Friday, May 08, 2009

Minutes before we were to send out our article on the MTA, we received, by e-mail, the following press release from the transit agency:

"Governor Paterson today accepted the resignation of MTA Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Elliot G. Sander. Mr. Sander offered his resignation to the Governor earlier this year in anticipation of yesterday's passage of legislation that joins the Chairman and CEO positions at the MTA. Mr. Sander's resignation is effective May 22, 2009, ending a tenure that began January 1, 2007.

"MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot G. Sander said: 'It has been a great honor to lead the 70,000 hard-working men and women who run the world's greatest public transportation system. I am tremendously proud of our accomplishments making the MTA a leaner, more efficient and effective organization. Each of the MTA's agencies is performing at peak levels, the relationship with our employees is dramatically improved and we communicate more frequently with our customers. The integration of the MTA's three bus companies, the merging of back office functions across 7 agencies and the introduction of line general managers on the subway system will save the MTA millions and improve the agency's performance. New innovations like rider report cards, text message alerts and Select Bus Service have improved the customer experience. There is more work to be done, but I leave confident knowing the MTA is headed in the right direction. I am grateful to Governor Paterson and Governor Spitzer for this wonderful opportunity. I wish Governor Paterson the best of luck in choosing a successor who will build on the progress the MTA has made over the past two and a half years.'

Legislature Raises Taxes and Fees
To Bail Out Basically Uncut MTA,
Some Politicos Would Oust Sander

By Henry J. Stern
May 7, 2009

We’re back after a few days, and we find that the problem of transit subsidies, although ameliorated, is not quite unresolved.

The Legislature has passed a modified, limited MTA bailout, entirely at the expense of riders and taxpayers. New taxes and fees are imposed on employers in general, and auto owners in particular. The giant MTA bureaucracy remains sacrosanct, and any reduction in the state funding stream has been warded off by the threat of disproportionate fare increases and unacceptable service cuts.

Bailouts of other companies have been accompanied by substantial staff reductions, but the MTA appears immune to pruning. We cannot micromanage to tell where the fat is hidden, but it is hard to conjure an agency in which each and every one of the almost 70,000 employees is essential to its mission. MTA executive director Lee Sander has already made some internal cuts, and we welcome whatever attrition has taken place.

The credit Sander has justly received for improving relations with the Transit Workers Union comes with a price, and we do not know fully how heavy a price it will be. We do know that the MTA wanted to take a dive on the issue of restoring the union’s checkoff rights, which had been taken away under the Taylor Law after the illegal Christmas strike of 2005. That issue, like many others, ended up in the courts.

Running the MTA is a very difficult undertaking, in part because the vast system of public transit can never be self-supporting, even with all the toll receipts siphoned off from the bridges Robert Moses built. Yet that does not mean a blank check for the authority whenever it runs low on operating funds. As Anthony Marshall is finding out, there is a limit in what one can take from other people.

On March 16 of this year, the governor and the Assembly speaker (in whose district the station is located) celebrated the opening of the replacement for the South Ferry subway station. Now the station is available to all ten cars on a train rather than the first five. The station was built in 1912, when local trains had five cars, and South Ferry, which was a local stop. Was that convenience worth half a billion dollars? Was it worth the destruction of eighty trees in Battery Park, with inadequate recompense to the plant kingdom? Perhaps the money could have been spent more usefully elsewhere in the transit system. On the other hand, perhaps it would have been wasted on a boondoggle like the Fulton Street Transit Center, still incomplete after $1.5 billion was appropriated.

The South Ferry project is the physical legacy of former Staten Island Congressman Vito Fossella, first, because it is used by many ferry riders who were his constituents, and second, because his influence in Washington is said to have helped mightily when it was funded during the second Bush administration. Governor Pataki supported the project vigorously, as did Peter Kalikow, former chair of the MTA. It is fitting that the station serves 2 Broadway, the mother ship of MTA folly and waste.

The new State legislation for the MTA plan envisions the merger of the unpaid position of chairman and the CEO – executive director, who is the full-time CEO. Since Dale Hemmerdinger is highly unlikely to leave real estate to run the MTA full time, the question will be whether Lee Sander should continue as CEO with the added title of board chair.

In our judgment, Sander has done a generally decent job, considering that the two governors he served were preoccupied with other matters than mass transit. He is honest and diligent. If he were replaced by a brilliant railroad man like David Gunn, there might be an improvement.

But the likelihood is that if he goes, his successor will be far worse, more subject to political pressure, and more ignorant of the needs of the vast transit system, which includes the subways, buses and two railroads (the Long Island and Metro-North). For a new CEO to be an asset, he would have to have demonstrated integrity, competence and familiarity with the business of moving large numbers of people in safety, at high speed and at relatively low cost. The likelihood is that any successor chosen by the political establishment on a personal basis will be less committed and less effective than Lee Sander has been. We hope Sander is retained, but it is really Paterson who is being tested by his decision on this issue.


The New York Civic party, held on April 30th at the Thompson apartment on the 55th floor of the Corinthian, was a pleasant occasion. The weather was clear, and the views were spectacular. You could see the East and Hudson Rivers, and all that was in between. The hors d’oeuvres and white wine were well received. We heard from Mayor Koch and Congressman Anthony Weiner. We thank them, and Ed and Vickie Thompson, our hosts.

Anyone who could not attend in person can still make a gift to help support our work. Write us at 450 Park Avenue South, 5th floor, New York. NY 10016, or telephone 212-564-4441. Our e-mail is


#555 05.7.2009 752 wds

No comments:

Post a Comment