Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO and Chairman Jay Walder announced his resignation Thursday afternoon, catching New York City by surprise.
Walder will remain in his post until October 21, when he will leave for Hong Kong to become the CEO of MTR Corporation — a publicly traded company that runs train services across Asia and Europe, according to a press release.
His resignation came just hours after he announced that the MTA would cut $2 billion from its five-year capital plan by cutting the administrative payroll by 15 percent.
Sources told the Daily News that Walder was neither pushed out nor in the market for another job, he was simply given an offer he couldn’t refuse. The salary of MTR Corporation’s former CEO was about $2 million, a hefty sum over the $350,000 Walder makes as transit chief. On Thursday night, Bloomberg News reported that Walder’s salary at MTR will be $924,000.
The concern now is who will have the fortitude to take over his job, when the MTA has a $250 million operating gap and a capital budget that will run out at the beginning of 2012.
One foot on the platform: “I want to thank Governors Cuomo and former Governor Paterson for the honor of serving the people of New York State,” said Walder in a written statement. “The MTA’s transportation system is the foundation of the metropolitan region and we are fortunate to have thousands of dedicated men and women who work so hard to provide these critically important transportation services to millions of people each and every day. I believe that we have accomplished quite a lot in a short period, with the support of two Governors, the Mayor, a hard-working Board and many others.”
Ramblin’ man. Walder began his career in 1983 as the MTA’s capital program budget officer, and later served as chief of staff, executive director and chief financial officer, according to the MTA’s website. Between 1983-1995, Walder helped oversee the introduction of the MTA capital program and the MetroCard. In 1995, Walder left the MTA to teach public policy at Harvard. When the Transport for London — an umbrella organization for all of London’s transit modes — Walder was hired as the managing director for finance and development, where he remained until 2006. In London, Walder was largely responsible for transforming the city’s decrepit transit system into a high-tech marvel. His biggest credits include leading the charge in the implementation of the Oyster Card — a more user-friendly form of the MetroCard — and developing the transit plans for the London’s 2012 Summer Olympics bid, according to the Authority’s website.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind. In October, 2009, Gov. David Patterson appointed Walder as head of the MTA — just two months after it nearly collapsed financially — in the hopes that Walder would do for New York City what he’d been able to do for London, reported the New York Times. Within three months, Walder, under pressure to make wide-scale improvements to the failing system, was slapped with the news of a $143 million funding cut, making his extraordinarily difficult task nearly impossible. Since then, Walder has touted the slogan “Making Every Dollar Count,” in his efforts to modernize the MTA under heavy financial constraints.
Walder has received criticism from transit workers as a result of the massive administrative cuts he’s made, and the 2010 fare hikes didn’t endear him to the public.
However, he has been lauded by many city officials for making those same cuts and for making sizeable technological improvements. The highlights of his two-year tenure include:
- Helping expand Select Bus Service into Manhattan.
- Introducing over 150 subway station countdown clocks.
- Using open source web development to create the pilot Bustime program, which tracks bus times. Currently, Bustime exists on the B63 line, but the MTA hopes to expand it in order to fix the age-old problem of buses arriving in bunches.
- Calling for an Oyster-card style replacement for the MetroCard, which would allow users to touch the micro-chip-run card instead of swiping it through problematic card readers. The new card is expected to be introduced in three to four years.
- Leading a redesign of the MTA service announcements, which includes a more user-friendly website with real-time service changes.
Jumping someone else’s train. Many transit officials were not happy with Walder’s sudden exit.
“New York’s regional transit system faces a capital funding gap that could be as large as $9 billion, and which needs to be addressed in the coming months. Straphangers are at risk. Governor Cuomo must quickly fill this vacancy with an effective leader who has a deep understanding of the transit system,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Kate Slevin in a written statement.
Transit Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelson, on the other hand, is delighted by Walder’s resignation.
“Transit workers won’t miss Jay Walder and quite frankly will be glad to see him go. He has been antagonistic to the union and the workers from his first day on the job. His attempt last year to blackmail the union into major pay and other concessions led to gratuitous layoffs,” said Samuelson in a written statement.
“He ushered in unprecedented service cuts in both subway and bus service, with particular insensitivity to already underserved areas of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. He never grasped the notion that our bus and subway systems are the most basic and vital service afforded to New York’s working class. He attacked his blue-collar workforce and his own lower level white-collar employees, but never looked to upper management on his “quest” for cost savings. “
Time to move on, time to get going. State Senator Lee Zeldin, a Republican from Long Island, proposed 12 recommendations for the next MTA chairman. Zeldin’s advice included selling off real estate, committing to the job through 2014 and capping MTA salaries at the same amount earned by Governor Cuomo, reported the Long Island Exchange. The governor’s salary is currently $179,000, reported Bloomberg News.