Jay Walder and the MTA

In a recent interview, the head of New York City’s transit system has told the New York Times that he plans to institute a new pricing policy which would give riders discounts for off-peak travel like late-nights and weekends. The Times called it, ”the city’s biggest transportation revolution since the demise of the token.”

Walder on a train

Walder on a train

Jay Walder, the Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that he hopes to implement a new computerized card system that can among other things calculate the best fair for riders based on how often they travel.

“You can see creative and innovative things that would happen with this,” Walder told the Times.

As head of London’s transit system, Walder helped introduced the Oyster card, a similar smart card to the kind he’s proposed for New York. The London card uses a computer chip to account for riders’ fairs. Riders’ no longer had to swipe a card, but rather press the card to a spot to have fair deducted.

In July, Walder, a New York native, was selected by Governor David Patterson to head the MTA. When he took office, Walder inherited a system in panic. Following the financial downturn in late 2008, the MTA struggled to figure out how to remain solvent. Mounting debt and a decline in revenue from real estate taxes has forced the MTA to cut costs and look to other revenue sources.

In March, the MTA scrambled to handle it’s $1.2 billion budget deficit by approving a plan to increase fairs for all riders. 35 bus lines were cut along with the W and Z subway lines.  In the months after the approval of the plan, 1,100 employees were laid off including drivers, conductors, and station agents. The MTA still employs about 68,000 people. Tolls on MTA bridges were also increased.

In May, the state legislature passed a deal to rescue the MTA from it’s financial burdens and prevent the fair hiking higher than 25 cents.

Walder envisions the off peak charges and smart card as a way to encourage people to use the MTA on traditionally low-use periods which would ultimately increase revenue for the authority.

“We have an infrastructure that is set for the capacity of the peak,” Walder told the Times. “What we really want to do is use that infrastructure all the time.

Since March budget plan was passed, riders have complained about poor service or lack of service all around New York City.

In the first few months of his tenure, Walder has already proposed dramatic projects to improve service and make transit travel easier.  He’s discussed ways to make busses faster, reduce overcrowding, and make bus travel more efficient by cordoning off sections of street for busses only.

Walder on a bus

Walder on a bus

“If I put train tracks down the street, you wouldn’t park your car on them. If I said this is a bus lane, somehow it becomes fair game,” Walder told the Times. “What I’d like you to think about is a train system with rubber-tire vehicles.”

During his first day on the job Walder announced that he plans to have cameras installed on every bus to catch cars obstructing bus lanes and automatically issue tickets—like red light cameras already used around the city.

In an announcement last week about new state-wide budget cuts, Patterson said that the MTA now had a $113 billion budget shortfall. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly criticized the MTA during his reelection campaign. It remains to be seen how the new smart card and off-peak price variation plan will play out. The plan still needs to be approved by the MTA board which is primarily maid of up Patterson and Bloomberg appointees. Neither man has made a public statement on the idea yet.

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