LIRR President Helena Williams Editorial

4 days ago Long Island Railroad President Helena Williams penned an editorial for Newsday. She talks about the LIRR’s proud history & her attempts to combat the huge disability benefits scandal that has shined a negative light on the agency. Here is a brief sample of her editorial:

‘Change at Jamaica.” It’s a familiar refrain to anyone who rides the Long Island Rail Road. But in recent weeks, it’s taken on a whole new meaning for the 6,800 employees who keep America’s oldest and largest commuter line running.

Our organization finds itself under fire, facing understandable public outrage at news that nearly all LIRR retirees in recent years have received a disability pension from the federal government. At Gov. David Paterson’s urging, we are aggressively pursuing reform to safeguard taxpayer funds. It’s no longer business as usual at the LIRR on this issue.

In August, we referred this matter to the inspectors general of the MTA and the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, a little- known federal agency based in Chicago that approves 98 percent of all disability pension applications nationwide without any meaningful input from the LIRR or other railroads. Last month, Paterson asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate, and the LIRR is cooperating fully.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 2, we urged members of Congress to issue a series of reforms at the federal level, designed to weed out frivolous claims – including independent medical reviews of disability applications, a more stringent review of applications from those in white-collar jobs and a requirement that claimants undergo rehab if they can return to work.

Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton) and representatives from other Congressional offices summoned members of the Railroad Retirement Board to New York to get them to agree in principle to significant reforms. We must all remain vigilant and watch for the adoption of new regulations by the board.

Click here for the complete report.

I have been a fan of Helena’s work since she became LIRR President. I would like to believe she is truly in a tough place here as she did not know the fraud that was going on. However the same sentiment is not shared by the few people who commented on the editorial. As usual with these responses, you have to take most with a grain of salt because the responses can be filled with utter trash or childish nonsense.

Lets look at the response from “Huh” who had this to say:

Clean? did I actually read that the trains are clean? They are FILTHY and God forbid a conductor or anyone that works for the LIRR actually picked up trash. Yes, the riders leave trash and makes a mess, but only because the thing has never been clean in the last 20 years. You treat people like animals, they behave like animals.

I’ve never met a courteous LIRR employee. IN fact, if you read posts on Newsday from former/current LIRR employess they have the audacity to write how they deserve to be fraudalent and get disability. They cannot even acknowledge it is fraud, they can only say “they paid into the system and they should be able to get it back out”. Typical of a UNION worker.

Half the reason I don’t want to work in the city is I know how incovenient the 33 minute ride is. NO one wants to stop at Jaimaca or even slow down.

The entire system could get rid of conducters if they wanted to, see other systems where electronic turnstyles take the place of humans. It is not like they do ANYTHING else on the train.

This person has a point about the trains being filthy. I have ridden the LIRR for years & have noticed this same problem. However I can’t help but feel the line of thinking here is idiotic in terms of passing the buck. So you admit that the riders themselves are responsible for leaving the trash. However you get angry because a conductor won’t pick it up. Last I check that is not part of their job description although I have seen some pick up newspapers & discard them.

The kicker is that you turn around & justify the pig style action of riders because conductors or other employees don’t clean it up & this has been going on for 20 years? Since the LIRR treats us all like animals, we as riders have the right to literally trash the system. This has to go down as one of the dumbest LIRR rants I have ever read. Let me break it down to you, when the cars first were available to be used for passenger service, they were not dirty & trashed up. This did not happen until the riding public destroyed the property themselves. So in the end it still comes down to the riders & this is a fact that an idiot like this can’t possibly refute.

Someone named “Metro-North Rider” specifically responded to “Huh” with a comment which from my experience has some truth to it:

The problem is you long Islanders suck . You are rude , noisy and dirty. You should ride a metro north train and see the different type of people. you guys are like thugs on the trains. thank god again i dont live in Long Island or I should say Wrong Island…..

While I have ridden the LIRR considerably more than the Metro-North, I must say I do notice a huge behavioral difference between the riders. I can’t recall ever being on a Metro-North train where I encountered super loud people or a rowdy pack of people drunk off their asses. While I am sure it does occur, I’m confident in saying it doesn’t happen as often. I usually hate taking the LIRR coming back to the island as those rides seem to always be considerably worse than the rides in. Either way I think the original comment has a lot of truth to it as I have heard the same sentiment echoed by others. After awhile you would think it is not a coincidence that these opinions are out there.

In the end, I hope Helena continues to do what she can to make the LIRR a strong & efficient railroad operation. It not only would benefit her to do so but the riders as well.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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370 Jay Street Has Become A “Blight On The Face Of Downtown Brooklyn”

B.B.P. Marty Markowitz & other borough leaders at today’s press conference on the MTA’s mishandling of the property in & around 370 Jay St. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Borough President’s Website.

This strong statement was made by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in response to the MTA letting their property at 370 Jay Street sit & become an eyesore in the community. Lets first look at the report on this issue which comes from New York Daily News reporters Pete Donohue, Rachel Monahan, & Bill Hutchinson:

It’s become a piece of Jay-unk!

Fed up at having to live in the shadow of a decrepit eyesore, Brooklynites are demanding officials stop dragging their feet and give the Jay St./Borough Hall subway station and building a major overhaul.

Despite promises to spruce it up, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has let 370 Jay St. and its subway hub become a “blight on the face of downtown Brooklyn,” said Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“This section of Jay St. is an embarrassment – and our commuters, residents and local businesses deserve better,” Markowitz said.

He plans to join other elected officials and downtown Brooklyn boosters Monday at a press conference to demand the MTA fix up the station and turn the building over to someone who will finally give it a proper face-lift.

The subway station is even worse, with columns that are missing tiles, lots of chipping paint and large sections of the platform sealed off with plywood.

MTA officials insist they are going to invest $106 million to rehabilitate the station and that funds to fix the building above it are in the next capital improvement plan.

Click here for the complete report.

Now lets look at the press release from the Brooklyn Borough President’s website which talks about the press conference that was held:

On Monday, October 20, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) President Joe Chan were joined by elected officials and community leaders to protest the deplorable conditions in and around 370 Jay Street—one of the most neglected MTA properties in the city—and at the Jay Street/Borough Hall station. Participating in the press conference were Council Member David Yassky, Assembly Member Joan Millman, Sam Ibrahim, general manager, New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, Michael Gold of Sid’s Hardware and Michael Nill of Brooklyn Friends School.

The city-owned, 400,000-square-foot building is vacant and littered with trash, and has been surrounded by unsightly sidewalk sheds and scaffolding for nearly a decade. The MTA has budgeted $150 million toward renovating the building for its back offices, but says it won’t be fully occupied until 2016. According to BP Markowitz and DBP President Chan, 370 Jay Street could be sold or leased to attract one or more major corporate tenants, including retail, and the savings used to close the MTA’s budget shortfall.

The New York City Transit Riders Council recently ranked 50 subway stations in need of improvements and Jay Street/Borough Hall, which serves nearly 30,000 riders daily, garnered the fourth lowest rating. It received a grade of “F” in the categories of odor, leaking ceilings, clean ceilings and leaking walls. It received a grade of “C” for lighting, clean floors, clean walls and litter.

Click here for the complete report.

For starters let me say that the Jay Street stop is in pretty decrepit condition & in need of major repairs. I do happen to agree with Marty in that this is not the condition a stop of its importance should be in but that goes for any stop in the borough or better yet system. While it is ridiculous that the MTA has yet to maximize the potential of this property, I think it is equally ridiculous to act like they can just flip a switch & come up with the cash needed to overhaul it.

Where is the same passion that was used to come down on the MTA about this, towards our elected officials who regularly shortchange the MTA in the funds they deserve? You know the same funds that would help them upkeep & continue to grow our transit infrastructure. While the MTA is no angel in all of this, it is not all on them as I have stated numerous times in the past. Instead of calling the MTA out on what they already know, use this same intensity to fight for better funding which will help our desire for a better system & in this case the better use of the property at 370 Jay Street.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Park Slope Advocates Push For Simple Fixes At 4th Ave-9th St Station

Stained wall on the Manhattan bound side of the 9th St station.Stained wall on the Manhattan bound side of the 9th St station. Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit.

If local Park Slope advocates had their way, the MTA would embark om simple fixes for the many problems at the 4th Ave-9th St station on the D Train, F Train, M Train, N Train, & R Train (D Train & N Train late nights only) respectively. The station which like its Smith-9th St counterpart is in pretty bad condition & in need of repairs. Both stations had been in line for a huge overhaul but as with many other projects, both have been victims of the financial crisis going on within the MTA leading to repairs on a smaller scale. New York Daily News reporter Rachel Monahan has more on what the Park Slope Civil Council feels needs to be done:

Park Slope advocates fear the Fourth Ave. stop at Ninth St. won’t ever be refurbished because of budget problems – so they want simpler fixes made now.

“Instead of a high-dollar renovation, we can achieve something tangible for less money,” said Michael Cairl of the Park Slope Civic Council.

Their proposal includes refurbishing a spot under the F-line viaduct for use as a newsstand or a cafe.

“That would be a way for the MTA to make some money,” said Cairl. “In these times, the MTA needs to be more creative about how to maximize its real estate.”

But Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said they’ve already determined what repairs need to be done, and said the project would begin in 2010.

New York City Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said the agency already has worked out “all of the parameters” for the project, which is now slated to be finished by 2012.

Click here for the complete report.

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Save Time & Money By Axing The Bus Fare?

Here’s an idea for the MTA, axe the bus fare on routes such as the M34 & M42 because it would speed up the commute & save money from the need of fewer buses to service the routes. Sound crazy? The Regional Plan Association sure doesn’t think so as they proposed the idea this past Thursday. Pete Donohue of the New York Daily News has more in this report:

The cash-strapped MTA could speed bus trips and cut expenses – by not charging fares on some Manhattan routes, a respected think tank suggested Thursday.

Eliminate that process on routes like the M34 and the M42, on 34th and 42nd Sts., and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still might not absorb a big loss, according to the Regional Plan Association. Here’s the logic.

For most crosstown bus riders, the trip is just one leg of a larger one that includes the subway. Transfers between the buses and subway trains are free. So, bus riders can simply get on without paying, according to an association report on possible mass transit upgrades.

“Most of the people riding those buses are taking the train, so you capture the revenue anyway,” said Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow at the association.

Any revenue losses probably would be offset by improved efficiency, Zupan said. Bus trips would become quicker, meaning fewer buses would be needed.

Click here for the complete report.

You know now that I think about the idea, it sounds like it has some potential. I for one tend to ride crosstown buses to quickly go from one side of town to the other & back to subway when I am done. From what I have always noticed, many do the same exact thing so Jeffrey makes a good point. However I do wonder how much time could really be saved as loading passengers faster still won’t take care of the gridlock on such major crosstown streets. I think this proposal could really work if dedicated bus lanes were properly setup & fully enforced on these roads.

In the end who knows if the MTA would consider such an idea. However they have nothing to lose by at least taking a look at the feasibility of this plan. Any chance to save money should not be ignored considering the financial shape the agency is in.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Manages To Sell $550 Million Worth Of Bonds

4 days ago I published an entry to discuss how the MTA turned to former NYC Mayor Ed Koch in advertisements to help stimulate the sale of bonds to investors. 2 days after that, I wrote about the MTA’s plan to scale back on the bond sale due to the instability of the financial markets. However later that day the MTA managed to sell $550 million dollars worth of bonds at a yield of 6.75%. William Neuman of the New York Times has more in this report:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Friday braved a turbulent credit market to sell $550 million of bonds to support its capital construction program. The bond issue included $85 million of bonds sold to individual investors, which the authority had sought to attract with radio ads recorded by Edward I. Koch, the former mayor.

The bond sale was the authority’s first since the credit markets froze in the midst of the global financial crisis.

But the borrowing costs were considerably higher than the authority has had to face in recent years. The authority’s 20-year bonds sold at a yield of 6.75 percent, which approximates the interest the authority must pay.

That is more than a full percentage point higher than similar bonds issued earlier in the year.

Click here for the complete report.

I am surprised they sold that much worth of bonds. While I’m sure they did not want to pay a higher yield, at least it did give them an infusion of money to help give them a little financial wiggle room.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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