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Innovations, possible layoffs in chief's plan for MTA

MTA boss, Jay Walder, has set a blueprint

MTA boss, Jay Walder, has set a blueprint for the future of the MTA. (Sept. 3, 2009) Credit: Michael E. Ach

Jay Walder's vision for the 21st-century MTA includes technological innovations such as drivers' ability to breeze through toll crossings without stopping, and many more efficiencies - even it if means layoffs of employees whose jobs are deemed unnecessary.

Walder, chief executive and chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Friday presented his plan to a large gathering of New York City community and business leaders at a breakfast organized by the Association for a Better New York. Walder detailed his vision in a report, "Making Every Dollar Count."

"I can't tell you that the MTA is spending every dollar that it receives as effectively as possible," Walder said in his keynote speech. "And I believe fixing that needs to be my top priority right now."




A complete rethinking of the agency's organization is required, Walder said. He noted that while the MTA was created by consolidating various different transit providers, a true merger of its various agencies has yet to occur.

"Let's say anyone in this room wanted to call the MTA to ask about service or report a problem or to do anything of that nature. Well, you are in luck. We have 92 different numbers that you can call. We have five different call centers.. . . We are Verizon's best friend," Walder said Friday in his speech. "We need to tackle this administrative inefficiency."

Walder said the MTA must streamline its various agencies, which have a combined 5,000 administrative positions and several departments that do the same work. Riders should be able to call one phone number for information about the Long Island Rail Road, subways and buses, he said.

Making the MTA more efficient will require layoffs, Walder said. He noted that past cost-cutting actions have left the MTA with too many managers supervising too few employees.

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 union work rules that are expensive, restrictive and stand in the way of developing new technology.

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, and that can be trimmed through use of better technology and/or staff reductions.

The MTA also is spending too much on purchases each year, Walder 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.

Other 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.





While the MTA continues to face dwindling revenue and dropping ridership, Walder said the agency "cannot let the current economic condition be an excuse for standing still."

In coming months, Walder said, electronic "countdown clocks" will begin to go up in city subway and bus stations to alert riders to when the next train or bus is coming.

The MTA is moving forward with a plan to test "nonstop" toll collection at MTA bridges and tunnels, starting with the Henry Hudson Bridge, Walder said. The MTA 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 automated teller machines.

In addition, the MTA is joining with MasterCard this year to test 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 said the new fare-collection system would incorporate Port Authority and New Jersey Transit, in effect breaking down "the barriers across the Hudson River."

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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