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.

Comments (5)
  • Bloomberg rips Senate plan · In a talk yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg slammed the Senate MTA funding plan for much the same reasons I did. The Mayor doesn’t appreciate how New York City is again being asked to foot the bill for upstate construction projects and feels that the Senate plan doesn’t adequately address the MTA’s long-term needs. “I’m a little bit bothered by a proposal that would put a taxi fare surcharge on here in the city to build roads upstate,” Bloomberg said. “New York City already sends more money to Albany than we get back, we are fundamentally the economic engine of the state and we subsidize it.”

    While Senate Majority Leader Malcom Smith responded in turn, his statement avoided the truth of Bloomberg’s attack: “I’m actually offended that somebody like you would try to separate New York City from the rest of the state…[The] best thing for all of us to do, as opposed to throwing bombs while the public’s getting screwed, is to sit down like adults and work something out.” Someone should remind Smith that his Senate has hardly behaved like adults over the last few months as they’ve shot down the best plan for the MTA without even giving it a vote. · (3)

The MTA is nearing its financial endgame. As the Senate prepares to vote next week on the latest MTA funding proposal, the transit authority is moving ahead under the reasonable assumption that the plan will not pass and that the Doomsday budget will have to go into effect.

Yesterday, the agency unveiled details surrounding the grace period for stockpiled Metrocards. Today, we discuss a different issue — a hiring freeze. In anticipation of the looming financial crisis, the MTA has implemented an agency-wide hiring freeze. While no one has been fired yet, no new employees will be brought on, and positions left empty through attrition and retirement will remain empty.

“The executive director and CEO has instructed each of the agency presidents to have a hard hiring freeze, which means unless it’s an absolute emergency, no slot should be filled,” MTA Spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to NY1’s Bobby Cuza.

The decision was announced to the MTA’s agency presidents in a memo by CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander. The Post got its hands on that memo, and it is a memo familiar to many in today’s economy. In addition to a hiring freeze, the MTA is limiting all other kinds of employment-related activities. Take a look:

A hiring freeze is effective immediately — Only offers that have already been made can remain in place.”

Overtime — Additional overtime is not permissible unless it can be proved that it is required to meet scheduled service.”

Purchases — If you have to even think about it, don’t do it.”

Professional/Contractual Services — Please consider using existing staff wherever possible to replace professional and contractual services which cannot otherwise be delayed or deferred.”

Excess Employees — Please carefully re-examine the levels of excess employees and also any reimbursable employees that are not currently matched with a reimbursable project.”

These specific directives are related to what Sander called a need to “do everything possible to conserve cash.” Things, folks, are not looking up for the MTA.

I know many advocates for transit in New York City believe employment to be the Achilles’ Heel of this giant bureaucratic mess. Countless studies have trumpeted the shocking number of redundant and inefficient workers in all ranks of the MTA, and as the agency is gearing up to cut staff, those protesting the service cuts would rather see personnel ranks slashed significantly first.

In the end, though, this is just another reminder about the pressures we should be applying to our State Senators. If Albany doesn’t come through — if this latest proposal, flawed as it is, fails — this memo from Sander will represent just the tip of an iceberg destined to sink transit in New York City.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Subway ridership, fare revenue down in February · With rampant job loss spurred on by the weak U.S. economy impacting New York City, the MTA said this week that subway ridership was down in February. According to numbers released by NYC Transit, February 2009 saw a drop in daily ridership of around 21,000 as compared to February 2008. While this number isn’t nearly as bad as the 98,000-trip decline we saw in January, Transit is now underperforming its fare-box revenue projections by around $3.2 million. The financial news just keeps getting worse for the MTA. · (0)

A subway station house grows in Manhattan. (Photos by Marsha Berkowitz)

The 96th St. station on the West Side IRT is currently a mess. As part of an $80 million overhaul of this heavily-trafficked station, the MTA is constructing a brand new station house in the middle of Broadway close to 95th st.

This station will be one of the Stations of the Future the MTA has been promoting lately. It will be fully ADA-compliant and will eliminate the current design flaw that forces Upper West Siders to go down a flight of stairs, swipe through, go down another flight of stairs and then climb back up to the platform. On the inside, it will eventually look like this:

inside96st

For now, though, it is just a skeleton. A few months behind schedule, the new station house is slowly rising above Broadway. When I got word of the topping out of the new station, I sent Second Ave. Sagas’ Upper West Side correspondent — more affectionately known as my mom — to snap some pictures. The slideshow is below. One day — and according to my other UWS correspondent familiarly known as my dad, that day should be in September 2010 — that station with its new tiles and all will glimmer above Broadway.

Categories : MTA Construction
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