AmNew York: State grills MTA on plan for technology, system improvements

Craig M. Johnson

December 04, 2009


The honeymoon is over for the MTA’s new chief.

State senators grilled MTA CEO Jay Walder Thursday about his plans to modernize the transit system, indicating that the state might not shell out for nifty gizmos like countdown clocks in bus shelters.

“We’ve lived for years without the clocks,” said state Sen. Craig Johnson, (D-Port Washington), during the hearing in Manhattan. “I just don’t see how we can justify that right now.”

Walder has pledged to quickly deliver on long-stalled technology upgrades like countdown clocks on subways and buses, a revamped MetroCard and mobile service updates. To do that, the MTA needs Johnson and three other state officials, who are on the MTA Capital Program Review Board, to sign off on $28 billion in transit improvements over the next five years.

It took arm-twisting to get lawmakers to sock away money for two years of the plan earlier this year, but senators didn’t sound optimistic yesterday about digging up additional dollars for the final three years.The state is in a financial crisis, with lawmakers slashing billions from the budget to avoid running out of cash by the end of the year. 

“Do you have a way to come up with the $10 billion? I don’t think Albany is coming up with $10 billion,” Johnson said.

The board has to vote on the plan by the end of the year. If it’s rejected, the 230-page document goes back to the MTA board for revisions.

In better MTA news, Walder pledged again to not raise fares next year despite a $140 million cut recently levied by state lawmakers.

“We have a responsibility now to be able to show how we can tighten our belt,” Walder said.

MTA officials said they can defer pension payments to absorb the blow.