Apr
03

Assessing Lee Sander

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One of the sticking points in the Senate during the debate over the MTA has been the authority’s leadership. Many Senators believe that the MTA’s leadership doesn’t know what they’re doing, that they are misleading the public, that they aren’t cutting enough costs internally.

Reality could not be further from Albany, and a recent pro-MTA editorial in Crain’s highlights that point:

Some suggest the answer lies in firing another CEO, the MTA’s Lee Sander. He has become a target for those who believe the MTA is bloated and wasteful. In truth, Mr. Sander has wisely streamlined operations and cut costs in his two years in the post. He hasn’t solved all of the MTA’s problems. Who could in such a short time? And he hasn’t been the most effective politician in selling what he has done. But is that really a fault? Shouldn’t the job go to a seasoned transportation professional rather than a politician?

Meanwhile, Streetsblogs checked in with the MTA to find out just how the authority is streamlining operations. MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told Brad Aaron about the changes:

Donovan points to the following efficiencies imposed “even as demand is at levels not seen since the early 1950s”: elimination of 410 administrative positions; establishment of Regional Bus Operations, merging three companies into one; creation of a Business Service Center to “consolidate duplicative back office functions”; assignment of managers to oversee individual subway lines; formation of a blue-ribbon panel to “encourage competition and increase bidding on capital construction projects”; and increases in advertising revenue “from $38 million in 1997 to $125 million in 2008.”

Furthermore, according to Donovan, Sander has saved the MTA 11 percent by mandating internal budget cuts. That’s solving — and not contributing to — the problem.

Of course, someone may have to be the political sacrificial lamb. While the Senators sadly won’t fire themselves, Sander’s days may be unfortunately numbered. He is a man with a vision for the MTA and would be by far the best choice to head a money-rich transit agency. But those times have never been, and Sander, like the rest of us, awaits word of the fate of what is for now his transit agency.

Categories : MTA Politics
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  • Senate faces April 20 deadline from Gov. · David Paterson will see this through. The New York State Governor has told the Senate that, starting April 20, he will keep the legislature in Albany unless and until an MTA bailout package is passed. Transportation Committee head Martin Dilan told Politicker NY’s Jimmy Vielkind that nothing will happen soon but that he expects a deal to get done around that time. The Senate, according to Dilan, is musing “a menu of about seven options” including taxi fare surcharges, gas taxes and license and automobile registration fees. What the politically feasible plan will be is anyone’s guess. · (2)

selectbusservice

The buses, said Streetsblog editor Aaron Naparstek at a bus rapid transit event on Wednesday, are New York’s “least sexy mode of transportation.”

It’s hard to debate Aaron on that point. He is a man who will battle passionately for the role of buses in urban life. In New York in 2009, though, that is a losing battle. While 70 percent of the city commutes via mass transit, just 10 percent of those riders use the buses. New York, says Naparstek, has the largest bus system in the country but also the slowest. The inefficient operation of the bus systems and the vehicle’s slow speeds serve to discourage use.

Enter Bus Rapid Transit.

The idea is simple. Give buses their own dedicated lanes with priority traffic signals. Make customers pre-board as they do on subways and institute some rather simple measures — ground-level boarding, multiple doors, frequent buses — and voila, for $2.1 billion, the cost of the 7 line extension, a city could implement 200 miles of bus rapid transit routes.

On Wednesday, Naparstek gathered three transit experts — Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development and co-founder of COMMUTE; Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign; and Bruce Schaller, Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Sustainability at the New York City Department of Transportation — to talk about bus rapid transit. The meat of the event belonged to Naparstek and Schaller as the former talked up BRT and the latter unveiled New York’s ambitious plans for the program.

Following a film on Colombia’s Transmilenario bus system and Los Angeles’ bus rapid transit pilot, Schaller took the stage to discuss the city’s plans. The Select Bus Service in the Bronx has been a hit despite Albany’s denial of traffic camera enforcement measures, and the city will soon implement BRT service along 1st and 2nd Aves. Pilot programs are in the works for Nostrand Ave. (2011) and 5th and Madison Aves. as well.

The true gem though are the plans for 34th St. The city will turn 34th St. into a modified one-way street — east-bound on the East Side and west-bound on the West Side — with two-way dedicated bus lanes running the length of the island.

Eventually, says Schaller, the city will expand into all boroughs among many arteries, and cost is no problem. “It pretty much pays for itself,” Schaller said.

While Wednesday’s event made me pine for a bus-covered city, shades of the real debate kept creeping into the presentation. Should the city — and the MTA — be paying billions of dollars for new subway lines or should they take that money and invest it into a BRT network that can truly reach areas underserved by mass transit while uniting the boroughs? Naparstek, Pratt and Schaller seemed to think so, but experts disagree. I waffle on the issue whenever I think about it.

Proponents point to the cost and traffic-reducing consequences. Add BRT lanes, and the cars have nowhere to go but off the roads. Suddenly, buses can go fast — up to 55 mphs in Los Angeles, for example — and routes can cover the traditional north-south avenues in Manhattan but also interborough routes that could quickly connect disparate parts of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

But opponents will say that buses can’t move nearly as many people as subways. They are subject to the whims of traffic and traffic lights. Opponents also point the benefits of light rail over buses as far as surface transit goes.

No matter the outcome though, the debate is alive and well. The Department of Transportation is moving forward with bus rapid transit just as the MTA will build the Second Ave. Subway and 7 line extension until the projects are out of money. The city will be better off for both of them, but questions will always remain about the costs.

As a coda to the evening, I had to hightail it from the Museum of the City of New York on 103rd and 5th Ave. to another event on 53rd and 6th Ave. I caught the M4 right on 5th Ave., and fifteen minutes later, I found myself deposited at 50 blocks south. It was a trip fast enough to make me believe the gods of the buses, those unsexy buses, were smiling me on.

Categories : Buses
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For much of the last few months, David Paterson, the accidental governor of New York, has showed a stunning lack of leadership. As the MTA floundered and Doomsday approached, Paterson didn’t — or perhaps with a disjointed and disunited State Senate, couldn’t — take the bull by the horn to deliver an intelligent and thorough funding package for the beleaguered transit authority.

Today, though, Paterson, the governor slammed the state legislature for its inaction and inability to fund the MTA. The Senate, he said, is displaying a complete lack of “professionalism” as numerous Senators claim that no real solutions are on the table.

“No, we’re not starting all over again, because the issues are right there; they’re right on the table. We thought we had a good plan,” he said this morning. “I don’t understand how there aren’t 32 senators that won’t pass that legislation.”

For the most part, though, the governor hedged his bets. Paterson’s name-calling and words won’t mean much if he doesn’t act. He says he won’t keep the state senators in Albany during the upcoming Passover/Easter week. He says he won’t force a timetable and trusts the Senators to understand that the MTA’s situation is “critical enough” to require action. Is that naivete or stupidity? Had the Senate understood that a month ago, we wouldn’t be talking about this.

The final paragraph in Elizabeth Benjamin’s Daily News write-up basically sums up David Paterson’s response to the MTA:

“In the next few weeks, I would think that we would move forward with a resolution or we’re going to have to find ways to make the Legislature only address that issue,” he said, adding that he is prepared to use “any means necessary” to prevent the massive fare hikes recently approved by the MTA, (which, for the record, was a vote he did not try to prevent).

Leadership we can’t believe in.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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metronorthys

When Metro-North and the City of New York broke ground on a new Metro-North stop just a few blocks away from new Yankee Stadium, the station was set to cost $91 million and open in June of 2009.

Somehow, the project is both on budget and early. The stop will open on May 23, and the price tag remains a cool $91 million — or enough to pay A-Rod for three years.

On its website yesterday, Metro-North unveiled ticket information about the new station. Patrons bound for or leaving from the Yankees-E. 153rd St. Metro-North stop can buy tickets starting May 1.

On a regular basis, this stop will be a part of Metro-North’s Hudson Line with game-day train service “to and from outlying stations on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Lines, as well as Harlem-125th Street Station and Grand Central Terminal.” The MTA is estimating that around 10,000 fans per game will pass through this new stop, cutting down on the number of cars at Yankee Stadium and the crowds on the 4 train as well.

“There’ll be frequent service. It’ll be fast,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said during a recent tour of the new station. “You don’t have to worry about any of the hassles or any of the concerns: ‘There may be traffic, I have to leave a half-hour early.’ You will get here when the train says you are getting here.”

In January, the MTA unveiled the fare schedule for this new stop with its fully ADA-compliant 450-foot platform. Game-day tickets will cost just one dollar more than the usual fare to Grand Central, and this stop should serve a neighborhood devoid of commuter rail options as well.

Categories : Metro-North
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Early yesterday morning, as I dressed to head out for the day, I turned on NY1 to catch the weather. The lead story of course was about the MTA and how officials in Albany were floating a plan to institute a $0.50 taxi surcharge as a way of driving money to the transit agency.

This plan has gotten varying degrees to treatment in the press. A report on WNYC made it seem as though it was just another half-baked idea a few State Senators were tossing around. A more recent report on NY1 from last night made it sound as though it were a real proposal under consideration and one the Senate might actually support.

That’s neither here nor there though. My biggest issue with the NY1 report was a statement from Bhairavi Desai, the head of the Taxi Workers Alliance. Now, the TWA is a great organization. It’s a union of 3000 taxi drivers, and Desai has been instrumental in earning better working conditions and higher pay for drivers. She clearly knows nothing about the MTA though.

“I didn’t think the MTA could sink any lower,” she said on TV yesterday, “but I was wrong.”

There you go. That’s a direct quote from one of the city’s leading transit advocates. While the MTA was not behind this plan — agency heads obvious prefer the more robust Ravitch Plan — Desai channeled all of the ignorance from Albany and all of the uninformed New Yorkers going around to bash the MTA for something the authority did not even propose.

Meanwhile, the TWA’s website, while directing people to contact the Senate, still seems to blame this on the MTA. “Don’t let MTA balance their budget failures on our backs!” screams Desai’s site. She continues:

We know the Governor and legislature is out of touch with ordinary New Yorkers who do the daily grind of driving a taxicab for a living—considered the most dangerous job in the country by the Department of Labor—but they are also out of touch with our riders. Many of the men and women we serve everyday are the elderly visiting a doctor or a janitor going home from the night shift or a parent with a baby stroller or a businessperson running to meet their job’s demands.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. First, according to the Department of Labor, mining, logging and slaughterhouse jobs are far and away the most dangerous in the nation. To even mention taxi drivers in that statement is a joke.

Second, those janitors coming from their night shifts — they can’t afford taxis. They need the late night subway service set to be cut. But again, that’s neither here nor there.

Like so many other advocates, like so many politicians, Desai is taking the truth and throwing it out the window. Add another one to the list of people out of touch with New Yorkers and the needs of this city.

Categories : Taxis
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There is an air of finality surrounding the news out of Albany tonight. The New York Times, Daily News and Newsday all reported the same sad story: Right now it looks as though there will be no MTA bailout.

According to numerous reports, the prospects for any sort of state action on the MTA in advance of the May fare hikes and service cuts have grown significantly dimmer than they were just 24 hours ago. The Assembly has gone home for the weekend; the Senate is still bickering over the state budget; and with a short week on tap next week and no solution acceptable to a majority of the Senate on the table, any chances for a real rescue plan are nearly dead. Meanwhile, one Senator is laid up in the hospital with pneumonia, and the Democrats would need her vote for any legislative action whatsoever.

“There are Democratic senators who won’t vote for the tolls and the Democratic senators who won’t vote for the mobility tax, and then the Republican senators, all of them, who won’t vote for anything,” Gov. David Paterson said yesterday. “So Right now, I think that, these elected officials have got to sit down, the senators, and at least have a plan.”

If this is starting to sound like Groundhog’s Day on a downward spiral, that’s because it is. Every day, the news gets a little worse, and more State Senators sound as though they have no idea what they’re talking about.

To whit, comments made on Wednesday by Craig Johnson and Brian Foley, two of the four suburban Senators opposing the payroll tax, via Newsday:

Johnson shot back that the payroll surcharge would be crippling to not-for-profits and spur higher school property taxes. He blamed MTA officials for the authority’s $1.2 billion deficit. “At this juncture we need to say ‘no’ and put it upon the MTA to come up with a reasonable solution,” he said.

Foley agreed, saying Suffolk businesses derive less benefit from mass transit than those in Nassau and New York City. He accused the MTA of “brinkmanship, trying to force our hand . . . and I won’t countenance that.”

Luckily, I don’t need to defend the MTA here. Richard Brodsky of Sheldon Silver’s suddenly rational New York State Assembly, did it for me:

Brodsky (D-Westchester), a frequent MTA critic, said such a financial review already has been completed and a state commission offered a “balanced” bailout plan in December that includes the payroll tax, modest fare hikes and tolls on the now-free East River and Harlem River bridges.

“Nobody loves the payroll tax, but you have to do more than say, ‘no.’ What is [the senators'] alternative?” he said.

Silver himself added a dig at the Senate too. “I think we need a time out,” he said. “Basically, they can’t be opposed to everything.”

Oh, Shelly, they can and are opposed to literally anything. Remember how Gov. Paterson organized an independent commission led by Richard Ravitch to conduct a thorough examination of the MTA’s finances and possible solutions for the budget gap? Remember he came back with a very long and very thorough tax-and-toll plan that called upon everyone to contribute?

Still, State Senators are insisting that the MTA has not set forth a “reasonable solution.” Still, State Senators are calling this “brinkmanship.” At some point, we the straphangers have to send a message to these State Senators: Get in touch with your constituents or get lost. These comments by Johnson and Foley are just another set in a long of idiotic statements that show an Albany ready, willing and able to throw New York City under the bus.

So as the MTA has begun reprogramming MetroCard machines and fare infrastructure in anticipation of enacting this Doomsday budget in May, we should rest uneasily knowing that the people who can avert disaster seem to know absolutely nothing about the MTA’s financial difficulties, let alone how to solve them.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • R160s make their F line debut · Last week, New York City Transit rolled out some new rolling stock along the F line. Riders from Jamaica to Coney Island-Stillwell Ave. will now enjoy the clean, sterile comfort of the new R160s and the crisp announcements that come along with it. The Straphangers message board pinpoints the rollout as happening last Wednesday while Subhcat commenters figure one of these new cars to be the 1000th R160 in the system. Investments and improvements such as these are exactly why the MTA needs to find its dedicated funding. Now if only we could do something about that whole F Express plan too. · (7)

With word early this morning that Senate talks have all but broken down, transit advocates in New York are feeling the sting of rebuke. They’re also well aware that New York is sitting on the precipice of an transit abyss, the likes of which the city is ill-equipped to face.

The real problem is that, while this 2009 Doomsday plan looks bad, the MTA will have to enact something like this every year until their debt payments are gone. Many New Yorkers believe that if the Senate fails to act this year and fares go up while service gets scaled back, it will be a one-year cut. Next year, the MTA will operate with reduced schedules, but we’ll adjust. Life will go on, right?

Wrong.

Over the next three years, as the MTA budget documents available here show, dept service payments are going to balloon to a projected $2.2 billion by 2012. As other costs increase, the MTA will have to continue to cut service and raise fares to cover this gap. This is the real reason why transit advocates have been urging permanent action.

Eliot Brown, writing for Politicker NY yesterday, explored the MTA’s downward spiral. He does not paint a positive picture:

Should no new money come from the Legislature in Albany, entire lines would be cut, stations would grow dirtier and fewer booth operators would be around to help. The train cars and tracks would deteriorate rather quickly, giving rise to even more “signal problems” that so often hold up trains, boosting the number of “slow zones”—which are pretty much what they sound like—and increasing the number of derailments.

It wouldn’t exactly be New York in the 1970s, but a decaying transit system, if it gets bad enough, actually begins to undermine New York’s status as a vibrant urban center, interrupting the flow of a system that gives over 2.6 billion rides a year, doing damage to a central feature of the city’s business position and general quality of life.

Workers won’t be able to get to work on time. Business areas — transportation hubs — will be underserved. Up and coming neighborhoods will stagnant, and capital projects will remain half-finished and going nowhere fast.

The city, meanwhile, will suffer. Employers will find disgruntled workers who can’t work the hours they need to be putting in and will begin to turn elsewhere for employee bases. As Hope Cohen from the Manhattan Institute said to Brown, “It’s a vicious spiral—if there’s less and less service, and less and less people want to use it. That’s when it becomes more derelict and crime-ridden and all those things.”

This bleak picture is really what it’s all about. Transit advocates have to start pushing the reality that, barring state action, the MTA will be left with no choice but to cut, cut, cut until New York suffers from a barebones subway system that is in a state of disrepair. That is a reality no one wants to confront and no one can afford, but if Albany does not act, if New Yorkers do not demand a solution, this dystopic transit future will arrive sometime around 2012. It’s that close to reality.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Last year, on April 1, I ran a post with the headline “MTA announces plan to shutter subways at night.” At the time, any plan to close or reduce subway capacity seemed so far from the minds of New Yorkers that we could sit back and laugh about our 24-hour transit system.

Today, I wish I were writing this story as an April Fools joke, but I am not. In a stunning development, State Senate negotiations over an MTA rescue package are on life support with only the barest of pulses. Three Senators officially killed the tolling proposal advocated by Richard Ravitch and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday morning, and a few hours later, talks over other possible solutions ended when four Senators representing Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties vowed to kill the payroll tax provisions as well. Baring any further developments, the MTA will have to implement its Doomsday budget.

William Neuman and Nicolas Confessiore reported this bad news in The Times, and their sources are painting a dire picture. “It’s not dead but it’s definitely not in good shape. I think we’re nowhere,” one anonymous Senate insider said to the reporters, contracting a NY1 report proclaiming the plan dead.

This news comes on the heels of what was shaping up to be productive day, at least by Albany’s standards. While the morning starting out with the certain death of the bridge toll plan, Democratic leaders were confident they could find other ways to solve the budget gap. “I think what’s most important,” Silver said a press event on Tuesday, “is we’re dealing with the one thing the three of us agree: The actions of the M.T.A. board cannot be allowed to stand. We have to get together and provide the revenue and ensure these 31-percent fare hikes do not stand.”

Gov. David Paterson announced the death of the tolls this morning. “The framework I see is that the Senate has really eliminated what my choice would be, which would be to have the tolls. If that’s the case, then we’re going to have to try to find alternative ways to come up with several hundred million dollars that would replace what would have been the revenues generated by the tolls,” Paterson said of the then-ongoing negotiations.

The Senate though was rumored to be considering numerous other options to replace the lost revenue, including auto registration fees, gas taxes, parking fees and even taxi surcharges. At this point, anything is better than the stunning inaction we have seen so far.

These provisions were supposed to be coupled with a payroll tax implemented among businesses in the 12 MTA counties. But disaster struck in the afternoon when four State Senators vowed no support for any MTA plan that included this tax. Those Senators — all Democrats — represent suburban counties: Craig Johnson and Brian Foley come from Nassau and Suffolk, respectively, and Andrea Stewart-Cousines and Suzi Oppenheimer represent the Metro-North lands in Westchester.

With this opposition, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and his Democrats find themselves far away from the 32 votes they need to pass a plan. They’re even further away from coming up with a proposal that can approach the $1.2 billion in money the MTA needs.

Meanwhile, all sorts of insults and scathing editorials are being shot toward Albany. Vielkind called it the city where transportation plans go to die, and Peter Goldmark, former Port Authority head and Ravitch Commission member, wondered what our State Senators are smoking as they delay on a very serious issue.

As time ticks closer to Doomsday, only one thing is for sure: The MTA will have to keep cutting and raising fares. The debt is projecting to balloon over the next few years, and my April Fools post from last year may become reality under ground before we know.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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