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MTA could save millions with common sense, union cooperation, officials say


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MTA could save millions with common sense, union cooperation, officials say



Friday, November 23rd 2007, 4:00 AM



By combining operations, the MTA could

save millions.[/float]The MTA - which still wants to raise multiride transit fares to close a budget gap - could save millions of dollars with some common sense and union cooperation, officials and advocates say.


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has six operating divisions, including NYC Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North railroad.


Each has a president and executive staff handling human resources, legal matters, labor relations and other duties.


Fiscal watchdogs and transit officials say consolidating operations is a potential gold mine of savings.


A glimpse of the potential savings emerged in July. The MTA awarded a $25 million contract for office supplies used by many divisions, which had been striking individual deals at higher prices. The negotiated bulk purchase with reduced prices will save approximately $8.5 million over five years, documents show.


Still, officials say, the MTA as a whole has not saved much money through its so-called shared services initiative.


"Progress has been slow," an August report by state Controller Thomas DiNapoli said.


A major challenge facing the MTA is existing labor contracts, officials said. A LIRR worker, for example, can't be assigned a task now solely the responsibility of a Metro-North worker, officials said.


Transit advocates and experts acknowledge the MTA can't fill projected 2009 budget gaps by cost-cutting alone, but there still is strong opposition to plans to hike fares and tolls.


The MTA first wanted to generate $580 million over the next two years with higher travel prices to start in February. That revenue target was slashed by $220 million Tuesday when Gov. Spitzer announced the MTA is in better financial shape than was predicted in July.


Many state legislators, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), want to avoid hikes completely by getting more mass transit money in state budget deliberations with Spitzer in January. They want hikes delayed until mid-April so they can work toward that goal.


Three board members have voiced support for a delay. Mayor Bloomberg, who has four votes on the board, has not taken a position, but he has said his support for hikes depends on whether he thinks the MTA is being as efficient as possible.


Meanwhile, the MTA has spent a lot of money to try to save money. Since March 2005, the MTA has awarded about $6.6 million in contracts to two consultants to study and develop shared services plans, records show.


The MTA is "eagerly awaiting" the results of one consultant's study about creating a central business center to handle some payroll, billing and other duties on an MTA-wide basis, MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said. The report is expected in January.


"Streamlining MTA services to improve efficiency is one of the MTA's top priorities and we recognize its potential for savings," he said. "The business service center, while costly to implement, is expected to save the MTA millions over the long term."

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