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New MTA chief blasts agency, plans major transit overhaul

MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder speaks at

MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder speaks at a ceremony to open the LIRR new Atlantic Terminal Pavilion in Brooklyn. (January 5, 2010) Credit: Freelance/Dave Sanders

Blasting the MTA for not significantly changing the way it does business for more than a half-century, the agency's new chief has unveiled his plans for a "major, top-to-bottom" overhaul of the region's public transportation system.

"We will do what every business in the state has had to do to survive," Jay Walder, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's chief executive and chairman, said in a 24-page report marking his first 100 days in office. "We will examine every aspect of our operation to discover better and less expensive ways to do essential work."

The report, to be released Friday, ripped into the MTA for refusing to budge for years from several business practices, such as having "92 different telephone numbers customers can call for information."

Walder said his proposed changes, which will begin to be implemented this month, will usher the MTA into the 21st century and give riders the best value for their ever-increasing fare dollar.

Walder said he will do that, in part, by cutting costs. He noted that the MTA has 5,000 administrative positions that cost the authority $500 million a year, and that each of the MTA's various transit agencies have several departments and positions that could be combined. Walder also took aim in his report at overtime, which he said costs the MTA another $500 million each year.

Money can be saved by better sharing facilities among agencies, said Walder, who noted that a recently built $107-million locomotive repair yard for Metro-North Railroad also could be used by the Long Island Rail Road.

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, applauded Walder for looking for savings that could be passed onto customers, and possibly avoid service cuts.

"We support the overall theme of the report. There's no reason for us to be spending more money than we have to to run the system," Henderson said.

While promising to cut costs, Walder proposed several technological innovations in his report. He said signs that tell commuters when the next train or bus is coming will start going up in subway stations and city bus stops this year.

The MTA is moving forward with plans for "non-stop" tolling stations at bridge and tunnel crossings, and plans to partner with banks to allow drivers who don't have credit cards to use E-ZPass by depositing cash into an account, he said.

Walder also vowed to better invest in subway stations, even during lean times for the MTA, through improved painting and cleaning programs.

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