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Opinion: Pessimistic about MTA reorganization

But agency can get better by addressing these issues in contract talks.

A train at the Copiague LIRR station on

A train at the Copiague LIRR station on July 9. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Like all of its previous special commissions and advisory committee reports, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s so-called reorganization plan is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Promised savings by consolidation of units — including engineering, human resources and procurement — at NYC Transit as well as Long Island and Metro-North railroads, have been discussed and promised for decades by every generation of MTA management since the 1980s. This never happens because of work rules, seniority and contracts between different labor unions at the three units. The same applies to savings anticipated from contracting work to the private sector. Letting a private contractor to do work is sometimes impossible because of safety concerns on active right of way.

It makes no sense for the MTA to reassign management of major NYC Transit, LIRR and Metro-North capital projects to the Office of Capital Construction. All three agencies already have their own experienced engineers, operations planning, procurement, force account, quality assurance and control employees. Transferring these employees to the office of Capital Construction will not result in any significant savings.

They have successfully managed many superstorm Sandy recoveries along with other Federal Transit Administration and locally funded capital projects. If all goes well with the most recent schedule, LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal will be completed by December 2022 — 11 years later than the original 2011 date and $8 billion over the original $3.5 billion budget. (Not counting $4 billion more in offline costs.)

Phase one of the Second Avenue Subway and Hudson Yards No. 7 subway extension both endured delays, budget, scope and change-order issues. Capital Construction is preoccupied trying to complete East Side Access and begin Second Avenue Subway Phase 2. How would it be able to manage additional capital projects? Project-cost containment, fast-tracking procurements, and contract change orders are easier said than done.

At upcoming contract negotiations, the MTA must insist on a few issues:

  • Include more flexible work assignments in union contracts.
  • Match salary increases with the consumer price index.
  • Ensure that employees increase contributions to health insurance and pensions.
  • Calculate future pensions based on the final year’s base salary and not inflated by overtime.
  • Allow employees to remain part time while collecting a portion of their pension. This allows experienced employees to train replacements and be available during emergencies.
  • Allow unions to bid on projects like the private sector.
  • Offer union employees bonuses, as is done with outside vendors, when they complete projects ahead of schedule or under budget.
  • Offer major businesses, hospitals and colleges who benefit from MTA services naming rights in exchange for adopting a station, paying for Arts in Transit and adding elevators to make them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
  • Stop wasting millions on transportation feasibility studies for system expansion projects that will never happen.
  • Do not initiate expansion projects until each operating agency has reached a state of good repair for the existing fleet, stations, elevators, escalators, signals, interlockings, track, power, yards and shops.

These are just some of the steps the MTA can take to ensure the system offers riders the reliable service they deserve.

Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who worked for 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration’s New York Office.

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