTA leadership structure.

Walder was a key figure in the MTA’s fiscal rebirth in the 1980s. He worked for the authority from 1983-1995 and left just before the city and state started forcing more debt upon the MTA. In a 2003 article in Accountancy Age, Walder talked about improving the fiscal health of the MTA:

‘The New York subway system was an international symbol of urban decay then. Graffiti was intractable, trains didn’t run, investments hadn’t been made for decades and we were virtually on the point of saying, “either we improve it or we shut it down”,’ he recalls.

The transport system was so bad that the city’s economy was suffering as a result. In the late seventies and early eighties, the economy had reached a complete low and was facing a fiscal crisis. Ten years later, MTA had invested in 2,500 new subway carriages and rebuilt 3,500 existing carriages. Every train was free of graffiti, stations were being rebuilt and New Yorkers were rating it as the public service that had improved the most over the past decade. ‘When I left in 1995, transport was discussed as being the backbone and foundation of New York’s renaissance.

‘When you can take the frustration that existed and feel you were a part in turning that around from a public service that people hated into a service meeting their needs – that’s an incredibly satisfying feeling.

Meanwhile, Donohue has more about a key innovation Walder helped usher in while working for TfL in London:

Walder, 48, an American who once worked for the MTA, served as Transport for London’s finance and planning director between 2000 and 2006. He is now a partner with the international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company – and recently wrote a report for the MTA on moving beyond the MetroCard to a so-called smart card that could be linked to riders’ personal accounts.

In addition to playing a significant role in London’s winning bid for the 2012 Olympics, Walder introduced the Oyster smart card used by millions of Londoners who ride the Tube. When he left London’s transit authority, Walder was praised by then-Mayor Ken Livingston for identifying $2 billion in savings through efficiency. London Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy said Walder was a key figure in turning the agency into “an organization that is respected around the world for its record of delivery and innovation.”

From what I can find, Walder sounds as though he would be an excellent choice to head the organization. I am particularly intrigued by his role in ushering in the Oyster Card program in London and by his recent report for the MTA about establishing a contact-less smart card system for New York. We need innovative and forward-thinking leaders heading that organization right now.

If Walder is indeed appointed, he would end a dubious string of chairmanships. Not since Peter Stangl was the MTA chair from 1991-1995 did the authority have a transit expert at its head. Virgil Conway cut his chops in banking, and both Peter Kalikow and Dale Hemmerdinger are real estate men. The most qualified man to hold the executive director job — Elliot Sander — was pushed out in a political move after a term far too short for him to enact reform.

We should know early this week if Walder is indeed getting the appointment. If so, it would be a very positive move indeed.

Categories : MTA Politics
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We close out the week with the last of the fare hikes for now. As the MTA reminded us last week, at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, the new toll rates on the MTA Bridges and Tunnels crossings go into effect. Check out the press release for the specifics; it’s far too complicated to reproduce here on a summer Friday afternoon.

As a companion piece to the toll increases, Gridlock Sam chimes in with his take on the East River bridge tolls. His idea actually makes sense. He urges the MTA to lower the rates on the currently-tolled bridges and tunnels while implementing tolls on the currently-free crossings.

After rehashing the problems of the current system, Sam offers up an obvious solution:

So how can we be fair to travel between the boroughs and still raise enough money for transit? First, reduce the tolls at every bridge that has nothing to do with Manhattan. Slash the tolls by $1 from today’s levels at the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Triborough (Bronx-Queens plaza), Cross Bay and Marine Parkway bridges – and by $2 at the Verrazano Bridge. Freeze these rates by law for a full 10 years.

Next, correct Mayor William Gaynor’s 1911 blunder. The Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Queensboro and Manhattan bridges all had tolls until 1911. Car drivers paid a dime but those on horseback just 3 cents. Then the mayor removed the tolls. I had to live with this mistake as chief engineer of the Department of Transportation in the 1980s, when our bridges were crumbling from lack of funds. Put them back!

Start charging trucks both ways to cross the Verrazano Bridge to reduce the incentive to travel through Manhattan. It’s easy with E-ZPass. The bottom line? A lot of neighborhoods separated by boroughs would be better linked. Lots of people will save money. And we would also raise about a half-billion dollars per year for bridge maintenance and transit.

To which, I say, “Duh.” One day, someone in New York will have the political will and the political guts to see this through. For now, we stumble on.

Below are your weekend service advisories. As always, these are coming to you verbatim from the MTA and are subject to change with little or no notice. Check signs as you travel and be sure to listen to announcements on board the trains.

From 11:30 P.M. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, there are no 1 trains between Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street and 137th Street-City College due to station painting and flood mitigation work at 157th Street and the installation of communications equipment between 145th and 181st Streets. A trains, the M3 bus and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. The best route to Washington Heights and the Bronx is to transfer between the 1 and A at 59th Street. Then transfer between the A and the shuttle bus at 168th Street or 207th Street. – For more on this service change, check out this press release. It fleshes out what exactly is going on up there.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, July 11, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, July 12 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Brooklyn-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to rail installation and switch renewal.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, downtown 4 trains run local from 125th Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, uptown 4 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street, then local to 125th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, there are no 5 trains between Grand Central and Bowling Green due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction. Customers may take the 4 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to 3rd Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, July 11, Manhattan-bound D trains skip 174th-175th and 170th Streets due to track cleaning.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Manhattan-bound E and F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Jamaica-bound E and F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

At all times, until further notice, the G route is extended from Smith-9th Sts. to Church Avenue F station due to the rehabilitation of the Culver Viaduct.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 11 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, G trains run every 20 minutes between Court Square and Church Avenue due to rail repairs.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle Avenue due to track chip-out at Jefferson Street station.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday, July 11, uptown Q trains run local from Canal Street to 34th Street due to track cleaning. – This reminds me of a trip to the dentist.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, July 12, uptown Q trains run local from 42nd Street to 57th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, R trains are extended to the 179th Street F station due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

(Franklin Avenue)
From 6:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 7 p.m. Sunday, July 12, there are no Franklin Avenue Shuttle trains between Franklin Avenue and Prospect Park due to preparation work for rail repairs. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • Getting to know Helena Williams · At some point in the near-future, Helena Williams will no longer be the Interim CEO and Executive Director of the MTA. When that will be, though, is anyone’s guess. Gov. David Paterson and the State Senate are far too concerned with other events to worry about something that actually impacts the lives of millions of New Yorkers, and so in the meantime, Williams will hold down her interim position as well as her job as the president of the Long Island Rail Road.

    We don’t know much about Williams beyond her accomplishments. She arrived quietly after Elliot Sander stepped down. Today, though, we can gain some insight into her work and life. Diane Vacca at Women’s Voice for Change interviewed Williams. While the talk, by the end, strays away from transit and into a discussion on Williams’ love of cooking and her daughter, it is an interesting glimpse into the life of the woman in charge of the MTA nonetheless. · (1)

026_graphic As the MTA’s project to bring communications-based train control to the L line continues apace, Transit is beginning its plan to bring CBTC to the 7 line. As The Post reported this morning, the MTA is now taking bids on the project to automate the IRT Flushing Line. Officials believe it will cost $348 million to complete this 6.5-year project.

According to The Post, the MTA hopes to have a contract signed by the end of the year. Getting this project set up for 2016 makes it better late than never. However, as Larry Littlefield noted in the Streetsblog comments earlier today, if this project costs $350 million just to implement, what will be the cost of maintenance and upkeep?

The article in The Post rehashes the various safety concerns that anti-CBTC (and generally anti-job elimination) groups have, and Transit responds. The reality is that CBTC, as implemented throughout the nation, is a safe alternative to human control and allows for more trains per line than human control does. Transit does not plan to eliminate drivers and has a built-in redundancy system as well.

Finally, as a postscript of sorts, Beth Stebner and Tom Namako end their article with what I consider to be an egregious quote. “It’s a great idea,” Anna Callahan, a rider on the 7, said. “But I’d rather those millions of dollars go toward lowering my fare.”

This is a prime example of my questioning those who cover the subway. Callahan has absolutely no idea what she is talking about here, and including her quote just serves to subtly and unnecessarily bash the MTA. While there is a real need for modern signal technology and train control, there’s no need for Callahan’s ill-informed opinion on it. That’s not helping the discourse.

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