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Highlights of new MTA chief's report

Here are highlights from MTA Chief Jay Walder's report on his plans to overhaul the Metropolitan Transportation Authority:

The MTA cannot allow the recession to be "an excuse for inaction," Walder said. He said the MTA must continue to upgrade service within available resources and utilize partnerships with the private and public sectors to test new technology and services.

The MTA is not meeting customers' expectations and the agency has been surpassed by transit systems in other parts of the world, Walder said. He noted that while customers are connected to the world around them like never before through technology such as cell phones, once they enter the transit system they step into a "black hole where we know far too little about what's going on."

Walder said the MTA has not fundamentally changed how it does business since it was created in 1968 and needs to do so right away. That includes streamlining its various agencies, which have a combined 5,000 administrative positions and several departments that do the same work. He noted that while 20 percent of the MTA's workforce is devoted to new technology, decisions to implement new technologies take so long to be made that they often are "obsolete" by the time they are implemented.

Walder said that "cost cutting without a clear plan" has led to too many managers overseeing too few employees. He said he intends to cut the number of people in management.

Walder said he aims to make the cost of doing business cheaper by slashing overtime, which he said accounts for $500 million each year, and eliminating some expensive and restrictive work rules for employees.

Walder said he aims to reduce the cost of collecting fares throughout the system. Currently, the MTA spends 15 cents per dollar paid by customers just to collect their fares, he said. He said that can be cut down by better technology and/or staff reductions.

The MTA is spending too much on purchases each year, Walder said. The $1.5 billion the MTA will spend this year is 34 percent more than it spent in 2003, even when adjusted for inflation, he said. For every dollar of materials the MTA buys, the "internal handling cost" is an additional 18 cents. That can be reduced by cutting back at the number of storage facilities throughout the MTA, he said. He said the MTA has more than 100 storerooms throughout the state being used by its various agencies.

Walder said transit facilities can be combined. Rather than having numerous repair facilities for each transit agency, those agencies could share some facilities. For example, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad could potentially share locomotive repair yards, Walder said.

Walder announced a number of new initiatives throughout the MTA. They included a plan to move buses faster through New York City by improving bus lane markings and signage, using on-the-spot ticketing, and deploying cameras along six highly congested corridors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

In coming months, Walder said, electronic signs will begin to go up in city subway and bus stations to let riders know when the next train or bus is coming.

The MTA is moving forward with a plan to test "non-stop" toll collection at MTA bridges and tunnels, Walder said. It also will reduce the number of cash-paying customers by partnering with banks to allow customers to pay into an E-ZPass account in cash at ATM machines.

The MTA is partnering with MasterCard in 2010 to test out a new fare-collection system on commuter rails, buses and subways. The system would eliminate the need to swipe a MetroCard and result in faster boarding and operational savings for the MTA.

Walder vowed to improve subway stations by reinstituting a regular painting program, fixing station components such as escalators and elevators as soon as they break - even if they don't cause a safety concern - and overhauling cleaning programs to do more than just pick up litter. "Even stations that were recently rehabilitated begin to look dirty and in a state of disrepair," Walder said in the report.

Walder said the MTA will improve the way it lets customers know about service changes, including by using customer input to change the way that information is presented in station posters and on the MTA's Web site. The MTA's new Web site now has a section that provides information for software developers to create new "apps" that can help MTA customers.

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