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Transit experts grade MTA head Jay Walder a 'B' on meeting 2010 goals

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jay Photo Credit: Photo Illustration: RJ Mickelson/amNY

There's more to "B" desired.

Transit experts and straphangers give MTA Chairman Jay Walder a solid "B" grade for meeting his goals for 2010, but he still needs to spruce up subway stations, improve relations with the unions, and move closer to replacing the MetroCard, they said.

"Walder's done a fantastic job, considering the promises made to him by Albany and the financial reality on the ground," said Ben Kabak, Second Avenue Sagas blogger.

MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin wouldn't give Walder a grade but said, "we're proud of the accomplishments we achieved in a tough year in 2010, but there is definitely work to be done."

We asked six experts to grade Walder on his 2010 goals:

1. Cutting administrative costs

Walder got his highest grade in this category, an A-, from William Henderson, of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. Our panel praised the new MTA Business Service Center, which consolidates the agency’s legal and accounting work and human resources.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said “the agency plans to cut administrative costs by $400 million in 2011,” but “the authority is still too top heavy,” Kabak said.

Grade average: B+

2. Reducing service costs

The experts varied in their grades from a dismal C- to a solid B. “Mr. Walder gets a C- for addressing overtime costs, but labor needs to come to the table. Even Walder admits that his relationship with the unions needs improvement,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, state policy director for Transportation Alternatives, a transit watchdog group.

Kabak gave Walder a B-, noting that “Walder has a plan to replace the MetroCard and reduce the cost of fare collection. We won’t, however, see it come online before the middle of the decade.”

Grade average: C+

3. Speeding up bus service

Walder scored high for starting the new Select Bus Service on First and Second avenues, with Russianoff awarding Walder an A+. He called it “the best innovation in city transit since the start of unlimited-ride MetroCards.” Henderson was less thrilled, giving Walder a B- for lack of rider education on the new payment system and problems with ticket machine location and functioning.

Peggy Morales, Community Board 11 Transportation Committee chairwoman, said “now we need to look at the Lexington and Third Avenue bus service to … address those time travel concerns as well.”

Grade average: B+

4. Providing bus and train arrival updates

The MTA installed countdown clocks in 100 subway stations last year, surpassing its goal of 75, and tested BusTime, which tracks bus arrivals, on two Manhattan routes. Lusher Shute applauded Walder for opening MTA data for software developers to create transit schedule apps.

Upper East Side straphanger A. Scott Falk called the countdown clocks “a good program that has Walder’s stamp all over it.”

Grade average: B+

5. Adding new fare technology

Most experts gave Walder some variety of B, but Morales gave him a C for being slow to phase out the MetroCard. Russianoff gives him an “incomplete” until SmartCards, which don't require swipes, are actually in use. Falk noted the agency also needs to develop “unified fare technology” for the subway and buses and commuter trains.

Grade Average: B-

6. Improving subway stations

No one on the panel gave Walder high marks for shining up stations, except Falk, who praised Walder and gave him a B+ for plans to rehab 29 outer borough stations.

Morales called subway stations, “disgustingly dirty” and Kabak said the stations he uses haven’t gotten cleaner. But it’s hard to blame Walder, Lusher Shute said. “Without the state providing funds for cleaners and station improvements, the MTA’s hands are tied,” she said.

Grade average: C

7. Communicating with riders on service changes

The panel agreed that Walder has made strides in improving the MTA website and service change posters, but more can be done.

Falk said service change posters are still overwhelmed with too much information, and Kabak said the MTA should issue a map that shows weekend service changes.

Henderson and Morales agreed that the website is still cumbersome for some. “There is a wealth of information on the website, but most riders don’t find it easy to access,” Henderson said.

Average grade: B

Overall grade average: B

Some panelists agreed that the MTA has been inadequately funded by the state, which has hampered Walder's plans. “Were the state to meet its obligations, Walder could spend more time fixing the MTA’s systemic problems and less time trying to bail water from a sinking ship,” Falk said.

Overall grades:
Ben Kabak: A –
William Henderson: B
Gene Russianoff: B+
A. Scott Falk: A –
Lindsey Lusher Shute: B
Peggy Morales: C

Meet the transit experts:

William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Committee to the MTA

Lindsey Lusher Shute, state policy director for Transportation Alternatives, a transit watchdog group

A. Scott Falk, daily subway and bus rider from the Upper East Side, member of Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee

Peggy Morales, Public Safety and Transportation Chairwoman of Community Board 11 in East Harlem

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit riders advocacy group

Ben Kabak, Second Avenue Sagas blogger, a blog about NYC transit

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