When Jay Walder submitted his resignation notice last week as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign held no illusions about the challenges facing his successor.
“He restored credibility to the MTA during his tenure,” Vanterpool said. “We were surprised by the announcement. There are many hard challenges ahead for that agency. They’re going to run out of money next year, and there aren’t sufficient resources on hand to sustain the system.
“So we hope Gov. Cuomo appoints someone who is efficient, and appoints him immediately.”
On Wednesday the MTA announced a tentative budget that funds capital projects through 2014, but her concerns for a new chief remain very real.
In Cuomo’s own statement he praised Walder as a true leader and a fiscally responsible manager in difficult times.
What the governor could not immediately say is who he intends to put in the popular Walder’s place and when he will do so with a continued economic downturn and looming deficits at an agency already hit hard by staffing and service cuts.
Calls to his New York City and Albany press offices seeking comment on timing for a new chairman were not returned.
Walder will resign in October after two years to become chief operating officer of the MTR Corp. in Hong Kong.
In a statement issued by the MTA, he called the transit system the foundation of the metropolitan region.
“We are very fortunate to have thousands of dedicated men and women who work so hard to provide these important services to millions of people each and every day,” he said.
The statement credited Walder with bringing fiscal stability to a system that serves 8.5 million people a day. Mayor Bloomberg called hima world-class transportation professional and said “any city in the world would be lucky to have him.”
“He set a new course for the MTA during an extremely difficult period when the agency was not given the resources required to meet the City’s needs,” Bloomberg said. “He expertly shepherded major projects like the 7 line extension and new bus rapid transit lines, and by embracing new technology, he made significant improvements to the customer experience — from gateless tolling on bridges to countdown clocks in subway stations — that the public will appreciate long after his departure. I was proud to work with him on these and many other projects.”
Walder was not a favorite of the agency’s unions. While Vanterpool credited him with saving millions of dollars through improved efficiency, officials with the Amalgamated Transit Union said the savings had a cost of their own.
“Everyone is singing his praises,” said Daneek Miller, president of the union. “Quite frankly we in Queens have seen service cuts because of his refusal to use stimulus money to reduce deficits. Those cuts and layoffs have come on the backs of our members and our community.”
Miller’s union represents 1,800 drivers and mechanics. He said Walder’s “big project” emphasis has hurt the authority.
“He has a capital program background,” Miller said. “Technology is nice, but we’re short buses, and driving buses that should be scrapped. Sometimes you need to replace a window with glass and you have to use plastic. He cut 36 lines. The priority was not service. It was building a legacy.”
Corey Bearak, the union’s policy and political director, said eliminating lines such as the Q75 and Q79, left riders along those routes without viable alternatives.
A 2010 performance review issued last week by the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee praised Walder, and presented caveats for his successor.
“Jay Walder has capably led the MTA through trials of severe budget constraints marked by fare increases and budget cuts ... Despite money issues (or because of them), Mr. Walder has brought increased attention to efficiency improvements and technology applications,” the report said.