Thursday, September 08, 2011
Adding to its financial woes, the MTA learned Thursday that the smallest of the three main ratings agencies, Fitch, was downgrading its debt from a rating of A+ to a rating of A. The action could mean that the MTA could have to pay more money to borrow for big projects like the Second Avenue subway, leaving less money for rider services.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
By Matthew Schuerman : Editor, WNYC
Train service on the Port Jervis Line has been suspended due to the catastrophic damage to the track and signal system caused by Tropical Storm Irene. MTA Chairman Jay Walder invoked emergency powers to rebuild large stretches of track virtually from scratch along the Port Jervis line on the Western side of the Hudson River.
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).
Sunday, August 28, 2011
By Kate Hinds
This just in from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office:
RESTORATION OF SUBWAY SERVICE WILL BEGIN MONDAY MORNING
Buses Already Running in NYC; SI Railway Returns at Midnight Tonight
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman Jay Walder tonight announced that the MTA will begin restoration of service on the subway system at 6:00 a.m. on Monday. The subway restoration is part of an MTA service plan that will restore some service to the subways, buses, and SI Railway by the morning rush. Damage assessment is continuing on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, which was hit hard by widespread flooding and mudslides.
Governor Cuomo said, "Today government worked. Days of preparation and coordination prevented much injury and loss. The MTA will begin resumption of subway service Monday morning. I applaud the good work of the thousands of MTA professionals, National Guard and first responders for their advanced planning. Suspending service allowed the MTA to secure equipment, thus expediting the return to service. None of us should underestimate the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. One thing we can all be proud of is how New Yorkers came together as one. In the darkest hours New Yorkers shine the brightest. They did once again."
MTA Chairman Jay H. Walder said, “We still have a lot of work to do in parts of our 5,000-mile territory that were hit extremely hard by the storm, but we can now see very visible progress. Customers should stay tuned to mta.info for the latest updates."
Service Plan for Monday Morning Subways: With limited exceptions, service will resume across the subway system at 6:00 a.m. Monday morning. Service will be less frequent than normal, and customers should expect longer waits and more crowded trains. Frequency of service will improve over the course of the day.
o 3 trains will operate between 137th Street/City College and New Lots Avenue; Substitute bus service will be provided between Harlem 148th Street and 135th Street connecting with the 2 train.
o C trains suspended; A trains will make all local stops from 207th St. to Lefferts Blvd.
§ No service in the Rockaways. (Rockaway Blvd. to Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park)
o 6 trains runs local in the Bronx
o 7 trains run local
o S Franklin Avenue Shuttle (FAS) Suspended
o N trains terminate at Kings Highway. Shuttle bus service between Kings Highway and Stillwell Terminal.
· The Staten Island Railway will resume normal service at midnight tonight.
Buses: Limited bus service was restored in all five boroughs of New York City earlier this evening. Service levels will continue to increase but may not reach normal levels tomorrow.
Bridges and Tunnels: All MTA Bridges and Tunnels are open as of 7:00 p.m.
Access-a-Ride and Able Ride are expected to be operating normal service beginning at noon tomorrow. In the morning, these services will help return evacuees to their homes.
Additional details on Metro-North and LIRR service will be provided as soon as they become available.
The MTA’s regular fare and toll policy will resume tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for New York Public Interest Research Group's Straphangers Campaign, announces their annual State of the Subways report. How would you assess your subway line? Post your subway grades here!
Monday, August 08, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a search committee to find a replacement for outgoing Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder, who abruptly announced his resignation last month.
Friday, August 05, 2011
How does the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway make money, and what can the MTA learn from it? Alex Marshall, senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association, independent journalist and author of How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken and Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities, weighs in.
Monday, August 01, 2011
The Fulton Street Transit Center is nearly half completed, and the MTA has opened a new entrance at William Street.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
The MTA said the city pay should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway since, the authority claims, the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.
Friday, July 29, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the city should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway. It's only fair, the NY MTA reasons, when the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.
The proposal is one of nine different sources of funding the authority is counting on to plug a $9 billion gap in its $13.5 billion capital construction plan covering 2012-2015.
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded unconvinced when asked on his weekly radio show about the NY MTA's idea for revenue-sharing. "Let me check," the mayor said sardonically. "I'll call our finance director and see if taxes came in yesterday."
Bloomberg said he preferred having the authority plug its budget gap with new revenue, like tolls on the East River Bridges. But that idea was most recently defeated by the New York State legislature in 2009. "We should find some ways to raise money for the MTA," the mayor added. "Something that would encourage people to take mass transit so there'd be more fare payers."
But NY MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said Albany "has no appetite for new dedicated taxes or fees."
As a result, the bulk of the NY MTA's strategy for funding the capital construction plan is to float new bonds worth $4.7 billion and obtain a low-interest federal loan for $2.2 billion. The plan has not pleased transit watchers.
The Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said it was "better than doing nothing to meet the essential infrastructure needs of mass transit. But it has a critical flaw – it proposes to borrow billions without presenting a corresponding plan for new revenues to match the increased long-run debt service burden."
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign told WNYC that it's likely the borrowed money, plus interest, will be obtained down the road from the fare box. "I have sympathy for the MTA because it's not getting help from Albany or City Hall," he said. "But then it's turning to the riders and saying, 'Well, we'll see how this goes. There's a good chance your fares going to balloon down the road.'"
The NY MTA's capital construction plan will run out of money at the end of the year. Should the authority's funding plan not yield the billions expected of it, work on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and a tunnel bringing Long Island Railroad trains into Grand Central Terminal could start to slow down by next year and, eventually, grind to a halt.
That doesn't even take into account the budgetary havoc to be wrought should some state lawmakers come through on their threat to eliminate the payroll mobility tax, which is expected to yield $1.2 billion for the NY MTA in 2012 alone. On Monday, Foran told a briefing for reporters on the budget that, "if we lose that tax, we have a big hole that we can't overcome."
And another thing. Balancing the NY MTA's budget also depends on saving $1.2 billion by convincing labor unions to agree to work three years in a row, beginning next year, without pay raises. John Samuelson, president of the 38,000 members of the Transport Workers Union, has said he’ll fight such a deal.
Foran said the NY MTA is doing its part by finding $2 billion in savings through cost-cutting measures like revamping an employee health plan, consolidating 34 data centers into three and eliminating 3,000 agency cell phones. He said funding must be found because the NY MTA's capital projects create 25 percent of all construction jobs in the metropolitan area, and are crucial to improving New York's subway and bus system.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Outdated technology along Metro-North’s New Haven Line in Connecticut led to multiple train breakdowns – including one last Friday when a train that stalled between Westport and Greens Farms because overhead power lines sagged and tangled, leaving passengers without air conditioning in the heat wave for nearly an hour. All the while, trains on New York tracks ran smoothly.
Monday, July 25, 2011
By Erica Getto
The new stores are expected to generate more rental income for the landlord of Grand Central, the MTA, along with more foot traffic.
Friday, July 22, 2011
The head of New York’s transit agency abruptly announced he was leaving after less than two years on the job. The news took almost everyone by surprise, including some of his closest advisers. Top leaders in government and business learned only as the MTA was making the announcement public Thursday afternoon.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder abruptly announced his resignation Thursday after just two years into his six-year term — and though he was considered a shrewd fiscal disciplinarian his departure comes as many important developments hang in the balance, from completion of mega-projects like the Second Avenue subway to an impending contract negotiation with a major union.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
UPDATED The head of New York’s transit agency abruptly announced he was leaving after less than two years on the job. The news took almost everyone by surprise, including some of his closest advisors. Top leaders in government and business learned only as the MTA was making the announcement public Thursday afternoon.
Even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday morning he didn't get a call until yesterday.
Walder is leaving to be the CEO of MTR, a Hong Kong-based company that runs transit and rail systems in Asia, London, Stockholm, and Melbourne.
“I’m stunned, shocked,” said Kate Slevin, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a planning group. Walder, well-placed sources say, held the news close to the vest, and informed business leaders, government officials, and staff just hours before the MTA official announcement.
“He told me he regrets he has to choose between the job he loves here, and a much better job,” said Kathryn Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City, a business group. Wylde said Walder had been meeting with her group up until very recently to discuss new initiatives in New York’s transit system.
The only hint that Walder was leaving was that the transit chief, who has school-age children, told associates he’d recently taken a family vacation to Hong Kong so he could see the transit system there.
Walder was appointed by former Governor David Paterson. The 6’6” tall, dome-pated transit chief, who had been a top official at London Transport, was lured from a job in the private sector only after being promised a $350,000 bonus should he be pushed out – a promise he extracted after turmoil following the resignation of former Governor Eliot Spitzer.
When Governor Andrew Cuomo took office this fall, transit watchers held their breath to see if Cuomo would ask Walder to leave. But Walder told associates that he had no indication from Governor Cuomo that the Governor wanted him to leave.
“For nearly two years, Jay Walder has shown true leadership at the helm of the MTA and been a fiscally responsible manager during these difficult financial times,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement. “Riders of the MTA are better off today because of Jay's expertise and the reforms he initiated will benefit all for years to come. Jay's departure is a loss for the MTA and for the state, but I thank him for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavors."
As CEO of MTR, Walder will get a much bigger compensation package than his current $350,000 salary, and will preside over a company that not only runs trains, but that owns the land around them. That land, and property development, provide a rich source of revenue for MTR, which, unlike the NY MTA, has seemingly endless expansion opportunities, including connecting Hong Kong to Mainland China’s 10,000 mile high speed rail network.
By contrast, Walder has presided over excruciating cuts at the MTA. During his tenure, driven by an $800-bllion budget gap, Walder made the most severe cuts 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. And the fares jumped this year by 7.5 percent, and will again next year.
But the cuts, fare hikes and layoffs -- in particular the slashing of hundreds of station agent jobs -- earned Walder the lasting enmity of transit workers. “Transit workers won’t miss Jay Walder and quite frankly will be glad to see him go,” said TWU Local 100 President John Samuelson in a statement. “He has been antagonistic to the union and the workers from his first day on the job. His attempt last year to blackmail the union into major pay and other concessions led to gratuitous layoffs. He ushered in unprecedented service cuts in both subway and bus service, with particular insensitivity to already underserved areas of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. He never grasped the notion that our bus and subway systems are the most basic and vital service afforded to New York’s working class.”
Walder has relied on technology to make up what he can’t in more frequent service. Hundreds of subway platforms now have displays that tell riders when the train is coming, the Authority is piloting “oyster cards,” which allow riders to swipe and pay, and releasing MTA data to app developers to better distribute schedule information.
The next chief “will have very big shoes to fill” said Tom Wright, Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association. “Figuratively and literally. It’s worrisome for all of us because this is such a critical time at the MTA. Ridership is up, the demands on the system are up, and there are real financial concerns.”
On Tuesday, the authority announced it would cut back its current capital construction plan by $2 billion, and neither the state legislature nor the governor have shown themselves in any mood to raise revenues to support transit.
“Years ago, the plum job in transit was head of the New York system,” said Buz Paaswell, a CUNY Professor and expert in urban transit systems. “And now the plum jobs are in Asia. Well run, beautifully designed, economically sound. As a New Yorker, I’m concerned.”