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Thread: Bloomberg Attacks Plan to Buy Metro-North Cars

  1. #1

    Default Bloomberg Attacks Plan to Buy Metro-North Cars

    January 30, 2004

    Bloomberg Attacks Plan to Buy Cars for Rail Line

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

    In a reversal in both tone and tactic, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg assailed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority yesterday for voting to expand its capital budget by $231 million to buy new rail cars for the Metro-North line, which has been hobbled with service problems this winter.

    Mr. Bloomberg, who wants the M.T.A. to help pay for an expansion of the No. 7 subway line and take over city-run private bus lines, suggested yesterday that the authority was shortchanging the city with the purchase of the 120 new cars.

    "I think the M.T.A. has sort of forgotten that they were created to be a regional transportation system," Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference in Washington Heights. "And the center of the region is right here in the city. We have people in Co-Op City, we have people in Queens who don't have the kind of mass transit that they deserve, and the M.T.A. should focus on first providing that before they go and enhance the transportation they already provide elsewhere."

    Mr. Bloomberg added, "They've had a fare increase, they get a lot of money from the city, they get a lot of money from the state and they should provide the services that the public needs and the public deserves."

    The mayor's comments represent a change in both his public speech and his negotiating style. In the past, the mayor has been loath to criticize other government agencies, officials or authorities, preferring instead to assert blandly that everyone will always do right by the city. In 2002, Mr. Bloomberg was the first official to foreshadow a subway fare increase, and indeed to defend it. "I'm sympathetic to any agency," he said at the time. "The fact of the matter is we have services, they cost money and somebody's got to pay for them.''

    But his remarks yesterday appeared to be the most telling example so far of the mayor's intention, as articulated in his recent address on the state of the city, to "never back away from fighting any opponent - or confronting any obstacle - that would prevent our people from achieving all of their dreams in our New York.''

    But what particularly angered Mr. Bloomberg, according to officials involved in the discussions with the transit agency, was that the authority has consistently cited its own ill fiscal health to resist buying the city-subsidized bus lines that serve New Yorkers in corners of the city that are not served by subways; such a takeover would require new buses, as the current fleet is aged and in poor condition.

    The M.T.A., however, will now issue new debt to add 120 M7 electric cars to an existing train car order for Metro-North's use. Metro-North has experienced persistent service problems in the cold weather. "They raise fiscal issues on buses," one administration official said, "but for something like this they find a way to resolve the issue. That was a little too in-your-face for the mayor."

    Further, the Bloomberg administration is worried that the purchase will alter the funding formula Albany uses to divide up money for the transportation authority's capital program. The program, which pays for system restoration and expansion, currently splits the money 75-to-25 in favor of New York City Transit over the commuter railroads, but the outlay for the new trains will change the balance to 72-28, a difference that could mean hundreds of millions of dollars if it carried over to the next capital program.

    Yesterday, Peter S. Kalikow, the chairman of the authority, tried to mollify the city's representatives to the board - who all voted against the release of funds to buy the new cars - by assuring them that the city would essentially be made whole in the authority's next capital budget. Mr. Kalikow reassured city officials "that this was not a precedent-breaking formula," said Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the authority. "Metro-North is under the gun because their fleet is the oldest in the M.T.A."

    But city officials were nonplused, because the transit authority board that would vote on the next capital budget will be made up of new members.

    Yesterday, Mr. Kelly read a statement from Mr. Kalikow: "While we always strive to address the parochial interest of local officials, such as CityTicket for New York residents, it is the mandate of the M.T.A. board to provide safe services for all our 8 million daily customers throughout the metropolitan region." (CityTicket allows weekend travel at discount rates on commuter trains within New York City.)

    Yesterday's change to the capital budget requires the unanimous approval of an obscure board that includes powerful members of the State Legislature; city officials are hoping that that board will kill the changes.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

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    January 31, 2004

    It's Cold and Snowy and the Train Is Late. Why? It's Cold and Snowy.

    By LISA W. FODERARO

    WHITE PLAINS, Jan. 30 - Robert Sullivan, a recent law school graduate who has been commuting to New York City for job interviews, bounded off the 3:22 p.m. Metro-North train and into the frigid dusk.

    As eager as he is to work in New York City, Mr. Sullivan, has grown anxious about the trip there and back. The 26-year-old Pace Law School graduate was just one of many passengers lamenting one of the worst stretches of train service in recent memory. "There's clearly something wrong with the train cars," he said, ticking off a list of recent delays and breakdowns. "The snow is one thing, but the cold? I don't see how that should affect the train schedule."

    The wintry wallop has crippled Metro-North's fleet of 800 aging electric cars. Copious amounts of snow and below-normal temperatures have kept the snow powdery, and it tends to get sucked into the antiquated motors where it destroys the components. So commuters were fuming to hear Friday that a day earlier, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had lambasted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for approving a new order of snow-resistant trains for Metro-North instead of more mass transit for underserved city residents.

    On Friday, 195 of its cars were out of service, and during the morning rush, 48 trains arrived late in Grand Central Terminal.

    "Once you start taking away train cars, you have to combine trains, cancel trains and bypass certain stations because the trains are too full," said Daniel Brucker, a Metro-North spokesman.

    Metro-North says there is no way to retrofit its cars or to prepare for severe winter weather with its current fleet, and help will not come until early March, just as the worst of the season is ending. That is when 182 new M-7 electric trains are to be delivered, and the cars on those trains have proven impervious to the snow, Mr. Brucker said. The M.T.A. voted on Thursday to expand its capital budget by $231 million, essentially accelerating an order for 120 more M-7 cars for Metro-North.

    The M.T.A. chairman Peter S. Kalikow said in a statement on Thursday that a "similar acceleration was taken in 1999" on behalf of New York City to buy additional subway cars.

    The Long Island Rail Road, which has 226 of the new cars and 450 more on the way over the next several years, says they have run like a dream in the snow. Brian P. Dolan, an L.I.R.R. spokesman, pointed out that the average distance between breakdowns for M-7's is 209,000 miles, compared to the 38,000 miles of the older M-1's.

    But the Long Island Rail Road has certainly had its own trials. In fact, Friday was the worst day yet, even though the skies were clear. There were 152 cars out of service - the highest number so far this winter - and of the 146 trains scheduled for the morning rush, 106 were late. The problems came largely because of a broken rail on the main line in Floral Park, Mr. Dolan said. But the railroad's older electric cars have also suffered from the powdery snow.

    On the whole, Metro-North seems a bit more hobbled by the blast of winter this month. Its worst day this season in terms of sidelined train cars came last week, with 217 cars in the repair shop. The 152 disabled cars L.I.R.R. reported on Friday, by contrast, come from a larger fleet of 946 electric cars.

    In the meantime, Metro-North passengers have had to put up with crowded cars, canceled trains and platforms of people left hanging as fully occupied trains whizzed past.

    Things did not go as planned Thursday night for Metro-North's 6:54 Harlem line train. Commuters huddled in irritation at Grand Central Terminal as monitors showed a stream of delayed and canceled trains. Finally the departure gate was posted about 10 minutes after the train was supposed to leave. And it was combined with the 6:59, which meant that the train was packed like a rush-hour subway.

    "This winter seems to be quite a bit worse in terms of service," said Andrew Gold, a lawyer in Chappaqua who rode that train, getting home at 8:20, instead of 7:45. "Usually when you get a snow day, it's bad for that day, but I've never seen it where it's been consistently bad for two weeks."In its defense, Metro-North says that despite its trains, most of which are at least 30 years old, the annual on-time rate is an impressive 97 percent. Even the recent run of frosty weather has not pushed that down to a flunking level.

    For the week ending Jan. 25, for instance, the systemwide on-time performance rate was 90.6 percent, said Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman. And not every rider had harsh words for the railroad. Waiting at the Glenwood station Friday, James Peterson, a manager for Con Edison, said: "In the some 20-odd years I've been riding it you can set your clock by it."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

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    February 26, 2004

    City Weighs Going to Court Over New Metro-North Cars

    By MIKE McINTIRE

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is making a push to block state funding for new rail cars on the Metro-North commuter railroad, setting the stage for another city-versus-suburbs battle.

    The mayor is trying to exert influence on an obscure state panel that has the power to deny the $230 million in financing that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs for the new rail cars. He is also considering going to court over the issue if necessary, according to a senior aide to Mr. Bloomberg who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

    "That's an option that is being researched by lawyers," said the aide, who is involved in shaping the city's strategy. "This issue is very serious. It needs to be dealt with, one way or another."

    The mayor's aggressive tactics contrast with his defense of the authority's decision to raise transit fares last year, a move that infuriated many New Yorkers, who said he failed to fight for city transit riders.

    The issue this time involves the authority's request for funds to speed up an existing plan to add new rail cars to Metro-North, which has had severe weather-related problems this winter. The mayor has lashed out at the plan several times, accusing the authority of caring more about suburban commuters than city bus riders.

    More specifically, he has argued that the borrowing would change the formula used to share the authority's capital spending each year. The usual split of 75 percent to 25 percent favoring New York City Transit over the commuter railroads would shift to 72 to 28.

    The mayor is also motivated by a mixture of issues that have strained relations recently between the regional authority and City Hall.

    The city has been unable to wrest an agreement from the authority to take over operation of seven private bus lines that cost the city as much as $150 million a year to subsidize. The authority has agreed in principle to a takeover of the ailing lines but not without some financial assistance from the city, and Mr. Bloomberg is reluctant to provide it.

    In addition, it remains to be seen whether the authority will agree to help finance a $1.7 billion subway extension for the Bloomberg administration's West Side redevelopment plan. The authority also has not yet said how much money it wants for development rights it controls at that site and at a Brooklyn location where the city wants to see a new basketball arena built.

    The authority's decision last month to amend its capital budget to add financing for the Metro-North cars brought the matter to a head.

    The mayor is attempting to derail the financing plan before the state's Capital Program Review Board, which must approve the borrowing. The governor, the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader and the mayor each has an appointee on the board, any one of whom can veto a request for funds. Normally, the city does not cast a vote on requests for Metro-North or the Long Island Rail Road, only on expenditures for New York City Transit.

    The city is basing its argument largely on a change that the authority made several years ago in the way it structures its debt. Barriers were dropped that once prevented authority funds dedicated to city transit from being used to secure bonds issued for capital projects involving the commuter railroads.

    Because of that change, the city maintains that it now has a legitimate financial interest in suburban projects, and therefore should be allowed a vote on the financing request for the Metro-North cars. Anticipating that the board will refuse to recognize its veto, the administration has been laying the groundwork for a possible lawsuit to try to enforce it.

    In addition, the mayor has been lobbying Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to wield his veto, relieving the city of the need to cast its own, contested vote. Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Mr. Silver, would say only that the speaker was "reviewing and asking questions" about the authority's financing request.

    The board members have until Sunday to act on it, but city and authority officials say a decision is likely by tomorrow.

    On one level, the mayor's opposition to the new Metro-North cars is another in a long line of spats between New York City and its suburban neighbors, often motivated by city budget politics.

    Last year, Mr. Bloomberg lobbied hard, to no avail, for Albany to reinstate a tax on suburban residents who commute to their jobs in New York City.

    City officials complain that the new capital-spending formula shortchanges the city and could become permanent, potentially affecting negotiations over the bus lines, since the authority would be taking on hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital costs for those services.

    Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the authority, said it has assured the city that the formula shift is only temporary. He also pointed out that the authority diverted funds for an emergency purchase of subway cars five years ago.

    Meanwhile, negotiations between the authority and city over the bus lines continue. Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit riders' advocacy group, said he agreed with the mayor's newly energized push for an authority takeover of the buses, but not without continued subsidies.

    "Otherwise," Mr. Russianoff said, "it's just a tactic to stick the riding public with a $150 million bill."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  4. #4

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    February 28, 2004

    Panel Blocks Metro-North Plan to Speed Purchase of Train Cars

    By MICHAEL LUO

    A state panel blocked a proposal by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority yesterday to speed the purchase of 120 badly needed Metro-North train cars. It was a victory for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had waged a campaign against the plan.

    Unless the proposal is revived, that batch of M-7 electric rail cars will be delayed until at least 2006, slowing the rollout of cars that are vastly more reliable in winter weather. Some new cars will appear in March, but the authority had hoped to accelerate the delivery of a second group of them by a year and a half.

    Mr. Bloomberg had vigorously lobbied the four-member Albany panel, the Capital Program Review Board, which oversees the authority's spending on major projects.

    Arguing that the city would be shortchanged, Mr. Bloomberg had urged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to ask his representative on the panel, Assemblywoman Catherine T. Nolan, a Democrat from Queens, to veto the proposal. Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Nolan told the board of her veto in a brief statement that contained no explanation.

    A spokeswoman for Mr. Silver said yesterday that the authority failed to adequately answer questions the speaker's office raised on the plan.

    The panel has four members, appointed by the governor, the mayor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader, and any of them can kill a proposal. The mayor's representative can vote only on New York City Transit proposals.

    The authority had wanted to add $230 million to its current 2000 to 2004 capital plan to buy the cars originally scheduled for the next capital plan. Authority officials said it made obvious financial sense, because it would allow the railroad to purchase cars it was already planning to buy earlier and at a cheaper price. The commuter railroad has struggled this winter with repeated breakdowns in its aging fleet. About 180 of the new cars are scheduled to be added in March, in the first phase of the modernization.

    But, casting himself as a defender of the interests of city riders, Mr. Bloomberg argued the purchase would change the split in capital spending between the transit authority and the commuter railroads to 72 percent and 28 percent, from 75 percent and 25 percent, a change that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost money if carried over to the next capital plan.

    "I'm not opposed to better cars for the suburbs, but I've just got to make sure that the city is getting taken care of," Mr. Bloomberg said on his radio show yesterday morning. He later issued a statement praising the decision.

    Even Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester County, said yesterday that the mayor's concerns about the split were legitimate, but he said the mayor had politicized the debate by linking it to another political dispute, the transportation authority's refusal to take over the operation of seven private bus lines in Queens. The authority, facing the possibility of yawning deficits in the coming years, has insisted that the city continue to help subsidize the lines, which now costs $150 million a year.

    "You have people that live in other parts of New York City that just don't have reliable mass transit," said Edward Skyler, a spokesman for the mayor, yesterday. "We've been pushing for several years to get the M.T.A. to take over, to provide what their mandate is, to provide mass transit for the city and region."

    It is the linkage between the seemingly unrelated issues that led one unlikely group, the Straphangers Campaign, to spring to the defense of suburban commuters yesterday. Gene Russianoff, a Straphangers lawyer, criticized the veto and warned of possible fare increases if the authority is forced to take on the bus lines without city help.

    "It drives me wild that in the posture of demanding a fair share for the city, what the mayor is really doing is trying to balance the city's budget on the backs of subway and bus riders," he said.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    I'm afraid I have to side with the MTA on this. I don't think in the slightest that the MTA plans to shortchange the City. This is probably a one- or two-year change in the budget to replace train cars that desperately need to be replaced. Faster, more up-to-date cars means more efficient commuter transportation, which can increase the overall productivity of workers who commute in both directions because they'll arrive earlier. Remember, also, that a number of New Yorkers take jobs in the suburbs; and Metro-North is not used soley for business workers: Bloomberg should consider the country club members, concertgoers, shoppers, college students who either commute or dorm locally and go home to visit their families, Bronx residents with jobs in Manhattan, etc. who use Metro-North regularly. A wide social spectrum of people rely on that train.

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    Without hearing Bloomberg's argument, I would agree with you TLOZ. I used to take Metro North from Beacon and while the service was regular, the seats were terrible. I understand the CT lines are worse.

    But I understand Bloomberg's logic. The MTA just jacked up their fares by 33% with no service improvement. They should at least try to show preference to a large-scale city project.

  7. #7

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    March 2, 2004

    Plan Offered to Accelerate Purchase of Rail Cars

    By ROBERT F. WORTH

    HARTFORD, March 1 - Gov. John G. Rowland and legislative leaders announced a plan on Monday to accelerate the purchase of rail cars for Metro-North's New Haven line, which has struggled through a winter of delays and breakdowns.

    The plan, announced by Mr. Rowland and the House speaker, Moira K. Lyons, would add $25 million to the $35 million already set aside for rail purchases by a state transportation panel and make the full amount available immediately.

    The additional money, which would come from bond proceeds, will be used to buy about 20 new or used cars and several locomotives, a project that would otherwise not have begun for another 18 months, state officials said.

    "The events of this winter have clearly demonstrated the need to accelerate the purchase of this equipment," Mr. Rowland said in a statement.

    Thanks to cold weather, snow and age, 120 of the New Haven line's 343 cars were out of service at various times during January, causing a number of canceled trains. The New Haven line trains, many dating from the early 1970's, are easily damaged by powdery snow, which works its way inside motors and shorts out electronic components.

    The additional cars could be ready as soon as several months from now if suitable used cars are available for purchase, said Harry P. Harris, the chief of the Connecticut Department of Transportation's Bureau of Public Transportation. Buying new cars would take longer, he said.

    "This will help, but it's nowhere near what we need," said James Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, a watchdog group created by the State Legislature. "The problems we had this winter will persist."

    The added cars, known as M-8's, are separate from the new M-7 rail cars that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is buying for use elsewhere in its commuter network, including 120 cars whose purchase was blocked by a New York State panel on Friday.

    The proposal, which would require enactment by the Legislature, leaves about $15 million in an account for additional transportation projects around the state, such as extending some train lines and expanding bus service.

    Mr. Rowland also asked state budget and transportation officials on Monday to report back to him within 60 days on a plan to replace the state's entire 30-year-old rail fleet. The cost of that project will run into the billions, Mr. Harris said.

    For now, transportation officials are renovating the current fleet by replacing critical parts.

    In addition, Mr. Rowland sent a letter on Monday to United States Representative Christopher Shays in which he opposed Mr. Shays's proposal to help pay for new rail cars with a state gasoline tax increase. Mr. Rowland urged Mr. Shays to focus on the reauthorization of the federal highway financing bill, which in its current form provides a smaller increase to Connecticut than to any other state in the country.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    NYTimes
    February 11, 2005

    Reaction Is Divided on Rell Plan for Trains

    By PATRICK McGEEHAN

    Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposal to buy new trains for the Metro-North New Haven Line has drawn cheers from beleaguered commuters but has left some transit officials scratching their heads.

    In delivering her budget plan on Wednesday, Mrs. Rell said that starting in 2008, Connecticut would tack a $1 surcharge on tickets to ride on that line, which stretches from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. That was news to officials of the Metro-North Railroad, who are wondering just how the plan might work and how the additional revenue would be divided.

    Jim Boice, who supervises rail operations at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said yesterday that even he did not know. He said that he had his first brief discussion with Metro-North executives after Mrs. Rell's speech, and that few details had been worked out. Transit officials in New York were still shaking their heads at Mrs. Rell's suggestion in January that she would seek a seat on the board of Metro-North's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

    "They said, 'We have some questions,' and I said, 'So do we,' " Mr. Boice commented.

    The basic idea, he said, is to add $1 to the price of every ride to and from New York to help pay for new trains that would arrive in about five years. But how the surcharge would be applied to weekly and monthly passes and how much would go toward buying the trains is undecided, he said.

    "It would take us a while to figure out what's equitable," he said.

    A $1 surcharge would be too onerous on some intrastate train fares, which are as low as $2.50, Mr. Boice said. But he added that a trip from New Haven to Greenwich covered as much ground as one from Greenwich to Grand Central. He said he did not know how to explain adding the charge for one and not for the other.

    The all-around puzzlement reflects the complexity of running a railroad across two states, each of which can set its own fares.

    Under an agreement struck after the New Haven Rail Road failed, Metro-North provides service on the New Haven line, whose tracks, stations and parking lots are owned and maintained by different governments. Generally speaking, Connecticut provides 65 percent of the subsidy the New Haven line requires, and New York pays the rest.

    Connecticut's historic reluctance to put up the bulk of the money needed to replace the line's rickety cars has angered residents of the Westchester County towns the line serves. Other county residents are riding in brand-new cars on Metro-North's Harlem and Hudson lines, while New Haven riders are stuck on trains that were built in the 1970's.

    Yet if Connecticut raises prices too quickly to pay for improvements, riders on the New Haven line in Westchester County could face a new problem - commuters driving across the border to take advantage of cheaper fares.

    Metro-North had that problem in reverse on the west side of the Hudson River in the 1980's. New Jersey Transit was raising its fares faster than Metro-North was. New Jersey Transit provides train service to residents of Rockland and Orange Counties in New York, whose fares are controlled by Metro-North. That imbalance translated into higher fares for New Jersey riders than for New York riders who had longer hauls.

    Because Metro-North did not want residents of New Jersey towns near the New York border streaming north to buy cheaper tickets for the southward commute toward Hoboken, it paid New Jersey Transit to hold down fares in several towns in Bergen County, said Jim Redeker, an assistant executive director of New Jersey Transit. A monthly train pass from Mahwah to Hoboken, therefore, costs $155, or about 20 percent less than the $193 it should cost, he said.

    Two years ago, after Metro-North raised the fares from Rockland and Orange Counties, it stopped subsidizing the New Jersey residents. Now New Jersey Transit wants to start eliminating the anomaly by raising fares more in Bergen County than elsewhere in the state, as part of a systemwide fare increase.

    "But to do it all at once would be too painful," Mr. Redeker said.

    He said that his colleagues met regularly with Metro-North officials to discuss costs and revenue, but that neither Metro-North nor any of the New York areas served by New Jersey Transit had a representative on New Jersey Transit's board. That is why Mrs. Rell's recent call for a seat on the transportation authority's board struck some transit officials as odd. The authority's board members are appointed by New York's governor, with recommendations from New York City's mayor and the executives of the seven New York counties the railroad serves.

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