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New York Post

 

MTA 'Vision': The Same Old Denial

January 19, 2010

By Nicole Gelinas

Last Friday, 100 days after coming in to head the MTA, Jay Walder issued a glossy report with his plan for the future, full of “making every dollar count” ideas. It would’ve sounded terrific -- if we hadn’t heard it before.

Gov. Paterson and other state leaders may be content with Walder’s program -- after all, it lets them continue to ignore the MTA’s real problem, labor costs.

Walder sounded tough: “We will attack the MTA’s cost structure,” he said, creating a “leaner and stronger transit system” to “do what every business in the state has had to do to survive” and attack the reality that “customers and taxpayers do not believe that every dollar the MTA receives is being spent wisely.”

The savings, he promised, would go for better services and technology. “The time for the MTA to pat itself on the back has long passed,” for New York is way behind on transit compared with other cities.

Fine stuff -- but it was three years ago, too. That’s when another not-your-usual-real-estate-mogul-transit-appointee, Elliot Sander, similarly promised to “emulate what the private sector has done over the past two decades” and “break down boundaries” to create a “leaner, flatter, and more integrated” MTA.”

That the MTA would offer better services, including “revolutionary” fast-bus service and “smarter” fare technology, because, yes, we were falling behind the world.

How many times do we have to hear that the MTA hasn’t merged its motley collection of back offices (which date to its founding when the state cobbled together several agencies back in 1968) -- and that “now” is the time to do it?

How many times do we have to hear about the MTA’s administrative fat, with the handy example of its many customer-service outlets?

The real problem -- outdated labor costs, including benefits -- grows. Yet here Walder grew short on details. Instead, we got the usual: “Our unions must be active partners” in cost savings.

Here are some specifics. The MTA spends $6.4 billion a year on current-worker wages and benefits. A unionized city transit worker earns nearly $94,000 a year, including more than $26,000 in benefits. The unionized commuter-rail worker earns even more -- well above $120,000.

Nor is it just union jobs. The average white-collar worker at NYC Transit and Metro-North earns well above $120,000, too. And LIRR administrators beat them by a mile, topping $142,000 each. (Patronage, anyone?)

MTA labor relations aren’t white-collar vs. blue-collar -- but everyone against the taxpayers.

The savings Walder laid out are worthy. But cutting, say, 10 percent from administrative personnel would yield just $90 million -- a rounding error in the authority’s $12 billion budget. Saving 10 percent in union labor costs, on the other hand (including pensions over time), would yield a much heftier $546 million, because the union workforce is much bigger.

The MTA has long tried doing this in the cooperative “let’s work with our labor partners” way for years -- and we’re still waiting for results.

What riders need is for Walder to call for full support -- from Paterson and the Legislature -- for a full labor overhaul. Workers must pay more for health care, and future workers must pay more for pensions, saving hundreds of millions. (Instead, the new contract for subway and bus workers has them paying less toward retirement.)

And when it comes to work rules, management must have the advantage.

The only reason that the MTA still has to cut service after an unprecedented $2.1 billion-a-year bailout is that Paterson and the Legislature stood by as transit workers won generous raises. Riders and taxpayers sacrifice.

If the biggest fiscal crisis in a generation isn’t enough to spur Albany, it’s hard to know what would. Yet just two weeks ago, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who oversees public authorities, seemed worried that Walder’s plans might annoy the unions.

It certainly doesn’t do more than that -- it treats labor as just one of many items, rather than sounding the alarm about the MTA’s overriding problem. Until an MTA chief (or his political masters) declares it an emergency priority, riders will be stuck with new twists on old promises -- and a transit system that offers only long-overdue technology upgrades, along with present-day service cuts and long-term decay.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/mta_vision_the_same_old_denial_5QN7n9wlo9HzXTnOKaALnN

 

 
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