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New York Post


MTA Could Learn From London's Underground Lessons

May 05, 2014

By Nicole Gelinas

LONDON What if they held a transit strike and nobody noticed? OK, it wasn't that smooth. But London didn't stop when its subway workers walked off the job last week. If the MTA can achieve the same success during a more modest walkoff — a threatened Long Island Rail Road strike in July — Gov. Cuomo will have diluted the power of New York's unions to hold us all hostage.

London has the same population as New York, and it's just as dependent on transit. The Underground — or “Tube” — carries 3˝ million people a day. London also faces the same budget pressures: The more it spends on labor, the less it has to upgrade decades-old equipment and provide better service for a growing population.

So TfL — Transport for London, their version of our MTA — is cutting labor costs and putting the savings elsewhere. With only 3 percent of riders buying tickets from ticket-booth workers, it wants to close ticket stations.

It would cut 750 jobs over time, with no layoffs. The money would go to provide 24-hour weekend service. (A Tube that closes around midnight is embarrassing for a world-class city.) TfL would keep some people in stations, but make them more visible to passengers.

The transit union hates the idea — so it directed members to walk off the job last Tuesday and Wednesday.

When New York's subway and bus transit union walked off the job in 2005, Manhattan was empty. Yet London didn't turn into a ghost town last week.

You see, London has chosen not to depend on one monopoly mass-transit system. The city's red buses carry nearly 6 million people every weekday. TfL oversees them, but via private companies hired to do the job under long-term contracts.

So when the transit union walks off, the buses keep running — and TfL added 268 extra buses last week.

“Boris Bikes” helped, too. (Officially, they're Barclays Bikes, much like Citi Bikes; the universal nickname refers to London's bicycling mayor.) On the strike days, Boris Bike usage spiked 70 percent — and even more people used their own two-wheelers. I counted far more bicycles than cars going by Waterloo station.

Since so many Londoners could get around anyway, many union workers figured the strike wasn't worth the lost pay. Enough crossed the picket lines that TfL was able to run about half of normal service.

No, it wasn't pleasant crowding onto a rush-hour train in Mayfair to get to a conference at Canary Wharf (London's version of Wall Street). But TfL got the job done.

And that's a big change. As TfL board member Daniel Moylan told us at the infrastructure conference, “In the past, if you had a strike, TfL wouldn't even pretend to provide a service.” But with 87 percent of passengers having used their Oyster cards to get to work, “we can run a reasonably good service.”

Which, he noted, shows that “the reward for going on strike is nothing.”

And makes the union irrelevant. At a May Day rally in Trafalgar Square, union chief Peter Pinkey railed: We “have a capitalism that cannot be reformed and must be smashed.” Fighting words — it's hard to imagine Transport Workers Union President John Samuelson saying that — but the crowd was small.

The MTA can learn from TfL's approach — and there's a good sign that it will.

Last week, the authority's board told management to go ahead with its plan for emergency bus service if an LIRR strike leaves 285,082 people stranded.

(The union doesn't like the deal on the table, 2.8 percent annual raises to workers' $85,000 average incomes but paying a little bit for their own health care.)

Yet the MTA's plan is far too limited, with bus service for only some stops. To do more — and to do it well — the agency would need a lot of support from Gov. Cuomo. It would probably need at least a lane of the Long Island Expressway blocked off just for a bus caravan — and police help, too.

It's not a terrific sign that a few board members, including ex-Gov. David Paterson, voted against even letting the MTA use private buses.

If Gov. Cuomo is terrified of an election-year strike, he shouldn't be. He can show leadership by getting the people who pay the bills to work.

Original Source:



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