A meeting of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) to the MTA was convened at 12:00 noon on September 4, 2008, in the 5th floor Board Room, at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
James F. Blair
Francis T. Corcoran
Burton Strauss, Jr.
William K. Guild
The following members were absent:
James L. McGovern
Sharon Santa Maria
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
Gary Dellaverson – MTA
Marsha Desormeaux – MTA IG
Sharima Singh – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Lou Sepersky – Concerned citizen
George Haikalis – Concerned citizen
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
Scott Crosby – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the September 4, 2008 meeting was approved. The minutes of the June 5, 2008 meeting were approved.
The PCAC, LIRRCC, MNRCC and NYCTRC Chairs’ Reports are attached to these minutes.
Mr. Guild introduced the newest members of the PCAC: MNRCC member, David Buchwald lives two blocks from the White Plains station and is a tax attorney in the City. Rhonda Herman, who has also just been appointed to the MNRCC but was not in attendance, Ms. Herman works for the U.S. Treasury and also resides in White Plains.
Maureen Michaels suggested that the PCAC should make a public endorsement of the LIRR Third Track project. After a brief discussion, the PCAC voted to support the motion to send a letter stating the PCAC strongly supports the inclusion of the Third Track project in the next MTA Capital Program.
Discussion of the PCAC Report
Shirley Genn asked if there would be an opportunity to discuss the report on Accessibility. Mr. Henderson said that staff would like to hear any comments and they should be sent to the staff for inclusion in the report. Mr. Guild said once the changes to the report are made the Executive committee will approve the final version.
No Old Business was discussed.
The PCAC discussed the position paper that was drafted about the MTA budget and they voted to approve it with updates that should be included form the presentation that was given at the meeting. It would be released under the authority of the PCAC.
Introduction of Gary Dellaverson, MTA Chief Financial Officer, to Discuss the 2009 MTA Budget
Mr. Dellaverson began his remarks by describing the budgetary cycle process that has been in place for the past five years and which is similar to the way the City prepares their budget. He said that in July the preliminary financial plans are presented and in November the first official budgets will be released. He said a self sustaining budget must be adopted in December. He said there are restrictions on actions that are taken such as estimates must be n writing and must be reasonable and based on the best judgment as it relates to the current financial conditions. He said the budget is balanced for 2009, but they are now in the middle of working out gap closing actions.
Mr. Dellaverson said that they would be bringing the EZ Pass waiver discontinuance proposal to the Board and are currently meeting with funding partners although there have been no firm commitments on funding levels as of yet.
Mr. Dellaverson indicated the change in the waiver of tolls applies to all official vehicles. He said that previously the official vehicles used a placard to indicate that they should be exempted from paying tolls and the MTA kept a record of the bridge crossings that were made by these vehicles, but EZ Pass system is automatic in terms of keeping records of the vehicles that pass through toll plaza. Mr. Dellaverson said that that the waiver of tolls amounted to $10 million in revenue per year.
Francis Corcoran noted that the taxpayer will eventually pay for this and suggested the MTA look to eliminate items that don’t directly burden the taxpayer. Mr. Dellaverson noted that there are currently crossings that from a policy standpoint should not be free, but where tolls can’t be collected now. He also stated that many official vehicle trips are financed by means other than taxes. For example, ambulances collect reimbursement for their costs of service through insurance payments and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
Mr. Dellaverson reported that ridership continues to be robust despite the expectation that a softening economy may reduce or even reverse growth.
Ms. Mason asked how the financial situation would be presented to the public and whether the emphasis would be on cost savings or costs shifting. She asked if Mr. Dellaverson could talk about how the MTA would proceed with the discussion of the Authority’s finances. Mr. Dellaverson said that they have talked about all of this publicly and even met with reporters and walked them through the MTA’s finances. He said that an example of a topic that he would like to address is that originally an equal share of the cost of school transportation on the Transit system in New York City was to be paid for by the City, the State, and the MTA. The initial amount of these shares set when agreement was established was $45 million, but this amount is still the amount paid by City and State, although costs have increased. He also noted there is still the issue of paratransit, where the City of New York shares less greatly in the cost of providing the service than is the case in other cities.
Ms. Mason said she is not there to debate school fares and paratransit but emphasized the importance of how it is all being presented to the public.
Shirley Genn said it is important the MTA deal forthrightly with the salary increases for management.
Mr. Dellaverson said there are many moving pieces involved in finalizing the budget, but noted that issues involving funding partners and EZPass will have already been resolved. He explained that there will be a remaining gap and the Board will have to make tough choices.
Ms. Michaels said it is important to hear the details of the plan but also what is coming down the pike.
Mr. Dellaverson said the MTA has different ways of dealing with the media and the public. He said they have a monthly press availability following Board meetings. He said that the MTA is assisting the Ravitch Commission in its work and noted that only a small staff that includes no outside public relations consultants is working for the Commission. He said that in November the 2009 budget will be presented and promised it will be an ugly document.
In response to Marisol Halpern’s question about the measures are being taken to close the funding gaps that are realistic, Mr. Dellaverson said that getting rid of the EZPass forgiveness for governmental and non-profit users is realistic.
Mr. Dellaverson explained that there are three types of governmental assistance that the MTA is seeking. On the federal level, the MTA is seeking a set of changes to railroad retirement funding will increase taxes on private railroads. He said this will benefit the MTA and have no financial impact on the employees. They are also seeking to have commuter rail employees covered under the Social Security system and to implement a tort system for railroad employees who sue their employer. On the state level, the MTA is seeking $600 million in State and City assistance for 2010, but this request was developed before the current oil price increases and recession. He said that the MTA is paying $1.5 billion a year for debt service but noted an association could be made between the $600 million request and the State and City should have paid in additional assistance over the years. He said that they are asking for the payment of the $600 million to be moved up by six months and for the State and City to increase Paratransit and school transportation reimbursements to the MTA.
Edith Prentiss noted that if NYCT’s subway system were much more fully accessible, the demand for paratransit would be smaller and would not eat up so much of the budget. Mr. Dellaverson said that this discussion is about the budget and not how service is provided. He said we could do something similar to the establishment of MTA Bus Company, which assumed the operations of private operators franchised by the City, with regards to paratransit, but this is the City’s decisions. He said the relevant question is the amount of additional funding that is forthcoming from the State and City.
In response to Francis Corcoran’s question about whether the $302 million in gap closing from external actions is too high or low, Mr. Dellaverson said he does not know at this point and that this figure is the MTA’s best estimate. He noted that during the debate over the last fare increase, the politicians all said to ask for more money, but many of these same individuals are now looking to cut the MTA budget. He said that now the money available for the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance (MMTOA) fund is now forecast to decrease by $82 million.
Mr. Corcoran said that he thought the assumption was to get the structural deficit under control and then apply biennial cost of living adjustments to fares. Mr. Dellaverson said that the logic behind the financial plan is to match fare increases with an equivalent percentage increase in support asked of the MTA’s funding partners. At this point, the MTA is seeking a cost of living increase for the period since the last fare increase plus the revenues lost when the last fare increase proposal was reduced from the proposed cost of living increase.
In response to Marisol Halpern’s question as to what happens if the MTA does not get the money that it seeks from the City and State, Mr. Dellaverson said this is a great concern. He said that there are limits to the efficiencies and labor cuts that can be imposed without harming the system.
In response to Jan Wells’ question as to the role of the recommendations from the Ravitich Commission in this process, Mr. Dellaverson said the Commission was given two mandates. The first of these focuses on capital needs and has a ten year timeline. The second focuses on the continuing operating needs of the MTA. The recommendations are scheduled to be released on or before December 5. He said there will be invitation only testimony given to the Commission on September 22. Mr. Albert noted that it is most likely the Ravitch Commission proposals will need legislative action in order to be implemented, and so any money from them won’t be available for six to eight months.
Mr. Dellaverson said if legislation is required, the legislature could hold a special session but nothing will happen until 2009. It will be important for the transportation advocacy groups to push the MTA agenda.
Mr. Dellaverson stressed that the preliminary budget that was released in July is simply a best estimate on what the finances will be going forward, and the next look will be at the November MTA Finance Committee meeting. A final vote on the budget will take place in December. He said the only legislative actions necessary in the current financial plan would be in terms of closing loopholes on some real estate and other taxes benefiting the MTA and federal changes to disability and retirement programs for the commuter railroads.
Mr. Albert said that someone proposed that the MTA pass a budget and then stay any action on cutting service or raising fares pending legislative action. Mr. Dellaverson said one reason that a fare increase has been proposed is that it provides a view of what will happen if additional assistance is not available.
Mr. Blair said that one strategy that has been put forward is to downsize the organization, but noted the internal actions seem to be the smallest component of the effort to eliminate the budget gap. Mr. Dellaverson said there are three parts that must be looked at in terms of internal savings: 1) MTA Headquarters is required to cut expenses by 1.5 percent annually, 2) there are travel and training expense budget reductions, and 3) The restructuring plans that the MTA is putting in place. By law, the MTA is required to have separate operating companies, so the Business Service Center has been created functionally restructure the operation, although legally it would continue to operate as separate companies.
Mr. Blair noted that the materials he had seen contemplate programmatic head count reductions beyond 1.5 percent. Mr. Dellaverson said that they are in the process of investigating this possibility right now.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 pm.
PCAC Chair’s Report – William K. Guild
I am pleased to welcome two new members of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council to the PCAC: David Buchwald and Rhonda Herman. They both live in White Plains and we are delighted to have them in our ranks. Unfortunately, Rhonda could not be with us today, but as this is David’s first PCAC meeting, I thought it would be helpful if we could go around the table to introduce ourselves.
I regret to announce that Patricia Santosus McCauley, Sandra Krebelj–Douglas, and Jerome Shagam have resigned from the LIRRCC and Thomas Jennings has resigned from the MNRCC for personal reasons. These members were dedicated to the missions of their Councils and the PCAC. Their insights and contributions to our work will be missed.
The appearance of our guest today is very timely, as widespread public discussion of MTA finances is set to resume in earnest. The MTA presented its preliminary 2009 budget and 2009-2012 financial plan at the July 23rd Board meeting and did not hold a meeting in August. In June, the members of the commission on MTA financing headed by Richard Ravitch were announced, and the commission will release its findings by December 5th. We have been working with the Empire State Transportation Alliance (ESTA), which is coordinating a campaign to promote the development of new funding mechanisms for the MTA. Bill Henderson has been serving on an ESTA subcommittee producing a platform document on transit finance. This document is currently in draft form and will be issued this fall.
On June 26th Bill Henderson attended a meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee for NYMTC’s Human Services Transportation Coordination study. This study focuses on the target populations of senior citizens, persons with disabilities and persons with low income and on their transit and paratransit needs in the New York metro region. The result of this study will be a coordinated public transit-human services transportation plan for the region. A second meeting is scheduled for September 29th.
In July, staff sent a letter to our City, State and Federal elected officials describing the PCAC and the issues we have been involved with and the work we have accomplished. We have received responses from a number of people who thanked us for the letter and were pleased to hear about us.
I hope that you have been visiting the PCAC website from time to time, as it is a good way to keep informed on activities of the PCAC and its Councils. While the website provides access to materials such as research reports and approved minutes, it also includes many photos of PCAC and Council activities and links to outside resources. Over time, we will continue to make improvements to the website to provide access to more information and resources. The staff would appreciate any suggestions that you may have concerning future improvements to the site. Please contact Jan Wells if you would like to offer input.
As you may recall, the PCAC had a Hunter College graduate student, Dan Bianco, working with our staff over the summer. Dan was doing preliminary research for our next research project on regional fare policy, but he also provided invaluable research and editorial assistance as the staff worked to compile this year’s research report on the MTA and its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dan has returned to his studies, and we wish him well. Staff will keep in contact with him and hope that we may work with him again in the future.
LIRRCC Chair’s Report – Gerard Bringmann
As Bill Guild mentioned earlier, in the last three months our Council has had three members resign for various reasons. I want to take this opportunity to thank Jerome Shagam, Sandra Krebulj-Douglas and Patricia Santosus McCauley for their contribution to the Council and wish them well.
As a result of these resignations, Bill Henderson has been consulting with the Nassau and Suffolk County Executives’ offices to request that they recommend names to the Governor to fill these vacancies. Also, the LIRR has agreed to put a blurb about the Council and our need for members in the October edition of their monthly “Train Talk”, a monthly seat drop with LIRR information.
As part of the research for the PCAC report on ADA at the MTA, Associate Director Jan Wells and Planner Ellyn Shannon met with Walter Johnson, Senior Attorney for the LIRR in charge of ADA compliance, and Holli Dunayer, Director of Corporate and Community Affairs. In response to a request by Mr. Johnson, the LIRRCC wrote a letter of support for a grant application for approximately $2.9 million in federal “New Freedom” funds to allow the LIRR to enhance ADA amenities, such as tactile warning strips, Braille signage, and curb cuts and handrails, at eight stations that already have wheelchair accessibility. We are happy to support this effort, and this letter was delivered to Nancy O’Connell at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council.
In addition, at this meeting Mr. Johnson noted that the Citi Field station will not be assessable due to lack of financing. Paratransit will be offered from Woodside station. Our Council feels strongly that as this station should be accessible, as it is the gateway not only to Citi Field, but also to the USTA National Tennis Center and the U.S. Open.
Jan, Ellyn and Dan Bianco attended the Vision Long Island Smart Growth Awards in Woodbury, Long Island. They were impressed by the number of new housing units being developed near transit. Vision Long Island also featured our press release on the national “Dump the Pump” day, June 19th, on its home page website. Bill Henderson appeared and spoke at the MTA’s “Dump the Pump” event in Rockville Center on the 19th.
Jan and Ellyn also paid a visit to the Rauch Foundation in Garden City on June 23rd to discuss how we can jointly support the East Side Access and Third Track projects, and foster well planned transit-oriented development across the Island. They met with Ann Golob, Director of the Long Island Index, and John McNally, Program Officer for Environment.
On June 25th, Bill Henderson appeared by telephone on News 12’s Long Island Speaks. The in-studio guest was Mitch Pally and the topic of conversation was the MTA and its financial problems. On July 26th Bill was a guest panelist on the public affairs program Crosson and Welles, which is broadcast on the Public Television Station WLIW (Channel 21). The topic of the segment was the financial state of the MTA, and Bill discussed elements of the MTA’s current fiscal issues.
On June 26th, Jan attended a lecture entitled “Designing for Transit” at Adelphi University by noted new urbanist Tony Nelessen. The presentation outlined the benefits of transit-centered development and highlighted the promise it holds for creating more livable and sustainable communities on Long Island. The program was part of the 3rd Annual Long Island Mayors’ and Supervisors’ Institute on Community Design, which is sponsored by the Regional Plan Association.
On July 9th, Bill and Ellyn met with Helena Williams along with eleven other representatives of members of the Coalition for the Main Line, an alliance of groups supporting improvement of the Long Island Rail Road Main Line corridor. The Coalition heard a very frank appraisal of the LIRR’s capital needs and resource constraints.
The Council sent letters to President Williams about the continuing problems with delays due to malfunction of the diesel equipment and signal system. We also wrote her about the software glitch in the ticket vending machines which resulted in theft of $800,000 in fare media. We sent Ms. Williams a letter supporting her efforts to improve communication technology by evaluating the potential use of hand held ticket devices similar to those that Metro-North Railroad developed for their conductors.
I sent Kathleen Finneran, Assistant Deputy Chief – MTA Police Department, a congratulatory letter on the handling of an assault incident at the Sayville station in June.
I also sent a congratulatory note to State Senator John J. Flanagan recognizing his appointment to the MTA Capital Program Review Board.
We sent a letter to Governor Patterson following the death of MTA Board member Frank Powers to request that any future MTA Board members should be users of the MTA rail and bus services.
MNRCC Chair’s Report – Richard Cataggio
Once again, I want to state publicly that we are sorry to see Tom Jennings leave the MNRCC and to thank him for his contributions to the Council. However we are thrilled to welcome our two newest members, David Buchwald and Rhonda Herman, and look forward to their active participation.
In June, Bill Henderson sent Howard Permut a letter of congratulations on being named the new President of Metro-North Railroad. He succeeded Peter A. Cannito, who retired in July. The letter praised Mr. Permut for his contributions to MNR over the past twenty-five years and acknowledged his vision for taking the Railroad into the future.
On July 17, Jim Blair, Bill Henderson, and I attended Peter Cannito’s retirement party following that month’s MNRCC meeting. We presented Mr. Cannito with bookends in the shape of railroad car couplers and participated in the tributes to a fine Metro-North President.
In July, Metro-North announced that it is equipping all conductors with hand held ticket machines. One of the major advantages of this technology is the time saved by automating ticket selling and record keeping for conductors, but these devices are more than just ticket machines. They will also be able to receive text messages with up-to-the-minute information during service disruptions and will include the Book of Rules that all conductors must carry. The software for these ticket machines was developed in house, and Metro-North is exploring licensing it to other transit agencies, so this system may turn out to be profitable as well as efficient.
Jan Wells and Ellyn Shannon attended an open house exhibit hosted by the Town of Harrison, New York, which is on the New Haven branch, and MTA/Metro-North Railroad. This venue provided an opportunity for attendees to review and comment on the conceptual plan for the Harrison Station downtown revitalization and transit-oriented development. Metro-North will exchange approximately three acres of surface parking for 250 parking spaces in a new parking structure to be built. Besides a parking deck, the proposed plan includes streetscape improvements and commercial, retail, and residential components.
On July 1st, I joined Congressman John Hall (D-NY19) at the Beacon station where he held a press conference to announce the passage by the House of the “Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act” (H.R. 6052). The bill gives grants to mass transit authorities to reduce public transit fares giving consumers a cost-effective alternative to $4 per gallon gasoline. The bill’s $1.7 billion in mass transit grants for the next two years could also be used to expand transit services or to pay for the escalating operating costs of public transportation, and would be available to both rural and urban areas. This initiative awaits action in the Senate where an identical bill has been introduced by Senator Clinton.
Metro-North has reported that weekly ridership on the Pascack Valley Line has grown 40 percent over the last year. Improvements to the line have made it possible for Metro-North to offer additional weekday service and new weekend service on the line. As we’ve seen happen before, the Railroad offered the service, and the customers responded by riding the line in record numbers.
The Council had the opportunity to comment on Metro-North’s annual Customer Satisfaction Survey for the East of Hudson lines. The changes to this year’s survey are a good illustration of Metro-North’s practice of looking at fresh issues and markets, as the survey now recognizes the increasing use of bicycles and includes a question to gauge the impact of gasoline prices on ridership. Bill Henderson transmitted the Council’s comments to Metro-North.
In July, the Council did not have a guest but discussed the Council’s future direction. At last month’s meeting, Nancy J. Marshall, MTA Real Estate Director, Retail Leasing and Management-Grand Central Terminal briefed the Council on the retail at GCT and how it is now a destination for commuters and tourists alike.
NYCTRC Chair’s Report – Andrew Albert
On Wednesday, June 18th, the Transit Riders Council held its 12th Bus Forum at the Queens Borough Hall. Guests included Joe Smith, NYC Transit Senior Vice-President of Buses and a large number of his senior staff; Captain Patrick Carney of the NYPD, and Joe Barr of NYCDOT. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall also attended and gave opening remarks. The event was covered by the Daily News.
At the Forum, Joe Smith explained the re-organization of the three bus companies (NYC Transit, MTA Bus Company and Long Island Bus) into a regional bus operation which will streamline management, eliminate redundancies, improve efficiency and service, and save money. Comments from the public covered a wide range of topics, including customer service, route and frequency enhancements, bus and terminal conditions, driver performance, and passenger safety. The Forum was well attended and those who did not get to speak were able to fill out complaint forms which have been compiled and transmitted to Transit.
While the service enhancements that were promised last fall are still on hold, New York City Transit has increased some subway service, which is being justified on the basis of MTA Board-approved loading guidelines. These increases include both greater frequency and expanded hours of service on a number of routes, including the 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, Grand Central-Times Square Shuttle, B, J, M, N, and W trains. Most notably, the service increases restore 24-hour service to the 3 train north of the 135th Street Station. This rights a longstanding wrong by implementing a restoration of service that was promised to be accomplished upon the completion of the Lenox Invert project.
The MTA announced that New York City Transit customers will finally be able to receive service disruption alerts by email and text message. While commuter rail customers have been able to register to receive email alerts for some time, Transit riders can now only rely upon the alerts posted on the MTA website for updated service information.
NYC Transit’s Select Bus Service (SBS) was implemented in the Bronx and upper Manhattan on Sunday June 29. This service includes a number of innovations, such as off-board fare payment with receipts for proof of payment, similar to the system being used on New Jersey Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. On August 28, members and staff took a Metro-North train to the Fordham station, where we boarded an SBS bus to Inwood. On this trip, members were able to get a sense of how SBS works and also some of its shortcomings.
On Friday, July 8, I went on a stations tour with newly appointed MTA Board member Doreen Frasca, Hilary Ring, MTA Director – Government Affairs, and Lois Tendler, NYC Transit Senior Director – Government and Community Affairs
We went to a number of stations that were originally part of the 2005-2009 Capital Program but where rehabilitation projects have been proposed to be eliminated or deferred. At the July MTA Board meeting, changes to the Capital Program including these deferrals were approved for submission to the MTA Capital Program Review Board for its concurrence. This submission, however, has since been withdrawn.
On July 22, Ellyn attended a press conference held by City Council Member and Congressional candidate Michael McMahon, who called on New York’s Senate delegation to support an important transportation bill that had overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives but had no sponsor in the Senate. The Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act of 2008 (H.R. 6052) would represent the first major federal aid for transit operations in years, as only areas with under 50,000 residents are currently eligible for federal operating assistance. The Empire State Transportation Alliance, of which the PCAC is a member, has sent letters in support of the bill to NY Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. As Rich Cataggio noted, Senator Clinton subsequently introduced the bill in the Senate. A quote from me was included in the press release.
On August 6, we held a press conference to release our NYCT station conditions survey entitled Unwelcome Mats. The Council surveyed 50 stations. The press conference was held at the 149th Street/Grand Concourse station, a station through which nearly 40,000 riders travel daily. The station is in horrendous condition but is not included in any future MTA Capital Programs. This station has also been identified as an important element of an economic development area and is an important gateway to the Borough of the Bronx.
We received some wonderful press from the event with nine newspaper articles. The New York Times article on the report received 89 comments; radio coverage included CBS 880 and WNYC. I did interviews with NY1, ABC and NBC local News. I also had a very nice email from MTA Board member Doreen Frasca, who is interested in discussing our recommendations further.
I sent an email to President Roberts to express my opposition to the initiative to lock up seats on trains during rush hour as a way to ease loading problems. I stated I thought it would be a big mistake to implement this plan. After discussing the situation with several members, we confirmed that this was also the sense of the Council and sent Mr. Roberts a more formal letter opposing the plan.
The Council sent MTA Executive Director Lee Sander a letter to express the members’ concern that MTA executives had received substantial pay raises at a time of fiscal uncertainty and that the raises had sent a bad message to riders who are likely to be asked to pay more for service in the coming year.
In June, we heard from Theodore Kheel, President of Nurture New York’s Nature, who made a presentation about providing free transit in New York City. In July, Seymour Portes, New York City Transit Program Officer – Capital Program Management, who spearheads NYC Transit’s station rehabilitation projects, was our guest. We did not have an official meeting in August in order to provide a block of time for our trip to see Select Bus Service in operation.