Tough Times for MTA But Chair Promises Progress

MTA Chair and CEO Jay Walder has a daunting task: moving the MTA forward at a time of deep economic stress and political uncertainty. As veteran of Dick Ravitch‘s MTA turn-around in the 1980s, Walder is haunted by the specter of the 1970’s when the system approached collapse as a result of the dramatic drop in fair receipts associated with the City’s loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

At an Eco-partner breakfast of the New York League of Conservation Voters this morning, he argued that their had been two transformational moments for the MTA. The first was establishing and then funding and then implementing a series of five year capital plans to modernize the system, with the result that miles per subway car between breakdown had gone from about 7,000 to well over and 100,000, and graffiti has almost disappeared. Riders now expect and demand a functioning system and ridership is up a million and a half people per day. Some of that is population growth but that’s the corollary. Better mass transit makes the City a more attractive place to live.

The second transformative moment was the introduction of the Metrocard, which changed riders’ relationship with the system and helped the agency become more customer oriented.

Walder sees the opportunity now for a third wave, using technology to improve service and the perception of service. Count down clocks and service status boards will start to sprout. Bus lanes that function because of enforcement through bus-mounted cameras will be tested in Manhattan shortly.

In the meantime, he’s orchestrated 3,500 layoffs saving $500,000,000 per year and is implementing a whole host of behind the scenes productivity improvements. Relations with the TWU are still a sore point, but some small movements from both sides may set the framework for greater cooperation.

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