U.S. News

NYC mayor calls MTA "bloated," proposes changes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday criticized the state agency that oversees the city’s mass transit as “bloated” and “inefficient” and proposed a series of changes, including free buses on some crosstown routes and expanded ferry service on the East River.

A fan wears the number of Hall of Fame New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth as he waits for the "D" train to the Bronx, September 21, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Bloomberg, an independent who is seeking a third term as mayor, in a campaign speech likened the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to the city’s Board of Education, which he replaced when he gained direct control of the city school system.

“Tackling such a beast, I think we all know, will not be easy,” Bloomberg said.

“We’ve taken a beast -- the bloated and patronage-ridden and unaccountable Board of Education -- cut out the waste, set high performance standards, and most important, established a culture of accountability,” he said.

He said changes in the way the MTA operates could result in savings of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The mayor, who failed to win approval in the state legislature last year to implement a congestion pricing plan to charge drivers in Midtown Manhattan during peak travel periods, rejected a suggestion that he was declaring war on the MTA, the nation’s biggest mass transit agency with nearly 8 million daily riders. The MTA oversees mass transit in New York City and its New York suburbs,

City residents deserve more say over the MTA, Bloomberg said, but added he wanted a partnership.

In response to Bloomberg’s proposals, an MTA spokesman said: “As always, we welcome the mayor’s input and look forward to working with him and other elected officials in finding ways to make the MTA more efficient and transparent while being certain the MTA has the funding it needs to continue providing critical services to all New Yorkers.”

The state Senate has yet to confirm the new MTA chairman, Jay Walder, who helped develop the London Underground’s smart fare card.

In his proposals, Bloomberg ruled out any new subway lines, saying they would be too expensive, and none of his recommendations matched the scale of his failed proposal for congestion pricing.

He did, however, propose light rail or street cars for the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts and replacing toll gates on MTA bridges and tunnels with smart fare cards in order to speed traffic.

He also proposed handing over security to the New York City Police Department, noting it successfully installed security cameras, unlike the MTA’s costly and faulty program.

He also said he would reopen the Staten Island North Shore Rail line, reopen stations of the Long Island Rail Road in underserved areas, and provide discounts to inter-city riders.

He also said the MTA could save an estimated $630 million over seven years by repairing equipment and stations as soon as repairs were needed.

In addition, savings of $50 million could be realized by merging the Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth, which serves the suburbs of Westchester County, New York, and Connecticut. Combining three bus lines would save about the same amount.

The MTA’s capital construction arm should be restructured to save $50 million over five years, and its underutilized Brooklyn headquarters should be turned over to the city and sold, Bloomberg said. The MTA should cut its lease budget every year by 10 percent, the way the city does, he added.

Editing by Leslie Adler