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Transportation Nation

NYC Subway Drivers At Odds With Management Over Reducing Train Deaths

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady) Leaders of the NYC subway's largest union are urging members who drive trains to enter stations at 10 mph, considerably slower than normal operating procedure, to allow more time to brake and avoid hitting a rider on the tracks.

(See flyer above, which uses NY MTA parlance in referring to subway deaths as 12-9s.)

The NY MTA, for its part, is characterizing the slower driving as an illegal job action that places the union, TWU Local 100, in danger of losing its right to collect dues from its members automatically. An authority spokesman also said a driver "could lose up to two days' pay" each time he follows the union's prompt to slow his train down when entering a station.

The union, in a letter to NYC Transit president Tom Prendergast, said slowing to 10 m.p.h. is necessary because the authority's effort to reduce subway deaths "by posting signs encouraging riders to stand back from the edge of the platform has not had an measurable effect on subway deaths."

The union is also recommending that the authority install customer-activated safety warning lights on subway platforms, add power cut-off switches to station booths and launch a public competition to improve platform safety.

Members of the union's train operator division will be meeting Wednesday to discuss those measures, and the NY MTA's reaction to them, which union spokesman Jim Gannon called, "very negative and threatening."

More soon.

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Transportation Nation

Union Says NY Subway Inspection Fraud Arrests Miss the Mark, Big Perpetrators Are Getting Off

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NYC subway signal. (photo by CC by Flickr user HelveticaFanatic)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Ten NY transit workers are set to be arrested Friday for allegedly falsifying records about how many subway signals they inspected in the years prior to 2009. But the low-level inspectors aren't the real criminals in the so-called "signalgate" scandal, says Transport Workers Union president John Samuelsen. He slammed the planned arrests, saying managers are the culprits.

The NY Daily News first reported the story; a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance confirmed to TN that the arrests are pending.

The signals keep trains moving smoothly and prevent them from crashing into each other. The MTA's own investigation released in 2010 found maintenance goals were not being met and records were falsified "on a widespread basis" to cover that up.

Samuelsen said the workers, who are expected to be charged with felonies, are low level signal maintainers and managers who were assigned excessive workloads. He said their supervisors may also have falsified their inspection records without the workers' knowledge.

"It's astounding to us that the senior level bosses that orchestrated this entire charade, this entire issue that led to fraudulent signal inspections, have been untouched by the district attorney," Samuelsen said.

He said senior management "put severe pressure on low-level field level supervisors and signal maintainers to perform fraudulent signal inspections."

Samuelsen further maintained that that a bar code system used to verify work "was so corrupt that any over-zealous manager could input an employee’s identification credentials and sign for as much equipment as he felt necessary."

The real perpetrators of subway signal inspection fraud, he claims, have so far gone untouched despite an investigation by NY MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger. "There's an absolute witch hunt going on here against transit workers and low level supervisors," Samuelson said, " while the big bosses hide behind the curtains."

Neither the Manhattan District Attorney's office nor Kluger would comment further on the case.

But MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg weighed in. He said, "If Mr. Samuelsen has any information that people involved in fraudulent signal inspections have not been prosecuted, he should present it to the district attorney."

NY MTA Signal Division Chairman John Chiarello told WNYC that TWU members arrested in the Signalgate investigation could expect to be backed by the union as they make their way through the legal system. "Leadership of the union is going to stand behind the members and we’re going to defend them," he said.

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Transportation Nation

Controversy as MTA and TWU Resume Contract Talks

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City’s Transport Workers Union are back at the bargaining table for the first time in about two weeks. But already, there's controversy.

The New York Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the MTA had caved in to costly union demands. The paper said the agency would give subway operators three paid days off when they hit someone. Current policy only gives workers time off if a person is killed by a subway car.

But MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said that article is patently false. “The MTA has agreed to nothing,” said Lhota. He went on to accuse the newspaper of “damaging” the negotiation process. Lhota made the comments in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, at a press conference announcing new subway apps.

The Union’s been working without a contract since January 15th. Key areas of contention between the two sides are wages and healthcare costs.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen halted talks two weeks ago, after accusing the MTA of negotiating in the media. The MTA then charged the union of doing the same.

Still, Lhota is hopeful. “John Samuelson and I have had very constructive discussions and I look forward to continuing negotiations with John,” said Lhota.

The MTA is pushing the union to accept a five year contract with no wage increases for the first three years; the union is vying for cost of living wage increases each year and a shorter, three year contract.

Officials on both sides say there's no threat of a transit strike at this time.

The last transit strike was in December of 2005 and lasted 3 days.  TWU Local 100 represents about 34,000 workers.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: FAA Funding Agreement Reached; Tappan Zee Bridge Tolls' Worst Case Scenario; MTA, Union Resume Talks

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Top stories on TN: NYC held its first bicycle station community planning workshop. How the stimulus revived the electric car. One academic says NJ Governor Chris Christie’s hiring recommendations at the Port Authority far outpace his predecessor’s patronage hires. House Republicans rolled out parts of a $260 billion transportation infrastructure bill. President Obama dropped by the DC auto show. Karachi has the most beautiful buses in the world.  And: the history of Critical Mass rides.

Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by icadrews via flickr)

Lawmakers say they've reached an agreement on a $63 billion, four-year bill to extend the Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority and the agency's air traffic modernization effort. (AP via NPR)

The U.S. DOT is making $500 million available for a fourth round of TIGER grant funding. (DOT)

Engineers and transportation wonks are crunching numbers for the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project to see what drivers might pay if toll revenue alone funds it. Worst-case scenario: $30 tolls by 2022, up from the current $5. (Crain's New York Business)

New York's MTA and the transit workers union will resume contract talks tomorrow. (Wall Street Journal)

Security video in the NYC death of cyclist Mathieu Lefevre differs from the description in the police report. (Streetsblog, New York Times)

The Motor City loses one of its rarest breeds: a woman car executive. (Forbes)

Florida Congressman John Mica needs to decide what district he'll run in. (Orlando Sentinel)

Boston's transit system set a modern ridership record in 2011 -- but those numbers will almost surely dip this year, as the T considers fare increases and service cuts. (Boston Globe)

General Motors’ bankruptcy unit has agreed to pay nearly $24 million to resolve environmental liabilities at Superfund sites in New Jersey, Maryland and Missouri. (Star-Ledger)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a Congressional Budget Office report that the highway trust fund would be empty by fiscal year 2014 shows President Obama has been right to call for increased funding for transportation projects. (The Hill)
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Transportation Nation

Lhota: Don't Hate on the MTA

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Joseph Lhota, on his second official day as chair and CEO of the MTA (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

When Jay Walder took office in 2009, he made no bones about his priorities: installing countdown clocks, Oyster cards, and bettering bus service. But the new CEO, Joseph Lhota, confirmed Monday by the New York Senate, seems to have a less lofty goal: getting the public not to hate on the nation’s largest transit agency.

Yes, he wants to improve efficiencies; yes he wants more and better communication with customers; yes, he’ll strenuously defend the expenditure of taxpayer funds on the transit agency. “There’s not a transit agency in the country that burdens their riders with solely paying for the system,” Lhota says, echoing remarks he made at yesterday’s hearing.

But at the end of the day, Lhota says, “I’m finding a lot of people don’t have a whole lot of respect for the MTA."

He sat down Tuesday with WNYC’s Jim O’Grady to talk about the MTA’s image problem, why there won’t be more bus service anytime soon, and why he’s encouraged by a move by the Transport Workers Union to extend the contract deadline beyond Sunday night.

[TWU President] “John Samuelsen and I have tried to do everything to create a relationship with each other.  We’re open and honest with each other,” Lhota said.

A transcript of the interview follows.

O’Grady: Under your predecessor, Jay Walder, a set of his main accomplishments were innovations like the countdown clock and real time information for riders. What innovations do you have in mind?

Lhota: I think you’re going to see a continuation of more information, more communications with all of our customers, our riders.  The ability to tell them how soon a train is coming or how soon a bus is coming is a very important thing. I’m going to spend an enormous amount of time on increasing the efficiency of the MTA and also changing what most people think of the MTA.

I’m finding a lot of people don’t have a whole lot of respect for the MTA. It's an organization that allows eight and a half million people to travel to and from work every day and to travel home every day and to school, to dates on Saturday night. I want people to understand how important the MTA is to their lives. At the end of the day I’d like them to feel good -- or feel better -- about the MTA.

O’Grady: Do you have any ideas in the technology realm?

Lhota: In the technology world there are an enormous amount of innovations.  We started a contest for apps, so we can provide data to people who develop apps for iPhones and smartphones. The best thing to do for technology is not for a government agency determine what to do, but to harness the power of young people who seem to have a much better understanding, a much better grasp of technology.

O’Grady: What ideas do you have for funding the MTA?

Lhota: Some of the senators yesterday said they wanted to find a way to end any taxpayer funding for the MTA. And I reminded them in 1968 when the legislature back then with then Governor Rockefeller --they created the MTA with the intent that the burden of the transit system would not be solely on the rider, that it would be more broad-based, that there would be tax revenues.  The concept of totally eliminating tax funding for the MTA would be inconsistent with how it was created. There’s not a transit agency in the country that burdens their riders with solely paying for the system.

O’Grady: Where’s that money going to come from?

Lhota: I don’t know where the money is going to come from but I’ll work with the state legislature and I’ll work with leaders across the state. The question of revenues right now not isolated to the MTA -- all government agencies are under pressure. The current condition of our economy is really providing the lack of revenues.

I’ll work with Albany, with City Hall and the federal government, on new and better fund sources.

O’Grady: Jay Walder said in Hong Kong that New York’s transit system was underfunded and under developed.

Lhota: I heard Jay’s comments. They were taken out of context. Jay was comparing the brand new system in Hong Kong to a hundred plus year-old system here in New York. It’s really tough to compare something that is brand new with something that has being operated for over 100 years. The comparison is not apt.

O’Grady: There was a close vote on [the MTA] board about restoring bus service. People are always clamoring for connecting underserved areas like, say, Red Hook to Williamsburg as one example.  Would you consider restoring or adding bus service anywhere in New York?

Lhota : When we get the finances under control. Our budget is currently very fragile [and] we have a lot of risky assumptions in our budget. We have to constantly evaluate where should we have our routes, where should we change service, where should we increase it, where should we decrease it. We need to do that based on the demographics of what’s going on, but until we get our financial house in order we will not be seeing restorations.

O’Grady: Getting your financial house in order -- where does the consolidation play into that? Are there savings to be had from consolidation?

Lhota: There are some savings to be had -- and dealing with what people unfortunately pejoratively call the bloat -- with the MTA.  Where do we have too many lawyers, where do we have too many accountants,  where do we have too many paper pushers? That will provide some help but not substantially all, we need to find ways to do what we do with the resources we have.

O’Grady: Just give me your general impression of how its going with the Transport Workers Union.

Lhota:  Negotiations are ongoing, they’ve been constructive, they’ve been very helpful. John Samuelsen and I have tried to do everything to create a relationship with each other. We’re open and honest with each other. We tell him things that we like.  I tell him things I don’t like and there are no repercussions from it. The negotiations are ongoing but will remain behind closed doors.

O’Grady: Are you going to hit the deadline?

Lhota: We’re going to do everything we can to hit the deadline. The executive committee of the TWU has already extended the deadline by saying if they don’t have a contract by that date they’re willing to extend it out. That was a very encouraging sign by the leaders of the TWU, so the pressure we normally have on us is not there. That being said, we’re going to do everything we can to have it resolved by midnight next Sunday night.

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The Empire

New head of the MTA begins contract talks with transit union

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WNYC's Jim O'Grady has a report up on the contract talks that have begun between the MTA and the transit union. Things appear to be starting on a better foot between the new MTA chief, Joe Lhota, and the union.

Negotiations began with addresses by [Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John] Samuelsen and MTA executive Joe Lhota to a conference room packed with TWU members. Lhota started with a compliment: "My first message to you is that I know the MTA employees are our most valuable resource."

The remark was in some ways pro forma. But its reception by the workers — hearty roars filled the room — seemed to signal something new between the authority and the union: a measure of mutual respect. Samuelson said he never felt that from Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, who fought with the union and laid off 1,000 workers in 2009. When Walder announced his resignation this past July, the TWU constructed its official reaction around the phrase "good riddance."

Lhota, who started on Monday, shrewdly made his first act in office to join the union's call for aggressive prosecution of attacks on bus drivers. The union says someone assaults a bus driver an average of three times a week in New York. Lhota reiterated the stance at the Sheraton, to more applause. He then switched to the matter at hand and declared, "As we begin the collective bargaining process, you have my commitment that the MTA will listen to your demands and that we will negotiate in good faith."

It's assumed TWU will be asked for the same sort of wage freeze other unions throughout the state have been accepting. Samuelson has said his union will fight the freezes.

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Transportation Nation

New NY MTA Chief Sends Warm Signals to Union on First Day, in Contrast to Predecessor

Monday, November 14, 2011

(Photo: Stephen Nessen)

On his first day as Executive Director of  the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Joe Lhota made a symbolic gesture of solidarity with transit workers, according to the union that represents them.

Lhota co-authored a letter along with Transport Worker's Union Local 100 President John Samuelson to be sent to the District Attorneys of the five boroughs of New York City. It calls for a tougher crackdown on crimes against transit workers.

"We are writing today to urge you to prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law,” Lhota and Samuelsen wrote in their letter, which was first reported by Pete Donohue of The Daily News.

The letter comes as negotiations  are set to begin Tuesday afternoon over a new TWU contract agreement.  The current contract expires January 15, and the TWU has said it does not intend to accept three years of no pay raises, the deal that Governor Andrew Cuomo has wrested from other major state unions.  When one union, the Public Employees Federation, rejected that deal, Cuomo threatened 3500 layoffs.  The union revoted,  and accepted the "triple zeros" with a few modifications.

But the TWU is known as one of the more militant unions, and as protesters occupy both Wall Street and Albany, pressure is mounting on Cuomo not to let a so-called millionaires tax expire.  Samuelson has already said his union won't take a pay freeze unless "millionaires pay their fare share."  In 2005, TWU workers struck just days before Christmas, bring the city to a standstill for three days as temperature dipped well below freezing.

Lhota 's predecessor, Jay Walder, had a a toxic relationship with the union.  Among other actions that were seen as as anti-union, Walder cut hundreds of station agent jobs, which were seen as an entry into the middle class by the mostly minority workers that held the job.  The union retaliated by mocking Walder for owning a country home in the south of France. When the otherwise admired Walder quit for a job in Hong Kong, the union issued a statement essentially saying "good riddance."

“For the workers to see that Lhota actually seems to care about them, that will go a long way,” TWU spokesman Jim Gannon told TN.

Lhota has already met several times with Samuelson Gannon tells Transportation Nation, adding that the joint letter was Lhota's idea. “It was interesting that he would reach out in such a fashion, because that’s such a statement.”

A draft of the letter obtained by Transportation Nation bears the logos of the MTA and TWU Local 100 side by side as the letterhead.

Lhota took the Lexington Line in from his home Brooklyn Heights and spent most of his first day in meetings.  He observed the MTA board's finance committee meeting where he heard his first official update on his new agency's balance sheet — one of many hard truths he'll have to reconcile if he is to succeed. The former Cablevision executive and deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani takes over as executive director with pressure from all sides for fiscal reform.

In addition to the looming TWU bargaining, riders are demanding more service, speedier construction and fewer disruptions just as several upstate Republican State Senators want to repeal a payroll mobility tax on suburban commuters that raises 1/8 of the MTA's operating budget each year.

Add to that, a $10 billion budget gap in the authority's capital plan, which pays for everything from new trains to the Second Avenue Subway.

Lhota still needs to be approved by the Republican-led state Senate before he can officially take the top spots of CEO and Chairman of the MTA.

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Transportation Nation

MTA Chief Talks Tough About Unions

Thursday, December 09, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) MTA Chairman Jay Walder says unions have to agree to freeze their wages--or straphangers will have to pay more.

The MTA is hiking fares later this month--and is also planning another 7.5% increase in 2013. But Walder warns that fare hike will be even larger if unions don't help out.

He told a State Assembly committee that labor hasn't "played an active part" in helping the MTA face its budget crisis. Walder says he'll only agree to cost of living raises if the unions match them with increased productivity or fewer benefits.

Of the agency’s more than thirty unions, all but three are negotiating a new contract or will begin to do so in the next year.

Transport Workers Union spokesman Jim Gannon described Walder's style as "take it or leave it" and didn't think it would succeed. "That's not the way we do business," he said.

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Transportation Nation

Private Commuter Vans Come to Discontinued Bus Routes

Sunday, September 19, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Five bus routes that were cut last June will get private commuter vans beginning Monday. Three of the routes (the B71, B23, and B39) are in Brooklyn and two Q74 and Q79) in Queens. The private commuter vans are a bit of a gambit for the New York City Taxi and Limosine Commission, which is trying to fill part of the hole left by the bus cuts. So called "dollar vans" --which will actually cost $2 (no metrocards accepted) are privately run, and will pick up passengers at some of the cut bus stops -- and drop off anywhere along the routes. They'll help knit together some communities which otherwise can't be traversed with public transportation, or that aren't served by subways.

The NYC Transport Workers Union had initially opposed the vans, then said it would run it's own, then dropped the idea.

Dollar vans are popular in parts of the Caribbean and in third world locales that don't have public transportation.

More, and a map, from WNYC.

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