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Being Jay Walder

by Benjamin Kabak

Amidst a fiscal crisis, Jay Walder, center, hasn’t been able to implement many of his plans for the MTA. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When Jay Walder took over as the MTA CEO and Chairman nine months ago, he thought he was inheriting an organization on the path to financial recovery. The state legislature had just passed a comprehensive funding package that was supposed to provide the authority with some fiscal stability over the next few years. But, as we know, once the economy bottomed out, the legislature stole earmarked funds and the payroll tax revenue came in well below the state’s tax accountants’ estimates, Walder had to set aside his ambitious plans to solve the MTA’s financial crisis.

So instead of presiding over growth, in the short term, Walder has presided over contraction. The authority dusted off its plans to trim service, started cracking down on waste and overstaffing at both the administrative and operation levels and readied a sweeping proposal to raise fares. It just might save the MTA, but at what cost?

Along the way, Walder made more than a few enemies. Union leaders, while working with him behind the scenes, have not publicly embraced the MTA head. After all, who could blame them? Walder has engaged in a public battle to cut down on jobs, and the union doesn’t want to and shouldn’t accept layoffs without a fight. Walder has also alienated a public already frustrated with the MTA by putting into place service cuts and fare hikes. And he still has five more years left on his not-quite-ironclad contract.

Late last week, Eliot Brown of The Observer profiled Walder’s first nine months. As Jay proclaimed his adherence to the agreed-upon 7.5 percent fare hike, Brown pondered a question that should concern transit advocates throughout the city: Will Walder “ever be able to unshackle himself from fiscal issues sufficiently to install more noticeable, meaningful changes-an undertaking that would take time and money-or will he continue to have to put out these fiscal fires, started long before his arrival, with viciously unpopular actions?”

Brown’s piece provides a nuanced look at the financial troubles plaguing the MTA. He tracks the travails of the five-year capital plan and highlights how the authority is dependent on the state for operations funding while the state would rather have nothing to do with it. Into this morass came Walder from McKinsey (and before that, Transport for London). “When I heard that he was possibly going to [take the job], I said, ‘There’s no way this guy is going to want to take a pay cut to take this,'” one MTA Board member said to The Observer.

What makes Walder stand out and what gives me hope that he could shine if given the money and support is the fact, as Brown notes, that “he is the first MTA chairman in two decades who was not a campaign contributor to the sitting governor. Instead, he is simply a pure transit technocrat, one whose well-regarded analytical approach-a “performance indicators” report on the agency’s Web site shows month-by-month changes to things like on-time performance-speaks of his time at McKinsey.”

But Walder must also recognize political reality. The governor who appointed him — David Paterson — will be in office for just a few more months before giving way, in all likelihood, to Andrew Cuomo. The current Attorney General has been relatively silent on issues of the MTA and hasn’t given his vote of confidence to Walder. As the MTA’s top spot is often a political plum, I don’t expect him to do so yet, but Walder has a Golden Parachute. Cuomo would be a fool to ignore both the CEO’s credentials and the money owed to him.

For better or worse, the MTA is where it is because previous leaders haven’t had the economic management expertise and the transit knowledge to deliver a better product. Walder may not be the most tactful when it comes to service cuts; he might not be the most invested into the politics; and he may not be the perfect leader. But he should be allowed to stick around for a while, to ride out the financial tide, and to see his pro-rider initiatives implemented. “I,” he said to Brown, “retain the view that our elected officials are going to recognize what the MTA has done in a very difficult climate. I think they will recognize what’s happened.”

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines August 5, 2010 - 9:04 am

[…] Missed This From Last Week: Observer Reviews Jay Walder's Tenure So Far (via 2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Marc Shepherd August 5, 2010 - 1:34 pm

What Transit needs is someone who can navigate the corridors of power in Albany, leaving Walder to run the nuts & bolts of the agency. I can’t imagine who would do the former, given the legislature’s history of failure in this space.

Sharon August 5, 2010 - 2:38 pm

To give walder an A in he needs to present to the public a comprehensive overhaul of every union job role, consolidate job role. this action alone would improve service and reduce costs by 10-15% and deliver cleaner safer stations

Biebs August 5, 2010 - 2:44 pm

How does presenting a comprehensive overhaul of every union job role reduce costs one dime?

The Union has to approve the overhaul and Walder doesn’t have a magical power to get the TWA to do anything at all. I have a feeling that the next set of contract negotiations are going to be a serious shitshow.

Biebs August 5, 2010 - 2:44 pm

Obviously that should be TWU, not TWA.

Sharon August 5, 2010 - 3:33 pm

It reduces costs because it brings to the attention of the public on how the union work rules drive up fares and reduce the quality of the service provided. It also provides a framework on how to make the changes needed to improve service without being unfair to mta workers. It give the MTA the power of public opinion to negotiate with the twu for changes they have been resisting for decades. When the union goes on strike to get a fair contract the public will see that the union (and some of their workers) are thugs and the enemy to the average working new yorker. Living in Brooklyn, the average working guy is not making $20 plus an hour.

Sharon August 5, 2010 - 3:37 pm

Broad banding cleaner roles alone would allow the mta to reduce overall head count while keeping the same level of cleanliness. In addition the framework should include clear metrics to measure the effectiveness of the work performed and also to eliminate the thousands of supervisors who I am not sure what they are supervising. The station agent caught sleeping on the jobs is fairly common. Where was the supervisor? probably sleeping himself

Paulp August 5, 2010 - 3:49 pm

What proof do you have that Union work rules drive up fares and reduce the quality of service?

Big statement, zero proof.

Andrew Sidrane August 5, 2010 - 4:43 pm

In times of economic crisis the union keeps getting raises and great benefits and retirement options. Every other job in the country has seen a reduction in all of these. Amazing, the union is still complaining.

Alan August 5, 2010 - 5:23 pm

I’m not familiar with the MTA’s specific work rules, so this may not apply, but generally union work rules exist to increase employment and hours of work of union members, which drives up costs for employers.

Caelestor August 5, 2010 - 5:41 pm

I think the conductors on the subways are superfluous (nothing the driver can’t do). How about you make them station agents instead, where they can be more useful?

nycpat August 5, 2010 - 6:46 pm

OK, I’d like to see how a train like a R-62/68 can be OPTO’d. The MTA isn’t ready for OPTO. They need new trains.

Andrew August 6, 2010 - 12:02 am

Then look at the Franklin shuttle, or the Rockaway Park shuttle, or the G on weekends (fine, those last two examples are R-46’s, not R-68’s). Even back in the 90’s, the West End B shuttle ran R-68 OPTO.

But if you want to insist on new trains, over half the fleet is less than 10 years old now.

Justin Samuels August 6, 2010 - 4:14 am

The shuttle trains are barely used, and like the G train they are often short.

It may not be such a good idea to have just the driver on an 8 car R68 or R62.

Also, I think some members of the public are twisted. Basically, because some of you guys have jobs that don’t pay any money and you’re barely getting by, the people who work for the MTA should work for the minimum wage. Yeah right. If Pataki and Giuliani couldn’t break the MTA unions, neither can Walder. I’m happy for them, at least they do get healthcare and retirement benefits.

To tell you the truth, what’s killing the average person in NYC isn’t NYC Transit costs. Rent is your greatest expense. Even if a montly metrocard went up to $150 a month, its still less than what it would cost to have a car a month, and far less than what many people pay to take the commuter railroads.

Sharon August 6, 2010 - 11:21 am

“It may not be such a good idea to have just the driver on an 8 car R68 or R62.”

The motorman can do just as good job making sure doors close by looking at monitors. the only reason for the half length train restriction is the ability to see the platform. The monitors need to be moves inside the cars and door controls moved so that operator does not needed to get up and down.

“Basically, because some of you guys have jobs that don’t pay any money and you’re barely getting by,”

Most people on this board are fairly educated and have decent jobs. The people the unfair union contracts hurt is the working class guy who has seen his factor or entry level office job move out of state due to the high taxes to support pay and benefits packages that are way over the market norm for good paying jobs. If you do not have an ivy league degree it is hard to get a good office job in the city

Sharon August 6, 2010 - 11:31 am

“Rent is your greatest expense.”

Outside of the most desirable neighborhoods, rent is so high to cover high taxes on real estate, gas, electric plus the cost of union trade labor which is 25% more than across the river in NJ where most of the workers live. It is all connected

“Even if a montly metrocard went up to $150 a month, its still less than what it would cost to have a car a month”

Only 50% of the fare covers operating costs which the rest from unfair tolls and taxes which has driven tax paying jobs out of state.

Whether you commute to work by a car or not you need a car if you have a family to have a nice quality of life and to shop at stores that save you money. If you live in brooklyn where i live and you don’t have a car you quality of life and cost to buy everyday items is 50% or more higher. 1/2 gallon of silk soy milk at Waldbaums is nearly $5 at costco you get 3 half gallons of solk soy milk for $7

At the end of the day the union should not be broken but look at the best interest of the workers. Every time you keep un needed station agents or conductors around you are raising THE TWU WORKERS RENT, TAXES AND job chances for your children. Oh yeh the pension system is on it’s way to bankruptcy

Andrew August 6, 2010 - 7:00 pm

My point is that there’s no technical impediment to running OPTO on the older cars.

Andrew August 13, 2010 - 7:18 pm

The issue is not with OPTO as a broad concept – it’s with a specific implementation of OPTO, on a specific transit property with its own unique physical plant, its own unique ridership profile, its own unique operating environment, its own unique legal environment, its own unique labor environment. The details of OPTO implementation differ from property to property.

Any major operational or procedural change has numerous consequences. They need to be considered carefully, and after the change is implemented, operations need to be monitored.

I’m not sure why you bring consultants into this. This is the sort of thing that’s worked out internally.

It takes the T/O a lot more than 3 seconds to get from the operating position to the door-opening position and back. Go ride the G and see for yourself.

Extended dwell times can move the capacity constraint elsewhere on the line. And what happens when express trains are rerouted onto the local track, when capacity is an even greater concern?

Every single station with full-length OPTO will need monitors. The T/O cannot be expected to see 600 feet unaided. When OPTO started up on the L, CCTV’s were installed at every station. The automated shuttle train had a motorman on board.

Aaron August 6, 2010 - 3:49 pm

I can’t speak for other shuttle lines, but the Franklin S is a 2-car train stopping at 4 stations, 3 of which have a single platform & track in both directions (Botanic Garden being the exception), and at no time do more than 2 trains operate on the line. I don’t know whether or not OPTO is feasible on all lines (the arguments against it seem to require consideration, but the arguments in favor are strong as well), but using its success on the Franklin line as proof it can work on all lines is disingenuous at best.

Alon Levy August 6, 2010 - 6:34 pm

Aaron, train length has jack shit to do with OPTO. The technical issues with OPTO are having one person do what is now two jobs, and moving the CCTVs from the center of the platform to the front end. Those are independent of platform length.

Andrew August 6, 2010 - 7:08 pm

My point was simply that there’s no technical reason that OPTO won’t work on older cars.

Alon – Most stations don’t have CCTV’s, since the conductor can see the entire platform from the middle of the train. CCTV’s are installed only if there are curves or other visibility obstructions. And even where there are CCTV’s, the monitors point towards the ends of the platform, since they assume the conductor can already see the middle. With OPTO, most stations would need entirely new CCTV installations.

But more importantly, NYCT’s implementation of OPTO is slow. Every time the train reaches a station with a platform on the left, the train operator has to walk across the cab to open the doors, and then walk back across the cab after closing the doors before moving the train. Those seconds add up, and I certainly wouldn’t want them adding up during rush hour.

If NYCT can come up with a faster form of OPTO, then I’d be very much in favor of phasing it in – not implementing it systemwide overnight, but starting with some lower-ridership lines or starting only on weekends, expanding it to the rest of the system only once the bugs are worked out.

Alon Levy August 6, 2010 - 10:36 pm

I’d argue the reverse: given that the technical issues are the same regardless of ridership, the best thing to do is phase OPTO by starting with the busiest lines, in order to cut operating costs the fastest. In practice, it might also be good to start with lines where the platforms are straight. I think the E and F would be good places to start, as they have only one curved station between them, Union Turnpike, which is not shared with any other line.

With three seconds of walking from one side of the car to another, the left-side platform issue works out to 54 seconds between Coney Island and 179th. It’s simply not a big deal.

Andrew August 8, 2010 - 9:38 pm

There will invariably be implementation glitches with any major change in operating procedure. Since OPTO has potential impacts on both safety and capacity, it shouldn’t be implemented first where the stakes are particularly high. There needs to be a debugging period on a line with a bit of tolerance for error. Once the problems are worked out, then it can be expanded to the rest of the system.

I think your 3-second estimate is extremely optimistic – but, in any case, the primary concern with the increased dwells is not increased running times but rather capacity. Dwell times are already the constraint on capacity on several lines, and increasing them even a little bit can significantly reduce capacity. OPTO on those lines can only be implemented if it doesn’t increase dwell times at all.

There are several curved stations on the E and F – Queens Plaza, Broadway-Lafayette, and Smith-9th immediately come to mind, and I’m sure there are others. But even on a straight platform, I doubt the train operator can clearly see the last set of doors 600 feet away – CCTV’s will need to be installed at every station on the line (and on any other line that E and F trains are reasonably likely to be rerouted to – the other three Coney Island lines, Fulton, CPW, etc.).

Alon Levy August 9, 2010 - 4:31 am

OPTO has already been implemented, and debugged. Even driverless operation was worked out decades ago. It’s all familiar technology; there’s no need for further testing (=more overtime for T/Os) or debugging (=more money for consultants).

There’s nothing optimistic about saying it takes a T/O 3 seconds to walk from one side of a train to another. But if the problem is dwell times, then just make sure that the most congested station, which sets the capacity, has the doors open on the left. This is true at Grand Central on the 4/5, at the shared-track stations on the E/F, and at Jay Street on the A/C.

While the IND has curved platforms, it doesn’t have that many. Moving the cameras and CCTVs should not be a big deal. And if the platform length were that big a problem, it would have been a big problem on the L. In reality, it wasn’t. (Besides which: who said there has to be an operator who can see the entire train? The 42nd Street Shuttle operated safely for a few years without either a driver or a conductor.)

Sharon August 6, 2010 - 11:13 am

The R-62 and R68 car classes were ordered with OPTO in mind. The r-68 have full width cabs and the r-62’s have the ability to convert the end of the car to full width by removing a seat and opening a panel ad the end of the car

Andrew August 5, 2010 - 11:59 pm

I think OPTO should be expanded, but I still think that conductors are far more useful than station agents.

nycpat August 5, 2010 - 6:53 pm

The news today had a story about excessive OT. Headline says MTA. Pictures are subway trains. Story:About MNRR/LIRR- not NYCT! Not TWU workers!
There needs to be greater clarity about NYCT and TWU represented titles and exactly what they are supposed to give up. I don’t see track workers shaping up as part timers any time soon
You people pay less than $2 a ride and you whine whine whine.

Alon Levy August 6, 2010 - 12:38 am

Wow, we pay less $2, just like people in Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Madrid, Milan, and Vienna. We’re being spoiled so much.

Sharon August 6, 2010 - 11:16 am

$25 for CLEANER is robbery of tax payers and riders money. With benefits you are talking about nearly $40 an hour for a cleaner which is more than twice what the dept of ed pays for school cleaners who are required to not only sweep floors but paint and many have repair skills. nearly $40 a hour for pushing a broom and they won’t swipe a card to help keep metrocard swipe clean. Please

Sharon August 6, 2010 - 11:59 am

It is funny you ask. The TWU own TWU EXPRESS newsletter brags after the 2005 strike how they fought off increased productivity by and I quote the union prevented ” cleaners from painting, Maintenance titles broad banded which would lead to the union ruin” In a nutshell having one guy paint, traveling from station to station to paint over graffiti often with little to do you are paying a second person nearly $40 an hour that the cleaner can do themselves.

There are 11 different twu maintenance titles that does not allow the MTA to schedule repair work efficiently

How about the union not allowing the merging of NYCT bus operations with MBSOA routes. The lack of part time bus operator positions. The union requirement that most staten island express buses must drive back to SI EMPTY after the morning rush. The fact that twu mechanics won’t work on the SI express buses stored in the city because the SI route is rep by the ATU union. I can go on for hours

Sharon August 6, 2010 - 12:04 pm

And why are riders and taxpayer paying 40 twu workers 6 months full pay to go to college
At the end of the day workers should be treated fairly and riders and taxpayers should be treated fairly as well

Good pay for hard work not what we have is rules that are designed to pay pay rolls like the MOB

Interviewing Jay Walder: On the MTA’s fiscal state :: Second Ave. Sagas November 29, 2010 - 12:04 am

[…] service cuts with a fare hike to come at the end of December. Needless to say, it is not, as I noted in August, how he anticipated spending his first year back in New […]


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