LIRR Might Get Investigated For Manipulating Benefits

For many years the speculation has existed that longtime LIRR employees might have benefited from the manipulation of disability & pension benefits. However the speculation might turn factual if Gov. Patterson gets his way. He has chosen to give New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo the power to investigate the Long Island Rail Road for possible manipulation of disability & pension benefits. Danny Hakim of the New York Times has more in this report:

Gov. David A. Paterson said on Sunday that he would give Andrew M. Cuomo, the state’s attorney general, broad powers to investigate the Long Island Rail Road as part of a wide-ranging review his administration would seek of how disability and pension benefits were potentially manipulated by L.I.R.R. supervisors, workers and retirees.

The governor’s action comes after The New York Times reported that virtually every career employee of the railroad applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal disability money. The disability claims are paid by an obscure federal agency called the Railroad Retirement Board.

“To say that this is outrageous is probably an understatement,” Mr. Paterson said in an interview. “It’s one of the most surprising developments in my tenure as governor and even in my long service in government.”

The attorney general has limited criminal jurisdiction — criminal cases are more typically brought by district attorneys — but the governor has the authority under state law to empower the attorney general to investigate any indictable offense, with the discretion to empanel a grand jury and issue subpoenas.

Click here for the complete report.

I will have more on this at a later time. I will say one thing for now, get the popcorn ready as this drama will be good!

P.S. Kudos to Gov. Patterson for looking into ending any potential loopholes that cost honest people in the long run.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Gets Price Gouged On Bus Fuel

The story is well known around these parts & other likewise places, the MTA’s finances are in horrible shape. The agency finds itself trying to find any & every way possible to cut costs & save money to help starve off $1+ billion dollar budget deficit. While this daily battle continues, news has come out that the agency is getting price gouged on the bus fuel it purchases. The MTA’s bus fuel costs will rise by $26 million, triple what it payed last year. New York Daily News’ Pete Donohue has more in this report:

The MTA’s bus fuel costs are skyrocketing by $26 million – more than triple what the cash-strapped authority paid last year – after it got caught in a no-win contract negotiation, the Daily News has learned.

Not a single company had submitted bids to supply fuel to city bus depots by the Aug. 21 deadline, leaving only three weeks until the existing contract expired, according to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff summary obtained by The News.

Faced with the possibility of running out of fuel, the MTA asked Sprague Energy Corp., its existing supplier, to agree to a contract extension.

Sprague, of New Hampshire, saw an opportunity.

The company demanded that the MTA more than triple its pay rate – and commit to buying a full year’s supply of the hard-to-get fuel, according to the summary of a contract signed by Sprague and the MTA subsidiary, NYC Transit.

Click here for the complete report.

This news is absolutely disturbing on many fronts. The MTA is in hot enough water as it is financially, it can not afford to get gouged like this & hope to make any dent in its budget deficit. I also have to question the individuals responsible for assuming they would get bids for their fuel contract just because it is the MTA. This backwards thinking has just helped them inch ever so closer to the poor house.

In Pete’s report, he notes that the MTA is looking into a more popular & cost efficient fuel to use on their bus fleet. I advise them to look & look hard into switching fuel types as this kind of price gouging can’t continue to happen if they ever hope to get out of the financial black hole they currently reside in.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Will Extend Line Manager Program

Last December the MTA announced their plans to shake up the management structure of the NYC Subway. One of the plans to do this was to implement individual managers for each respective line. They would be in charge of every facet of a line from track repair to the station cleanliness & everything in between.

The program was implemented on 7 Train & L Train as part of its initial trail basis. After nearly 10 months the MTA feels the program has been a success & have announced their intention to expand parts of it throughout the entire system. William Neuman of the New York Times has more in this report:

Declaring a 10-month experiment to improve service on two subway lines a success, transit officials said they plan in the coming months to extend parts of the program to the rest of the system.

At the heart of the experiment is a new approach to managing trains and workers by appointing a general manager for each subway line with the power to make decisions quickly over train schedules, the cleaning and maintenance of stations and many other areas that directly affect riders.

But some of the more expensive aspects of the experiment, like putting cleaning crews in every station around the clock, will not be part of the systemwide push. Officials said last week that they lack the money and admitted that the transit system’s budget crunch will limit the ability of the new line managers to make improvements that will be immediately felt by riders. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is facing a deficit next year of close to $1 billion.

Making an impression on harried subway riders is always a tough task.

In interviews last week with dozens of riders on the two lines that have had general managers since December, the L and the No. 7, many said they were unaware of significant changes. Some, however, said they had noticed small improvements like trains arriving at stations with greater regularity, easing rush hour crowding in the cars. And many said that stations and train cars on the two lines were noticeably cleaner than elsewhere in the subway system.

Click here for the complete article.

As I had mentioned last December, I first had my doubts about this program. However when I sat down & thought about it, I saw it had some negatives attached to it but the positives outweighed them. While the program has not set the system on fire, it clearly has made at least a glimmer of progress which has been noted by riders. While the response from riders has not been out of this world, it shows that the idea has some legs & can make a difference in the long haul if handled correctly. You know the old saying that this is a marathon, not a sprint, well it clearly applies in this case.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Buses Set Reliability Record

This past August was very kind to the buses in the MTA’s ever growing fleet as it set a record for reliability for the month. New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue has more in this very brief report:

MTA buses set a reliability record last month, traveling more miles without mechanical problems than any other August on record, transit officials said.

Buses in the MTA’s biggest division, NYC Transit, traveled an average of 4,500 miles before needing repair.

The feat is especially impressive because the average age of the fleet is the oldest since 1996, said Joseph Smith, vice president in charge of buses.

Buses take an unusual beating, moving slowly due to traffic even as key components – such as cooling systems – require a faster pace to operate at peak efficiency and to endure as designed, Smith said.

The record was achieved through an aggressive preventative maintenance program, Smith said.

“If I had said, 25 years ago when the system was on its knees, that we would be able to achieve the record mechanical reliability we have accomplished today in the MTA’s bus operations, I would have been accused of engaging in fantasy, or worse,” MTA CEO Elliot Sander said.

“This is an extraordinary testament to the investment the public has made in our system.”

Lets hope the MTA can keep up this line of quality while dealing with the current & future rough financial roads.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Poor Hells Kitchen Never Stood A Chance

Flushing-Main Street bound 7 train @ Queensboro Plaza
Flushing-Main Street bound 7 train @ Queensboro Plaza; resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit

A transit project that has come up many times in this blog is the 7 Line Extension. As my readers know, I have not been a big fan of this project in terms of overall importance. The only positive aspect I saw in this project in terms of stops was the creation of one for Hells Kitchen residents. The stop which was supposed to be located at 10th Avenue & 41st Street would have been a benefit to the many straphangers who reside in the area.

One of the fears I blogged about a few times was the possibility of the station being put on the back burner & not functional when the project launches. The other side of that fear was the possibility of the stop being eliminated from the project altogether. Unfortunately the latter nightmare scenario has officially taken place & I can safely say the MTA officially blew it with this extension. Lets first look at the report from NY1 News:

Transit officials dropped plans to build an additional 7 subway line station in Midtown Manhattan Thursday.

Officials eliminated the plan to build a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street when they were unable to obtain the $450 million to complete the project.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which previously offered to fund half of the costs, said Thursday that a station is not necessary since the neighborhood is already developed.

Advocates for the station do not think that is an excuse to stop construction.

“Is that the only reason we build subway stations now, to spur development? How about to serve the people that are already in a neighborhood? I just don’t buy that logic at all,” said Andrew Albert of the NYC Transit Riders Council.

Click here for the compete report in text & video.

Now lets take a look at another report on the news courtesy of William Neuman of the New York Times City Room Blog:

The westward extension of the No. 7 subway line will be built without a new station at 10th Avenue. That became even clearer this week after the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority let a deadline pass on a contract option for preliminary construction of the 10th Avenue station.

The bottom line: in a time of budget cuts neither the city nor the authority wanted to pay for the extra station.

The city is financing the rest of the work, which will bring the No. 7 line west of Times Square to Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, with a new station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. It is an important part of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to spur development on the Far West Side of Midtown.

Early plans called for the project to also include a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street. But as cost estimates rose, the station became expendable in the eyes of the city — and it became increasingly clear, by last fall, that financing for the new station was unlikely.

Click here for the complete report.

The idiocy behind this decision amazes me & that is saying something. First off, what is with the ridiculous notion that a mass transit project “has to” spur growth in designated areas? What happened to the simple concept of such project additions/extensions being built to help people already in the designated areas? If the creation or extension of mass transit infrastructure simply relies on this flawed logic, we as a nation are in deep trouble.

Now lets focus on the financial idiocy behind this decision. What business sense does it make to spend millions of dollars to extend a subway line by 1 stop, especially because it is not a necessity? The answer is obvious, it makes no sense at all. The city & MTA are crying poverty which has caused delays or even temporary cancellations to important projects. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe that a better idea would be to spend money on a project where the best aspect of it has been shelved.

This kind of backwards decision only benefits the fat cat real estate developers involved in the deal. It is a shame that once again the pockets of the rich are more important than the people the city & MTA serve. Thanks!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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