Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MTA’s Walder: 2010 to be “difficult and painful”

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Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Jay Walder, in a letter to employees dated December 14, acknowledges that New York State’s budget woes are exacerbating MTA’s own economic problems, saying, “We are all aware that this budget proposes actions that are painful–both for our customers and for you, our employees."

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Outlining additional cuts of $383 million, Walder (pictured at left) said, “MTA Board approval of this budget proposal will result in fewer trains and buses and longer waiting times. It will also reduce the travel discount currently provided for school children in New York City. In addition, expenses for paratransit service will be reduced through a number of efficiency measures that change the way we provide service to our disabled customers."

MTA already had announced other cost-saving measures, including furloughing some non-union employees and phasing out student discounts. A state payroll tax projection designed to fund the MTA fell short by $100 million. New York State also announced it will cut appropriations to an arbitration award due to MTA's union, adding $91 million to overall expenses.

“Service reductions identified in the budget also mean fewer jobs, but unfortunately the reductions that affect our employees don’t end there," Walder said. "The budget additionally identifies a 10% reduction to the payroll for our non-represented employees.  Frankly, I believe an across-the-board reduction is neither the best nor the right way to save money.  It does not distinguish between aspects of our business that add the most value and aspects that we can no longer afford.  Therefore, we will not implement the administrative reduction until April 2010. By then I expect us to have found systemic, sustainable ways to reduce payroll costs that we can implement instead.”

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Reiterating his belief in applying state-of-the-art technology to improve the cost-effectiveness of the agency, Walder said, “Companies nationwide have reduced costs for their products and services by successfully implementing innovations in both technology and organizational structure.  We must figure out how to follow their lead–and perhaps blaze a few trails of our own. We must be far more aggressive in identifying duplicative functions performed by more than oneagency and figure out how to do them more efficiently together–across agency lines.  And we must not be afraid to eliminate work that is no longer necessary. I believe these steps are essential to confirm to customers and taxpayers that they are getting good value for their hard-earned dollar.”

Such confirmation may be hard to earn. A press release issued Dec. 14 by the Straphangers Campaign declares, “The riding public was told last May that there would be no direct service cuts when the legislature rescued the MTA. Riders have held up their part of the bargain with a fare hike last June, with the base fare going from $2.00 to $2.25 and a 30-day MetroCard from $81 to $89. But now they are threatened with getting substantially less while paying more. Ridershave every right to be mad as hell­–and parents furious.”

The Straphangers Campaign broadside acknowledges that “the financial mess is not of the MTA's making. But the Straphangers Campaign believes the MTA has the resources to prevent the service cuts.” Spreading the blame for the MTA’s predicament, thegroup says, “As for student MetroCards, this is a political hot potato for Mayor Bloomberg. The Straphangers Campaign believes that parents will hold the Mayor responsible if there is a loss of student MetroCards.”