One of the many charges leveled against the MTA concerns the amount of money those at the top get paid. It’s outrageous that former CEO and Executive Director earned $290,000 in 2008, right? It’s crazy that upper level management should get fairly compensated! Let’s cut their salaries before raising the fares.

Frankly, that’s an illogical line of reasoning. Sander in 2008 oversaw an agency that consisted of 78,393 paid employees. His successor will oversee one that features nearly as many, and a CEO working in the private sector would receive well more than ten times what Sander’s take-home pay amounted to last year. Sander and the agency presidents each making $200,000 a year or more aren’t overpaid.

That isn’t to say that all is A-OK with regards to the MTA’s payroll. Now that the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an off-shoot of the Manhattan Institute, has publicized salary information for all MTA employees, we can better understand what the MTA’s labor costs and challenges are.

The information for the MTA is available here as a searchable database. It includes, per the See Through NY Web site, “names, positions, wage and salary rates, and total pay (including overtime and other extras) of every individual who worked for the MTA during the 2008 calendar year.” While searching through it can be more than a little overwhelming, the Empire Center has put out a press release with some top-line information:

More than 10 percent of the MTA’s workforce–8,214 individuals in all–took home $100,000 or more in total pay, including overtime. The MTA’s six-figure club included:

  • 10 employees who earned more than $250,000, averaging $102,000 over their base salaries;
  • 44 employees who earned between $200,000 and $250,000, averaging $89,000 over their base salaries;
  • 600 employees who earned between $150,000 and $200,000; and
  • 7,560 individuals who earned between $100,000 and $150,000.

Eleven of the 654 employees who earned more than $150,000 in 2008 were Long Island Railroad car repairmen who earned an average of $206,000—which was $143,000 over their average base pay rate of $63,000. Other popular titles in the $150,000-and-over category included:

  • 62 Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad conductors who averaged $83,000 over their base salaries which averaged only $82,000;
  • 40 police officers averaging $79,000 over their average base pay of $90,000;
  • 39 gang foremen averaging $87,000 over their average base pay of $79,300; and
  • 30 Long Island Railroad engineers averaging $103,000 over their average base pay of $73,000.

It seems as though the MTA could save on labor costs simply by hiring more workers and eliminating overtime. How many hours must these workers be putting in to nearly double their salaries? That is a prime example of poor upper management and oversight.

In the end, the MTA’s fiercest critiques will decry this information as yet another sign that MTA workers are overpaid. That isn’t really true. This people are paid at levels that are fairly compensatory. The problem is that there are just too many of them. The MTA needs to cut internally, but a true slicing and dicing of the authority’s payrolls would require a complete reorganization of the seven-agency beast that is the MTA. I just don’t know, though, who has the clout to fight the unions and Albany. It would be quite the uphill battle.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Yesterday afternoon at around 2 p.m., the Department of Buildings issues an evacuation order for the building at 1768 2nd Ave./301 E. 92nd St. Located near the Second Ave. Subway blast zone, this six-story, 28-unit building with three ground-floor commercial tenants is, as The Launch Box reports, in danger of collapse. This is the second building near the SAS work zone in recent weeks to be evacuated, and while the MTA says the building’s problems originate before work started on the new subway line, the agency will soon face a PR problem.

According to Ben at The Launch Box, the vacate order focuses around the leaning building. It says, “This order is issued because there is imminent danger to life or public safety or the safety of the occupants or property, in that Exposure 2 brick wall exhibit leaning 18″ towards north causing unstable load bearing wall and in danger of collapse.” Ben has some pictures of the scenes from last night and a few photos from this morning. Already, a sidewalk shed is in place along the building, but residents and business owners do not know when they will be able to return.

Meanwhile, The Post has a quote from the MTA. A spokesperson said, “The leaning condition at the buildings vacated on Second Avenue existed and was documented long before construction began.”

Earlier this month, the building at 1772 2nd Ave. had to be evacuated, and others in the neighborhood were concerned with the vibrations from the construction. For now, this is simply a developing story. The MTA has, in both cases, maintained that these buildings had existing structural problems, and based on my knowledge of the low-rise structures in that neighborhood, I’m inclined to believe them. As this project moves south, though, it will encounter areas with high-rise buildings and more residents. Hopefully, those buildings won’t be at any sort of risk.

Again, this is why the city should have built this subway line years ago. It’s far easier to build through low density areas than it is to build a new line through a heavily-populated area of the city. Such are the way of things along Second Ave.

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Thirty years ago, the New York Public Interest Research Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization, formed the Straphangers Campaign. Tasked with speaking up for the city’s millions of subway riders, the group has, as its Web site explains, enjoyed numerous success stories over the last three decades. They have helped — with an emphasis on the help — more transparency and citizen participation at MTA meetings, increased attention to transit investments, better MetroCard options and the restoration of the Court St. station into a permanent Transit Museum.

Yet, when push came to shove this year, when the MTA found itself with its back against the wall, when riders and politicians uneducated in the minutiae of the transit agency’s woes started slamming it for demanding more money or threatening a fare hike, the Straphangers were hardly a force in the debate. Gene Russianoff, the group’s lead attorney, made his perfunctory appearances at fare hike meetings and saw his name in nearly every article about the MTA. His quotes though are mostly bland and forgettable. Transit opponents have their “two sets of books” while Russianoff says on the eve of the fare hikes, “It would have been much worse – with double the fare hike, coupled with severe service cuts – if the state Legislature had not passed an MTA bailout, which spread transit costs among riders, motorists and business.” You tell me which one makes for a better talking point.

Over the last few years, I’ve gone from admiring the Straphangers’ ability to get their name out there for most subway-related things to believing that the group may need a new mission and a new focus. A glance at their Web site reveals nothing compelling. There’s yet another survey about pay phones underground and an annual look at how dirty the trains are. We have the slowest buses and the state of the subway awards. The only lists that are less interesting and less variable on a year-to-year basis are those ranking colleges and universities published by U.S. News and World Reports.

The site is notably silent on the fare hike. The lone link goes back to the hard-to-find page on the MTA’s website, and the organization doesn’t have anything resembling a one-pager about the state of the MTA, contacting officials or urging better investment in transit. They’re just not doing the job.

I’m not the only transit advocate who has noticed this lack of leadership. Over at On Transport, a new site run by Chris O’Leary, he slams the Straphangers for their ineffective leadership:

The outrage over the hike was not directed at the state’s inaction, but rather at the MTA for its alleged mismanagement of funds and bloated, overpaid board of directors…In the face of all these facts, the media, politicians, and the MTA’s customers have chosen to blame the MTA for their deficit.

A logical reaction by an organization that is working for the best interests of subway riders would be a campaign of facts: simply lay out some simple facts about how the MTA got into this mess, point out what the MTA has done to improve their efficiency and transparency, and make a call to action to rally riders to demand that the state provide new funding sources for the agency.

Instead, the Straphangers Campaign sat on their hands. They joined a coalition of over a hundred organizations that created a letter-writing campaign to the state legislators, but there was nothing they did to stop the flow of misinformation from politicians into the mass media…The organization has been far less proactive and far more reactive. In a time when transit was in peril in New York, the Straphangers Campaign did what they always do. Russianoff showed up on NY1, repeated the same valid but tired talking points, but never made it part of a wide-ranging campaign to get the truth out: fares were going up because of the State Government, NOT the MTA. The Straphangers Campaign seemed content to continue simply being quoted in the news and not making news of their own.

O’Leary ends with a pair of questions: “If the Straphangers Campaign refuses to do anything other than send out press releases and ‘report cards,’ how will they affect any change in getting the MTA fully funded at the state level? And if the Straphangers Campaign won’t take up the task of rallying people around the cause of a fully-funded transit system, who will?”

Over the last few days, I’ve posed the same questions and have arrived at no answer. The news reporters are mailing it in; the advocacy groups — and I count myself here — are preaching to the choir. Somehow, someway, we have to get the message out, and if the long-standing groups who have championed themselves as the voice of the riders won’t do it, then maybe it’s time for some new voices to step up and take the reins.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Six days ago, I helped break the story of the MTA’s first naming rights contract. To recap: As part of the Atlantic Yards deal with Bruce Ratner, the MTA will receive $4 million over 20 years to add Barclays Center to the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway stop. While the new name would identify an above-ground attraction, the agency did not want to give free advertising space to Barclays.

Today, The Times editors chimes in with their take on the deal. Based on the short editorial, it’s tough to tell what they really think of the day. They waver on the pluses and harp on the minuses:

We know [$200,000 a year] is a goodly sum and times are very tough for the M.T.A. But there’s reason to be skeptical about all of this, which probably explains why it took so long to sell even this one.

When you get off the train at a subway station, you want to know where you are, not who your sponsor is. Names aren’t as easily changed as all that, especially when they correspond — as the names of subway stations do — to the actual geography of the city.

The names of subway stations are beautifully utilitarian just as they are, shifting only as rapidly as the streets above them shift. The names of their sponsors are likely to shift with the economic climate, and somehow adding a name like Barclays to what is, after all, a public transit station — in Brooklyn — feels even more dissonant. So when it comes to selling naming rights, we’d like to urge the M.T.A. to take another approach: sell the naming rights to individual subway cars. Some Metro-North commuters already know the pleasure of stepping aboard the Thelonius Monk or the John Cheever or the Sojourner Truth. But in these times, it would have to be cash on the barrel from the M.T.A.’s honoree. Perhaps the Donald Trump?

Of course, this ignores the reality that plenty of spots around the city already bear corporate names. Rockefeller Center isn’t a public trust; it’s a private, corporate area. The Yankee Stadium stops, while signifying that a major attraction is nearby, existed at 161st St. and River Ave. long before the original stadium opened in 1923. Ditto for the Mets at Willets Point. If anything, this line of reasoning makes the case against naming rights.

In the end, the MTA isn’t going to stray from identifying the stations. The complex at 42nd St.-Times Square will always carry that name even if it becomes “42nd St.-Times Square brought to you by the Walt Disney Corporation.” If the agency can get some money out of the naming of a station with sacrificing the integrity of the name, then by all means, do it.

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As we all know because we pay attention to these things, the MTA raised their fares yesterday at 12:01 a.m. Throughout the system, stations featured SubTalk posters with the new fare structure, but what about people sitting at home? How could they find out the latest fare information?

The obvious and most logical place to look would be the MTA’s Web site. After all, in 2009, when people at home need information fast, they generally turn to the web. As those who cover the subways for the city’s papers did a poor job of covering the fare hike on the day it went into effect, we would expect the MTA’s site to draw attention to the new hikes.

The only problem is that it didn’t. As you can see from the above screenshot — click the image to enlarge — the site looked the same as it did on Friday. The graphics boxes on the right side did not broadcast any new information, and just two links in the very busy right sidebar — one under “Features” and one under “Facts & Figures” — went to the new fare information. Neither of those two links were on top in their respective boxes, and both had been featured on the home page for some time. Meanwhile, nothing on the New York City Transit homepage featured anything about the new fares.

My critiques of the MTA’s site are nothing new. When Washington’s WMATA unveiled its new site in January, I took the MTA to task for its poorly designed and organized site. The story today is much the same. The Web site is the public face of the agency, and it should present the vital information in clear, easy-to-find areas. Riders should be able to get the new fare information right away; they shouldn’t have to click around for it.

In survey after survey, straphangers say they don’t trust the MTA because the agency is not transparent and tough to reach. Their site is full of useful and interesting information for those that want to dig, but we shouldn’t have to dig for fare information. In a web-focused age, the MTA’s current site leaves much to be desired.

Categories : MTA Technology
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Whenever the MTA raises subway fares, the city’s newspapers — or at least those that decide to write about — cover it with a faux-populism outrages as expressed through the riders the reporters choose to interview. Instead of focusing on the whys and wherefores of the fare hike, instead of explaining how Albany has left the MTA out in the financial cold, it’s far easier to find people outraged than it is to educate.

Take, for example, Irving DeJohn and Stephanie Gaskell’s piece in the Daily News about rider reaction to the fare hike. It is chock full of quotes bemoaning the price increases, and the statements of the riders are, frankly, ignorant.

Take the first one in the article from Emmanuel Louis of Brooklyn: “You shouldn’t raise the fare if you’re not going to increase service. It’s just not fair.” This is where a reporter should challenge Louis and ask him how he feels about raising the fares if the alternative means worse service and significantly less of it. After all, to the cut the budget gap without raising fares, the MTA would have had to scale back service to unusable levels on those lines they could justify keeping open.

Louis isn’t alone. “The increases don’t make sense,” Najla Netus, of Brooklyn, said. “The service isn’t that great. The trains are always running slow.” That’s right, Najla, blame it on the slow trains. Where are these slow trains, by the way? When I ride, the trains run fast. The wait times are often far too long though, but hey, more service costs a lot more.

How about this one? “It’s ridiculous,” Trimette Roberts, also of Brooklyn, said. “It’s bad budgeting and bad management. To have a fare increase every year, year and a half – that’s the part that’s frustrating.”

We Brooklynites sure are opinionated. Anyway, actually, Roberts is dead wrong. To have a fare increase every year that’s tracked with inflation would make far too much sense. The history of low fares along with government subsidies that diminish each year and don’t make up for the gaps due to artificially low fares is what got the MTA into this mess in the first place.

On Friday, in a companion piece to this one, I took transit activists to task for their inability to fight in Albany. All of us work hard online to get our opinions heard, but in the end, those listening are those who are already educated. The Trimette Roberts’ and Emmanuel Louis’ of the city aren’t actively reading StreetsBlog or Second Ave. Sagas on any sort of basis.

What they are reading, though, are the papers. The Daily News covers the fare hike by taking an uninformed but outraged populist approach to the MTA because it sells papers. At OTBKB, Leon Freilich notes that The Times Sunday Metropolitan section had nary a word about the fare hike.

It isn’t, of course, the city’s reporters’ jobs to educate the masses. They’re in the business of selling papers. A responsible press though should be part of the job. As I criticized transit activists on Friday for not getting the message out, so must I look at the transit coverage with a raised eyebrow. Maybe the activists need to be getting the message and the talking points out to the reporters, but faux-populism is irresponsible no matter the issue.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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New fares now in effect

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Just a quick Sunday reminder that the new fares have gone into effect. A subway ride now costs $2.25, and the Unlimited Ride options all saw increases of a few dollars this morning. You can click on the image above for a bigger version of the MTA’s fare hike poster.

Meanwhile, Transit provided me with some interesting information about the current state of the fares. When the pay-per-ride discounts, Unlimited Ride usage and free transfers are aggregated, the average fare had been around $1.41. It will go up to approximately $1.56. That’s $1.13 in 1996 dollars, and in 1996, the actual fares were $1.50. Somehow, straphangers are paying less now than they did 13 years ago. That’s small comfort though as this is the second fare hike in two years.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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On Sunday the fares go up. I’ll toss up a post with some fare hike info on Saturday. For now, I’ve got some links to run down. I never had time this week to post this stuff.

First up is the picture atop this post. It comes to us via Twitter user grtela, and it is visual evidence a highly-anticipated service change. Beginning July 5, the G train will run to Church Ave. making stops along the Culver Line into Kensington, Brooklyn. I first wrote about this change in 2006 when it was originally scheduled for 2007. Transit is only two years late on this one.

The CEO of a Brooklyn-based industrial supply company plead guilty to charges of selling counterfeit material to the MTA. Joseph Ungar will face five years’ probation and a lifetime ban from doing business with the authority after selling them fake ball bearings for subway cars and bearing assemblies for bus transmissions. Apparently, Ungar was impersonating a dead salesman. It’s good to see the agency cracking down on this type of behavior.

Apparently, it’s very loud on the subways. According to a recent study, decibel levels underground reach 102. Both the EPA and the WHO recommend daily average decibels of 70, and my dad blames his tinnitus partially of decades spent riding the subway.

And finally, from last week, the MTA has to spend $3.3 million to upgrade its MetroCard Vending Machines to combat counterfeit bills. With the relatively new money the Treasury Department has unveiled on the country, the transit agency has to ensure their machines are up to date. How about a contact-less fare payment system?

On to the service advisories..

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, June 27, Brooklyn-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to switch renewal.

From 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 27, free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Boulevard due to track maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 27, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point 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. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 27, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run in two sections due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations:

  • Between Pelham Bay Park and 125th Street and
  • Between 125th Street and Brooklyn Bridge

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to track cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 26 to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 28, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 28 and Monday, June 29, Manhattan-bound 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. to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 27 and 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 28 and Monday, June 29, Jamaica-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead. Trains run every 20 minutes between Court Square and Smith-9th Streets.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues due to track and roadbed replacement at Jefferson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park due to Brighton Line station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to station rehab work.

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That’s right! It’s the MTA.

Per Pete Donohue, the cash-strapped agency needs to borrow $600 million to cover its operating expenses for the rest of the year. While Albany passed a rescue package last month before devolving into chaos, the MTA won’t see any of that money until the end of the year, and the transit authority must continue to pay out its expenses. Donohue has more:

The MTA has to borrow a mountain of cash because the state won’t fork over the agency’s transit funds until the end of the year, officials said. Adding insult to injury, the MTA will have to pay the state a fee as high as $5 million when the agency borrows the $600 million needed to pay expenses, officials said…

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to pay $2 million more in interest and other expenses. The Catch-22 stems mostly from the Legislature taking so long to adopt the MTA bailout, which contained a new payroll tax, and subsidies for buses, subways and commuter trains.

That’s brilliant. Stall well beyond a deadline for the rescue plan; pass something that doesn’t really solve any long-term problems; and without the money while charging high interest until the end of the year. Mass transit funding in New York is broken, and this is just another indication of that sad reality.

Categories : MTA Economics
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