Too Little Too Late Might Be The Story For The Ravitch Commission Report

This past June, I wrote an entry about New York Governor David Patterson appointing 12 members to the MTA Financing Commission. The commission which is headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch is known in most circles as The Ravitch Commission. Their goal was to recommend strategies to fund MTA capital projects and operating needs over the next ten years. Their report which is due in the first week of December was looked at by many as the saving grace to the MTA’s financial woes.

However due to the global financial crisis leaving no sector safe including transportation agencies like the MTA, the report’s recommendations might be too little too late. William Neuman of the New York Times has more in this report which will appear in today’s print edition:

When Gov. David A. Paterson created a commission last spring to recommend a solution to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial troubles, the panel’s head, Richard Ravitch, a respected former chairman of the authority, quickly took on white knight status, with officials and politicians hoping he would ride in before the year was out to save the authority from disaster.

Questions in recent months about the authority’s economic future have repeatedly drawn the same response: Wait for the Ravitch commission.

But the stock market’s troubles and the global banking crisis have accelerated the authority’s financial slide to the point that officials are now working to carve deeper cuts in their budget plans for 2009.

And it appears likely that there will be insufficient time for the State Legislature to act on the Ravitch commission’s proposals, meaning the authority will be forced to adopt an austerity budget with both service cuts and fare increases by late December, an official said.

Further, because of sharply falling revenues, an even larger increase in fares and tolls might have to be considered than in the authority’s earlier budget plan, which called for an 8 percent rise in revenues from those sources, the official added.

All that sets the stage for a winter of wrangling among the governor, the Legislature, the mayor and authority officials, who will be under intense pressure to rescue the region’s mass transportation system.

“We clearly are going to be laying out some very painful stuff,” Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the transportation authority, said in an interview last week, referring to the budget discussions that will unfold over the next two months. “We are going to have to balance the issue of fare increases and service cuts and also see how we can cut our budget further. Those are the three pieces to the puzzle and we’re just in the process of dealing with those trade-offs.”

He said that agency heads within the authority have been put on notice that they may be asked to propose budget cuts greater than the 4.5 percent reductions they had previously been asked to consider for next year.

Click here for the complete report.

For those like myself who are in tune with happenings at the MTA, nothing in this report comes as a surprise. However even with saying that, one must be considerably worried when Elliot Sander says “We clearly are going to be laying out some very painful stuff.” This is an extremely powerful message & unfortunately for us, it is not a good one.

If I had to place a wager on service cuts happening immediately if things continue the current status quo, I would bet against it. While many consider the MTA to be against the public, they won’t do something such as cutting service when it is clear that more is needed. The fat will be trimmed from many layers including upper management down to employees.

However when all of that huge fat is gone, then & only then would they look into actual service cuts. The only thing I would worry about right now is how much fat they can realistically cut off that won’t get neutralized with an economy that continues to bottom out. While I wouldn’t ring the panic alarm yet, I don’t think we are far off from it ringing uncontrollably.

Can Ravitch somehow pull off the impossible this time? The first week of December will be quite historic for the MTA, whether good or bad remains to be seen!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Two Officers Shot At 21st Street-Queensbridge Subway Station

Station sign on the downtown platform at the 21st Street-Queensbridge station.Station sign on the downtown platform at the 21st Street-Queensbridge station. Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit.

Around 5:15pm yesterday, two officers were shot & seriously injured by an illegal immigrant who tried to use a Student Metrocard to enter the subway the 21st Street-Queensbridge station on the F Train line. Al Baker & Sewell Chan of the New York Times have more in this report:

Updated, 10:35 p.m. | A gunman who tried to improperly enter a subway station in Long Island City, Queens, shot and seriously injured two police officers around 5:15 p.m. Tuesday as they tried to arrest him, the authorities said. The injured officers were taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center. The gunman, who was shot four times by a lieutenant as he tried to escape, was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he admitted his role in the shooting, the police said.

The shootings occurred inside the 21st Street-Queensbridge subway station on the F line. Well into the night, F trains bypassed the subway station in both directions as the police investigation continued. As of 10:29 p.m. the Metropolitan Transportation Authority continue to warn passengers of delays in service along the line, which travels between Jamaica, Queens, and Coney Island, Brooklyn, via Manhattan.

The two officers, identified as Shane Farina, 38, and Jason Maass, 28, were assigned to the Transit Bureau.

Click here for the complete report.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Permanent Citizens Advisory Commitee Releases New ADA Accessibily Report

The P.C.A.C., better known as the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, has released a new report on ADA Accessibility at the MTA. The new report which is 116 pages long praises the Long Island Rail Road & Metro-North when they said both agencies “have few issues with respect to accessibility.” Here is a sample of the findings listed within the report:

• LIRR, out of 124 stations, has 20 fully accessible stations of which 18 are key stations and two additional stations.

• LIRR trains employees on how to assist passengers with disabilities including: using bridge plates for customers in wheelchairs; assistance on boarding and detraining; emergency evacuation; and, “disability etiquette” issues.

• MNR, out of 84 stations in New York State, has 13 designated key stations and another 18 that are also fully accessible. An additional 24 stations are wheelchair accessible.

• MNR’s Training Department provides training for train crews and front line employees including providing assistance to persons with disabilities, emergency evacuation procedures, instruction on bridge plate use and boarding procedures, and operating rules (for train crews) that affect customers with disabilities such as rules for service animals, priority seating, reduced fares, etc.

• NYCT, out of 468 stations, has 67 key subway stations which have been made accessible. Another 33 must be made accessible by 2020. There are an additional 16 non-key stations that are wheelchair accessible, five of which are fully ADA accessible.

• The entire fleet of MTA/NYCT buses is lift-equipped, has kneeling features, wheelchair securement devices, public address systems, and seating spaces reserved for persons with disabilities. The 2007 reduced-fare ridership was approximately 3% of subway trips and over 10% of total bus trips.

Now here is a sample of some of the recommendations contained in the report:

• Add “Elevator/Escalator Outages” as a separate tab on the top of the MTA website homepage along with “Schedules”, “Maps” and “Service Advisories”. Elevator/escalator information must be front and center, easy to access, and include those elevators/escalators maintained by other parties than MTA/NYCT. Further, this outage information should be linked throughout the website: accessibility information pages, station pages, etc.

• Create a single webpage of elevator and escalator disruptions across the entire system — subway, commuter rail, bus, ferry — in a simple grid format. This presentation is used very effectively on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) website.

• Create website pages for all NYCT subway stations (similar to those for LIRR and MNR stations) with development priority given to all ADA accessible stations. Any information related to accessibility at a specific station should be included on that page, including the location of elevators and escalators within the station.

• Incorporate elevator and escalator information in the forthcoming MTA service diversion alert system. This service could be similar to WMATA’s Electronic Elevator Notification (ELLEN) system, where an online form allows a customer to create a list of notification preferences, including elevator status and route disruptions.

• Post floor plans in all key stations with the location of the elevators at that station. They should be placed at the entrance to the station near other maps or passenger information centers and on platforms.

• Accelerate implementation of technologies that provide automated audible and visible stop announcements to reduce the impact of operators failing to make announcements. All new buses should have this feature.

• Check the working condition of the bus public address equipment and lifts daily. Current inspections are too infrequent. Procedures must ensure that operators report faulty public address systems and lifts promptly.

I have only had the time to skim through the report. Later on tonight if not tomorrow, I will take the time to read through all 116 pages & provide my opinion on it. In the meantime, I urge all of you to read the report yourself. You can access the .pdf by clicking here.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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U.S. Railroad Retirement Board Agrees To Disability Reforms

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, which has come under intense scrutiny for their possible role in helping former LIRR employees collect fraudulent disability benefits, has agreed to disability reforms proposed by federal lawmakers. Alfonso A. Castillo has more in this report for Newsday:

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board has “unanimously agreed” to adopt a number of reforms proposed by federal lawmakers aimed at curbing possible abuses of federal disability benefits by Long Island Rail Road retirees, said a memo obtained by Newsday yesterday.

The memo, sent to members of New York’s congressional delegation yesterday, outlines five reforms the retirement board has agreed to implement relating “solely to the Long Island Rail Road and its employees,” including measures that could potentially cut off some LIRR retirees currently receiving disability benefits.

While saying the changes will be “beneficial” to the system, LIRR president Helena Williams said yesterday that they “appear to unfairly single out LIRR retirees and do not go far enough to address what is a nationwide issue.”

The retirement board has come under fire following reports that it approves, nationally, 98 percent of railroad disability claims. An unusually high number of claims come from LIRR retirees, board members have said. More than 90 percent of LIRR retirees, it was reported last month, have received disability benefits.

Click here for the complete report.

Seriously did the board really think they could do anything but publicly agree to these reforms? The real test is to see if they get implemented & seriously enforced to prevent possible fraud in the future. So the jury will be out on this issue for quite awhile.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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LIRR Pension Agency Failed To Act Years Ago

This is the opinion of New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo after it was revealed that the pension agency received a complaint about potential fraud 5 years ago. Robert E. Kessler has more in his report for Newsday:

The government agency that oversees the LIRR pension system had a complaint about possible pension abuses as far back as 2003, but did not act, according to a letter from the New York State attorney general’s office.

In fact, one attorney for the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board replied to a whistle-blower that “the LIRR’s experience with disability is probably right in the ballpark with other railroads,” State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Friday.

“We believe that the [railroad board] provided misleading information to the LIRR about this issue, thereby forestalling by years this inquiry,” Cuomo wrote in the letter.

LIRR management backed Cuomo’s position Friday. Joseph Calderone, an LIRR spokesman, issued a statement that said, “The LIRR raised this issue in 2003 with the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, but it appears we were given misleading information by the board in response to our queries.”

Cuomo’s letter was not sent to the railroad retirement board directly, but rather to the inspector general’s office of the retirement board.

Click here for the complete report.

As with most articles on Newsday, this contained some responses from readers. The most interesting response came from “Carl” who said:

Attorney General Cuomo and also Newsday are both doing great jobs in uncovering all that is going on at the LIRR. No matter what the cost this should be continued to be looked at and the more the LIRR retirees dismiss it as “no bid deal”, the more it should be looked at for all the fraud and corruption that has been going on there for many years. Leave no stone unturned and prosecute where appropriate as all decent, honest and law abiding citizens want done.

They all have lawyers now but they did nothing wrong, all 98% of them.

Yeah right.

I happen to agree with him that no stone should be left unturned in this investigation. While it will come at taxpayers expense, it is clear that their are much worse things that have received assistance from tax payer dollars. What are the chances that every single disability benefits case is legit especially when most are collecting for the same exact reasons? I say the chances of all of these claims being legitimate is slim to none. I also wouldn’t hire a lawyer if I knew I was completely innocent unless I had no choice to do so.

I truly think some of these retirees are worried that the gravy train is coming to an end & it is about damn time. Each & every person found to be guilty of fraud should be forced to pay back every cent collected & face federal jail time!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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