To the Editor:
Was MTA’s reorganization plan prepared by the consulting firm Alix Partners for Governor Cuomo worth $4 million? Like all his previous special commissions and advisory committee reports, it is not worth the paper it was printed on. “MTA Approves Reorganization Plan Despite Lack of Review, Public Input” (Bob Hennelly—July 26).
Promised savings by consolidation of Civil Rights, Engineering, Human Resources, Legal, Procurement and other NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Road departments have been discussed and promised for decades by every generation of MTA Chairmen, board members, executive management and elected officials since the 1980s. It has never happened—for good reasons.
It makes no sense for the MTA to reassign management of major NYC Transit, LIRR and Metro North RR capital projects to the Office of Capital Construction. All three operating agencies already have their own experienced engineers, operations planning, procurement, force-account, quality-assurance and quality-control employees. They have successfully managed Super Storm Sandy along with other Federal Transit Administration and locally-funded capital projects worth billions.
In many cases, they were completed on time, within budget, with few design or change orders.
Check the Office of Capital Construction’s track record. If all goes well with the most-recent recovery schedule, LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal will be completed by December 2022 (eleven years later than the original date) and $8 billion more than the original $3.5 billion budget. (Not counting $4 billion more in off-line costs for “readiness projects” necessary for the start of new LIRR service into Grand Central Terminal). Second Avenue Subway Phase One $4.5 billion and Hudson Yards #7 subway extension, $2.4 billion both suffered from delays, budget, scope and change-order issues.
Capital Construction is preoccupied trying to complete East Side Access by December 2022 and beginning Second Avenue Subway Phase 2. How would it be able to manage additional capital projects?
Project cost-containment, fast-tracking procurements, and contract change-orders are easier said than done.
At upcoming contract negotiations, the MTA should ask that (1) future union contracts include more flexible work assignments, (2) salary increases should at a minimum match the Consumer Price Index, (3) employees need to increase contributions toward medical insurance and retirement pensions and (4) future pensions be calculated based on the final years’ base salary and not inflated by overtime.
In exchange, the MTA should offer employees the option to remain part-time when eligible for retirement while collecting a portion of their pension. This allows experienced employees time to train replacements and be available during emergencies.
Let unions bid on projects like the private sector. Offer union employees bonuses like outside vendors when completing projects ahead of schedule or under budget. Share these cost savings with union employees.
End both the MTA “Arts in Transit” 1% expenditure requirement and Cuomo’s “New York Buy America Act.” Offer major businesses, hospitals and colleges which benefit by MTA services naming rights in exchange for adopting a station, paying for “Arts in Transit” and adding elevators to make them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Lobby the NY Congressional delegation for more reasonable Federal Buy America requirements.
Stop wasting millions on transportation feasibility studies for future system-expansion projects that will never happen. Do not initiate any new system expansion projects until each operating agency, NYC Transit bus and subway, MTA bus, LIRR and Metro North RR have reached a state of good repair for existing fleet, stations, elevators, escalators, signals, interlockings, track, power, yards and shops. Ensure that maintenance programs for all operating agencies’ assets are fully funded and staffed so they may be completed on time to ensure riders reliable and safe service.
Do as I say, not as I do continues to be alive and well in Albany. What happened to open transparency promised by Governor Cuomo for all state agencies and public authorities including the MTA?
(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation, along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).
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