THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, I provided examples of MTA waste. In Part 2, I discussed a few examples of waste I personally observed during my nearly 25 years working for the MTA. Today we conclude the series discussing missed opportunities and double standards.
Who is watching over the MTA Real Estate Division to determine why so many properties are vacant for years? Are they asking for more than the market will bear, or are lease terms unrealistic? Decades passed when buses carried no interior advertisements at all. Even now, interior ad space on buses is not fully utilized. Perhaps more local businesses could be attracted to advertise if rates or terms were more conducive?
The MTA is now first selling off properties that have been unused for decades and recently started to place ads on the outside of some subway trains, and on stairways. Why couldn’t these measures have come sooner? It’s because, in prior years, whenever the MTA pleaded poverty, Albany obliged with additional funding. Finally they said “no” and began taking away money instead. This forced the MTA into action.
Then why were lucrative wrap-around advertisements on the exterior of buses used by the private companies removed once the MTA Bus Company took over bus operation? It simply was not MTA policy. No explanation was ever provided. Perhaps revenues from that type of advertising on a select number of buses could have prevented some of the 2010 service cuts.
The MTA is now considering renting out space in unused mezzanines, but retailers would only be interested in areas with high traffic volumes. While sounding like a good idea, it is not new or innovative. For many years, retail outlets or food vendors occupied mezzanine space at many busy stations like Union Square and Times Square. They were forced to close up when the MTA decided decades ago that it wanted a cleaner look and to improve pedestrian flow. (Remember the closed arcade with a half dozen businesses at the Sheepshead Bay Station leading to the old B1 stop prior to 1978?) The MTA was willing to sacrifice the revenue by eliminating these establishments. So why today, with subway ridership at an all time high, would returning pedestrian space to retail use be feasible? Isn’t pedestrian flow still an important consideration? Or is the MTA planning on renting other unused space?
Unfairness and Double Standards
The MTA wants to minimize waste and look for new sources of revenue. They consider the loss of $16 million a pittance, not worth going after. But they will reject a service improvement that increases operating costs by less than $100 a day. They also regard the millions lost through fare evasion as within acceptable levels and take no steps to reduce it. Instead, they try to recoup these losses on the backs of its customers.
They do so by handing out summonses to riders at 3:00 a.m. for occupying two seats, or when passing between cars at a terminal station to get a seat, although the train is idle and the activity is posing no safety hazard. Still, riders are hit with huge fines when the law is enforced.
Recently, a Staten Island mom was told by an M15 Select Bus Service (SBS) driver to get on the bus when she informed him the fare machines at the bus stop were broken. He told her she could get off at the next stop and buy her ticket there, a common practice. However, when she tried to get off, enforcement agents prevented her from doing so without first giving her a $100 fine.
The MTA claims to use discretion when giving summonses, which it obviously does not do. One could argue this is a rare occurrence, but it is an occurrence that should never happen. You should be allowed to walk though cars at a terminal station, and listening to a bus driver’s instruction should not cost you $100.
You do not improve the MTA’s image and credibility by harassing passengers and treating them unfairly. Credibility is built only when you show you care about your passengers, are honest with them, and you eliminate double standards and conflicting logic. If you are concerned about spending an additional $100 a day in operating costs, you should also be concerned about losing $16 million.
The abandoned desks and file cabinets at 370 Jay Street, the union shows on its web site, MTAMoney ThrownAway.com, are just representative of little bits of waste common at the MTA.
Another example? At the recently rehabilitated Brighton Line stations, the MTA decided to use extra long metallic signs, which only adds black space, looks ugly and wastes metal. It does not improve customer service.
That is not their priority, which is further evidenced by the new exit sign at the same station.
Wouldn’t it be more useful if, instead of confusing riders, the sign showed the walking direction to the streets instead?
That does not involve additional money — only a little thought. Yet, chances are, if it was suggested to the MTA, it would be rejected for some inane reason, like it would violate their graphic standards.
Some have argued that initiatives that are seemingly customer oriented such as countdown clocks and Bus Time are being instituted to lessen the impact of future service cuts. (After all, if trains and buses arrive every five minutes or less, who needs to know when the next one is coming?) That SBS, which speeds bus running time, is primarily a cost-cutting measure, not a customer service initiative. It generally saves little travel time for the passenger, especially for shorter trips, and the majority of bus trips are short. It also makes buses more difficult to use by the elderly and handicapped when the extra walking distances are factored in, since stops are spaced up from one half to three quarters of a mile apart.
In spite of its efforts to improve efficiency such as through FastTrack, waste continues and is more prevalent than most realize. The MTA does whatever it pleases with little oversight and accountability; and customer service is not a priority. Rather than MTA meaning “More Trouble Ahead” or “Money Thrown Away,” MTA should mean “More Transit Accountability.”
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).