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Meeting Minutes Jan 19, 2012

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 pm on January 19, 2012 in the 10th floor conference room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

• James F. Blair
• Richard Cataggio
• David Buchwald
• Randy Glucksman
• Rhonda Herman

The following members were absent:

• Francis T. Corcoran
• Neal Zuckerman

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Jan Wells -PCAC Associate Director
• Shanni Liang -PCAC Consultant

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the January 19, 2012 meeting was approved as amended and the minutes of the November 10, 2011 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

The written Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes. David Buchwald gave the Chair’s Report and discussed the highlights of the written report.

Board Report

The written Board Report is attached to these minutes. Jim Blair gave the Board Report and discussed several items of interest. He said that Metro-North had 82.6 million passengers during the year of 2011, which includes the Railroad’s connecting services. This represents an increase of 1.3 percent over 2010 and is greater than the midyear forecast, in spite of some of the disruptions that Metro-North had faced. Mr. Blair noted that 2011 ridership for the Long Island Rail Road was about 81 million. Taking into account rail services only, ridership on Metro-North was over 82 million.

Mr. Blair said that growth had been strong at the end of the year, and that in December 2011 the Railroad had 7.4 million riders, which was 5.9 percent over the December 2010 ridership and 4.7 percent over the midyear forecast. On-time performance was generally strong as well, with even the worst performer of the East of Hudson lines, the New Haven line, turning in 96.4 percent on-time performance for December 2011.

There were also some areas that could be improved. Mr. Blair noted that Metro-North had made only 60 percent of its scheduled capital commitments for 2011. He said that he would ask for an explanation of the shortfall. Also, Mr. Blair noted the fleet mean distance between failures had fallen short of its goal for the year, although the source of the shortfall was the New Haven Line multiple unit cars that had been severely impacted by last winter’s weather.

Mr. Blair also noted that there has been much discussion at Board and committee meetings about the undesirability of sole source procurements. He said that while competition is preferable, there are sometimes circumstances where a sole source procurement cannot be avoided. Mr. Blair said that he had suggested that when there must be a sole source parts purchase relationship, there should at least be a provision made that MTA must receive the best prices given to any customer.

The Grand Central Terminal will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 2013. Mr. Blair said that Peter Stangl and Caroline Kennedy will chair the effort to commemorate the anniversary. One of the projects that will be undertaken in connection with the Anniversary is the redevelopment of Vanderbilt Hall.

Mr. Blair also reported that there was also an action item approved by the MTA Board to adopt final rules implementing the ban on smoking on platforms and ticketing areas. He also said that the PCAC Councils’ representatives on the Board had all made their positions clear in supporting the service restoration proposals that were raised in the discussion of the 2012 MTA Budget.

Mr. Blair noted that Joseph Lhota had been approved as the new MTA Chairman in a very quick process in the State Senate, and that the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project was moving very rapidly as well. Randy Glucksman said that the decision on how to proceed with the Tappan Zee project is not being well received in the communities that it serves.

In closing the Board Report, Mr. Blair noted that the Cortlandt Station expansion is being completed and that there will soon be an event to formally mark its opening.

Old Business

The Council discussed the Pledge to Customers that Metro-North has adopted. Mr. Buchwald said that the waiver of refund fees for riders caught in service disruptions is particularly useful. He said that the pledge is designed to address practical issues that are encountered during operational problems, as illustrated in the language about providing water to stranded passengers. Another important part of the pledge is the commitment to post it on the website and in stations.

Mr. Glucksman commented on the item in the Pledge dealing with alternate transportation. He said that he would like it to be stronger on directing people to alternative sources of transportation and asked why there isn’t more information available about other transportation options during service disruptions. Mr. Buchwald replied that the Council had pushed for a more explicit commitment to provide alternate service information, but Metro-North did not want to include it in the Pledge.

Mr. Buchwald added that beyond the items in the Pledge, one recent advance for riders is that Metro North has implemented Quiet Cars on the New Haven Line. He said that quiet cars came to the line after implementation on Metro-North’s other lines because of concerns from the State of Connecticut. Mr. Buchwald said that many of the issues in the development of the Pledge had involved concerns raised from Connecticut and that the main issue in the past two weeks has been whether to include the term “best efforts” with regard to scheduling service to meet anticipated demand.

Mr. Buchwald said that he hopes that the MTA will arrange a press event to launch the Pledge, as its effectiveness in large part depends on riders knowing about the Pledge. Mr. Blair added that the best publicity would be to include an insert with Pledge in seat drops provided on the trains.

Mr. Buchwald stated that while the Pledge is positive, there are some improvements that could be made, such strengthening the statement on waiver of refund processing fees by replacing the term “may” with “will” or a similar term. The Council voted to endorse the pledge and recommend this change.

New Business

Rhonda Herman commented on the fact that customers cannot use a credit or debit card as a second means of payment for tickets and passes when using another electronic means of payment, such as a debit card containing transit benefits, as the primary means of payment. She said that this is now more of an issue because of the changes to limits on pre-tax transit benefits. With the lower limits, many riders find that the cost of their monthly tickets is no longer fully covered by their pre-tax transit benefits. The current payment ticket selling system, however, does not allow riders with a transit benefit debit card to pay the difference with a credit card or another debit card.

Mr. Buchwald stated that the council has had a lot of accomplishments over the last year in areas such as quiet cars, the Pledge to Customers, and service restorations. Mr. Glucksman said that he would also include in these accomplishments the successful effort of the Council to keep the Tarrytown Station open later to provide a waiting place for riders who have one particularly long connection between the train and the Tappan Zee Express bus.

Mr. Buchwald stated that the Council can now move on to new issues and should add them to the agenda. He suggested that one such issue would be new members for the Council and that the Council should do a press release or other publicity on the need for members. The Council briefly discussed the vacancies that exist and the process for filling them.

Mr. Blair commented on a meeting that was held on Wednesday after the Board Meeting to discuss fleet strategy. At the center of the discussion was the strategy to develop an “M9” car for both the LIRR and Metro-North. The broad concepts that are being explored are the use of electric multiple unit cars, conventional coaches, or bi-level coaches. Mr. Blair said that Bob MacLagger of Metro-North had assured him that locomotives and bi-level coaches will pass muster on Metro-North. Mr. Glucksman shared his misgivings about moving from electric multiple unit cars to locomotives and coaches.


The meeting was adjourned at 5:50 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

William Henderson
Executive Director

Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Chair’s Report
January 19, 2012

First, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year and welcome you back to another year of work on behalf of Metro-North riders. This year has started out better than the last, especially for New Haven Line riders, and I hope that this year can be one where we will see some real improvements for riders, instead of dealing with severe weather and trying to preserve the service that we have. Still, the MTA has a very tight 2012 budget, and there will still be challenges, but the early signs are at least encouraging.
One of those early signs is the Governor’s proposed budget for the year beginning April 1, 2012. For the first time in several years, this budget does not contain funding cuts for the MTA, which will be useful in stabilizing a precarious situation. While late in 2011 amendments to the Payroll Mobility Tax (PMT) were passed that reduce the MTA’s income from this source by $250 Million per year, the proposed budget includes funding to make the MTA whole from State general revenues. While it may be argued that a state appropriation is less secure than a dedicated tax, the Governor has at least made the first step toward fulfilling a commitment to hold the MTA harmless that he and legislative leaders made when the PMT amendments were enacted.
The news for commuters at the federal level isn’t as promising. Increased limits on pre-tax transit benefits equal to those available for commuter parking, which were enacted in 2009 and renewed for 2011 at the eleventh hour in 2010 were allowed to expire when Congress refused to consider extending most tax breaks in an end of the year session. As a result, commuters who could previously pay for up to $230 per month in expenses for commuting by public transportation with pre-tax dollars can now exclude only $125 per month from their taxable income to pay for commuting expenses. As noted in our November meeting, the PCAC and Council Chairs wrote to legislators to urge passage of an extension, but our voices, as well as those of other advocates, were not heeded.
There is an effort underway in Washington to restore the higher pre-tax transit benefit limits in concert with an extension of lower payroll tax rates. We’re hopeful that Congress will see the light and recognize that tax benefits for public transportation riders should be no less than those provided to those who drive to work and pay for parking. Some of our State legislators are unwilling to wait for federal action and have introduced legislation to equalize pre tax benefits for transit and parking in New York State’s tax code. The PCAC has written a memorandum in support of this legislation, which is in your packets today, and transmitted it to our State Legislators.
Metro-North reached a major milestone this past Sunday when it returned its West of Hudson schedules to the timetables that were in effect before Tropical Storm Irene devastated much of the Port Jervis Line. While there’s still work to be done to fully restore the Line, the damage that was done is no longer impacting Port Jervis Line riders’ schedules. Metro-North has done an exemplary job bringing service back after some severe damage, and they once again deserve our thanks for a job well done.

As you may recall, at our November meeting we discussed Metro-North’s work on a pledge to its customers, and I have worked with Metro-North since that time to help them expand and clarify the pledge. We expect that the final pledge will be released shortly, and in your packets today is a copy of the latest draft that we have. I’d like to discuss it further under old business today. We have told Metro-North and the MTA that we would like to be involved in the release and any press activities accompanying the announcement of the pledge. Our Council can be proud of our role in crafting a promise to riders that is both meaningful and workable.

MNRCC Board Report
January 19, 2012

We are meeting in advance of the MTA Board LIRR/Metro-North committee meeting this coming Monday, and thus do not have access to additional information that may be presented at this meeting. The summary below reflects information that was provided to MTA Board members in advance of this meeting. Selected operational data for December 2011 follow below, as well as on-time performance, ridership, and financial data for November 2011.


December on-time performance for East of Hudson trains stood at 98.6 percent, which was Metro-North’s best month of 2011, its best month since April 2008, and its best December on record. Last month’s on-time performance was a full one-half percentage point above the previous December record of 98.1percent, set in 2007. This strong showing boosted on-time performance for 2011 to 96.9 percent, which is far from the best year on record, but remarkable nonetheless considering some of the weather related issues that the Railroad has faced. All lines and time periods in the East of Hudson region ran above goal. This year is likewise off to a good start with a 100 percent on-time day recorded in the East of Hudson region last Saturday, January 14. December West of Hudson on-time performance was likewise strong, at 98.3 percent. As was the case East of the Hudson, performance exceeded goal on both lines for all time periods.

The mean distance between failure (MDBF) statistics for November generally reflected good news. The fleet MDBF for November stood at 187,212 miles, substantially exceeding the 125,000 mile goal. All revenue equipment classes exceeded goal, with the exception of the Genesis locomotives, which at 26,718 miles were considerably below their 35,000 mile goal.


November total revenues were $7.3 million, or 10.8 percent, above the midyear forecast in November. Approximately two thirds of this surplus of this was due to higher than projected reimbursements from capital projects and from the State of Connecticut, but November farebox revenue was also 1.4 percent above the midyear forecast, despite the continuing service suspensions on the Port Jervis line through November 27. The remainder of the surplus is mainly attributable to the timing of recording revenues for the Vanderbilt Hall Holiday Fair. Total revenue for the year of 2011 through November exceeds the midyear forecast by 1.7 percent.

Operating Expenses for the month of November were 1.9 percent below the midyear forecast, with straight time payroll expenses favorable to budget, but overtime expenses 15 percent above budget. For the year of 2011 through November, operating expenses are running 2.2 percent lower than the midyear forecast, with straight time payroll and non-labor expense savings tempered by overruns in overtime and current and post-employment employee benefits. As a result, Metro-North’s cash deficit through November is 10.3 percent, or almost $36 million, better than the midyear forecast.


Ridership in November continued the upward trend seen in the past few months. November total ridership was up 2 percent over 2010 and .5 percent over the midyear forecast. East of Hudson ridership was 3 percent over 2010 levels, while West of Hudson ridership was 37.9 percent below 2010, as a result of continuing service disruptions on the Port Jervis Line. Commutation ridership increased 1.1 percent over 2010 and was essentially on budget at .1 percent below the midyear forecast. Non-commutation ridership stood at 3.3 percent above November 2010 and 1.3 percent above the midyear forecast.

Ridership on the Hudson and Harlem lines both grew 2.2 percent over 2010, while New Haven line ridership increased by 3.8 percent. Pascack Valley Line ridership increased modestly at 3 percent over November 2010, while Port Jervis line ridership was down 56.5 percent from November 2010, due to the impact of Tropical Storm Irene. Connecting service ridership in November grew 1.8 percent over 2010 levels, but changes in ridership varied among these services. Hudson Rail Link ridership was down 2.7 percent from 2010 and 6.5 percent from the midyear forecast. The Haverstraw-Ossining ferry ridership exceeded November 2010 levels and the midyear forecast by 2.9 and 1.9 percent, respectively. The impact of Port Jervis Line service suspensions was evident in Newburgh-Beacon ferry ridership, which increased 22 percent over November 2010 and was 20.8 percent over the midyear forecast.

There were also substantial increases in ridership over the New Year’s weekend, with a 28 percent increase in early getaway ridership on Friday, a 9 percent increase in New Year’s Eve travel, and a 25 percent increase in New Year’s Day travel over 2010-2011 levels. January 2 showed a slight decrease over 2011 levels. For the weekend as a whole ridership increased 3 percent over prior year levels.


Safety statistics for the year continued to fall below the strong performance recorded in 2010, but according to Metro-North the fourth quarter of the year, which is not entirely reflected in these statistics, has proved to be the best fourth quarter ever. This represents a strong finish to a year that started with an alarming increase in injuries due to the severe weather conditions. Through November, total customer injuries numbered 234, up 18.6 percent over 2010. This increase was largely fueled by an increase in slip, trip, and fall injuries earlier in the year, and to a lesser extent by an increase of 7, or 58 percent, in injuries caused by train doors. Total employee injuries for the year through November 2011 numbered 197, up 18 percent over 2010. Employee injuries resulting in lost time or restricted duties increased by 12 percent compared with 2010. Contractor injuries through 2011, though, declined 18.4 percent from 49 to 40, when compared with 2010.


There are several Metro-North procurements of note in this month’s Board cycle. One of these is the first procurement with Kawasaki Rail Car for M-8 car spare parts. This falls under the category of non-competitive procurements, which have been under fire lately from several MTA Board members, but this action, providing for the purchase of up to $1,050,000 in parts, covers only those items proprietary to Kawasaki or unavailable elsewhere.

A second notable procurement involves the expenditure of $1,417,457 to replace M-2, M-4, and M-6 on-board radio equipment to meet new federal rules mandating use of a narrow radio frequency band for this equipment. The proposed vendor, Axion Technologies, has successfully retrofitted the radio equipment in the M-3 cars and is the manufacturer of M-7 and M-8 radio equipment, and the equipment in the older New Haven Line cars can be used as spares for the M-7 and M-8 rolling stock once the older cars are retired. Like most New Haven Line procurements, this expenditure is funded 65 percent by the State of Connecticut and 35 percent by Metro-North.