One day, my train to the plane may come. (Photo courtesy of

When we last checked in on New York’s ambitious plans to build a one-seat rail link from Lower Manhattan to JFK Airport, it was 2007. In April of that year, Senator Chuck Schumer was on the verge of securing a $2 billion federal grant for the rail link, but transit advocates didn’t see the $6 billion project as feasible or a true priority at the time. A few weeks later, the city killed hopes for funding for the potential rail link when they announced that congestion pricing revenue would go to the MTA.

Both congestion pricing and the plans for the JFK Rail Link have since fallen by the wayside. The mayor’s congestion pricing died an inglorious death in the New York State Assembly, and that $2 billion in federal money never materialized. It remains tied up in the Senate because Republican Senators Judd Gregg and Jim DeMint believe it is a prime example of federal spending run amok, and the Rail Link plans simply haven’t materialized.

Recently, Eliot Brown of The Observer checked in on the dormant tunnel from nowhere. Brown secured a new engineering statement for the project. In Dec. 2008, the MTA cost estimates for the rail link were between $8.6 billion and $9.9 billion. Those figures, however, are based on 2006 costs. The true cost is significantly higher today. The Rail Link, it seems, is a plan for another day, another year, another time.

But what of the $2 billion, asks Brown? It could still be ours, he writes, if it ever makes it out of the Senate:

The language of the failed bills makes the funding applicable to “any transportation infrastructure project, including highways, mass transit systems, railroads, airports, ports and waterways, in or connecting with [Lower Manhattan].”

“Right now, the political will needs to be to get the $2 billion allocated to the City of New York,” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which continues to push for the rail link.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer suggested the senator will continue to try to get the funding secured in Congress, through he did not specifically mention the rail link. “Senator Schumer is committed to securing the federal funding promised to New York for Lower Manhattan transportation projects on the next appropriate legislative vehicle,” the spokesman, Joshua Vlasto, said.

I first started Second Ave. Sagas in 2006 because Schumer had pledge more federal money for the city’s subways. He has been instrumental in funneling money toward New York, and if he could do it again, the Second Ave. Subway, among other projects, is sure to benefit. The Republicans in the Senate, however, are not too keen on releasing those tax credits.

The Rail Link is dead. Never officially killed, the project no longer makes fiscal sense for the city. The only time it ever did was when Robert Moses built the roads to then-Idlewild and opted against included a right-of-way for mass transit. But there is hope yet for the money.

“This is money that was promised New York to help make it whole after the terrorist attack,” Robert Gottheim, a spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler, said. “We’re going to use it for legitimate transportation.”

And if Nadler can’t get it, Schumer can always step back into the fight. As the RPA’s Bob Yaro said to The Observer, “I’m sure he’ll find a way of doing it if there is a way of doing so. He’s very persistent about these things.”

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MoCNY to host BRT panel

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mocny Bus Rapid Transit has been a hot topic among the transportation-minded advocates in New York over the last few years. While David Gantt and the state legislature denied New York a home rule measure that would have led to efficient BRT lane enforcement, Janette Sadik-Kahn’s Department of Transportation and the MTA have been very aggressive in implementing their version of Bus Rapid Transit in the city.

Tomorrow, some of the city’s leading transportation proponents will gather at the Museum of the City of New York to discuss BRT efforts and goals for the city. The museum’s website offers up a description of the panel, set to begin at 6:30 p.m.:

New York City has the slowest bus system in the country. Getting it to move faster requires re-imagining how buses operate in the city. Explore the options being piloted in New York, as well as successful Bus Rapid Transit models around the world, in a discussion moderated by Aaron Naparstek, editor-in-chief of Streetsblog. He will be joined by 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.

I’m quite intrigued by this panel. Aaron Naparstek and Streetsblog have exhibited very strong preferences for BRT over new subway lines, and Cap’n Transit and I disagree with it. Bruce Schaller is the guru for all things transit in New York, and Russianoff will provide the rider reaction.

The event starts at 6:30 and carries with it a small cost for a good cause. I’ll be in the audience for most of it, and I’ll definitely report back afterward.

Categories : Buses
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Right now, I’m really hoping for the Senate to wrap up its budget talks. As the New York State budget stews, the MTA has landed firmly on the backburner, and while Albany will soon put forth an MTA rescue plan, right now, all we’re getting in the news is rhetoric.

It is, of course, the same old rhetoric the State Senate and Malcolm Smith, its majority leader, have been spewing for months. While I am trying to find optimism in the words, it all rings a little hollow as this late date. “It’s an emergency situation,” Sheldon Silver, Assembly speaker and one of the few Ravtich supporters in Albany, said to The Times today. “I would hope to do it as quickly as possible.”

While Smith himself acknowledged that “everything is on the table,” those words are simply not true. At this point, the Senate has all but killed the Ravitch toll plan. Rumor has it that steep increases in driver registration fees could be levied against the counties serviced by the MTA. Even that, plan, though is facing some opposition.

According to The Times, David Paterson and his advisers were hoping to implement an increased driver registration fee plan to fund New York’s road and bridge construction project. The Senators whose support this plan would need tend to agree. They believe that funds from drivers should be reinvested in the roads the drivers need and not in mass transit. That is, after all, how we got into this toll mess in the first place.

Meanwhile, some upstate senators seem to be grumbling about the increased focus on the MTA. As William Neuman and Jeremy Peters report, “lawmakers say that in the past, the authority’s capital program and the state’s road and bridge program have usually been treated in tandem, to balance the needs of the city and the rest of the state.”

Right now, Senators are trying to find a New York City-centric way to address the MTA’s capital and operations budgets with little regard for upstate trade-offs. I firmly believe that upstate New York will just have to wait. The needs of the MTA and the millions of people who depend on it daily are far more important than a pork-laced project to repair and maintain roads outside of the city.

While Albany delays, it Sheldon Silver who has become the state cheerleader for the MTA. “We are going to examine the alternatives that are available to us and we will succeed, I believe, in overturning the draconian service cuts and the outrageous increases in fares that the board has proposed,” he said. I hope he’s right.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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While Albany may be nearing an MTA rescue plan, transit advocates shouldn’t lower their guards yet. The so-called Fare Hike Four remain a threat to adequately funded transit, and last week, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery — representing an area where 70 percent of households are car-free and transit commuters outnumber drivers by a 10-to-1 margin — joined their ranks.

On Friday, my friend and fellow subway rider Todd passed on the following e-mail from Montgomery’s office:

Thank you so much for reaching out to me about the MTA “Doomsday” plan. I am working with my colleagues in the Senate to find an alternative to the unacceptably harsh ideas suggested by the Ravitch Commission. The Senate Majority plan provides the MTA with more operating capital than the Ravitch plan, does so with a lower fare increase and with no tolls on bridges. In addition it provides for the ongoing future fiscal health of the MTA by requiring a thorough forensic audit of the MTA to root out excesses and duplications. It is unacceptable for the public to be continually subjected to fare increases and be denied any oversight of the MTA finances. With your continued support for the Senate Majority proposal, we can assure the continued responsible health of our transportation infrastructure.

Today, Streetsblog took the Senator to task for supporting a nonsensical plan with questionable math. Her support of this plan is, in the words of Ben Fried, “laughable” in light of her supposed commitment to both working families and mass transit, and it is becoming more and more obvious that the people we send to Albany are unqualified to be running our government. Montgomery ran for her Senate seat unopposed, and New York City is now paying the price for this political ineptitude.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Post: Mayor to take fall for MTA woes · In his Inside City Hall column today, David Seifman analyzes the political woes of the MTA and comes to a conclusion that may surprise transit advocates. Mayor Bloomberg, he writes, will take the political fall from the inaction and ineptitude coming out of Albany. Bloomberg, he notes, has been largely silent on the MTA’s fiscal issues because Albany legislatures don’t like the mayor, and transit advocates worried Bloomberg’s statements would hurt their cause. Now, though, because the mayor is, according to Seifman’s sources, viewed by the public as “the king,” Albany insiders believe that Bloomberg’s poll numbers will suffer as the supposedly immune State Senators escape unscathed.

    As much as it pains me to admit it, Seifman is probably right. For some reason, New Yorkers are willing to forgive, ignore or remain ignorant of Albany’s problems and the ways in which our state senators are completely out of touch with their constituents. The Fare Hike Four — a bunch of populist phones doing more harm than good for transit in the city — will earn their reelections while people fighting for transit end up buried by the scorn. All we can do is point our fingers at the right villains, but if no one is listening — as City Room comments and various letters to the editors make clear — it won’t matter. · (0)

In an effort to find a way to connect Metro-North lines with Manhattan’s West Side, the MTA is working with the Extell to plan a new station at the real estate company’s Riverside South development. The new property is a 75-acre development on the site of the former New York Central Railroad’s 60th St. yards, and a Metro-North stop with quick access to Grand Central could greatly enhance the area’s appeal.

The West Side Spirit, a community newspaper covering the Upper West Side, first reported on talks between Extell and the MTA last week. This development came about at the behest of City Council Member Gale Brewer who reached out to Howard Permut, the president of Metro-North.

At some point soon, Robert MacLagger, the acting V.P. for planning with the railroad agency, will meet with Brewer and the developments to discuss the potential for this project. “The next step is to conduct further analysis of this potential station location and others,” Permut said in a letter to the council member.

For her part, Brewer expressed her belief that adding this access point to an area devoid of subway routes would encourage people in this new development to take the train. “It’s positive. It was nice to get this letter,” Brewer said of her response from Metro-North. “I can’t think of a better way to add transportation and get people out of their car.”

Expanding Metro-North access is a very positive goal. The tracks run right through this development, and a station there would make the area more transit-accessible while encouraging potential drivers to eschew cars. To make this station stop work, though, the MTA would have to set low fares from 60th St. to Grand Central, and if this stop ever comes to pass, the agency should make inter-system transfers available for those continuing on via subway.

(Ed. Note: As Marc notes in the comments to this post, one of the benefits actually doesn’t require an adjusted fare. This station would allow Metro-North to run trains into Penn Station via the Amtrak lines. Once the LIRR shifts some operations to Grand Central following the completion of the LIRR East Side Access project, the track space at Penn Station would open up as well.)

I would also encourage a substantial fiscal contribution to any potential project from Extell. A stop on the Far West Side at 60th St. would greatly enhance the appeal and value of the new developments, and real estate companies that stand to benefit from city expenditures should contribute to those projects.

Categories : Metro-North
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For months, the New York State legislature has resisted efforts to save the MTA, and last week, the MTA Board approved a package of fare hikes and service cuts designed to eliminate a budget gap in excess of $1.2 billion.

But finally, with New Yorkers’ collective backs against the proverbial wall, the State Senate is on the verge of passing something that will save the MTA. According to reports from the weekend, a political stalemate may be on the verge of breaking as the Senate will soon unveil a rescue plan insiders believe to be adequate to stave off fare hikes and service cuts. Whether this plan will solve the MTA’s financial problems or simply postpone the need for a permanent solution to a future date remains to be seen.

No matter what happens, the legislature will have to act fast to ensure passage and implementation before the MTA is set to enact its own cost-saving measures in May. Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue had the details:

State legislative leaders said Friday they expect to soon have a plan sparing riders from jarring fare hikes and punishing service cuts. Revenue-raising measures under discussion don’t include tolling East and Harlem river bridges but Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) said all options remain on the table.

Either way, a final package wouldn’t let drivers off the hook completely, sources said. If not tolls, motorists would have to help plug the MTA’s massive budget gaps through higher vehicle registration fees or some other driving-related charge, sources said. The rest of the plan is expected to include two other key recommendations from a panel headed by…Ravitch: modest fare hikes and a payroll tax on businesses in the MTA region, sources said.

After they emerged from a closed-door meeting with Gov. Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Smith said they expect to finish hashing out the details of the doomsday-derailing plan early in the week. “Based on the conversations we’ve had of late, I think it won’t be in the budget bill but I think we’ll be passing it around the same time,” Smith said.

As the weekend ticked on, nothing else leaked out, but Senators expressed their belief that a deal could be reached early this week. The quotes NY1 dragged up from the Senators are rather priceless too. “The Democratic conference was always committed to do something responsible to stop the fare hikes, to improve service, to not develop tolls which exacerbate the problems of the working class in this city,” Bronx Senator Pedro Espada Jr., said.

Said Ruben Diaz, Sr., one Senator who probably doesn’t ride the subways, “My conscience is telling me that we in the Senate are having the best package for everyone that rides the subway.”

I will wait to reserve judgment on the adequacy or effectiveness of this plan until the details are released. It sounds as though Comptroller William C. Thompson’s driver license fee plan may be back on the table.

As is always the case from Albany, the Senate will now end up claiming the fare hike/service cuts high ground. They can craft a media image as rescuers of the MTA and earn undeserved political points for a financial crisis of their own doing.

Obviously, this story is far from over, but I am optimistic that the MTA’s Doomsday budget will be avoided. For now.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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As one of the worst weeks in New York City transportation history draws to a close, let’s look at the impact the fare hike and service cuts will have on the city’s economy. Charles Komanoff analyzed just that issue for Streetsblog this week.

He writes:

I estimate that the fare hikes and service cuts which begin June 1 will:

  • Add an average of 6 percent more waiting and travel time to bus and subway commutes; which will…
  • cause 40,000 more autos to pile into the Manhattan Central Business District each day; which will…
  • slow traffic by an average of 5 percent in the CBD and 1-2 percent across the City; costing…
  • drivers, truckers and bus riders $600 million in lost time annually within the CBD, and probably $1.5 billion or more citywide.

The one-two punch of higher fares and less frequent service can be expected to shrink subway use by around 8 percent and bus ridership by 6 percent. This is a calamity not only to our city’s vitality but for the MTA as well, since it cuts deeply into the very revenue these measures were supposed to generate. Indeed, the BTA model projects that the real gain in farebox revenues won’t even reach $500 million — well under half of the projected $1.2 billion deficit.

The key criteria by which New York City transportation policies are judged are driver expenses, rider expenses, driver travel times and rider travel times. The MTA and the legislature have managed to worsen three out of four — and, for good measure, have aggravated others, such as traffic pollution and mayhem. A stopped clock could hardly have done worse.

I wonder if the politicians feel that keeping the East River bridges free will be worth that cost.

On another level, I disagree with the rest of Komanoff’s post. He calls the Ravitch Plan “a stop-gap solution” “rife with inequalities” and explains how Manhattanites would have benefited from clearer streets, New Jersey residents wouldn’t pay any tolls and the payroll tax shouldn’t impact Duchess County as much as it does New York.

I disagree with the former, have no problem with the second issue simply because New Jersey residents pay a lot to get into the city and the money goes to the Port Authority and don’t believe exurban Duchess County should be reward. Maybe instituting a payroll tax that lines up with the percentage of people served by the MTA per county would be more equitable, but in the end, the Ravitch Plan was far better than any other realistic scenario on the table.

Now on to the service changes….

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, downtown 1 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, 2 trains run in two sections (due to a track chip-out at President Street):

  • Between 241st Street and Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and
  • Between Franklin Avenue and Brooklyn College-Flatbush Avenue

Customers must transfer to the shuttle train at Franklin Avenue for stations along Nostrand Avenue to Flatbush Avenue. Note: In the early morning hours between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., trains run every 30 minutes between Franklin and Flatbush Avenues.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, uptown 2 and 3 trains run local from 72nd to 96th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street. Note: Overnight, uptown 3 trains run local from 42nd to 96th Streets.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, downtown 2 and 3 trains skip 96th Street and run local from 86th Street to Chambers Street due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street. Note: Overnight, downtown 3 trains run local from 96th to 42nd Streets.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Brooklyn-bound 2, 3 and 4 trains run express from Atlantic Avenue to Crown Heights-Utica Avenue due to a track chip-out at President Street. A shuttle train will operate between Franklin Avenue and Brooklyn College-Flatbush Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, March 28, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, March 29 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from Grand Central-42nd Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to rail installation.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, free shuttle buses replace 5 trains between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street due to structural and steel track work.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to track panel installation from Castle Hill Avenue to Parkchester.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue-138th Street due to track panel installation from Castle Hill Avenue to Parkchester.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 3rd Avenue to Hunts Point Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at the Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Jay Street-Borough Hall and Utica Avenue due to the Jay Street rehabilitation project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, there is no C train service. A trains run local between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue with free shuttle buses replacing A trains between Jay Street-Borough Hall and Utica Avenue due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Manhattan-bound D trains skip 174th-175th, 170th, 167th, 161st, and 155th Streets due to signal work south of Tremont Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Bronx-bound D trains run local from 59th Street to 145th Street due to the Jay Street rehabilitation project.

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

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Manhattan-bound E and F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, Jamaica-bound EF trains run local from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills -71st Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Grand Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, downtown F trains skip 23rd and 14th Streets due to conduit and cable work south of 34th Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday, March 28, J trains run in two sections (due to track cleaning):

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex and Chambers Streets

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29, there are no N trains between Queensboro Plaza and Lexington Avenue-59th Street due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers may take the 7 instead.

From 5 a.m. to midnight Saturday, March 28 and from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29, there are no N trains between Lexington Avenue-59th Street and Times Square-42nd Street due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers may take the 456Q or R instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29, N trains skip Prince, 8th, 23rd, and 28th Streets in both directions due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers may take the Q instead.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday, March 28 and Sunday, March 29, N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street in both directions due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers should take the Q instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29, Q trains run local on the R line between 57th Street-7th Avenue and DeKalb Avenue in both directions due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 30, R trains are extended to the 179th Street F station due to a track chip-out north of Grand Avenue.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Every now and then, The Post’s’ in-your-face style of tabloid reporting comes up with a gem of a piece. This one — in which Brendan Scott and Tom Namako confronted the six anti-MTA State Senators over their lack of subway support — is just such a piece.

As Streetsblog noted earlier, four of the six senators who do not support the Ravitch Plan claimed to use the subway. One — Hiram Monserrate — couldn’t be reached for comment due to his legal troubles. The other? Well, take it away, Ruben Diaz, Sr.:

And one of the lawmakers who came up empty-handed, Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), exploded when asked if he ever rides the transit system.

“Don’t ask me if I ride or don’t ride. It doesn’t mean anything,” said Diaz. “Who rides the subway doesn’t matter. You don’t listen to me. It doesn’t matter who rides the subway. I don’t care who rides the train or who doesn’t ride the train.

“Listen to what I’m saying,” he said on a continuing tirade. “English, English, English. I don’t care who rides the train who rides the train or not. Whoever rides the train or whenever they ride the train, I’m offering the best plan.”

That plan, one that he said would hit straphangers with only “a 4 percent” fare increase, was slammed by Gov. Paterson, the MTA and transit advocates as having bad math. It would actually carry a 17 percent fare increase, they said.

“I’m here representing a community,” Diaz said. “For the community I represent, I’m offering four things: No layoffs, no tolls, no cut of services, and a 4 percent increase of fare.”

Diaz’s response is typical. He can’t handle getting challenged on an obvious issue and just starts blubbering away about nothing related to the problem at hand. His constituents should be up in arms over this.

But while Diaz’s reaction makes for good headlines and pull quotes, Ruth Hassell-Thompson comes across even worse. “I blocked the plan because we have to be sure that what we’re paying for is what we’re really getting,” she said. “If the service isn’t improving, why the hell am I giving them more money?”

Why the hell are you giving them more money, Ruth? So the MTA can stay afloat. So the MTA can continue to provide the same level of service it currently provides. So the MTA doesn’t have to raise fares, cut service and fire employees to balance its books.

This reaction simply angers me. It’s stunningly out of touch with reality and represents a complete abrogation of Hassell-Thompson’s duty as an elected representative of New York City. If politicians can’t understand this — or, in the case of Hassell-Thompson, refuse to acknowledge the situation on the ground — there is no hope for the city.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • MTA workers fear for their jobs · While transit advocates have focused on the fare hike aspect of the MTA’s Doomsday budget, employee cuts are another major part of the authority’s cost-savings efforts. According to MTA documents, around 1100 workers will find themselves out of their jobs. The cuts will hit station agents and bus drivers the hardest, and those with less than two years of service time are going to be the first to go.

    Both The Daily News and NY1 reported on aspects of this plan today, and while I don’t like it from a personal security point of view, MTA workers are known to, well, sleep on the job and otherwise not fulfill their duties. These cuts may just make the MTA workforce more efficient and responsible. · (8)
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