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State of the MTA Address

March 3, 2008

Elliot G. Sander

Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Great Hall, Cooper Union
New York, N.Y.

Good morning.

It is a great honor to speak to you today about the State of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority here in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. And I'd like to thank Cooper Union's president, George Campbell, and Ronni Denes, Vice President, External Affairs, for hosting today's address as well as a series of other events that will illuminate the vital role the MTA plays in the life of the city and the region.

I also want to thank Chairman Hemmerdinger, who couldn't be here today but has already proven to be a terrific partner.

As many of you know, the Great Hall is one of our country's most famous democratic spaces. This is the place where Abraham Lincoln gave one of his landmark speeches in the fight against slavery.

Like the Great Hall, and this great university, the terminals and stations of the MTA are also democratic spaces for people from all walks of life. On the MTA's 40th anniversary, it's appropriate that we convene here to reflect on our history, assess the challenges we face today, and articulate a vision for the future.

Forty years ago, the MTA was born out of crisis. By 1968, decades of deferred maintenance and a lack of capital investment had begun to threaten the regional transportation network. It was a time when intellectuals debated the value of running rapid transit in a car-centric world. The viability of the big city was in question.

Transit ridership was plummeting. Majestic Penn Station had just been demolished. And there was talk of taking a wrecking ball to Grand Central Terminal.

Through the leadership of Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his allies, the MTA was created to perform two vital functions: coordinate the operations and planning of the region's diverse transportation systems, and provide these transit services with fiscal stability.

While dedicating Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority revenues provided a steady stream of revenue for operating transit, New York City's fiscal crisis in 1974 scuttled the MTA's ambitious plans for new subway and commuter rail lines.

Underinvestment in the system continued. Track fires became routine. Trains derailed every 18 days on average. And 325 subway runs were abandoned every day. Subway crime was a fact of life in a system covered with graffiti.

On a personal note, I was the General Manager of the Manhattan Bus Division in the early '80s, when the second floor of the 100th Street Depot collapsed. In the dead of winter, we were forced to operate daily service for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers from a pier on the Harlem River. Clearly, the MTA was in a downward spiral that could have compromised the future of the city and the region.

Thankfully, the fortunes of the MTA changed. Under the leadership of Governor Carey, the State Legislature and MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, the MTA secured funding from Washington, Albany, and City Hall to bring the system back to a state of good repair. And by insisting on the creation of five-year capital plans, Dick Ravitch both saved the system from collapse and ensured its health through the current day.

What has transpired since the Ravitch plan is nothing short of breathtaking.

Since 1982, the MTA has invested $76 billion dollars to rebuild 200 subway and rail stations and 700 miles of track. We've also rebuilt or purchased 6,400 subway cars and 10,000 buses.

The results are extraordinary. Trains now last 40 times longer between breakdowns. The introduction of MetroCard and E-ZPass has revolutionized people's travel habits and ridership has soared by nearly 40%.

And through the use of successful policing strategies, first by the former NYC Transit Police Department, and now by the NYPD and MTA Police, crime within the system has dropped to record lows.

Obviously, we have come a long way and we've learned a lot of valuable lessons.

The challenges we face today are different from those we faced in 1968 but they are just as large and just as complex.

Let me assure you, today's MTA is positioned to overcome these challenges and move on to become the best in class of large public transportation agencies in the world.

New York is locked in a competition for brainpower and capital with places like London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris. We cannot settle for a second-rate transportation network. To remain a center of commerce, culture and innovation, we must transform the MTA both internally and externally. We've already made significant progress on both of these fronts.

Internally, our focus is on creating an environment and structure that brings out the best in all of the hardworking men and women of the MTA.

From General Managers to conductors, from bus drivers to subway station cleaners, from bridge and tunnel officers to police officers, the hundreds of MTA employees I have spoken with overwhelmingly like – if not love – their jobs. And keep in mind that many of them work under incredibly challenging conditions. Our responsibility is to provide a workplace environment that generates more of the esprit de corps I have encountered on my many tours of the field.

In the years ahead, we want to be known as the best public transportation agency to work for in the world.

That's why the very first blue ribbon panel I commissioned focused on workforce development issues. We are now taking steps to implement the panel's recommendations. I am pleased to say that we have made the work of the panel available to all 68,000 of our employees – and it is available online at

We are also implementing the recommendations of our Track Safety Task Force, created in the aftermath of last year's tragic accidents. The scope of the review and level of collaboration between management and labor were unprecedented.

Now please join me for a moment of silence to recognize the three members of the MTA family who died performing their duties last year – Marvin Franklin, Daniel Boggs, and David Collins.

Thank you.

Improving management-labor relations requires clear thinking and partnership. I want to acknowledge the leadership of our unions at the MTA, and their commitment to reciprocity and problem-solving.

We are pleased that we have been able to resolve the contracts for our Metro-North and LIRR employees. During that round of negotiations for Metro-North, we were able to end a major conflict between two labor coalitions. That is gratifying as well.

To fully realize the potential of the MTA workforce, we also need to address critical flaws in organizational structure and values.

The organization of the MTA, until now, has changed little since 1968. It still has a large pyramid-like structure and plenty of silos. We must emulate what the private sector has done over the last two decades – break down boundaries to create value, internally and externally. Now each agency operates in its own universe instead of leveraging its resources within the larger organizational framework.

We must be more in tune with our customers, optimize human resources, become more efficient and be more operationally responsive in a post-9/11, post-Katrina environment. Simply put, the MTA must become leaner, flatter, and more integrated.

That is why we will be consolidating back-office functions in the new MTA Business Service Center, an initiative that will save an estimated $40 million dollars a year.

That is why we created the MTA Emergency Response Center to coordinate the work of the agencies during emergencies.

That is why we established our General Managers program for the subway lines of New York City Transit, which will foster greater accountability and reduce the levels of management between front-line employees and senior management.

That is why I am pleased to announce that this year we will be taking significant steps to fully integrate the operations of New York City Transit, MTA Bus and LI Bus to create a consolidated regional bus operation. This will enable the MTA to eliminate redundant functions and better leverage the institutional capabilities of all three existing bus entities.

That is why Metro-North and the LIRR have established a collaborative and cooperative process on a wide range of issues affecting regional railroads, including procurement, technology and customer service.

The institutional changes I've just described are already producing tangible, visible results for our customers. We are also working hard externally to transform who we are and the services we provide.

We are upgrading the way we communicate with our customers. We will soon be communicating with you via real-time text messaging and e-mail alerts in the event of a disruption in service.

We're improving the signage and communications that help our customers navigate these disruptions and reach their destinations with the lowest possible level of inconvenience. We're transforming the way customers find schedule and fare information through Trip Planner and Trips123.

With an eye toward reducing congestion and idling engines, MTA Bridges & Tunnels will commission a study later this year on the feasibility of adopting "video tolling" technology as a replacement for cash-toll collection, similar to the system in use on Route 407 around Toronto.

We will soon begin a study that will lay the foundation for the development of the next generation of fare media for the MTA subways, buses and regional rail. In the years ahead, these modes of travel will be supported by one fare media – a smart, contactless device with enough functionality to ensure that some day it will work for all public transit from Maine to North Carolina.

Improved customer service is about much more than one-way communication. It's also about our commitment to ongoing dialogue with customers, stakeholders and the public at large. We held our first ever Public Engagement Workshop in November and our first online webinar in December.

Today, we are committing to hold a public webinar once each quarter. The first one will be held this month to discuss our newly released capital program for 2008 to 2013.

We also introduced rider report cards for New York City Transit and MTA Bus, which allow riders to tell us their preferences and help us to prioritize scarce resources.

But we know that what our customers want most is for us to provide more trains and buses to more places you want to go, when you want to go.

Here on the occasion of the MTA's 40th anniversary I have a lot of good news to share with you on that front.

I have reviewed our 2008 revenues to date, which are in line with our budget projections. As a result, I will recommend to the Board that we move ahead with the service enhancements included in the financial plan.

That means $30 million dollars in new service this year. Our customers will benefit from increased service on 11 subway lines, extended and new bus routes, additional commuter rail trains and cars on LIRR and Metro-North, and improved customer communications.

We have embraced the concept of breaking down institutional and political boundaries to improve service. In the past year, New York City Transit has initiated its first service across state lines, the S89 bus, which runs from Staten Island to the 34th Street Hudson Bergen light rail station in Bayonne, New Jersey. Ridership gains on this line – from about 400 daily riders initially to nearly 800 daily riders today – have been so dramatic that New York City Transit plans to add three daily round trips next month.

We have also applied this ethic of partnership with other agencies to create an easier-to-navigate, seamless regional travel network.

We've been working closely with our partners on a variety of regional concerns, including rail access to Stewart Airport, the development of Moynihan Station and key security issues. Working with the Port Authority, NJ Transit, Connecticut DOT and others, we will launch regional ticketing so that travelers can purchase all fares from the same place and use the same card for multiple services of the transit agencies in the region.

We're working with NJ Transit and Amtrak to create regional commuter rail interoperability. This will be revolutionary.

Interoperability will enable us to adapt our route network to reflect where people want to go. Through a study we initiated last year, the MTA is identifying routes for running Metro-North service to New Jersey and Long Island. As our first pilot starting in the summer of 2009, we will run Metro-North trains from the New Haven Line to Giants Stadium on football weekends.

The introduction of bus rapid transit in New York City will start another revolution. Later this year, New York City Transit and NYC DOT will launch our first BRT service. This is the kind of partnership we will need to make BRT a success, and I'm pleased Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan could be here this morning.

BRT will revolutionize surface transportation by delivering superior levels of service, primarily by deploying two exciting innovations – giving traffic signal priority to buses in dedicated lanes and switching to off-board fare collection, which will reduce bus dwell times.

In the area of security, we have partnered with the NYPD, the federal Transportation Security Administration, and state and local police to dramatically increase the number of patrols in our systems.

These partnerships build on our own efforts to boost the safety and security of the network. When I arrived 14 months ago, the MTA Police Department patrolled an average of 50 commuter trains per week. Now we patrol more than 1,000 a week.

Today we're joined by canine Law and his handler Sgt. Paul Fresco.

Canine Law was named in the memory of Chief Thomas P. Lawless who passed away while he was the chief of police at the MTA Police Department. Since 2007, we have added six K-9 teams, giving us one of the largest explosive-detection canine units in the region.

To date we have committed $947 million dollars to hardening the physical infrastructure of our network against post 9-11 threats. Future phases of this capital spending will bring our investment up to $1.5 billion dollars.

In addition to our agenda to transform the workplace, our institutional structure, values, and customer service, one of my highest priorities has been to develop a long-term vision and implement an action plan for the next 25 to 40 years. Both are absolutely critical if our region is going to meet the challenges of economic growth, livability and sustainability in the first half of the 21st Century.

Let me first talk about context. We believe demographic trends like immigration and mega trends like climate change will shape New York City and the rest of the MTA's 5,000-square-mile territory in the decades ahead. New York City forecasts a million new residents by 2030. The region is expected to add 3 million residents. Over that time period, our ridership is projected to grow by 20%.

Next year, we will have four tunnel-boring machines operating to expand the subway and regional rail systems. Sounds impressive?

Right now, Shanghai has 90 such machines at work on rail and other projects. In just five years, Shanghai's subway system will be as extensive as New York's underground subway network.

Our biggest global competitor, China, spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure. India is aiming to boost its infrastructure spending from 3.5 percent to 8 percent. Meanwhile, the United States spends less than 1% of its GDP. That is unacceptable.

We would need at least $702 billion dollars to replace the assets of New York City Transit, the biggest piece of our nearly trillion dollar system.

To protect your base of capital assets, experts say you should spend 2% to 4% of the total asset value on reinvestment annually. The level of reinvestment in NYC Transit assets comes to less than one-half of 1%.

The $20.5 billion dollars we're including in the capital program for investments in State of Good Repair and Normal Replacement is breathtaking. Nonetheless it is well below the level of where we need to be in the long term.

These realities about the MTA's capital stock bring our proposed $29.5 billion dollar capital plan into focus. Governor Spitzer understands this global context and where the MTA needs to go in the 21st Century. In his speech to the Association for a Better NY last week, he underscored the importance of fully funding our capital program. We are fortunate to have his support.

This five-year capital plan, if approved and fully funded, will maintain the MTA's progress in attaining a State of Good Repair. With our investment of about $9.5 billion dollars for system expansion and capacity improvements, we will also ensure that the downstate region will have a transportation network that offers the levels and quality of service expected in a world center. Inherent in these capital investments – and in congestion pricing, which I will talk about momentarily – is the belief that sustainability is critical to the region's future.

Global warming and sea level rise are two of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, challenges that no enlightened society can afford to ignore. Because we move 8.5 million customers daily, we prevent millions of car trips every single day.

Our very existence allows our region to have a much smaller carbon footprint and much higher levels of energy efficiency per capita than places without mass transit.

Our transit services are leaders in the search for climate friendly ways of operating. We're cutting carbon by expanding our fleet of hybrid electric buses. We're reducing other forms of pollution, too. Since the early 1990s, Long Island Bus has had a major clean fuels program. To date, its 330 buses have prevented 37 tons of particulate matter from being spewed into the air.

We must also be a catalyst for environmentally sound land-use, Smart Growth and transit-oriented development. Metro-North's "Be in Beacon" project is Exhibit A of the MTA's potential to shape the sustainable development and redevelopment across the MTA region.

And I want to thank Steven Gold, the mayor of Beacon, for joining us this morning.

But overall, the best thing we can do as a region is build mass transit infrastructure and cluster mixed-use development around the MTA's existing stations.

We will be moving expeditiously to reduce and manage the MTA's environmental impact in the years ahead through a series of recommendations and proposals you'll hear about next month when the MTA's Sustainability Commission issues its interim report. We have included $50 million dollars in the new capital program to fund these initiatives.

Congestion pricing is a vital element in our fight against climate change and a critical piece of our strategy to fund the system capacity improvements and expansion included in our 2008 – 2013 capital program. Net revenues of about $300 million dollars a year will make it possible for the MTA to generate $4.5 billion dollars from a 30-year bond issue.

Congestion pricing will benefit transit riders, motorists and the general public. If implemented, the federal government has promised more than $350 million dollars to New York City and the MTA. That federal aid will help us deliver enhanced bus and subway service across the five boroughs before congestion pricing is even up and running.

Before I go any further, let me take this opportunity to applaud the vision and steadfastness of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer's unyielding support on this vital policy initiative.

In the Bronx, congestion pricing will fund more frequent service on the 1 train and three new express bus routes.

In Brooklyn, congestion pricing will create three new bus routes and increase the frequency of service on four routes. F trains will run more frequently, and the C train will be extended to a 10-car train from an 8-car train.

In Queens, it will immediately increase service on the E and F lines before and after rush hour. Congestion pricing will also underwrite six new bus routes and increase the frequency of service on 13 routes.

In Staten Island, congestion pricing will increase service on most of the express bus routes serving the borough.

In Manhattan, congestion pricing will increase the frequency of 16 bus routes and improve service on the 1, C, E and F trains.

Congestion pricing will also enable us to implement several transformative improvements in the regional transportation network.

New York City Transit will install Communications-Based Train Control on the No. 7 and Queens Boulevard / Hillside Avenue subway lines – which are the primary transit corridors in Queens. Transit is also studying how to lengthen subway trains and platforms to allow more riders on each train on overcrowded routes.

The congestion pricing funding will also enable us to begin the next phase of Second Avenue, bring Metro-North into Penn Station and improve the LIRR Atlantic Avenue Branch – improvements I am going to talk about in more detail in a minute.

In the short term, we must complete the first segment of the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, the extension of the No. 7 Subway line and the Fulton Street Transit Center.

The day that the Second Avenue Subway opens in 2015, it will redistribute more than 200,000 riders, relieving overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line.

East Side Access will shave 40 minutes a day off the travel time of Long Island commuters bound for jobs in Midtown East. Over the course of the year, that's like accumulating 20 days of vacation.

We must also build the LIRR Main Line project, or Third Track, which will improve the reliability and capacity of the entire Main Line in combination with East Side Access.

The benefits of these ongoing mega projects are familiar to many of you. What is not well understood is the way in which East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway will unlock the potential of the MTA network in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, in addition to Manhattan.

Thanks to East Side Access and funding from congestion pricing, Metro-North will be able to boost service in the city – not only by going to Penn Station, but also by adding stations at Co-op City, Parkchester and Hunts Point. That will mean faster Manhattan-bound service and better service for those traveling north to Westchester for jobs.

The Second Avenue Subway can act as a trunk line for new service to West Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. It can also make a major contribution to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. Consistent with the vision for a Lower Manhattan rail link, imagine the Second Avenue Subway running south to Lower Manhattan, then going under the East River to downtown Brooklyn and on to Jamaica, Queens, via the Long Island Rail Road's Atlantic Avenue Branch, with a connection to the AirTrain to JFK.

Second Avenue can also provide a Manhattan route for a new service in Queens, running through the 63rd Street tunnel relieve overcrowding on the Queens Boulevard line.

After completion of East Side Access and Second Avenue, the wave of investments that need to be made in the next 25 to 40 years should rely heavily on the MTA's diamonds in the rough: underutilized or dormant freight and commuter rail rights-of-way that can be transformed into subway lines; and lightly used middle tracks on subway lines that can be used for new express services.

The MTA has several interesting options for boosting service and relieving overcrowding in the Queens Boulevard corridor. Each of these options take advantage of underutilized rights of way that reach into eastern and southeastern Queens.

In one scenario, the extension of the Second Avenue Subway I described could connect to new tracks within the right of way of the LIRR Main Line between Jamaica and Port Washington Junction.

We can also utilize the Rockaway Beach right-of-way to provide new transit access from the Main Line corridor to southern Queens and the Rockaway Peninsula.

We need to take a close look at the Regional Plan Association's circumferential subway line, which would convert the lightly used Bay Ridge freight line into a subway service that would run in an arc from southern Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx.

In the Bronx, we have at least two opportunities to give customers faster, more direct connections – something planners call "right-routing." We can extend the D train north and east to connect with the 2 and 5 trains at Gun Hill Road for more direct connections between the central Bronx and Manhattan's West Side. Since this is in the vicinity of Metro-North's Williams Bridge station, there may well be an opportunity for a new commuter rail-subway transfer, much like the connection between the No. 7 subway line and the LIRR at Woodside.

The MTA network's 55 miles of underused middle track on elevated subway lines also represent a tremendous opportunity that we must exploit. These lines, primarily in Brooklyn and the Bronx, might enable additional express services to be operated, shortening travel times between these boroughs and the Manhattan core.

In Staten Island, we can provide congestion relief by implementing rapid transit options for the North Shore and the West Shore. With appropriate levels of ridership, these communities are excellent candidates for BRT and light rail.

On Long Island, the success of our East End Shuttle service has shown that there is a great deal of interest in shorter shuttle trains that run more frequently. These so-called "scoots" would provide suburb-to-suburb service on the North Fork, South Fork and the Oyster Bay branch.

To the north, the Tappan Zee Bridge project provides a great opportunity for us to bring Metro-North trains from the West of Hudson counties of Orange and Rockland across the river to connect with the Hudson Line. This would provide direct travel from those counties to the East Side of Manhattan, and also provide access to jobs in Orange & Rockland for New York City and Westchester residents. Similarly, transit over the Tappan Zee Bridge and I-287 will allow direct access from the rapidly growing West-of-Hudson region to the business centers in White Plains, Stamford and Greenwich.

In partnership with the Port Authority, we must also explore developing a second AirTrain service to La Guardia Airport by building a new link from the LIRR Main Line at Woodside, along or above existing rail and highway rights-of-way.

We will be using a share of the 2008-2013 capital funds to analyze these exciting network-expansion options. With your help, the MTA will select the options that will meet our needs over the next 25 to 40 years.

The projects and vision I've just described for the next five years and beyond will meet our needs in the 21st century. Executing these projects will start with our $29.5 billion dollar capital program and congestion pricing revenue. We recognize that $29.5 billion dollars is a lot of money, but we have no choice.

I congratulate the MTA board for voting unanimously to submit this bold plan to Albany. I want to thank the Governor and the Mayor for their strong support of the capital plan.

During the fare and toll hearings last year, members of the Assembly and the State Senate repeatedly cited the importance of rapid transit and underscored the need for Albany to invest in the system in a substantial way. I look forward to working with them as we present our case for the capital plan.

Even after Albany and City Hall resume making significant contributions to the MTA capital program, it still won't be enough. We must join other national transit providers to persuade Washington to pitch in and provide a much higher level of federal support.

The next transportation reauthorization in 2009 will be extremely important. Historically, the federal government has provided 90% of the funds to build highways. The level of federal support for rapid transit and regional rail is inadequate. In an age of climate change, these priorities need to change.

If the last 40 years have taught us anything, it's this simple truth. The region's economic vitality, livability and beauty are inextricably linked to the fortunes of the MTA. If we shirk our responsibility to the MTA network, we put our region at risk. Even as we enter difficult economic times, we must continue to invest. Remember, our region built the Empire State Building and the IND subway system in the depths of the Great Depression.

Today, we stand at a crossroads.

We can take a business-as-usual approach to how we run the MTA, completing the projects that are currently underway and continuing the State of Good Repair program.

Or we can set our sights higher. We can complete the projects underway, continue the State of Good Repair program and press on to give the region the network of mobility it needs to be competitive with its global peers.

That is the road, or should I say track, we must take. As the MTA goes, so goes the region.

The MTA that I know and love moves 8.5 million people a day.

The MTA that I know and love revolutionized travel in this region by creating the MetroCard.

The MTA I know and love rebuilt the #1 and #9 subway lines at the World Trade Center site ahead of schedule and under budget.

That MTA. Your MTA. Our MTA. I know we are ready for a new set of challenges. All 68,000 of us are ready to rise to the occasion.

Thank you.

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