Due to a procedural rule in the New York State Senate, any Senate-endorsed MTA funding plan will not come to a vote until next week at the earliest. Meanwhile, Albany-watchers still do not believe that Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has the requisite 32 votes to pass any sort of bill, and the MTA is counting down the days until it must unveil 2009′s second fare hike plan.

Tuesday in Albany started with some minor amendments the MTA funding plan approved Monday by the Senate’s transportation committee. The bill, approved along a 10-8 party-line vote, contained a few mistakes that had to be rectified, but because the Senate demands a three-day ripening period for legislation, the bill won’t come up for a vote again until Monday.

According to Elizabeth Benjamin (linked above), the changes were mostly cosmetic. The taxi cab drop-off charge now applies to yellow cars only, and the language requiring a mandatory MTA audit was strengthened to “shall be” from “may be.” No matter the langauge, Newsday’s James T. Madore can’t find 32 Senators in favor of the bill.

Downstate, Mayor Bloomberg finally ramped up his campaigning for the MTA. Bloomberg, along with teacher’s union head Randi Weingarten and President and CEO of Parntership for New York Kathryn Wylde, sent a letter to the state’s leaders in Albany urging support for the beleaguered transit agency.

Meanwhile, Newsday’s editorial board just wants Albany to allocate its discretionary funds to the agency. “Is nobody willing to argue that maintaining subways, buses and trains is a basic governmental responsibility?” the paper asks.

All of this Doomsday politicking leads to one overarching bit of bad news: While I yesterday said that the MTA would have to enact a second fare hike by the fall, amNew York’s Heather Haddon says that the MTA could unveil a second fare hike as early as May if the Senate does not act. Further we go along the downward spiral.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Over the last few years, I’ve written extensively about MTA security issues. It’s been nearly eight years since the 9/11 attacks, and the agency’s security efforts have been stymied, as State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli noted in November, by nearly every problem on the books. From a lack of technological compatibility to bureaucratic inefficiencies, the MTA has tried to institute some sort of closed circuit surveillance system in the subways with little success.

Yesterday, this issue came to a head as defense contractor Lockheed Martin sued the MTA in an effort to get out of its contract. Lockheed says that the MTA is responsible for the delays in the project and has been less that cooperative in helping out with the job.

The Post’s Bruce Golding, Tom Namako and Larry Celona first reported on the lawsuit yesterday. They write:

Lockheed is claiming losses of $3 million a month while “key personnel” remain in place on the stalled project, and says it will file a separate suit to recover damages.

The company, which was supposed to be done with the job last August, blames the MTA for refusing to let it work inside a series of “under river tunnels,” including four beneath the East River linking Manhattan and Queens.

Lockheed’s Manhattan federal court filing says the contract guaranteed it access to one of the four East River tunnels for at least 55 hours each weekend. “Currently, there is no schedule in place,” the suit says.

Lockheed also accuses the MTA of failing to clear out existing communication rooms for necessary upgrades. The rooms are cluttered with other contractors’ equipment, while several “have water infiltration, the presence of which makes it unsafe to perform work due to the risk of electrocution,” and many “have inadequate electricity which is essential to perform the work.”

Perhaps worst of all, “none of the communication rooms have necessary network access, the absence of which makes it impossible for Lockheed Martin to install communication systems that will actually transmit information,” according to the suit.

Those are pretty damning allegations from one of the nation’s leading contractors, and the timing could not be worse for an MTA already combating public image problems. The agency has already paid out $250 million on a contract originally valued at $212 million in 2005, and there is no end in sight to the project.

From a security perspective, this is, needless to say, alarming. The open nature of the city’s transit infrastructure make it a very vulnerable target to an attack, and this project was supposed to help secure it. Meanwhile, from an institutional perspective, this filing simply gives more ammo to MTA detractors who view it as a barely functioning bureaucratic mess. That the MTA is just bleeding money everywhere these days makes it all the more worse.

Categories : Subway Security
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  • Transit advocates to host evening rally against the cuts · While time has long run out on the MTA, a group of transit advocates are going to give it the old college try today. This evening, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., three groups will be hosting a rally in Union Square to “urge our elected officials to stand up for transit.” The Straphangers Campaign, the Working Families Party and Transportation Alternatives will gather to “send a clear message that New Yorkers are united against the 25% fare increases and service cuts.” That’s all well and good, but as Streetsblog’s Ben Fried wrote yesterday, until these groups — and in particuarl, the WFP — come out for something, they’re just spinning their wheels. · (1)

As Albany bickered over an MTA funding plan, the agency yesterday announce a $621-million increase in its deficit for 2009 and a $1 billion increase for 2010. Based on the response out of Albany, you’d never know how bad that news really is.

In a nutshell, the story is simple. Because ridership and tax revenues are both lower than projected, the MTA’s substantial budge deficit will grow by nearly 50 percent this year. While neither Malcolm Smith nor Sheldon Silver has realized it, this increase basically negates any Albany-produced funding package. Even if the State Senate and Assembly can come to terms — even if they pass something that brings some money into the MTA’s coffers — it will be enough to cover a $1.2 billion gap and not a $1.8 billion gap.

So then, what does this mean for New Yorkers reliant on transit? Well, at this point, the MTA will have little choice but to start cutting service. The cutbacks may not be as drastic as once feared, but a $600 million gap is pretty substantial itself.

The worse news though comes in the fare box department. Since the MTA is so reliant right now on fare box revenue, the agency said on Monday that it may have to raise fares twice in 2009. With no Senate action, the fares will go up by nearly 25 percent at the end of May, and for the first time in MTA history, the fares could go up a second time this calendar year and a third time in 2010.

Pete Donohue reports a potential eight percent increase on tap as the second fare hike of the year. I would expect that to arrive by October or November when the MTA has a clearer picture of how much money it needs to balance its books before the end of the year. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the eventual second fare hike ended up at over eight percent.

Times are bleak indeed for transit in New York.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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As a current law student with a background in American history and political science, I’m more than a little dismayed about the recent news coming out of Albany.

According to numerous reports, Senate and Assembly leaders no longer really care about the substance of any MTA funding plans. Rather, our elected officials tasked with representing the city’s and state’s interests are going to support any plan as long as it has the requisite number of votes. If that isn’t a total derogation of political responsibility, I don’t really know what is.

“It’s not about merit, it’s just about what gets us there with the votes that we need to get it passed,” Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said late on Monday.

Smith was not alone in these sentiments. “I can support a bill that has 32 votes in the Senate that we can look at seriously,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, echoing Smith’s committment to, well, anything.

Albany started down the path to this sad state of affairs early on Monday. As the MTA Finance Committee sat through a presentation on the agencie’s ever-increasing deficit, the Senate Transportation Committee approved some version of an MTA funding bill. The only problem is that that passed this bil as “a conversation starter.” Transpo Committee head Martin Dilan said that he expected a lot of amendments, and it’s quite possible that the eventual bill will look nothing like the one approved today.

Meanwhile, as the day wore on, it was clear that this Senate proposal would rile up a lot of opposition. Both Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated their opposition to the taxi surcharge plan.

In fact, when the dust settled, Albany watchers were prepared to call the latest proposal dead on arrival. With strident opposition from the state’s leaders, it’s unclear if Smith can round up 32 votes to support a plan that he admits is lacking on the merits.

The day ended with a closed-door meeting between Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. This meeting yielded nothing but more bad blood between Democrats and Republicans as the two legislative chambers continue to search for adequate funding measures.

“This should not be about Democrats and Republicans,” said Silver. “There are Republican commuters and there are representatives of Republicans who represent commuters who face the largest increases on the Long Island Rail Road who are not standing up and responding on this plan. They are standing and saying, ‘We are not voting for it because my Republican conference leader does not want me to vote for it.’”

The problem here — fairly obvious to transit experts — is that what will pass is not what will save the MTA from further fiscal problems. For years, the MTA hasn’t received proper state and city support, and these plans the Senate is currently debating are stop-gap measures aimed at closing a budget gap. They aren’t forward-looking plans that would discourage driving in New York City, encourage transit use and provide a steady revenue stream for a fully-funded MTA.

No matter what happens, no matter what plan 32 Senators eventually agree upon, it won’t be good enough, and that is a failure of New York State politics.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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As Albany dallies, so grows the deficit.

In a presentation to the MTA Board’s Finance Committee this afternoon, agency CFO Gary Dellaverson said that the MTA deficit has grown by $621 million this year. Even if the State Senate Transportation Committee passed a “conversation starter” funding plan bill to target the earlier $1.2 billion deficit, the agency will still be hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.

I had the opportunity this morning to watch, via webcast, some of Dellaverson’s presentation. What was notable about it was how utterly open it was. Anyone could have watched it; anyone could have walked into the MTA HQ to attend; and Dellaverson held nothing back. He talked about methodology and numbers; he talked about why the MTA projections last year were off and what external forces are causing the deficit to grow in hundred-million-dollar leaps and bounds. How anyone could claim that the MTA needs more transparency in that regard just shows me that the people saying that — our elected officials allegedly representing us in Albany — are just not paying attention.

Anyone, I digress. The real news here is a whopping $1.8 billion budget for 2009 with more bad news for 2010. That year, the MTA says their budget deficit will increase by $1 billion over original projections. The Senate is going to have to institute bridge tolls sooner rather than later. It’s just reality at this point.

During Monday’s presentation, MTA officials pinpointed three sources of the decline:

  • Real estate taxes: Down $336 million
  • Fare/toll revenue: Down $221 million
  • State dedicated taxes: Down $113 million

There was simply no way to soften the impact of this news. “The budget that was passed in December assumed large decreases in revenue, but we now know that the reality is even worse,” Elliot G. Sander, MTA executive director and CEO, said. “With this re-forecast in hand we have begun identifying ways to fill the new gap, but there are no easy solutions.”

“Today’s re-forecast is further proof that the MTA desperately needs stable revenue sources that don’t plummet during economic downturns,” MTA Chair H. Dale Hemmerdinger said. “This is terrible news for the MTA, our customers and the regional economy, and the MTA Board will do everything in our power to protect the transit network. Without assistance from Albany, however, it will be extremely painful for everyone who relies on MTA services.”

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Delware adds 44 more cars to Redbird Reef · Where do old subway cars go when they do? The ocean off the coast of Delaware, of course. On Friday, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control added 44 more old subway cars to its extensive artificial reef off of the Delmarva coast. This latest group of cars bring the total size of the Redbird Reef to 934 old trains. It is 1.3 square nautical miles in size and is located 16 miles off of the coast. According to the Delaware DNREC, 13,000 anglers a year visit New York’s old rolling stock, and the site has become a haven for marine life. · (5)

As the MTA’s economic comes to a head this week with Senate and Assembly votes due on a funding plan, the agency is searching for money every way it can. One of those options — eschewing pay raises for its workers — may just start some labor unrest at at time when the MTA can least afford it.

Pete Donohue reported on Friday that the MTA has informed union leaders it does not have the money raises this year. This is sure to go over poorly with a generally defensive union. Writes Donohue:

Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Elliot Sander has invited union officials to meetings next Tuesday to discuss the fiscal crisis that has the authority preparing to raise fares up to 30% and enact deep service cuts. Sources said Sander will announce the MTA can’t afford to pay even the meager 1.5% raises, totaling about $50 million, included in its austere budget approved in December.

The contract with the largest union – Transport Workers Union Local 100, representing bus and subway workers – expired in January. An arbitration panel is charged with dictating the new terms of a contract. Citing the opinions of labor experts, The News reported exclusively on Tuesday that a wage freeze was possible because arbitration centers on an employer’s ability to pay raises and provide improved benefits.

The MTA wouldn’t reveal if it intends to ask the arbitration panel to maintain the existing pay rates for approximately 36,000 bus and subway workers.

This is the unmentioned underbelly of the MTA funding crisis. Many union jobs will be lost either through attrition or flat-out firings; others won’t see raises; and the agency is under increasing political pressure to rein in the bureaucracy.

Right now, the MTA could really use the support of its union, but that may require union leaders to compromise publicly. A political move like that could be a dangerous one for a fiercely protective union.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to roll out some employment- and benefits-related stories concerning the MTA’s financial position and its workers. This effort by the MTA to limit pay raises may just be the tip of labor ice berg.

Categories : TWU
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When I started writing Second Ave. Sagas in November of 2006, the Second Ave. Subway was due to open in New York City seven years later in 2013. It’s now 2009, and after a freshly announced delay, we’re still seven years away from the opening of Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. It’s becoming the world’s most expensive treadmill.

The bad news broke at around 10 p.m. on Friday night. That is, by the way, a very good time to break bad news. No one’s really paying much attention to the news, and by the time Monday rolls around, only the most dedicated of transit bloggers are going to notice.

Anyway, fourteen months after the MTA let slip a two-year delay, the transit authority has again pushed back the opening day for the Second Ave. Subway. This time, the line will maybe open in 2016, and this time, the feds are growing a little wary of a project propped up by billions of federal dollars and going nowhere fast.

Pete Donohue has the story:

The first segment of the Second Ave. subway may not be finished until 2016 – four years later than the original schedule, the Daily News has learned. The MTA, which has pushed back the completion date several times over the last decade, recently predicted additional construction and design delays totaling 18 months, an internal document drafted in February reveals.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s handling of some aspects of its major construction projects has frustrated the Federal Transit Administration, The News has learned. After extending the Second Ave. subway schedule in March 2008, citing higher than anticipated construction costs, the MTA was required to give the feds a recovery plan with options to make up some lost time and fill budget gaps.

The feds have “provided the MTA with a time period that is more than reasonable” regional administrator Brigid Hynes-Cherin wrote to the MTA in November. “Unfortunately, the MTA appears to have been caught up in a never-ending process of evaluating and reevaluating each program. The time for evaluation has taken far too long, and the time for presenting a recovery plan is now long overdue.”

Specifically, Hynes-Cherin targeted some internal bureaucratic issues with the MTA. According to Donohue, she wrote about “lack of leadership” and the “excessive amount of time” it took the agency to fill the vacant presidency at MTA Capital Construction after Mysore Nagaraja left that post in Jan. 2008. (This is not the first time the feds have complained about this issue, by the way.)

The MTA in conjunction with the FTA will now conduct a review of what Donohue called project schedules and management strategies. Officials though are still concerned about the money. “One of the greatest threats to the budget and schedule for the Second Ave. subway, and all of the MTA’s projects, remains ongoing uncertainty of funding for the vital upcoming capital program,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to The Daily News.

This news is of course no surprise to New Yorkers who have waited nearly 80 years for a Second Ave. subway. What’s another one or two, they may ask. But in reality, this is just another story in a recent slew of developments foreshadowing the demise of the long-awaited route, and I fear for the future of this project. They have to complete at least Phase I this time, right? The Feds can’t just give up the ghost that easily.

Anyway, as this story plays itself out, I wonder if the MTA is going to fix those SubTalk ads that appear in cars across the system. Overcrowding along the Lexington Ave. line won’t be alleviated until 2016 at the earliest.

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For transit advocates, this weekend represents the calm before the storm. The Senate has filed its bill to fund the MTA, and it will be ripe for a vote come Monday. Meanwhile, it’s prospects for pure passing look dim.

While Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith continues to say that he’ll deliver 32 votes for it, no one knows whence these votes will come. Some State Senates refuse to vote for any sort of payroll tax; others don’t like the idea of taxicab revenue heading upstate (vote in a Crain’s poll); others see the practical problems of collecting revenue from cabs; and some just want to toll the bridges.

From a practical political perspective though, this Senate plan — if it passes — is going to be just a one-house solution. The Assembly is going to pass Sheldon Silver’s modified tax-and-toll plan, and the two chambers will have to conference.

This reality was made abundantly clear by Elizabeth Benjamin today when she reported on a cab protest at City Hall. New York State Assembly representatives joined taxi drivers in protesting the $1 fee Senator Smith’s bill has proposed. Sheldon Silver, meanwhile, has pledged a passing vote on his version of the bill. It’s a political mess.

Meanwhile, Streetsblog points us to an Assembly representative who wants to tax jet fuel in order to fund the MTA. Ben Fried calls this one of the most “far-fetched nonsensical ‘solutions’” offered so far and adds: “Of course, there’s still time for more, so let’s hear ‘em: What’s the wackiest thing you can think of to slap a tax on to fund the MTA? Pet food? Cell phone minutes? Shoe strings? Nothing, apparently, is off limits. Except driving.”

And so we wait.

* * *


From 5 a.m. to 12 noon Sunday, April 26, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Jackson Avenue due to track repair.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, downtown 2 and 3 trains run local from 96th Street to Chambers Street due to a track dig-out north of 50th Street. Note: Overnight, downtown 3 trains run local from 96th Street to 42nd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, uptown 2 and 3 trains run local from 42nd Street to 96th Street due to a track dig-out north of 50th Street.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 10 p.m. Sunday April 26, 3 trains run in two sections due to switch repairs and station painting at Sutter Avenue, Saratoga Avenue, Rockaway Avenue and Junius Street:

  • Between 148th Street and Utica Avenue and
  • Between Utica and New Lots Avenue (every 20 minutes)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, there are no 5 trains between 149th and East 180th Streets due to structural work north of East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2 instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, shuttle trains run every 30 minutes between East 180th Street and Dyre Avenue due to structural work north of East 180th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 3rd Avenue to Hunts Point Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street, and Longwood Avenue stations. From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 26, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 26, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Hunts Point Avenue due to panel installation from Castle Hill Avenue to Parkchester.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street due to tunnel structure and lighting work. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, uptown A trains run local from Jay Street to 168th Street due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector to Lawrence Street. Note: C trains are not running during this time.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, downtown A trains run local from 168th Street to 59th Street, then express to Canal Street, where trains resume local service to Jay Street due to Jay Street station rehabilitation, construction of the underground connector to Lawrence Street and the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Note: C trains are not running at this time.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, April 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Beach 90th Street and Far Rockaway due to track panel work. Note: A trains to Far Rockaway run to Rockaway Park instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, there are no C trains running. A trains replace the C between 168th and Jay Street and F trains replace the C between Jay Street and Euclid Avenue. This is due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector to Lawrence Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, free shuttle buses replace D trains between 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track chip-out of Bedford Park Blvd.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to work at the 38th Street Yard.


From 12:01 p.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, there are no E trains between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Customers may take the A train instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, G trains replace the F between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector to Lawrence Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 5 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26, N trains run local between 59th Street-4th Avenue and DeKalb Avenue due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between Canal Street and DeKalb Avenue in both directions due to electrical work in the Montague Tunnel. Customers may take the 4 at nearby stations.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to station rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 27, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park due to Brighton Line station rehabilitation.

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