Likely MTA chief looks to bring British innovation to NYC Transit
Jay Walder, seen with Gov. David Paterson, has big plans for the MTA that reflect his background in London. (AP)
The British are coming! The British are coming! To your commute?
Jay Walder, the favorite son to become the next MTA chief, is looking to import innovations he honed at London's transportation system, including a pumped-up bus system and the quick-swiping “Oyster Card.”
During a public hearing on his candidacy Tuesday, Walder said public transportation in London and New York City were “sister systems,” but NYC Transit has suffered from a decline in technological improvements.
“If you go around the world, you see we are no longer at the top of the standings as a transit system. We are not even in the wild card position,” said Walder, a Queens native and former MTA executive. “We have a lot of work to do.”
If the state Senate approves his nomination, Walder said he would tap his London experience to:
- Scrap the MetroCard in favor of a contact-less payment method like the Oyster Card, which has a 98 percent customer approval rating, Walder said. The cards speed up service and save money by making the buses more efficient, he said.
- Install digital signs informing straphangers about the next train’s arrival time, like the ones currenty on the L line. Waiting for the train without them is “not the way to operate a 21st century transit system,” he said.
- Greatly expand the MTA's bus system through dedicated street lanes and ticketing of drivers who violate them.
London moves more than 6 million commuters a day by bus, more than New York’s subways carry. Most of its 8,000 buses are double-decker models.
Last year, NYC Transit experimented with double-decker buses, which last plied city streets in 1953. Transit tested the 81-seat buses on several routes, but found that the 13-foot-tall models ran into trees hanging over the street, MTA officials said. Transit currently doesn’t have the budget for double-deckers, and they are “on the backburner,” a spokeswoman said.
MTA and city officials, however, are keen on Walder's idea for dedicated bus lanes. The city has identified 31 corridors where it hopes place rapid bus lines traveling in painted lanes, like theone already in the Bronx and the bus lane on 34th Street.
Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), one of the hearing's chairs, said ticketing drivers in bus lanes would further the city's unbearable traffic. But transit advocates approved of Walder's early push for innovation and better buses.
“He's smart, a transportation professional, accessible and rider-oriented,” said Gene Russianoff, of the Straphangers Campaign.
Kruger, a harsh MTA critic, said he expected to support Walder during the Senate's confirmation hearing Thursday. Lawmakers are expected to confirm him quickly, and Walder said he could leave his London flat for the city within weeks.
“I am very excited,” said Walder, 50. “I go in with my eyes open to the tremendous challenges that lie ahead.”