U.S. News

New York transport authority wasteful, inefficient: chief

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority wastes 15 cents of every one dollar collected in fares and has been eclipsed by its peers in cities from London to Bogota, its new chairman said on Friday.

Chairman Jay Walder, reporting on his first 100 days in the job, said too little had changed since 1983, when he began his career at the biggest U.S. mass transit agency whose graffiti-scarred subway cars used to symbolize “urban decay.”

Walder said: “Buses still crawl in city traffic. Information is still hard to find or understand. Toll plazas still back up. And how the MTA does business has not substantially changed since it was formed in 1968.”

The MTA is the umbrella agency for the bridge and tunnel, commuter line and subway and bus authorities.

The recession dented New York City’s Wall Street-driven economy and a separate report said the MTA’s revenues fell $100 million in the first 10 months of last year as employers cut 110,000 jobs.

The MTA, which carries 9 million riders a day, will soon hold hearings on drastic service cuts it says are needed to close a $400 million deficit. And there is a risk subway, bus and commuter fares and tolls on tunnels and bridges will have to be raised this year.

Despite the weak economy, Walder vowed to forge ahead with upgrades. “We must utilize partnerships -- both with the private and public sectors -- to test new technology and services,” he said.

Making his case for streamlining the MTA’s bureaucracy, Walder said the 5,000 administrative staffers cost $500 million a year. Riders have 92 telephone numbers to call for information, and new technology has often become obsolete by the time it is installed, he said.

There are three agencies that repair rail cars and “internal handling” eats up 18 cents of every dollar spent on inventory. Yet “Cost cutting without a clear plan has led to too many managers overseeing too few employees,” Walder said.

He called on unionized workers to identify cost savings by modernizing work rules, and said overtime, which costs $500 million a year, can be pruned with better management.

With 2.5 million daily bus riders now “held hostage to crawling city traffic,” Walder said new camera surveillance and “on the spot ticketing” of drivers who block bus lanes will speed trips on six key corridors.

Later this year, 75 subway stations will get electronic signs announcing arrivals and routes.

About 25 percent of the drivers still pay tolls in cash, though this costs more than electronic passes. The MTA will work with a financial firm on a prepayment system for them.

Maintaining subway stations, which sometimes are dirty, have leaky roofs or missing tile, should have the same priority as keeping equipment in good repair, Walder said.

Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Andrew Hay