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MTA Fails to Spend Half-A-Million Dollars in Council Cash

By Jill Colvin | October 25, 2012 7:08am

CITY HALL — The MTA has been sitting on half-a-million dollars that it was supposed to use to install countdown clocks on the Staten Island Railway.

City Councilman Vincent Ignizio said he set aside the money back in 2007 to be used to install the clocks, which tell riders how much longer they'll have to wait on the platform until the next train arrives.

Five years later, he said, the money is collecting dust while commuters remain in the dark.

"Who do they think they are?" asked City Councilman James Vacca, chair of the council's transportation committee, in response to the admission, which came during a hearing on transportation technology.

"I was disturbed to learn today that there's money allocated to the agency by council members that hasn't been spent," he said.

Ignizio said the cash, which was allocated for the fiscal year 2008 capital budget, was supposed to be used to make life easier for Staten Island residents by funding "some kind of real-time arrival system" on the railroad, which he charged the MTA has treated as the "stepchild" of the system.

"We only have one train on Staten Island. Two tracks. One going south, one going north. Sounds like a pretty simple system, anybody would think," he said.

But in all these years, he said, no progress has been made.

"I've heard nothing but delays, delays, delays from MTA, from New York City Transit. 'Can't be done,' 'won't be done.' 'Maybe next year,'" he said.

He said the same thing has happened with security camera installations.

"The casings are there, the little box is there. But there's no camera there," he said. "For three years now, we've been told, 'It will be done by December,' 'Oh, in a year,' 'No, spring,' 'We mean it this time.'

"My frustration is boiling over."

MTA officials said they've run into problems with the clock installations, which is why the money hasn't yet been spent.

“It is an unusual situation," said Craig Stewart, senior corporate management officer of MTA New York City Transit, who said he expects to see some type of signage installed soon.

“This one is particularly challenging because of where it is," he said. "We’ve had technology problems.... It's a different railroad. It's down in Staten Island. It has some very different characteristics."

Still, Stewart insisted this was the "only" incident he knew of in which council member-allocated money hadn't been spent.

“We’re not sitting on it. We’re working on it,” he said.

As for the cameras, officials said that the vendor that was supposed to provide the recording equipment went bankrupt several years ago, and that they haven't been able to find a suitable replacement yet — even though cameras operate throughout the subway system.

"That's been a significant challenge," said Mark Bienstock, who oversees security and the capital program at NYC Transit, and said that the cameras should finally be installed by the middle of next year.

"We're pressing the contractor very hard to meet that schedule," he said.