Friday, April 12, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) —
Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.
Thursday, January 05, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Jay Walder, who abruptly resigned from New York's MTA last year to run Hong Kong's well-funded rail system, told reporters on his first day at his new job that New York's transit system was cash-strapped and crumbling when he took over in 2009.
"New York, when I arrived there, was in a financial crisis," he said on Tuesday. "The system simply did not have enough money to continue to operate. The assets were not being renewed. And the infrastructure was in terrible condition."
He went on to say: "What I did was to be able to right that financial basis and to be able to put the system back on firm financial footing."
Walder presided over some of the most severe cuts to the city's transit system in a generation, ending dozens of bus lines, shutting down two train lines, ending weekend bus service in some areas, and making trains noticeably less frequent. He also eliminated 3,500 jobs.
But the system now is also facing some -- how to put this gently -- financial complexities. There's a $10 billion budget shortfall in the agency's long-term capital construction plan. Governor Cuomo just signed an MTA payroll tax reduction into law -- with no concrete plan in place on how to replace those lost funds. And the MTA and its main union have cancelled a bargaining session only ten days before their labor contract is to expire.
But Mayor Bloomberg praised Walder's management Thursday, and said the MTA has started to make some improvements. He also said the agency is in good hands with Joseph Lhota, Jay Walder's successor.
Lhota's confirmation hearing is coming up Monday in Albany.
To hear Jay Walder's comments to the Hong Kong media, go here.
Thursday, January 05, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The former head of the MTA told reporters on the first day of his new job that New York's transit system was cash-strapped and crumbling when he took it over three years ago.
TN MOVING STORIES: U.S. Automakers End 2011 With Big Gains, Cold Weather Cracks DC Rails, St. Paul Businesses Get Rail Construction Relief
Thursday, January 05, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Top stories on TN:
New York Governor Cuomo Proposes $15 Billion Infrastructure Plan (Link)
In Cuomo’s Speech, No Mention of the Word “Transit” (Link)
NY MTA Contract Talks With Transit Workers Union Delayed (Link)
New Jerseyans on Toll Hikes: We Don’t Care Why They’re Being Raised, We Just Care That We Have To Spend More Money (Link)
This Traffic Light Senses Bikes, Promotes Road Harmony (Link)
New South Florida Rail Connection to Miami International Airport Almost Done (Link)
Jay Walder, the former head of New York's MTA, says at a press conference in Hong Kong that NYC's "assets were not renewed and the infrastructures were in terrible condition." (The Standard)
He also said he put the city's transit agency on "firm financial footing." (New York Times)
Gibson Crutcher Dunn -- the law firm that sued New York City over a Brooklyn bike lane -- is also defending Chevron in Ecuador, which was slapped with an $18 billion fine for environmental damage. (New Yorker; subscription; update)
JFK airport security workers make $8 an hour, and get neither get sick days nor health insurance. (Village Voice)
US DOT head Ray LaHood is touting the FAA's 2011 accomplishments. (Fast Lane)
Facing complaints about light-rail construction disrupting St. Paul businesses, the government will spend $1.2 million on a marketing campaign to entice shoppers to visit the beleaguered area (Minneapolis Star Tribune). (Note: for more on the Central Corridor construction, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus.")
This week's sudden drop in temperature cracked rails on DC's Metro. (Washington Post)
West Windsor, NJ, is now a transit village. (The Times/NJ.com)
Maryland's department of planning created a smart growth web tool, GamePlanMaryland. "Choose...the direction for our transportation program — more roads, more transit, what combination? Then click the mouse ... and see if the future you’ve plotted will achieve the priorities you established."
The Brian Lehrer Show kicks off a month-long look at the airline industry today. (WNYC)
NYC's former taxi commissioner weighs in on a the recent taxi deal to improve service for the disabled -- and says it's "well-intentioned...[but will] in all likelihood rarely be used by the target ridership." (New York Times)
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its main union have cancelled a bargaining session only ten days before their labor contract is to expire.
The heads of the union and the NY MTA were supposed to hold their first face to face talks on Thursday. But that probably won't happen until after NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota has his confirmation hearing before the State Senate on Monday.
Lhota is expected to be confirmed as chairman and CEO of the NY MTA. That should put him in a better position to strike a deal with Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John Samuelson.
Both sides say preliminary talks have gone fairly well. Gone is the animosity that Samuelson, a track worker, felt toward former MTA chief Jay Walder. One union official described the problematic relationship this way: "Walder condescended to John, like he still had steel dust under his fingertips. But John feels Lhota is genuine and honest."
At least that's the feeling for now. The two sides will probably need to agree that any pay raises over the next three years be offset by measurable productivity gains or benefit cuts.
For example, the NY MTA is asking the TWU to allow a combining of the train conductor and train operator jobs. New hires would be trained to do both tasks, allowing the authority to pay fewer workers to stand in reserve in case an operator / conductor misses work because of sickness or some other reason.
That's just one of many issues to be worked out in a negotiation that has begun well but which neither side expects to be easy.
Friday, November 18, 2011
When Tropical Storm Irene struck New York City, many residents were relieved that the damage from the storm that threatened to deluge low-lying areas wasn’t far worse.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
On the Sunday after Tropical Storm Irene blasted through the five boroughs of New York City, the city exhaled. Huge swaths of Manhattan hadn’t flooded, high winds hadn’t caused widespread damage. Perhaps no one was as relieved as then-MTA CEO Jay Walder, who had just taken the unprecedented step of shutting down the entire transit system.
“The worst fear that we had, which was that the under-river tunnels on the East River would flood with salt water, were not realized. We certainly dodged something there,” Walder said at a post-Irene briefing with city officials.
Listen to the audio:
If this sounds like dystopian fantasy, consider this: the Federal Transit Administration is now advising transit agencies to start adapting to climate change. “Climate change impacts are occurring now and will increase in the future,” reads the first line of an FTA report, Flooded Lines and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation, released in August. “Aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lower the severity of climate change impacts. Yet the amount of long-lived emissions already in the atmosphere means that a significant level of climate change is inevitable.”
“We have seen significant extreme weather conditions,” says Deputy FTA Administrator Therese MacMillan in an interview in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Washington, DC headquarters. “The patterns are pretty indisputable. The hundred-year floods are occurring every 20 to ten years. The hurricane intensities are repeating themselves and being very common. The extreme winter effects that we’re seeing in the Northeast are clearly in evidence. We need to deal with the fact that these extreme weather conditions are impacting our already stressed transit infrastructure.”
She continues: "To not address it would be a relatively naïve response to the fact that there are millions of dollars on the ground that, as responsible stewards of the taxpayers money, we need to do the best job we can to deal with them. Whatever arguments folks want to have about the sources of the impacts, we’re seeing impacts.”
And with Irene, according to Columbia University professor Klaus Jacob, one of the nation’s foremost experts on transit and climate change, the city came perilously close to seeing just the kind of flooding that the FTA wants transit systems to protect against.
The price tag for that protection, Jacob says, could be as much as $15 billion -- at a time when the MTA is already $10 billion short in funding its current capital plan.
As it happens, one part of the system saw exactly what the FTA report warned of during Irene. About 35 miles north of the city, on the Port Jervis line, the MTA saw what the line manager, Fred Chidester, describes this way: “In over 28 and a half years I have not ever seen anything to this magnitude on any of our lines. And the type of damage that was done is just unthinkable.”
Fourteen miles of the Port Jervis line were washed away during Irene. The Ramapo River, which is usually little more than a creek in some areas, was already swollen by a month of unusually heavy rains even before Irene hit, causing it to transform itself like some water-infused Incredible Hulk.
Chidester took me on a tour of the line, where workers are now furiously trying to get the tracks up and running by the end of the month. He showed me where the river had carried boulders, larger in diameter than a full-grown man, from under the tracks to a location 50 feet away. “Both tracks were hanging in the air,” Chidester recounts, “and the whole area underneath them for about 15 feet in depth was totally washed out.”
An MTA video taken just days after the flooding show tracks twisted as easily as pieces of chewing gum, mangled into undulating waves. “That water could do this,” Chidester tells me, his voice trailing off into silence as he shakes his head.
The Port Jervis line serves about 2,600 people a day. That’s tiny compared to the 5.2 million who ride the subway, but for those 2,600, the commute has been maddening. Those who ride the line are already super-commuters, with commutes easily two or even two-and-a-half hours. Even when it’s running properly, to get to or from Manhattan, riders have to switch in Secaucus or Hoboken. The line then travels through northern New Jersey to Port Jervis on the Delaware River, about 90 miles upstate, making a hook at the end.
After Irene, the line was cleaved in two. Right where it crosses into New York and up to Harriman, the tracks have been unusable..The MTA provides buses, but the switch from the train to the bus causes both delays and anxiety. Jen Weisenberg’s commute now takes almost three hours. “I was hysterical crying. I was cursing my boyfriend out. I was asking why did I move here.”
But the outage isn’t just inconvenient. The MTA invoked emergency powers to repair the Port Jervis line, at a cost of $50 million -- money it surely doesn’t have. A year and a half ago, to save money, the MTA cut some far-cheaper bus lines because its budget has been so stressed. But not fixing the line, for the MTA, is unthinkable.
Adding to the costs are a set of preparations to mitigate or prevent future flood damage. Chidester shows me where special culverts have been built under the tracks to absorb the force of the water. The ballasts are being shored up.
It’s hard to figure out how much extra that’s costing, because neither the MTA nor any railroad operator has experience this kind of washout in modern history. But, as Chidester says, “there’s no choice. I work for a railroad. I want to see trains running. I want to make sure they’re running right in the way they are advertised.”
Chidester says he’s no climate scientist. After trying to keep the line running through the worst snow season on record last year, and this October’s early storm, Chidester says he’s not sure about global warming. But the MTA is.
Projjal Dutta was hired by the MTA about five years ago to “green” its operations. But Dutta started just after a “freak” storm shut down the subway during rush hour in August, 2007, and his job morphed into something else: developing the MTA’s “climate adaptation” response. Making sure that the authority’s commuter rails can better withstand intense storms is part of that effort.
But a lot of what Dutta does is focused on keeping water out of the subways. He takes me down to a subway vent in lower Manhattan. Most subway vents are flush with the sidewalk, like those “made most famous by Marilyn Monroe,” Dutta says.
When storm run-off rushes down city streets, it can run right down those storm drains into the subways. “With climate change and frequent flooding events and ever-higher water marks, their old levels were just not enough.” So the MTA has raised them about six inches, so floodwater will flow around them and into the storm drains -- not the subways.
There are other things the MTA is doing: platforms on the brand-new Second Avenue Subway and Number 7 lines will be “air tempered.” This century, stations will be hotter.
“We have to get that heat out,” Dutta says. “This is not for something as superficial as personal comfort, there’s lots of electronics that a train carries. We had a lot of heat related problems, so we’ve had to introduce cooling into areas that did not hitherto require heating.”
Dutta speaks matter-of-factly, but his words carry a punch. “Our core mission is to provide trains, buses, and subways.” Climate change adaptation, he says “takes something away from that core mission. If you did not need the air tempering, you could have built another station.”
He continues: “If there were more public transportation there would be less of this problem. It is ironic (that) in order to fight this greenhouse gas problem, resources have to be diverted from the regular running of a system. That’s a real tragedy.”
But perhaps not as tragic as having the entire system flooded, an eventuality that Columbia’s Klaus Jacob says is real. Jacob has worked with the MTA to model what would happen if you couple sea level rises – the FTA says to expect four feet by the end of this century – with intense storms like Irene. In forty minutes, Jacob says, all the East River Tunnels would be underwater. Jacob says he took those results to the MTA, and asked, if that happened, how long would it take to restore the flooded subway to a degree of functionality?
“And there was a big silence in the room because the system is so old. Many of the items that would be damaged by the intrusion of the saltwater into the system could not recover quickly. You have to take them apart. You have to clean them from salt, dry them, reassemble them, test them and cross your fingers that they work."
In a best-case scenario, Jacob calculated that it would take 29 days to get the subway working again. But in the meantime, a halted subway would almost halt the city’s economy, which, he says produces $4 billion a day in economic activity.
The thing is, Jacob says, the city came within a foot of that happening during Irene. Because the astronomical tides were so high, and the storm so intense, the storm surge mimicked a future where the sea is much higher than it is now. During Irene, Jacob says, the storm surge was 3.6 feet. “Had it been not 3.6 feet but 4.6, we would have been in deep trouble.”
Remember what Jay Walder said at that Sunday afternoon briefing?
“The worst fear that we had, which was that the under river tunnels on the East River would flood with salt water, were not realized. We certainly dodged something there,” Walder said.
As for the Port Jervis line, after $50 million in emergency repairs, repaired tracks are expected to be open by months’ end.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Transportation Nation has a long rundown of the Lhota appointment as head of the MTA, which had been practically a foregone conclusion for weeks now.
"Throughout my career in both the public and private sectors, I have initiated reforms that are performance-based and that cut costs, and I look forward to bringing this same approach to the MTA," Lhota said in a statement from the governor's office. "I thank Governor Cuomo for this exciting opportunity to serve the people of New York."
You can read the governor's statement on the appointment at Transportation Nation. But let's take a look at some of the on-background remarks about the appointment:
Reaction among transit watchers, none of whom would speak on the record to avoid alienating the next chief of the NY MTA, was part puzzlement and part wait-and-see.
“I was a little surprised that Joe Lhota rose to the top of that pool,” said an official from a previous mayoral administration. “He understands inter-governmental relations and he understands the politics but he’s more of a political operative than a manager.”
Both Cuomo and outgoing MTA chairman Jay Walder have said in the past few weeks that the next chair did not need to have a transit background. “I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit,” Walder said at the NY MTA’s September board meeting. “I don’t know that it’s an absolutely essential quality.”
Lhota fits that profile. His resume shows no transportation posts. But he did manage large governmental agencies in the Giuliani administration and ran the city when the mayor was out of town. Since then, he has navigated the executive suites of the Cablevision Systems Corporation, which owns Madison Square Garden. And Lhota has served as a board member at the City University of New York for the past ten years. Lhota was one of two board members who did not support withholding an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner last May. The vote to table the degree past last spring’s commencement was much-criticized and later reversed.
Sources differed on Lhota’s ability to rise to those challenges. The NY MTA needs someone “who can handle the union relationships, the crisis of money, and Lhota will get it faster than most people,” said one.
But others don’t expect Lhota to be a voice for transportation in the way Jay Walder was. Walder came from London Transport and is headed for a job running Hong Kong’s transit system. In his tenure as MTA chief he pushed for several innovative transit measures, including countdown clocks, real time information, and better communication with customers. But his relationship with the union was toxic, and Walder presided over the MTA’s deepest cuts in more than a generation.
The governor is also appointing two other people to the MTA family:
Cuomo also appointed two women to serve in key transportation posts: Nuria Fernandez, a former Federal Transit Administration official and Chicago Aviation Commissioner, who resigned under pressure from then Mayor Richard Daily after failing to close a deal with United Airlines. Fernandez will serve as the the MTA’s CEO, and Karen Rae, who worked in the Obama Administration on high speed rail, will serve in the Governor’s office as Deputy Secretary of Transportation.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Our sister site Transportation Nation followed up on reports that the search to replace Jay Walder as head of the MTA may be soon over. Former Giuliani aide Joseph Lhota is said to be leading the pack as a possible candidate.
If Lhota was picked, Governor Cuomo would be replacing a transit professional with a manger with experience handling government. He'd also be putting a former Republican operative into the driver seat of the often vilified agency Republicans from around the state are working to strip of revenue via the payroll tax they say is crippling local economies and fundamentally unfair.
The precipice on which the NY MTA teeters consists of several difficulties: a 2012-2015 capital construction plan with a $10 billion dollar shortfall; a looming contract negotiation with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that, by all signs, will be acrimonious; a threat from a group of state legislators to cut the dedicated revenue stream that is the regional payroll mobility tax, which last year contributed $1.3 billion to authority coffers. That’s about an eighth of the authority’s operating budget.
Sources differed on Lhota’s ability to rise to those challenges. The NY MTA needs someone “who can handle the union relationships, the crisis of money, and Lhota will get it faster than most people,” said one. Another thought the Republican Lhota could help the Democrat Cuomo beat back a Republican-led push in the state legislature to eliminate the payroll mobility tax.
But a third believed Lhota was the front-runner precisely because he won’t speak up too loudly for the needs of mass transit: “He’s going to be the person who makes the cuts without making any demands on the state budget. He may even then turn around and say to the city, ‘It’s all your fault.’ He’s going to protect Andrew Cuomo from the hard choices.”
The replacement process, and the potential Lhota pick, is illuminating a tendency in the Cuomo administration. The search committee members signed confidentiality agreements--not unusual by themselves. What was interesting was how tight-lipped everyone actually was. The fact this information was leaked even led some people close to the process to wonder if it wasn't a Cuomo-controlled event meant to test public reaction to Lhota's candidacy.
If things are as they are shaping up to be, and Lhota is the front runner, the third quoted paragraph is the most interesting. In, at best, creating a hostile environment for Walder, the Cuomo administration made a decision to alienate a transit lifer liked by both elected officials and transit advocates.
A Lhota appointment look based on political calculations more than anything else. The Cuomo people are signaling an interest in reducing their exposure to potential political problems, not in solving the agency’s unsustainable financial crisis. This of course was created over the years by politicians worried about their political exposure.
If you add in the push-out of Chris Ward at the Port Authority, it's Cuomo's top priority is having his people in key, highly-public posts who will put the governor’s political interests first.
But who does that serve, if political decisions are put ahead of qualification or competency, other than Cuomo's public image and political leverage? It's a question that will continue to be asked if Lhota ends up at the top of the MTA pile.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY) - The committee appointed by New York Governor Cuomo to find the next CEO and chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has completed its work. The governor is now mulling a short list with six names on it, culled from eleven candidates interviewed for the job. Sources familiar with the process say the name at the top of the list is Joseph Lhota, executive vice president of Madison Square Garden and former right hand man to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Lhota served in the Giuliani administration for six years, first as budget director and then as deputy mayor of operations. He also worked as an adviser to Giuliani's presidential campaign in 2007-2008.
Other known finalists are NYC Transit President Thomas Prendergast, who oversees 50,000 subway and bus employees; Nuria Fernandez, senior v.p. at an infrastructure management company and former deputy administrator with the Federal Transit Administration; Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and a former commissioner of the New York State Transportation Department; and Daniel Grabauskas, the Mitt Romney-appointed general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority who resigned under pressure from Governor Deval Patrick in 2009.
Lhota is considered the leading candidate by those familiar with the search process. Reaction among transit watchers, none of whom would speak on the record to avoid alienating the possible next chief of the NY MTA, was part puzzlement and part wait-and-see.
"I was a little surprised that Joe Lhota rose to the top of that pool," said an official from a previous mayoral administration. "He understands inter-governmental relations and he understands the politics but he’s more of a political operative than a manager."
Both Cuomo and outgoing MTA chairman Jay Walder have said in the past few weeks that the next chair did not need to have a transit background. “I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit," Walder said at the NY MTA's September board meeting. "I don’t know that it’s an absolutely essential quality.”
Lhota fits that profile. His resume shows no transportation posts. But he did manage large governmental agencies in the Giuliani administration and ran the city when the mayor was out of town. Since then, he has navigated the executive suites of the Cablevision Systems Corporation and Madison Square Garden. And Lhota has served as a board member at the City University of New York for the past ten years. Lhota was one of two board members who did not support withholding an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner last May. The vote to table the degree past last spring's commencement was much-criticized and later reversed.
Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a policy think tank, said he didn't know Lhota well enough to comment specifically. But he said that from a leadership perspective, "It’s important someone be selected who can really make a strong case for transit and can convince legislators that this is so critical to the city’s future and that we’re on the precipice of something bad happening."
Bowles added that the stakes are enormous: "If there’s one thing Governor Cuomo could do now to boost the city’s economy, it’s shore up the transit system."
The precipice on which the NY MTA teeters consists of several difficulties: a 2012-2015 capital construction plan with a $10 billion dollar shortfall; a looming contract negotiation with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that, by all signs, will be acrimonious; a threat from a group of state legislators to cut the dedicated revenue stream that is the regional payroll mobility tax, which last year contributed $1.3 billion to authority coffers. That's about an eighth of the authority's operating budget.
Sources differed on Lhota's ability to rise to those challenges. The NY MTA needs someone "who can handle the union relationships, the crisis of money, and Lhota will get it faster than most people," said one. Another thought the Republican Lhota could help the Democrat Cuomo beat back a Republican-lead push in the state legislature to eliminate the payroll mobility tax.
But a third believed Lhota was the front-runner precisely because he won't speak up too loudly for the needs of mass transit: "He’s gong to be the person who makes the cuts without making any demands on the state budget. He may even then turn around and say to the city, 'It’s all your fault.' He’s going to protect Andrew Cuomo from the hard choices."
Earlier today, the governor said at a press conference: “We’re going to have an announcement on the MTA shortly." He added that the public would know his nomination for the chairmanship within “days.” Cuomo has told members of the search committee that he wants to name that person before Jay Walder decamps from the $350,000 a year post on October 21 to run a private rail and real estate company in Hong Kong.
TN MOVING STORIES: Senate Dems Tweak Infrastructure Proposal; Cuomo Wants Speedy Federal Approval for New Tappan Zee Bridge
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Top stores on TN:
The ARC tunnel dispute fueled rancor between NJ Governor Christie and the Obama Administration. (Link)
GM signs car share agreement. (Link)
One New York politician wants the Long Island Rail Road to institute a bill of rights for passengers. (WNYC)
Jobs bill update: a procedural vote will come tonight. (Washington Post)
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are working on a Plan B: merge a corporate repatriation tax holiday to an infrastructure bank proposal. (Politico)
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo wants speedy federal approval for a new Tappan Zee bridge. (Capitol Confidential)
Maryland leaders debate applying sales tax to gas purchases to boost funds for that state's infrastructure. (AP via Washington Post)
The future of Ann Arbor's transit system could include streetcars or monorail. (AnnArbor.com)
The NYC subway map did away with Charlton Street. (New York Times)
A project aimed at untangling an Amtrak, Metra, and freight train logjam broke ground yesterday on Chicago’s South Side. (WBEZ)
Should California allow hybrids with no passengers back into the carpool lane? Research says yes. (KQED)
Outgoing NY MTA head Jay Walder toured the top of the Verrazano Bridge. (NY Post)
How to store your bike in your apartment? Turn it into a bookshelf. (Apartment Therapy)
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Kate Hinds over at our sister blog Transportation Nation has a good piece up on some rumbling around the search for Jay Walder's replacement. You may recall Walder resigned last month and is set to leave office on October 21--meaning Governor Cuomo has less than a month to find, hire and announce Walder's replacement. That is, if Cuomo's sticking to earlier statements that he wanted someone in the seat when Walder left.
Kate quotes Walder as saying: “I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit. I don’t know that it’s an absolutely essential quality.”
In an interview with New York Public Radio's capitol bureau chief Karen DeWitt, Cuomo echoed similar sentiments:
The MTA primarily is an effective manager, and I think the ability to manage a complex process, that deals with highly technical services, in a political environment, in a large organization, at a financially strapped time, you know, that’s where we are. To me, the management is very important. Of course, the technical expertise, but you give me a good manager, who can run an organization, and find efficiency, that this organization is going to have to find, that’s going to be paramount.
Numerous calls into the governor's office to get word on the status of the replacement search have not been returned.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
By Kate Hinds
The CEO of New York's MTA, Jay Walder, said that his successor doesn't necessarily have to have a transportation background -- but he or she does have to love it.
"Whoever runs this organization should be dedicated to the organization," he said, and "be dedicated to what it does on a day-to-day basis." Walder went on to say: "I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit. I don't know that it's an absolutely essential quality."
His remarks came at his final meeting of the MTA board before he leaves for a job in Hong Kong next month, where he'll be heading that city's transit agency.
In an interview last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose administration is currently looking for Walder's replacement, also telegraphed that the next MTA chief may not come from the transportation world. He told New York State Public Radio's Karen DeWitt in a telephone interview that his administration was engaged in a "very aggressive talent search." And he said didn't necessarily want to hire a "transit geek."
"The MTA primarily is an effective manager, and I think the ability to manage a complex process, that deals with highly technical services, in a political environment, in a large organization, at a financially strapped time, you know, that's where we are," Cuomo said. "To me, the management is very important. Of course, the technical expertise, but you give me a good manager, who can run an organization, and find efficiency, that this organization is going to have to find, that's going to be paramount."
The next head of the MTA will be managing a delicate financial situation, as Walder pointed out in today's meeting. "As you look forward for the MTA, I think you need to be able to find a way to have both sufficient resources and stability of resources," he said. "I think the ups and downs of the economic cycle create financial burdens for the organization that's inconsistent with the fact that we have a service that continues to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And frankly, I don't think all of us don't want to see that service have to suffer through that."
When asked later if he had any regrets about his tenure, he said "I wish the economic situation I came into was different...[but] you have to play the hand you were dealt. And the hand we were dealt was one that said this was a very very difficult time financially."
But Walder said he was proud of the work the MTA had done under his tenure. "Nothing happens at the MTA because the person in the corner office at 347 Madison Avenue [MTA's current headquarters] says it should happen. Things happen at the MTA because 67,000 dedicated men and women make it happen." He repeatedly praised MTA staffers of all stripes -- from token booth clerks to management to his colleagues on the board. "When we say we're going to get something done, the result is truly, truly incredible."
When the meeting's official business was over -- and it was dispatched with in under 20 minutes -- board members took to the microphones to tell Walder how much they'd miss him. Nancy Shevell said that right after she began working with Walder, she told a friend "well, it's just a short matter of time before a large public-sector company scoops him up. And it happened, and I'm not surprised. And it's sad, in my opinion, for the MTA."
"You are the tallest person in the room," said
Allen Cappelli Mark Lebow. "You will probably be the tallest person in China, and you will, I'm sure, be the tallest achiever there as you were here." (Walder: "I think Yao Ming is going back.")
Governor Cuomo hasn't yet said when he will announce Walder's replacement. As for Walder, he greeted a Chinese-speaking reporter with a hearty "Ni Hao" -- and then said he was going down to the Rosetta Stone store.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met repeatedly in the first eight months of the year on marriage equality, the property tax cap, and even farmer’s markets. But his schedule from January 1- August 31, made available online Thursday, shows no meetings or phone calls with Port Authority chief Chris Ward or Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Jay Walder.
The two men run powerful, multi-billion dollars transportation authorities, and are appointed by the Governor.
The Governor did meet with Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald on more than one occasion on the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is in need of replacement. He held a meeting in March on unspecified “Transportation and Infrastructure” issues, and had several appointments and public events surrounding an initiative to crack down on texting while driving.
The New York Times reported last month on how Walder and Cuomo only met once – but the schedules reveal in fresh detail a governor consumed with issues other than transit and transportation. He held dozens of meeting on marriage equality, the budget, and ethics reform. His public schedule lists in detail attendees at meetings on economic development, and Medicaid reform. When he meets with local legislators, religious leaders, or union brass, every name is detailed.
To be sure, the Governor’s schedule does not indicate every individual staffer he met with or every issue he discussed. There are numerous entries that just say, for example, “conference call with staff.” But a read through the documents (which show his prepared schedule, and are not a complete record of actual events) shows issues that have held his sustained attention, including the budget, property tax caps, and especially, marriage equality. There are no entries that say “transit,” and just one that says MTA – a call on August 26 on preparations for hurricane Irene.
An MTA spokesman referred questions on the schedule to the Governor’s office. The Governor’s spokesman, Joshua Vlasto, would only say, “the Governor and his administration spoke with officials at the MTA and the Port Authority frequently.” Vlasto did not respond to a follow-up question of how frequently the Governor personally spoke or met with MTA or PA officials.
The schedules include the period when MTA chairman Jay Walder announced he was leaving for a job in Hong Kong and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised tolls for Hudson River bridges and fares for the PATH train. They show a dinner with NJ Governor Chris Christie at Beacon Restaurant on July 29, two weeks before the toll proposal was announced.
Both governors initially denounced the proposal, then came around to supporting it in modified form. Tolls were raised last weekend.
Cuomo has appointed a wide-ranging search committee to replace Walder, who is leaving next month. The Governor has kept thoughts about the replacement to himself, saying only he’d like to announce a replacement before Walder leaves on October 21. He has appointed a real estate executive, Howard Millstein, to head the NY Thruway Authority, and has appointed two real estate executives, Scott Rechler and Jeffrey Lynford to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Cuomo appointed the former Bronx Borough President and democratic mayoral nominee, Fernando Ferrer, to the MTA board earlier this year.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met repeatedly in the first eight months of the year on marriage equality, the property tax cap and even farmer’s markets. But his schedule from January 1- August 31, made available online Thursday, showed no meetings or phone calls with Port Authority chief Chris Ward or Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Jay Walder.
Friday, September 16, 2011
UPDATED --Just took the MTA's new weekender map, which is now live, for a test ride. Instead of a confusing array of notices, now, if you go on the website, you're treated to a cool graphic with flashing lights that immediately tells you what's up with YOUR subway.
NYC MTA Chief Jay Walder made no bones when he took over the nation's largest transit authority that the old weekend service announcements were completely confusing. You had to scan your way through reams of papers, find your line, check your blackberry to figure what what dates were coming, and stand there scratching your head. While your train passed you by because you were spending so much time figuring it all out. So one of Walder's relatively early acts was to overhaul the signage.
But it turns out the notices are still totally confusing. You still have to scan through reams of paper and to figure out which lines are out on the weekends. (Answer: many. Expect to be disrupted.)
Now, the MTA is tacitly acknowledging it can do better. Beginning this afternoon, its website, mta.info will display a pretty, interactive subway map with flashing feature alerts. Users, the MTA promises, will able to click on stops and lines for more information.
Information on service disruptions is particularly important for weekend users, who, because many are not commuting to work, are more likely to be choosing between transit and other options. Some percentage, if it's too confusing, will just give up and take a car or a cab.
The map (photo at top of post) is based on the old, 1970's Massimo Vignelli subway map -- which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art.
The new map is literally, a work of art.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
It it weren't enough that the NY MTA faces yawning budget gaps, the loss of its CEO and looming labor negotiations, now Fitch, the smallest of the three main rating agencies, has downgraded the authority's debt, meaning MTA may have to pay more for its debt, worsening its budget woes.
Here's the Fitch press release. We'll have more soon.
"Fitch Ratings-New York-08 September 2011: Fitch Ratings has assigned an 'A' rating to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York's (MTA) $99,560,000 transportation revenue variable rate bonds, series 2011B.
At this time, Fitch also downgrades the rating on $14.3 billion in outstanding MTA transportation revenue bonds to 'A' from 'A+'. The downgrade reflects higher than expected near-to-medium term financial pressure.
The Rating Outlook is revised to Stable. Fitch will shortly assign short and long-term credit enhanced ratings on the series 2011B bonds.
KEY RATING DRIVERS:
--Gross lien on a diverse stream of pledged revenues to meet debt service payments;
--Essentiality of the MTA's transit network to the economy of the New York region;
--Demonstrated ability of the MTA to produce solutions aimed at closing projected budget gaps;
--Need to generate sufficient cash to adequately cover operations of the system despite high debt service coverage ratios (DSCRs) as well as some future leveraging on the transportation revenue credit for capital;
--Increasing annual debt burden;
--Significant funding needs for the large $24 billion 2010-2014 Capital Program;
--Capacity to continue to leverage resources to fund expansion projects while meeting renewal and replacement needs.
WHAT MAY TRIGGER A RATING ACTION?
--Inability to achieve operating efficiencies and implement other key elements of the cost reduction initiatives and/or maintaining ongoing state of good repair elements of the capital program;
--Significant cost overruns or delays in the capital program's mega-projects that would require additional funding;
--Additional service cuts or deferral of core capital projects that result in deterioration of key transportation services of the system;
--Deterioration or limited growth in dedicated tax subsidies.
The transportation revenue bonds are primarily secured by operating receipts and operating subsidies, including transit and commuter rail fares and other operating revenues, surplus toll revenues, and certain dedicated tax sources, state and local operating subsidies, and reimbursements.
The downgrade reflects higher than expected near-to-medium term financial pressure stemming from increasing operating costs (projected to moderate in growth in the outer years) and pension obligations and growing annual debt service obligations from expected near-term issuance associated with the capital program. This is exacerbated by the strong likelihood that operating subsides (dedicated tax sources) will not grow as anticipated in the near term leading to wider deficits. The Stable Outlook reflects the authority's institutional focus on monitoring developments and willingness to take corrective action albeit that the options available are fewer in the current environment.
While the MTA forecasts a sizeable surplus of $170 million in 2011 as well as a modest surplus of $4 million in 2012 growing to $125 million in 2013, underlying assumptions related to management's continued ability to implement new cost containment initiatives, growth in operating subsidies (regional dedicated taxes, mortgage taxes and the payroll mobility tax) as well as yields on toll and fare increases are of concern and must still come to fruition. Forecasted deficits of $54 million in 2014 and $178 million in 2015 may be greater than estimated if the underlying assumptions on either the expense or revenue side are not achieved in the near term.
The July financial plan forecasts labor expenses, primarily driven by significant increases in health and welfare costs as well as pension benefits, to grow to $8.3 billion in 2015 from $6.9 billion in 2010 or 3.7 % annually. Similarly, non-labor costs are expected to increase 7.3% annually to $3.7 billion in 2015 from $2.6 billion in 2010. To the extent operating efficiencies including 3 Zeros / Accelerated Zero (wage freezes) and other MTA initiatives come to fruition, growth rates will be lower. Operating subsidies are forecasted to increase to $6.2 billion in 2015 from $4.8 billion in 2010 or 5.24%. Increased fares and tolls are expected to offset some of the growth in operating expenses.
The MTA's July Financial Plan shows improvement from previous financial plans that forecasted larger deficits, and Fitch recognizes management's expense control actions and the demonstrated ability to navigate through the difficult economic environment impacting the greater New York City area and surrounding region. However, it is Fitch's opinion that the MTA will face significant challenges related to meeting the plan over the next several years as significant new debt is issued to finance the $23.8 billion 2010-2014 capital program.
Operating revenues from transit, bus, commuter rail and the bridges and tunnels year-to-date (YTD) through May are tracking close to budget, while total operating expenses are tracking slightly below budget, at around 1.2%. Receipts from dedicated operating subsidies including new state aid, state dedicated taxes and real estate related taxes have been mixed through May. New state aid comprised of the payroll mobility tax (PMT) and MTA Aid (license fee, vehicle registration fee, taxi fee and automobile rental fee) are currently tracking with budgeted estimates, while real estate taxes consisting of the regional mortgage recording tax and New York City urban taxes are tracking around 10% higher, reflecting some rebound in the real estate market. The sustainability of this turnaround is uncertain.
The MTA's 2010-2014 $23.8 billion capital program comprised approximately $18.1 billion in core projects on the existing system and $5.7 billion for expansion projects. As with prior capital programs, long-term debt is expected to finance a significant portion of the 2010-2014 capital program. To the extent that forecasted financial performance is not met, the MTA may be forced to scale back debt financing to fund a portion of the program. The political pressure to keep construction going to support jobs will be a counter-weight. Deferred maintenance or a decrease in system reliability would be potential credit concerns.
The MTA is responsible for North America's largest transit network, serving 2.6 billion riders annually. The authority's network is essential to the economic well-being of the region, handling 80% of all daily trips to Manhattan's business district."
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Rebuilding the Metro-North's Port Jervis commuter rail line will take months, not weeks -- and the MTA is invoking special powers to move forward with the work.
The line, which serves New York's Rockland and Orange Counties, was hit hard by Hurricane Irene flooding. MTA head Jay Walder described the damage as "catastrophic" -- a description that seems borne out on the MTA's Flickr page, which has photos showing places where the track has completely washed out. In other pictures, the rails are canted at an angle -- more like a roller coaster than railroad tracks.
The MTA also says there is significant damage to the line's railroad bridges, as well as suspected significant damage to the signal system -- which is visibly exposed and under water.
There's no estimate yet of how long it will take to restore service. Also unknown at this time: how much repairs will cost, or how much money the federal government will contribute.
Jay Walder said in a statement today: “There are sections of track literally suspended in the air, and in many places we will have to build a new railroad from scratch, from the foundation to the tracks to the signals. I have directed Metro-North to take such steps as are necessary to expeditiously and fully address the catastrophic damage suffered along the Port Jervis Line as a result of Irene. Rebuilding this infrastructure is going to be a long and difficult process, but we are taking every action in our power to continue serving our customers, to reduce unnecessary delay and to communicate every step of the way.”
Part of those actions: invoking "emergency powers," which the MTA described as necessary to quickly free up money and waive procurement rules.
"They’re going to do work now and sort the funding out later," said William Henderson, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. He said waiving the usual competitive bidding process will allow Metro-North to speed up repairs.
The MTA is providing bus service from Harriman, New York, to a NJ Transit rail station in Ramsey, NJ, where passengers can board trains heading to New York Penn Station. Marjorie Anders said the MTA is about to announce additional bus service which will take passengers from Port Jervis and Middletown across the Hudson River into Beacon, where riders can take that Metro-North line south to Grand Central Terminal.
You can read the MTA's statement on rebuilding the Port Jervis line here (pdf).