Home MTA Moving forward while making every dollar count

Moving forward while making every dollar count

by Benjamin Kabak

For the MTA, 2011 will again be able making every dollar count. (Click the image for to read the PDF report.)

For the MTA, 2010 was not what I would consider to be a banner year. The authority had to enact sweeping service cuts in June that saw two subway lines and countless bus routes wiped from the map, and then in December, the agency jacked up fares for the third year in a row. Still, spurred on by an early January promise, Jay Walder did his best to make every dollar count, and he’s doing it again this year even as the MTA’s financial picture darkens.

This past Friday afternoon, Walder and the MTA released their agenda for 2011. In keeping with the 2010 theme, this year’s report is again titled “Making Every Dollar Count,” and it builds upon the progress the MTA made last year in both improving its customer relations and shoring up its bloated bureaucracy. “It’s a new year, but our focus remains unchanged,” Walder said in a statement. “We will make every dollar count. We will continue to cut costs to create a more efficient MTA. We will continue to improve service for our customers. We brought change to the MTA in 2010, and we’re going to build on that success in 2011.”

While acknowledging the financial problems facing the MTA and the current capital funding crunch, Walder in his report highlights the MTA’s savings from 2010. “As our customers faced service reductions and an end-of-year fare increase, we sought to ensure that we were doing everything possible to reduce operating expenses. This effort—the most aggressive cost-cutting in the history of the MTA—helped limit the impact of a devastating economic downturn,” the report says. “The emergency cost cutting we implemented in 2010 will set the stage for a more fundamental reshaping of the MTA, with cumulative cost savings expected to reach $3.8 billion in 2011.”

Of course, that’s well and good. We’ve heard a lot about the MTA’s push for internal reorganization, and we know what the authority is doing to save dollars and what it could be doing to save even more. That’s not the sexy part. Yet, within the 2011 report — available here as a PDF — are the progress items the MTA hopes to implement this year. The highlights involve better bus service and more real-time information. A new fare card is on the horizon as well. Let’s see how this shakes down.

Bus Improvements: According to the MTA, 2011 will be a banner year for bus improvements. Leading the charge will be bus lane cameras for 34th St. and Fordham Road in the Bronx. After a successful test run on 1st and 2nd Aves. this fall, the cameras have been shown to reduce congestion in the bus lanes. To expand this program though, the MTA will need authorization from Albany, and that has been slow to come. Buses will also soon sport security cameras to keep passengers and drivers safe.

Real-Time Information: Meanwhile, after years of no progress, real-time information is coming quickly to the MTA. Later this year, says the report, every bus on Staten Island will be equipped with BusTime, which tells riders via their phones or computers exactly where every bus in the borough will be. Signs on the B63 in Brooklyn promise BusTime later this week as well. Taking the guess work out of waiting for the bus will make it a more appealing mode of transportation.

Underground, the MTA is promising that over 200 stations will have countdown clocks by the end of 2011. Those include stations along the 7, which may be in line for an RFID-based train tracking system, and along Queens Boulevard. The real-time information screens in place at a few stations will expand to other key areas around the system as well, and Metro-North will join the LIRR on the MTA’s CooCoo service.

Station and Fare Improvements: Walder also tackled the MTA’s fare structure and physical plant as well. He anticipates that the next-generation fare payment system will be on all buses and subways by 2015. This year, the MTA will “begin entering into contracts for the behind-the-scenes work” that will allow for seamless integration amongst Transit, PATH, New Jersey Transit, LIRR and Metro-North. That’s an effort years in the making.

Finally, the MTA is vowing to clean up some subway stations. In 2010, the authority targeted 19 of its heavily-used stations for constant cleaning, and this year, the effort is going to expand to 96th St. on Broadway, the new Jay St.-MetroTech complex and 14 other stops. The authority is vowing “better-maintained stations,” but this is a prime example of something they must show instead of tell. As I mentioned over the weekend, the MTA’s physical plant is in terrible shape.

The report ends with a vow to produce a “leaner, more efficient and effective MTA,” and Walder has to stress that. Transit activists are worried about upcoming New York State budget cuts, and the five-year capital plan must be taken up again in Albany this year. The MTA is trying to move forward under difficult circumstances, and the economic storm may be gathering to halt this progress.

For now, the authority is talking a good game and producing results. To change public perception is nearly impossible, but if the MTA can show that it needs that capital investment and political support to keep improving services and providing transportation, perhaps Albany will listen. If every dollar counts, those that do trickle down to our transit system will be used for the good of us all.

You may also like


Alon Levy January 31, 2011 - 1:46 am

I’m not sure what distresses me more about the “18,000 jobs created by the capital program annually” line – that the MTA counts this as a benefit and not a cost, or that it’s nearly $300,000 in capital spending per job-year.

David In Astoria January 31, 2011 - 8:55 pm

What’s most distressing is that there are already employees in place that clearly aren’t doing the best job they can. We’ve all seen the slackers.
It seems new subway cars, bus cameras, and countdown clocks are always the top priority. NONE of these things should happen until the MTA is able to keep every station clean. Yes, Clean! This is the main cause of resident and tourist complaints about the subway. Floors, stairs, and ceilings are filthy and rat watching has become sport.
Cut administration employees and expenditures by half. The world simply needs no more overpaid desk jockeys who think they are king of the world. Keep the people who actually are supposed to produce something and get rid of those who can’t handle it. There are thousands of unemployed who are ready and willing.
Top priority and the basic priority should be a clean station. We expect this from everything else but the decay of the 70s hang on underground.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines January 31, 2011 - 9:03 am

[…] The MTA’s 2011 Agenda: Real-Time Bus Info for Staten Island, Progress on Next-Gen Fares (Ben Kabak) […]

Al D January 31, 2011 - 10:13 am

Mr. Walder has done a good job this past year, and hopefully he can achieve the goals for 2011.

Some challenges are again as always:

(i) Fighting an Albany disinterested in the MTA except when Albany needs someone to blame or needs someone to audit.
(ii) Moving the bureaucratic largess that is the MTA.
(iii) Getting the TWU to be (at least somewhat) more cooperative. Those stupid south of France postcards are just that, stupid. The man deserves a vacation, and to a destination of his choosing.
(iv) Getting projects implemented in a timely manner. Why do we have to wait 5 years for a start to finish SBS projects? Part of the appeal of SBS is its low cost, ease and speed of implementation.

Kevin January 31, 2011 - 10:13 am

I find the lack of specific detail on the planned new smart card fare system a little concerning.

Though I’m glad the 7 is finally getting countdown clocks. Finally make use of all those signs on the platform that have just been displaying the time for the past 10 years.

Benjamin Kabak January 31, 2011 - 10:58 am

I think we can just assume that the new fare payment system will resemble the PayPass trial. That’s the MTA’s plan at least. They want to simplify collection on their end while using a technology that’s more flexible and less proprietary that the Oyster Card. Whether this achieves that goal remains to be seen.

R. Graham January 31, 2011 - 11:06 am

The existing signs on the 7 will not be used as countdown clocks. New signs will be installed to manged this similar to the signs already istalled on most other lines.

al January 31, 2011 - 3:40 pm

I remember those LED signs had train arrival info for a short period of time in the early or mid 2000’s. A tone would sound simultaneously with the info display. It would show train locations and approximate until arrival.

Donald January 31, 2011 - 10:47 pm

Are you talking about the signs at the terminals that say “Next Train” and then point to the track that the train will leave from with an arrow? Because those are still there and have been there for ages. However, these signs are only at terminals.

Biebs January 31, 2011 - 11:20 am

I have a question regarding installation of the countdown clocks. I work close to the 51th street stop on the 6 train. And if I remember correctly, the clocks were installed during the summer some time (maybe even before that). However, they still have not been turned on. Was this a budget issue, was this what happened at other locations. It seems very strange to me, and I was curious if anyone knew.

Kevin January 31, 2011 - 1:02 pm

They’re just phasing in the system by installing signs and infrastructure for them first and then working on hooking them up to the system. Wall Street on the 2/3 had the signs for half a year (though they were covered) before they were activated.

They’ll most likely get it it sometime within the coming months.

Gary Reilly January 31, 2011 - 1:50 pm

Biebs, the signs at 51st were installed in the fall (at least on the southbound platfrom). I’m not sure why they haven’t gone live yet, but notice they’ve also installed at Bleecker Street recently.

Peter January 31, 2011 - 6:27 pm

If I may go on a bit of a tangent on the issue of station cleanliness: It’s befuddling to me that the MTA chooses to install light gray or tan floor tiles in so many of the station renovations. The Jay Street complex is a perfect example. Here’s a shot of the tiles: http://www.flickr.com/photos/2.....257482589/ They don’t actually look so bad in that photo, but the platforms are frequently streaked with dark stains, and that light-color tile shows every little speck.

Why on earth doesn’t the MTA cover platforms in dark tile? The Times Square 1/2/3 and N/Q/R platforms use dark tiles and they always look cleaner to me than Jay Street, even though they’re almost surely dirtier, considering that Times Sq. gets a lot more traffic.

I’m not saying that masking dirt is an acceptable alternative to cleaning it, but this seems like a good example of where the MTA could be making better design choices as far as the aesthetics of the stations.

Edward January 31, 2011 - 10:51 pm

Often wonder the same myself. PATH platforms and DC subway have brown tiles, which surely hide dirt better than a grey or tan platform. In fact, PATH platforms always look like you could eat off the damn floors they shine so much.

Also, why the insistence on dragging leaky garbage bags across newly renovated platforms? Someone needs to tell the MTA there’s a thing called a hand truck (dolly) than can easily move garbage bags across the floor without dragging and staining new tiles. I’ve seen renovated station floors like like shit not three months after completion.

Donald January 31, 2011 - 6:52 pm

Why do we need to spend money on countdown clocks? Do clocks make the train come faster or something? We did without them all this time, we don’t need to spend money on them during the biggest fiscal crisis in 40 years.

John Paul N. January 31, 2011 - 7:34 pm

This skepticism is why I don’t think the MTA should boast “Subway countdown clocks received a 95 percent approval rating in customer satisfaction surveys, higher than any other feature in the system.” (At least the individual line report cards are gone under Walder.)

It is not just the countdown clocks themselves, it’s the real-time reporting system of trains. The psychological comfort of knowing when the next train is predicted to come is worth it to many people. If the service is normal, we’ll know. If the service is delayed, we’ll know. That’s much better than when there were no countdown clocks — we’d either have an interminable wait, or listen to the garbled announcer voice telling when the trains are coming. What’s different from 40 years ago is that today it’s the need-to-know-now society.

One note of significance: the MTA has allowed developers to build applications using MTA data at little to no expense to the MTA. For the MTA, that is great news. (If you’ve seen me around this blog, you’d notice I sometimes plug my application.) It also speaks of a market (for developing apps) that is willing to work with the MTA and NYC metro area public transportation in general.

Benjamin Kabak January 31, 2011 - 7:35 pm

The countdown clocks are an ancillary benefit to a communications upgrade that had to go ahead no matter the economic climate. It’s not superfluous spending.

Andrew January 31, 2011 - 9:29 pm

They don’t make the train come faster, but they do get people where they’re going sooner.

Depending on your exact trip, they might tell you that you should get on the local because the express won’t be coming for a while. Or they might tell you that there are severe delays on your usual line, so you should consider alternatives (other subway lines, or the bus, or walking, or a taxi, if any of those are reasonable options for your trip). Or they might tell you that there really is another train directly behind this one, so you can safely let it go without trying to cram on.

Come to think of it, when there’s a delay in service, the first train to come through is usually overcrowded, and it spends a lot of time at each station as more and more people try to squeeze on. Directing people to alternatives reduces the overcrowding and lets the delayed train get where it’s going a little bit sooner.

So, for people down the line, they do make the train come sooner, at least in extreme circumstances.

Maybe you don’t think they’re useful, but people seem to really like them. They’re certainly a lot more useful than, say, station agents.

Alon Levy February 1, 2011 - 12:43 am

People don’t like waiting. The MTA’s ridership screen models a minute spent transferring or waiting as equivalent to 1.75 minutes spent on a train. The internal research done by the MTA – and I believe also by other agencies – is that countdown clocks give people a feeling of certainty, which reduces this wait penalty.

Donald January 31, 2011 - 7:01 pm

If the MTA is serious about saving money, how about paying Metro North and LIRR workers the same they pay subway workers? LIRR and MNR employees make significantly more than subway workers for doing virtually the exact same job.

Benjamin Kabak January 31, 2011 - 7:35 pm

The MTA is serious about gaining concessions from its workers, but you try telling union members operating under an ironclad contract that their wages are going to be slashed. It’s not as easy as wage reduction-by-fiat.

Donald January 31, 2011 - 10:25 pm

Why should MTA workers take pay cuts? If they go out on strike, they will cost the city billions. They are not stupid. They know this. The 2005 strike happened because the MTA wanted a concession that would have saved $200 million. The strike cost far more than the money they would have saved.

Benjamin Kabak January 31, 2011 - 10:30 pm

I’m a bit confused by your response. You asked why can’t the MTA pay MNR and LIRR employees the same as Transit employees, and I told you why. That’s not something management can do to save money; rather, salaries are a labor issue.

If you’re the one who proposed a pay cut, why are you now saying they shouldn’t take a pay cut?

Donald January 31, 2011 - 10:32 pm

I thought you were talking about cutting the pay of subway workers. Sorry about that.

Donald January 31, 2011 - 10:31 pm

CORRECTION: The 2005 strike cost $400 million a day and was caused by the union’s refusal to agree to a concession that would have saved $20 million over 3 years. So who won at the end of the day? It certainly was not the MTA…

Benjamin Kabak January 31, 2011 - 10:33 pm

That’s underestimating the cost of the strike. The strike was over a pension plan that would have allowed workers to retire at age 50 with full benefits after just 20 years on the job. That would have cost far, far more than $20 million over three years.

nycpat February 1, 2011 - 2:33 am

20/50, which transit workers had before the 1980s, was a counter offer to the MTA’s demand of 30/62 for new hires. It was also one of the campaign promises of Toussaint’s slate- New Directions. 20/50 was passed by the legislature several times and vetoed by Pataki. Whiter unions didn’t have their pension sweeteners vetoed.
I thought the strike, which I disagreed with at the time, was about preventing a tier 5 with a heftier pension contribution from new hires. I think it was actually about Toussaint’s personal aspirations.

Alon Levy February 1, 2011 - 12:44 am

Forget pay. The subway has two employees per train. Metro-North and the LIRR have about six. The need for ticket punchers is one of the things that drives off-peak service costs so high it’s unfeasible to offer high frequency all day.

Donald January 31, 2011 - 10:34 pm

Are they going to put countdown clocks in stations only served by one train line? That would make little sense to me since no matter how long the train takes, you have no choice but to wait for it.

Andrew February 1, 2011 - 7:07 am

No, you can walk to another line or to an express station, you can take a bus, you can take a taxi, or you can find something slightly productive to do (grab a coffee?) while you wait.

Along the B63, an in-house real-time tracking solution :: Second Ave. Sagas February 1, 2011 - 1:13 am

[…] its 2011 agenda, the MTA promised to bring real-time bus tracking to every single bus under its purview on Staten […]


Leave a Comment