2010-07-16 / Community

Commentary On Things Present

Don’t Fall Backwards
By Peter Stubben

You’re in a hole, Jay, stop digging.

Reading Jay Walder’s remarks on page one of last week’s Wave, it would be unfair and untrue to say Jay has betrayed Rockaway. It’s all of New York City and all MTA riders he disappoints, though, by misinterpreting the facts and avoiding the hard issues of MTA leadership.

Director Walder is seeking solutions for his Agency’s out-of-control spending by taxing school kids and Broad Channel residents. Huh!

The Agency’s deficit is approaching $800 million. At its most simple, the MTA spends too much. The problems Director Walder faces are certainly not of his own making, and his record in London was superb. His new Agency must now cut spending expeditiously ... with technology; with boosts in staff and line worker productivity; and with a keen and decisive overview of his capital plan. Jay, regrettably, views the $800 million problem as a revenue problem, so he’s diminishing service and raising fees ... a typical bureaucrat’s fumble to the future.

Would Pepsi Inc., facing deficits, dilute it’s syrup and stop deliveries to, say, Queens? Would the W Hotels, likewise, cut laundry service or reduce maid service to once every two days? Naturally, these foolish fixes serve nobody: not the firms, nor their clients.

Jay Walder’s mentor, Richard Ravitch, the 1980s top dude for the MTA who was in a radically more difficult position than Jay, took an entirely different approach. He understood that service stunk, stations stunk, labor productivity stunk and agency responsiveness to the riders stunk. He went to the people and spoke truthfully that he needed to borrow $10 billion in bonds to buy new riding stock; he went to the people and promised he would remove the graffiti from every subway car, every day if necessary; he went to the people and told them he would boost labor productivity in the train yards; and he promised New Yorkers he would improve the track beds and signal systems. Then he went within his agency and worked tirelessly and determinedly to focus his own bureaucrats and the TU on these issues. Guess what ... our transportation system improved and riders returned. Ravitch understood the issues, spoke to the issues and then focused his agency on the issues.

Jay, on the other hand, undertook in his very first year, a phony listening tour across the boroughs where he and the MTA Board made believe they were listening, and borough residents made believe they were being heard. Is this responsible leadership? Would Ravitch have done this? These phony forums served no good purpose, like diluting syrup or staggering maid service.

There are major MTA issues – inside and outside the agency ... like consolidating (finally!!!) staff from the various MTA systems; like slashing the legal staff and boosting the audit staff; like revisiting labor’s work rules, labor’s incentive rules, labor’s pension and benefit rules ... you know, bringing line workers into the 21st Century; like initiating an immediate top-down and eyes-only review of capital projects.

Jay, you cannot impose a million dollar tax on students when you are literally throwing away hundreds of millions of Federal, State, City and Agency dollars on the Fulton Street Project.

Jay, you cannot demand thousands from Broad Channel residents so you can pay toll takers to take their tolls. The MTA is a Transportation Agency, not an Employment Agency. We are not pay to play mortgage brokers, Jay.

You cannot propose, Jay, to lower your deficits by cutting service to Rockaway or anywhere when you have duplicative staff doin’ duplicative work, when you have arcane work rules that lock in 8-hour paydays for 4-hour workdays.

You cannot impose worse service, Jay, for the 2.3 million residents of Queens, when you are building a second subway line for a few thousand people on the Upper East Side. Who’s congesting the city’s streets, Jay, the limousines from the Upper East Side or the tens of thousands of Queens commuters who have no subway service?

Like your 1980s mentor, will you tackle the big issues, Jay, and let the little issues take care of themselves? We all know you’re capable enough, talented enough and knowledgeable enough. My question to you is ... are you decisive enough?

Go corporate, Jay ... clean up your own mess and don’t expect bailouts from school boys and the good people of Broad Channel. Don’t fall backwards, Jay, don’t fall back.

This commentary is mine and mine only ....

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