Regional News

N.Y. MTA Chief Launching Consolidation, Efficiency Drive

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin consolidating internal departments and maximizing its resources to produce savings and make the system more efficient, agency chairman and chief executive officer Jay Walder announced Friday.

Walder, speaking at an Association for a Better New York event, also released his 100-day review of MTA’s operations, called “Making Every Dollar Count,” which details his priorities for streamlining how the agency conducts business and offers a top-to-bottom overhaul of its operations.

The transit authority is comprised of more than two dozen formerly independent entities, including seven different major agencies such as the New York City Transit, the Long Island Railroad, and Metro-North Railroad, among other transportation systems. All of these agencies operate with their own human resource departments, legal teams, and accounting departments, which Walder believes should be combined to generate savings for the MTA. He called this approach a “one-entity idea.”

One example Walder pointed out is that the MTA has five different call centers with 92 different call-in numbers for customers. Streamlining such operations would create needed savings, he stressed. Roughly 5,000 employees perform MTA administrative functions, at a cost of more than $500 million, according to the report.

“The one-entity idea is to say that while the operational services will always have independent names — the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North and other services are brand names that have existing for a long time and are important — the reality is that our functions inside the company for our call centers, for our human resources, for our accounts payable, for our information technology and on and on, should be one company that is working to be able to do this and do it efficiently,” Walder told reporters after his speech. “And we’re going to find a way to be able to do that.”

He said the MTA has yet to pin down a final number of potential layoffs that may occur by consolidating departments and eliminating positions. Discussions with union leaders have already begun and Walder said he was encouraged by the initial conversations with labor groups.

During his speech, Walder made clear that his goal is to maximize the MTA’s operations and find cost savings internally rather than looking for new or additional revenue, including congestion pricing. Congestion pricing, as proposed in the last two years, would charge vehicles coming into certain areas of Manhattan. After 130 days on the job, Walder said the agency must change the way it does business.

“I cannot tell you that the MTA is spending every dollar that it receives as effectively as possible,” Walder said in his speech. “And I believe that fixing that needs to be my top priority right now.”

Along with consolidating departments, other potential savings include monitoring overtime pay, reducing the cost of fare collection — which now costs 15 cents for every dollar received — through increased technology, and maximizing resources such as storage facilities and repair shops.

At the same time, Walder aims to improve service by implementing rapid bus lanes, improving passenger notification of train schedules and delays, using all-electronic tolling on MTA bridges and tunnels, and keeping subway stations clean and updated.

In addition, Walder said he is currently re-evaluating the authority’s $28.08 billion, five-year capital program and expects to resubmit the proposal within a couple of months. It failed to receive Gov. David Paterson’s signature at the end of last year and the agency began 2010 without an approved five-year capital plan. Walder said he is prepared to eliminate any infrastructure improvements that fail to provide enhanced efficiency and reduce day-to-day costs.

“Our capital program has been absolutely essential to the rebirth and rebuilding of the MTA,” he said. “And I think the MTA has been essential to the city and to the region, no questions about it. But we have to ensure that every single capital investment will do one of three things — it will reduce operating costs, or it will dramatically improve our services, or it will improve the state of our system.”

The agency last month approved an $11.98 billion “doomsday” operating budget for 2010 that includes eliminations of certain bus and rail lines and an end to an MTA program that offers free service to New York City children going to and from school. Those program cuts closed a $383 million gap that was due in part to a $143 million cut in aid from Albany.

As for additional help from the state, Sen. Jeffrey Klein said the governor and legislators are considering options to help finance the MTA’s student program, but that the agency must learn to live within its means.

“I think now it’s incumbent upon the MTA to do more with less, maintain the level of services as they promised they would and maybe cut all the fat out of management,” Klein told reporters after Walder’s speech. “I was very, very optimistic about the speech that he made because I think that he understands that you can’t come back any more for the short term and ask for more money, that he has to sit down and figure out how he can deliver essential services and maintain the status quo.”



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