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
Comments (5)
  • 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:


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
Comments (11)
  • Silver: Assembly will pass something · As the Senate continues to make a collective fool out of itself debate an MTA funding plan, Sheldon Silver’s Assembly has emerged as a voice of reason. Silver, who came out weeks ago in favor of a modified Ravitch Plan, is ready to do whatever it takes to deliver funding to the beleaguered transit agency. He reiterated that stance in an interview with Politicker NY’s Jimmy Vielkind yesterday.

    First, he voiced Assembly support for the current Senate plan — if the Senate can pass it. “The actions of the board cannot stand,” he said, “and we will do whatever we can with the Senate to make sure that the outrageous fare increases are rescinded. If the Senate’s plan is the only plan that they can pass that accomplishes that goal in the Senate, then we will look at it very seriously.”

    Interestingly enough, though, he didn’t stop there. Silver also said he would hold an Assembly vote on his own modified version of the Ravitch plan if the Senate fails to enact anything. This is a shrewd political move because it will both force the Senate to confront its inability to do anything, and it will force Assembly representatives to go on record with a yea-or-nay vote on the tax-and-toll plan. Whether Silver goes through with this move is a different story altogether. “Nobody likes taxing people, nobody likes raising money,” he said. “But nobody likes fare increases or service cuts. So we have to go with the lesser of two evils.” · (3)

Every time the MTA gears up to raise fares, my inbox gets flooded with the same question: Should I, savvy straphangers want to know, stock up on Unlimited Ride Metrocards?

Usually, the MTA allows a few weeks — or even months — as the grace period. When the agency raised fares last March, stockpiled Metrocards were good until June. With finances very tight at the MTA, this time around, though, New Yorkers will enjoy a sunset period of only a few days.

Metro’s Patrick Arden broke the news this morning, and as the MTA prepares internally for no Senate-approved funding plan, New Yorkers will have just a few days to start swiping unused Metrocards.

Here’s how it works: On May 31, 2009, transit fares across the Metrocard-accessible New York City Transit region will increase. With no Senate plan, the increases will look like this: The base fare will increase to $2.50 with a 15 percent pay-per-ride discount for every amount over $7. Unlimited ride Metrocards will be priced at $9.50 (one-day pass), $31 (seven-day pass), $59 (14-day pass) and $103 (30-day pass).

The anti-hoarding plan institutes a very short sunset date. As Arden explains, “All unlimited ride cards purchased now must be swiped for the first time on or before June 8 in order to get their full allotment of days.”

In fact, this plan is an expiration plan and not really a sunset plan. The MTA has set expiration dates for all unlimited ride cards. If a Metrocard user has an unswiped card on that date, he or she can send it back to Transit for a refund. Those dates are: June 14 for seven-day cards; June 21 for 14-day cards; and July 7 for 30-day cards. That’s why these cards must be swiped on or before June 8.

NYC Transit Spokesman Paul Fleuranges urged riders to adhere to the time limits. “In order to get the full value on a time-based card, you have to use it for the first time no later than June 8,” he said to Arden. “The most important thing is, the first day it stops working, send it in. Go to the station booth and ask for a pre-addressed posted envelope, and we’ll send you back the prorated value.”

In a nutshell, this is a clear indication of the MTA’s precarious fiscal position. They can’t afford not to be drawing in the extra money, and the need the funds as soon as possible. While this entire process has been one big game of political chicken between the Senate and the MTA, the transit authority is serious about raising these fares and is going to do all it can to collect the money it needs to stay afloat.

Categories : Fare Hikes, MetroCard
Comments (2)
  • The problem with the escalators · Last August, New York City Transit installed motion-sensitive “green” escalators to much fanfare. On the first day of service, some of them had already broken down, and it’s been nothing but trouble for Transit since then. As both amNew York and WCBS TV reported on this week, Transit is having a hard time getting its contractor to make good on its product.

    In a nutshell, here’s what happened: The MTA spent $36 million to replace Herald Square’s 12 escalators. Fujitec America, the contractor, supposedly did not install the escalators properly, and now that the company is out of the heavy-duty escalator comapny, they haven’t been quick to make repairs. “The escalators are under warranty and while the vendor has made some of the required repairs, they have not done so at the pace we would have liked,” Transit spokesman Paul Fleurangs told CBS 2.

    NYC Transit President Howard Roberts echoed Fleuranges. “We respond as quickly as possible in house,” he said during a board meeting. “But we have little leverage with our current contracts to get warranty repairs made.” I’d love to see the terms of that escalator installation contract because it sounds like some deal for Fujitec. · (5)
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