Ny State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli

Transportation Nation

NY MTA Budget, Once Critical, Is Reviving Thanks To Rider $

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The burden of the NY MTA's financial recovery has largely fallen on riders. (Sculpture by Tom Otterness in a subway station stairwell. Photo by wallyg / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Fiscally speaking, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has emerged from intensive care. That's in the judgment of NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who says the patient has recovered with the help of a potent medicine: a series of fare and toll increases, with more to come.

The report, issued Tuesday evening, notes that the NY MTA plans to raise fares and tolls by 14 percent between now and 2015--three times faster than the expected inflation rate. If approved, the fares and tolls will have risen 35 percent since 2007.

The MTA imposed a 7.5 percent hike in December 2010. The hike came with drastic service cuts, some of which have been restored. But overall, riders in New York City and its suburbs have been making do with less service and regularly rising prices.

Another financial bright spot for the NY MTA is the nearly 242,000 jobs added by the 12 counties served by the agency. That has boosted the use of mass transit. And revenue has been rising from the NY MTA's dedicated taxes, particularly those from real estate transactions, which are projected to grow at an average annual rate of five percent.

DiNapoli also credits the authority with cost-cutting measures expected to generate annual recurring savings of $1.1 billion by 2016.

Despite the relatively rosy prognosis, the patient could yet land back in the hospital. The first and foremost threat to the NY MTA's financial health is the specter of a repeal on constitutional grounds of the payroll mobility tax, which provides $1.8 billion a year.

The authority is also counting on reaching a deal with its unions that allows for no pay raises over three years--or raises offset by rule changes and productivity gains. That's no sure thing. Nor is the $20 billion needed for the authority's 2015-2019 capital program, the source of which has yet to be identified.

NY MTA Chairman Joseph  Lhota said he was pleased with the report. “I appreciate Comptroller DiNapoli’s thoughtful and thorough analysis of our financial plan," Lhota said in an email." His report recognizes the significant financial challenges the MTA faces in the near term, the aggressive steps we have taken to meet them, and our ongoing efforts to address longer-term challenges, including identifying funding sources for our 2015-2019 Capital Program.”

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Transportation Nation

Politics Heating Up Over Big Toll Increase For Trucks On NY State Thruway

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo is fighting with the state comptroller over a toll hike. (photo by azipaybarah / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The two-part political rule for any toll increase is a) voters will hate it b) officials must jockey to shift the blame.

That dynamic began today with the release of a report by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli questioning the need for a proposed 45 percent toll hike on commercial vehicles using the New York State Thruway. He blasted the authority for an operating budget that has ballooned by 36 percent over the past ten years, and urged the authority to save money by "consolidating functions" and handing off control of the money-losing Erie Canal.

“Imposing a large toll increase could have damaging effects on consumers and businesses at a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to recover from the recession,” DiNapoli said. “The Thruway should do more before relying on yet another toll hike to make ends meet.”

Governor Cuomo did not disagree. He echoed DiNapoli in saying tolls should be raised as "a last resort." But while taking questions from reporters in Albany, the governor raised the specter of "a real crisis" for the state if the thruway authority doesn't have the revenue it needs to "fix roads and build new bridges."

Then the finger-pointing began in earnest.

Thomas Madison, the Cuomo-appointed executive director of the thruway authority, fired off a statement blaming DiNapoli's lax oversight for contributing to the authority's dire financial straits. "The Comptroller, and his audits over the years, have actually contributed to past problems at the Thruway Authority by failing to report years of fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses," Madison said.

Knowing the timeline is crucial to sorting out the argument. Madison took over the thruway authority last September; DiNapoli has been comptroller since early 2007. Madison was essentially blaming prior administrations at the authority for taking out burdensome loans that are now coming due--and DiNapoli for not calling them on it.

Then Madison defended a toll hike this year, at least in theory:

“The fact remains that tolls for large trucks on the Thruway – mostly long distance haulers – are 50 to 85 percent less in New York than in comparable states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And each of these trucks creates thousands of times more damage to roads and bridges than a passenger car. Heavy trucks, not passenger vehicles, should bear these added costs, so that tolls can be kept as low as possible for all motorists.”

When reporters asked Cuomo whether the thruway authority should take DiNapoli's suggestion and have the authority give up oversight of the corporation that oversees the the occasionally scandal-plagued Erie Canal, Cuomo dodged the question. "The canal is a great asset to the state," Cuomo said. "I don't think there's anyone who says that we should close down the Erie Canal. It's part of our legacy, it's part of our history, it's important for tourism."

Of course DiNapoli wasn't questioning the canal's importance, only that its operation had cost the authority more than $1 billion over the past two decades--and that the state would be better served to pay the canal's bills with revenue not collected from toll-paying drivers. Cuomo did concede that the canal was hurting the authority's bottom line: "It is not a money-maker at this point," he said.

The first of several public hearings on the toll hikes is scheduled for tomorrow in Buffalo. If passed, the hike would be the fifth increase since 2005.

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Transportation Nation

Post 9/11 Security Upgrade To NYC Transit Lags

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) A new report says the first phase of the NY MTA's security upgrade after 9/11 won't be done for another two years, and that the cost keeps rising.

NY State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says more than 3,000 cameras are already in place at transit hubs and in bridges and tunnels. What's missing is the authority's ability to monitor some of them, and to communicate efficiently with the police and fire departments.  Another problem is communications rooms in the subway have been prone to overheat.

The work was supposed to be done in 2008 but a new report by the comptroller is pushing that date back to 2014. (Only last year, the comptroller said Phase 1 would be finished this year.) The final budget is expected to be $882 million dollars--nearly $300 million more than originally estimated.

It's costing more than expected to get seven command centers up and running. And the price could rise another $150 million if the NY MTA loses a court fight with Lockheed Martin, the project's original contractor. The authority says the company reneged on its contract; Lockheed Martin says the NY MTA didn't give it enough access to tunnels and other locations to get the work done.

The NY MTA says steady progress on its security upgrade has been made and that they've finished reinforcing 17 bridges, tunnels and train stations against terrorist explosions.

"We agree with the Comptroller's assessment that the system is more secure and the public better protected as a result of the security investments that we have made," said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. "The report's conclusion is that the biggest obstacle going forward is funding, and we don't disagree."

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Transportation Nation

NY State Comptroller: Workers Cheat Metro-North Railroad Out Of Millions

Thursday, November 10, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) Metro-North Railroad supervisors signed their own fraudulent time cards, workers were paid for travel to job sites they never went to and day-shift employees were put on late shifts that required them to rest the next day, at full pay. In the end, a report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says, 28 of 30 employees in the railroad's signal construction unit racked up more than $1.2 million in overtime and regular pay--and $5.5 million in future pension pay.

The report said that supervisors also tried to hide the abuses, most of which involved overtime, by shifting payroll costs to unrelated projects.

DiNapoli told Transportation Nation that the findings, and what they say about the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's management of the railroad, are disturbing. "It really gets to a culture of tolerance and acceptance of practices that really don't make any sense from a cost point of view at a time when the MTA very much needs to be more efficient and not waste money," he said.

The report said the most common abuse by the unit was to take advantage of a federal rule that requires railroad employees to rest for ten hours after working 12 hours, which was designed to prevent riders from being placed in the hands of fatigued motormen and other equipment operators.

Auditors in DiNapoli's office found supervisors assigned day workers to a 12-hour night shift, at overtime pay, that required them to rest the next day while being paid their regular wage. The report said one worker pulled the maneuver enough times that his lifetime pension benefits are now $1.5 million more than they would have been based on base salary alone.

"These payments occurred because of a pervasive culture of management acceptance of long-term practices, employee feelings of entitlement to additional compensation, and ineffective internal controls in Metro-North’s payroll office," the report stated.

The NY MTA said its audit department is tightening payroll controls and cooperating with an investigation by the authority's inspector general. The authority also issued a statement that said, in part, "Metro-North took steps last summer to ensure that signal supervisors no longer sign their own timecards."

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Transportation Nation

NY State Comptroller: MTA Late, Over-Budget on Anti-Terror Projects

Monday, March 07, 2011

Security monitors in the Essex St station on the J/M/Z subway lines. (Photo by Amy Groark - Flckr / Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says in a new report that New York's mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks.  The report criticizes the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority for falling behind and going over-budget on projects to reinforce bridges, tunnels and train stations--and add electronic surveillance and ventilation systems to the subway.

DiNapoli said the work is four years behind schedule and 44% over-budget, with an expected final price tab of $851 million dollars. He also pointed out that the authority had planned to have the first phase of its security upgrades completed by 2008; that date has now been pushed back to 2012.

The report did credit the NYC MTA for picking up the pace of construction over the past two years. For example, the authority says it has added 1,400 security cameras in the past year alone, with 600 feeding directly into the New York Police Department’s command center.

NYC MTA's response to the report said, "We have increased the number of security personnel, hardened our system, and work remains on track to complete remaining projects within the current budget."

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