More On the LIRR Disability Benefits Scandal

One of the hottest topics on this blog has been the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Disability Benefits Scandal. Unlike other blogs, I’ve tried to bring daily coverage to the issue. Unfortunately due the technical issues causing a complete server move, I have fallen behind on the story. So here are some articles to help get up to speed. Lets start with the article by Alfonso A. Castillo of Newsday which talks about how over 85% of the disability claims filed by retired LIRR employees cited the same two ailments:

More than 85 percent of the approximately 1,800 disability claims made by retired Long Island Rail Road employees during the last seven years cited the same two physical ailments – bone infections and connective tissue diseases – federal documents obtained by Newsday showed.

Bone and connective tissue disorders account for 29 percent of all disability cases filed through the Social Security Administration during the same period, statistics show.

Northport attorney Edward J. Yule, who often represents LIRR workers in injury cases, noted that “working on a railroad is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.” Railroad workers have physically demanding jobs that often strain bones and joints, and nearly all railroad workers get injured, he said.

But Thomas White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, an industry group representing the nation’s major freight train providers and Amtrak, said he “can’t think of anything that a railroad worker does that would lead to a disproportionate number like that.”

The high number of disabilities coming from the two categories alarmed LIRR President Helena Williams, who said the figures “appear high” and “cause concern” in a letter she wrote last month to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

Click here for the complete article.

The next article is from Frank Eltman for the Associated Press. His article takes a look at how LIRR President Helena Williams calls for federal legislation to execute a complete overhaul of the Railroad Retirement Board:

NEW YORK – The president of the Long Island Rail Road called for legislation Thursday to overhaul a federal board that granted lucrative disability benefits to virtually every retiring employee in recent years.

Thursday’s announcement was prompted by a New York Times report last month that uncovered a startling trend among retirees at the railroad. More than 90 percent of them were granted disability payments by the federal board, allowing them to collect huge payments every year.

As state retirees, they are entitled to perks such as free golf at a Long Island course, and the Times found “disabled” former railroad workers who spent their summer days walking 18 holes on the course.

LIRR President Helena Williams also said she is requiring all 6,800 railroad employees to undergo additional ethics training while establishing a hot line for employees and the public to report suspected fraud, waste and abuse.

Click here for the complete article.

Alfonso A. Castillo had another article highlighting more specific ways that LIRR President Helena Williams feels the system should be overhauled:

Saying she could not stand idle as Long Island Rail Road employees continue to abuse a flawed pension system that grants disability benefits to nearly anyone who applies, railroad president Helena Williams yesterday called for widespread reforms both at the federal level and in her own agency.

“Something is not right, and I think that’s why I’m here saying it cannot be business as usual at the railroad,” Williams said at a news conference at the LIRR’s Jamaica headquarters. “We have to get to the heart of the system. Why is the system allowing for what you and I would say appears to be, at the minimum, abuse [and] certainly waste?”

Williams outlined a multifaceted plan to curb apparent abuses of the federal U.S. Railroad Retirement Board occupational pension system, which has come under fire after published reports revealed that an alarmingly high number of retired LIRR employees receive disability benefits on top of their LIRR pensions.

Williams yesterday sent letters to members of Congress urging them to overhaul the railroad retirement system. She recommended more involvement and input by employers on individual disability claims, closer scrutiny of employees’ claims by independent medical experts, mandatory physical rehabilitation when applicable, and a more stringent review of disability claims filed by administrative employees whose work does not involve physical labor.

“The goal is to ensure that only those who are truly deserving of a disability pension get a disability pension,” Williams said.

Click here for the complete article.

The last article which appears in this morning’s edition of the New York Times comes from Walt Bogdanich & Nicholas Phillips & looks at how & why the LIRR has asked state investigators to broaden their investigation. The call for a broadened investigation stems from the agency sharing evidence that claims some retirees purchased private disability insurance policies knowing that the federal railroad board would declare them disabled:

The Long Island Rail Road has asked state authorities to broaden their investigation of federal disability payments collected by its retirees, saying that it is concerned that some former employees may be trying to improperly collect disability payments from private insurers as well.

Virtually all career L.I.R.R. employees — as many as 97 percent in one year — get federal disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board after they retire, The New York Times reported last month.

On Tuesday the railroad gave the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, and the inspector general of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority evidence raising the possibility that hundreds of its employees were buying private disability insurance policies knowing that the federal railroad board would declare them disabled.

In referring the matter to state investigators, L.I.R.R. officials said their suspicions were raised by two types of disability insurance purchased by railroad employees. One is a general, short-term disability policy; the other guarantees payment of auto loans, credit card debts or personal loans in the event the policyholder is unable to work.

Click here for the complete article.

This might turn out to be the biggest scandal to rock the LIRR in its entire history. If some heads do not roll for this, I would be shocked. The amount of corruption & scamming here is too much to even grasp & yet it seems like it is just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned as this story has plenty of action left for those who are following along.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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NYC Subway Delays Continue To Rise

In a piece of news that comes as a surprise to no one, NYC Subway delays are up. It seems every couple of months I am writing an entry about the latest statistics showcasing what any average subway rider already knows. This time the startling report originates from a brief article in Monday’s New York Post. The article written by Bill Sanderson had this to say:

New Yorkers’ subway commutes have slowed significantly over the last three years, according to the latest NYC Transit data.

The city is still far from the 1970s bad old days of broken-down, graffiti-scarred trains – but the downward trend in the quality of subway service is unmistakable.

Through June, the number of delayed trains is up an average 24 percent from two years earlier, and 71 percent from three years earlier.

And the distance trains travel without breaking down was down 7 percent in July from two years earlier, and 17 percent from three years earlier.

Subway bosses blame the problems on more track work, heavy ridership, and less money for maintaining cars.

Click here for the complete article.

You know the real news will be when the latest statistics show that NYC Subway delays are down! I won’t hold my breath on that though, I would like to live a long time.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Unveils Fully Wrapped Shuttle Train

The topic of subway advertising has come up on this blog many times. As I have noted on numerous occasions, the MTA has continued to look at ways to bring in much needed revenue through advertising. They feel the opportunity is there to maximize revenue by thinking outside the box & coming up with more unconventional means of advertising to bring in revenue. One of those unconventional ideas was to have a 42nd Street Shuttle Train wrapped in advertising inside & out. This idea has come to reality as the MTA unveiled the first fully wrapped shuttle train 6 days ago. Here is a press release talking about it:

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Elliot G. Sander today announced a series of innovative advertising strategies to increase revenue generated by ads in the MTA’s transit system. Sander was joined by History’s™ Senior Vice President, Marketing, Chris Moseley, in unveiling the centerpiece of the initiative, the first fully-wrapped MTA NYC Transit subway car. Three cars will be fully-wrapped, inside and out, with a promotion for History’s™ television series “Cities of the Underworld” for the month of October.

“We have had tremendous success growing our advertising revenue over the past decade as advertisers have taken advantage of booming ridership to reach record numbers of New Yorkers,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA Executive Director and CEO. “In light of the current fiscal crisis, we are pushing the envelope by introducing new advertising strategies that could generate millions in additional revenue for the transit system.”

Over the past ten years, revenue derived from the sale of advertising in the MTA system has increased dramatically – from $38 million in 1997 to $106 million in 2007. A main goal of MTA Real Estate is to continue this growth by working with our various advertising contractors to develop new and vibrant advertising platforms throughout our system. In releasing the agency’s preliminary financial plan in July, Sander committed to exploring new advertising revenue sources. The result of that promise was a multi-pronged strategy developed in consultation with MTA’s subway advertising contractor, CBS Outdoor, and released today as a pilot project.

The primary feature of this new effort is History’s™ “Cities of the Underworld” promotion, planned for the month of October, which will employ a large-form vinyl display of creative promotional graphics on the interior and exterior walls of a Times Square Shuttle train. This will be the first time that a subway car has been fully wrapped in New York City.

“Opportunities like this exciting promotion for “Cities of the Underworld” help us to create a captivating experience and convey to consumers the immersive look and feel of this television series,” said Chris Moseley, Senior Vice President, Marketing, for History™. “We were looking for creative ways to engage commuters with this unique series and to feel the underworld right in the heart of New York City; the wrapped Shuttle train was a perfect fit.”

As part of this October initiative, CBS will employ three additional display strategies. First, the staircase at the Grand Central end of the Times Square Shuttle will be fitted with vinyl displays. Second, one of the remaining Times Square Shuttle trains between Grand Central and Times Square stations will include exterior panel displays. In addition, these exterior panel displays will also be posted on trains that move through Grand Central Terminal and Times Square stations (numbers 1, 3, 4, and 7 trains). And, third, the turnstile arms in the Shuttle fare control areas at Times Square and Grand Central Stations will be equipped with ad covers.

In the future, when able to be sold as a single package, these strategies will create a dramatic new symbiotic station advertising product that will command a premium above any other display sold on its own. Such a premium package will generate an additional $1 million per year in advertising revenues for the MTA from the Shuttle alone. If this test at Grand Central/Times Square stations is successful, other high-traffic stations could easily be included for similar sales packages.

In addition to the above efforts in the GCT/Times Square Area, in the first quarter of 2009 Times Square Shuttle tunnel will also become the home of the first in-tunnel advertising installation. The shuttle riders will be able to view a full motion video presentation through the window of the shuttle car. The MTA is also planning to pilot test a digital dominated station concept at two of the NYCT stations, Grand Central Shuttle Station and 42nd and 6th Avenue Station mezzanine (Bryant Park).

To further expand the advertising revenue base, MTA in partnership with Titan Outdoor (its MTA bus and commuter rail advertising contractor), will be pilot testing digital advertising on one of its NYCT buses and, if successful, hope to expand the program to approximately 200 buses. In addition, a similar digital advertising pilot test is planned for in car commuter rail displays in the near future.

The MTA will realize over $125 million in 2008 in advertising revenues. If these new initiatives are implemented on a permanent base, the MTA expects these revenues to grow substantially.

Click here to see some pictures of the fully wrapped shuttle train.

New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue had his own spin in this report:

A shuttle train running between Times Square and Grand Central Station has been turned into a billboard on rails.

The train’s exterior is plastered with an ad for the History Channel – the first campaign of its kind in the city’s subway system.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials Thursday will unveil the train, which will run as a pilot program before officials decide to do similar campaigns on the shuttle or elsewhere in the system.

Click here for the complete article.

As far as more advertising in the subway, I will reiterate my feelings from an earlier post:

The thought of advertisements dominating the transit landscape conjures different emotions depending on who you ask. I for one am not bothered by the thought of more advertisements if it brought some financial relief to the agency. While the thought of a branded subway car is not the most appealing thing, I can look past it as the agency’s finances are more important than what I feel visually as a transit buff.

I do wonder about one thing though. Is the MTA doing enough to capitalize on the advertising opportunities? While it is nice that the agency projects higher earnings this year, the difference from last year seems small from what it was from 2006 to 2007. With the amount of subway stations alone, I would think they should make more than $4 million from the previous year. When you factor in the space from their buses, commuter railroads & such, the # should be even higher. Hopefully this will be the case in the near future.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Officially Unveils Anti-Sexual Harassment Ad Campaign

In August I wrote a couple of entries on the MTA’s proposed anti-groping/sexual harassment ad campaign/public service announcements. I first took them to task when they decided against going through with the ad campaign. I later thanked them for having a change of heart & going through with their initial plans. Well I can now say they have officially unveiled the new ad campaign. Lets first take a look at their press release in regards to this topic:

MTA New York City Transit’s latest public service campaign has been designed to combat sexual harassment in the subway. This educational message features subway car cards and brochures aimed at encouraging victims to report incidents of sexual harassment and informing them of the best ways to stay safe. The message is clear: “This type of behavior does not have to be tolerated by customers and is viewed by the NYPD and NYC Transit as a very serious crime.”

The SubTalk car cards, which began appearing in the subway during the week of September 15 read: “Sexual Harassment is a Crime in the subway, too – A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer.”

“After much thought and discussion on the subject, we have come up with a message that we feel sets the right tone and provides customers with the information they need to respond to this type of criminal behavior,” said MTA NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr.

“NYPD officers assigned to the subways have helped drive crime down to record lows in recent years with the help of the riding public,” said NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. “The Police Department is determined to continue crime suppression, including sexual-related crime and misconduct, with the public’s continued cooperation and with the aid of NYC Transit’s important informational campaign.”

200,000 bilingual English /Spanish brochures, containing more specific crime prevention tips will be available beginning Monday, October 6th at subway stations citywide. These brochures also give the number of the NYPD Sex Crimes Report Hotline, 212-267-RAPE (7273), to report past attacks or incidents. “If we help one person,” added Roberts, “we will have done our job.”

Click here for the 11×70 Bilingual Sign.

Click here for the bilingual brochure.

Now lets take a look at the brief article from the Associated Press on the topic:

NYC Transit has started a public service campaign to fight sexual harassment on the subway.

The agency is placing ads in subway cars encouraging victims to report the harassment. The ads also offer safety tips.

Last year, 63% of straphangers surveyed in an unscientific report said they had been sexually harassed. Of them, 96% said they didn’t report the incidents. Most victims were women.

The report defined harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, flashing, groping, fondling and public masturbation.

Last month, a subway rider took a cell phone picture of a man she said had used a phone to take a picture under her skirt. She e-mailed the photo to police, and the man was arrested.

I’ll echo the statement I made in August when they had a change of heart:

I am glad the agency had a change of heart although I question what took them so long. The main reason given for not going through with the campaign was the fear of copycats or encouraging perverts to take their chances. They now want to “assess their impact” which is pretty much saying they still have fears of copycats. The right attitude is to just say the safety of our passengers is & will always me more important than the chance of idiotic perverts being encourage by ads calling them out.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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An Acceptable Level of Cleanliness Would Cost NYCT $100 Million

The startling figure was discussed in an article by New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue. His article went into details on how it would cost New York City Transit (NYCT) approximately $100 million dollars to maintain an acceptable level of cleanliness throughout the entire NYC Subway. Here is more from Pete’s article:

It will take a lot of green to keep your subway station clean.

NYC Transit would have to hire an additional 1,575 cleaners, and spend nearly $230,000 per hub, to reach and maintain an acceptable level of cleanliness across the entire system, according to an agency analysis.

“That’s a lot of money,” William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said. “In today’s climate, that’s an awful lot of money.”

Click here for the complete article.

I have to admit that the figure startled me when I first saw it. I was just thinking how $100 million dollars is a lot of money to have an acceptable level of cleanliness throughout the NYC Subway. This line of thinking led me to my next question which is what exactly is an acceptable level of cleanliness? If it would cost $100 million for an “acceptable” level of cleanliness, just how much would it cost for pristine conditions?

Seriously with that amount of money, the MTA should be able to do more than just keep an acceptable level of cleanliness. They should also be able to fund many repairs at the same time. As far as overall condition goes, many riders are quick to jump on the lack of effort from subway cleaners. While it is true that some of them are lazy & don’t care to properly do their job, it truly does not fall on them.

As usual the riders want to blame everyone but themselves. The trash that they want cleaners to really clean up did not get there by itself. The trash got there due to riders, some which are quick to attack cleaners for their sub par efforts. Instead of preaching from their pulpit on how cleaners should work with pride, how about taking that same pride by not dirtying the system to begin with. What a great idea, no?

xoxo Transit Blogger

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