Free E-Z Pass Tags Cost MTA Millions

While I was relaxing in my house with the A/C blasting on Tuesday, I was reading the New York Daily News. While going through the paper, my eyes got drawn to pages 16 & 17 as there was an amazing color photo of a large bolt of lighting that came down between the Manhattan & Brooklyn bridges. I looked to the left of the photo & noticed a report from Pete Donohue on how free E-Z Pass tags cost the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) $14 million dollars a year. Here is the article courtesy of the New York Daily News

As straphangers face the possibility of higher fares and tolls, the MTA’s freebie E-ZPasses are costing the authority $14 million in lost revenues a year.

In March alone, cars and other vehicles with a free E-Z Pass made nearly 300,000 trips via Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bridges and tunnels – amounting to approximately $1.2 million in uncollected tolls, MTA records show. Many of the trips were made by city employees, including on-duty police officers and firefighters.

The MTA is planning fare and toll hikes in 2010, but they could be put on the table for next year because of budget gaps. Given the MTA’s shortfall, fare hikes could come around next year – and Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said the city should pony up some dough.

“The City of New York should reimburse the agency’s cost, as it now does in part for discounted fares for city students and senior citizens,” Russianoff said.

Toll revenues go toward maintenance and operating costs associated with MTA bridges and tunnels. They also help fund the bus, subway and commuter train network. Of the approximately 24,000 freebie tags issued or honored by the MTA, nearly 14,500 were distributed to city agencies.

The largest batches went to the police and fire departments. Smaller numbers went to sanitation, recreation and other city departments, records show.

The city Office of Emergency Management has 107 of the non revenue tags. The mayor’s office has 14 but is only using 10, spokesman Jason Post said. Those 10 are assigned to city cars for official business by senior staff, including deputy mayors, Post said.

For decades, the MTA has granted free passage to government agencies that “provide services directly to us … to save public money by avoiding the need for these agencies to budget public funds for tolls,” the MTA’s bridge and tunnel division said.

The MTA also has doled out more than 2,700 special free-travel passes good only on the Triborough Bridge approach to Randalls and Wards islands.

These limited freebies, given to city and state workers assigned to the islands, include 543 passes given to the city Parks and Recreation Department, 559 to the Fire Academy and 493 to the Department of Environmental Protection. Two state mental health facilities have 859 tags.

City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said those assigned to the East River outposts have few options.

“There is no subway line,” he said. “Bus service is infrequent. They are almost forced to drive.”

The department provides a shuttle bus over the bridge to a Manhattan subway line on a very limited basis, Benepe said.

Does it really surprise anyone that the MTA has lost millions due to idiotic practices? I am not the least bit surprised as it has been a staple of the MTA since day one. They seriously need to find a way to accurately determine who deserves a free E-Z Pass tag & monitor the use of it. It is common knowledge that these tags are being used outside of the confines of official business trips. If the agency would shore up such revenue holes like this, they could start to fix the financial woes they are in.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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PATH Commuters Face Tough Rush Hour Commute

Many riders are expected to & most likely already are facing a tough rush hour commute tonight. This is due to the service alert that has been out for a number of hours tonight which features a service suspension. Here is the entire press release courtesy of PATH

PATH service between 33rd Street and the Journal Square and Hoboken stations will be suspended in both directions throughout this evening due to power cable damage caused by a track fire between the Christopher and 9th Street stations. PATH stations at 33rd Street, 23rd Street, 14th Street, 9th Street and Christopher Street stations will be closed this evening.

PATH will operate regular service on its Newark to World Trade Center and Hoboken to World Trade Center lines, and also will operate between Journal Square and Hoboken stations. NJ Transit will cross-honor PATH tickets on its trains and buses at Penn Station New York and Penn Station Newark. PATH passengers also can use the New York City subway system to pick up PATH service at the World Trade Center Station.

Good luck to all the PATH commuters tonight!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Governor Patterson Appoints 12 Members To MTA Financing Commission

Earlier today, New York Governor David Patterson announced the appoint of 12 members to the MTA Financing Commission which will be headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch. Here is the press release courtesy of the New York Governor website.

Governor David A. Paterson today appointed 12 members to the Commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Financing, to be chaired by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch. The Commission is charged with recommending strategies to fund MTA capital projects and operating needs over the next ten years, a period when the Authority will be under unprecedented financial pressure as it expands its system and rebuilds its core infrastructure to provide the additional capacity needed to allow the region to grow. Governor Paterson announced in April that Richard Ravitch would head the Commission in wake of the failure of the congestion pricing proposal, which would have provided an additional revenue stream to the MTA.

“New York’s leaders have too often underestimated the critical importance of mass transit to the economic wellbeing of the region and the quality of life of our citizens,” said Governor Paterson. “New York City’s famous subway system, its buses, and the extensive regional commuter rail network are the lifelines of the greatest city in the world, bringing millions of people to their places of work, fueling development, and increasing the property values of residents and businesses. The congestion pricing debate highlighted the need for sustainable funding for the MTA. This Commission will help ensure that the MTA has the resources it needs to expand and maintain a mass transit system that can increase regional prosperity while also curbing sprawl, reducing traffic congestion and improving the environment.”

The Commission will include experts on transportation and finance, and will be chaired by Richard Ravitch, former Chairman of the MTA and a New York City business leader. The Commission will submit its report to the Governor and legislative leaders by December 5, 2008.

“As MTA Chairman from 1979 to 1983, Richard Ravitch was one of those New Yorkers with the foresight to see how invaluable a safe, reliable mass transit system is to the health of the City,” said Governor Paterson. “He was a leader with the ability to bring that vision to reality by developing the first MTA capital plan that famously saved the New York City mass transit system from collapse. We need that kind of leadership today which is why I am appointing Dick to lead the Commission that will help chart the next ten years for the MTA.”

Ravitch, who thanked the Governor for his trust and support, said: “The future of the MTA and the future of New York State are inseparably linked, and I am grateful for this opportunity to serve my Governor and the State by helping chart a course for the Authority’s continued success. The years I served as MTA Chairman are amongst the proudest of my career, and I am lucky that I can again be of service to the organization.”

The Commission reports to the Governor and legislative leaders will include an estimate of capital needs for the next two MTA programs through 2018. The panel will work with the MTA to review the needs presented in the 2008-13 Capital Program recently approved by the MTA board and preliminarily estimate the subsequent capital program needs through 2018. The Commission will, in conjunction with the MTA, consider the funding requirements for the core program of normal replacement and state of good repair projects as well as the cost of completing existing mega projects and undertaking additional system expansion. The Commission will not be asked to make recommendations on transit priorities reflected in the current MTA Capital Plan.

With regard to the MTA operating budget, the Commission will review scenarios developed by the MTA that predict the range of operating budget shortfalls over the next ten years.

The Commission will then propose a series of actions to address the identified funding needs. These actions may include, but are not limited to: proposals on new funding sources authorized by the Governor and the State Legislature to be dedicated to the MTA, toll and fare adjustments in support of MTA operations and its capital plan, congestion pricing, and initiatives to maximize MTA efficiencies.

The Commission will also examine MTA financing policy issues such as the role of debt in the MTA capital program, the role of the Port Authority in funding regional mega projects, federal, state and local government burden sharing for financing the MTA, and other mass transit providers in the MTA region.

Since announcing that Richard Ravitch would head the Commission to examine MTA funding, the Governor and his staff have been working with Mr. Ravitch to recruit members and develop a charge and work plan for the Commission.

The Governor recognizes that the financing of downstate mass transit cannot be divorced from the broader statewide transportation strategy, and this Commission should serve as a model for how New York State takes up the responsibility of funding its other transportation needs including highway and bridges, rail, ports and aviation.

The following people have agreed to serve on the Commission (in alphabetical order):

  • Laura L. Anglin – Budget Director
  • Keven Burke – Chairman of the Board @ Con Edison/Con Edison of New York
  • Robert B. Catell – National Grid, US Chairman
  • Douglas Durst – Third generation member @ The Durst Organization
  • Peter Goldmark – Program director of the Climate & Air program @ Environmental Defense Fund
  • Denis Hughes – New York State AFL-CIO President
  • Father Joseph McShane – Fordham University President
  • Mysore L. Nagaraja – Well known expert advisor in urban transportation
  • Mark Page – New York City Office of Management & Budget Director
  • Steven Polan – Partner @ Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
  • Elliot G. Sander – MTA CEO & Executive Director
  • Kim Paparello Vaccari – Head of the Transportation Group @ Banc of America Securities

The commission is to report its proposals to Governor Patterson by December 5th, 2008.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Newsday Continues To Seek LIRR Riders’ Stories

Last November I wrote an entry about Newsday seeking feedback/stories from Long Island Railroad (LIRR) riders. Well they are back with another request for such stories. On June 9th, they published 2 more stories from Jeremy & Joseph respectively. Here are their stories courtesy of Newsday

I was recently on the 4:22 p.m. train to Port Washington when a man, giving the appearance of being incredibly intoxicated, stumbled into the car and fell akimbo upon the seat across from me. It looked (and sounded) like he was going to vomit at any time, especially when the conductor came by. Finally, as the train pulled into the Manhasset station, the “drunk” passenger got up from his seat, made it clear that he was sober as a judge, and laughingly told those of us still around him that his act gets him a free ride whenever he wants. – Joseph

About a month ago, my fiancee and I were … taking the 3 a.m. [train]. I got up at some point to use the bathroom … Within about 15 seconds, someone punches or kicks the door, and threatens to “cave in” my head. … I wasn’t about to get ambushed on the way out, so I cautiously open the door to see if there was anyone still there. To my surprise … there was nobody … Not more than five minutes later, I can hear [someone] yelling, and then the sudden breaking of glass. As I look up, I see this tall bald guy, mid 30s, pushing around some guys at the other end of the car … and then all hell broke loose.

There were about six or seven people engaged with each other, a glass bottle broke near my seat … The conductor stopped the train and locked our car down, leaving us with this idiot yelling at people … At the end of it, this guy has a cut on his neck that’s bleeding profusely and is put in handcuffs, some of the other guys just disappeared, and my fiancee and I were left wondering, “What was that about?” – Jeremy

I love reading these stories for some reason…

xoxo  Transit Blogger

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Ask Gene

Yesterday, the New York Times City Room Blog announced they would have a special guest answer transit related questions. The guest is none other than staff lawyer as well as the main face & voice behind the Straphangers Campaign, Gene Russianoff. Here is a short piece of their announcement courtesy of the New York Times City Room Blog

This week, Gene Russianoff, staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, will be answering City Room readers’ questions about improving New York City’s public transportation, where the city stands on congestion pricing and concerns about the subways and buses.

This should prove quite interesting if I may say so myself. I notice that there are already 245 comments to the piece as of this writing. I will be going through the comments & bring any interesting information. So check back for updates!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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