An OMNY for the Roosevelt Island Tram petition states it simply: “We are asking the MTA and RIOC between them to remedy this.” The solution is simple. Install OMNY Card readers in two Tram locations, but the two bureaucratic behemoths can’t figure it out. It’s all in the background and political posturing.
by David Stone
Led by Roosevelt Islander Paul Krikler, the Change.org petition sits on a simple goal: “We are asking the MTA and RIOC between them to remedy…” the absence of OMNY readers in both Tram stations. Krikler and friends hope enough signers will goad the state agencies into action.
History suggests that will be tough. Neither state agency is known for its responsiveness to citizens’ appeals.
A Bad Contract Festers
Way back when Subway and Tram fares were two bucks flat, City Council Member Jessica Lappin heeded calls from Roosevelt Islanders and pressured RIOC and the MTA to merge the isolated local transportation icon into the metro-wide MetroCard system.
Lappin worked with Common Council President Matthew Katz, and soon, transfers between systems were aided by swipe turnstiles. The last of the hole-in-the-middle Tram tokens were gathered up and rendered useless.
Lappin and Katz have moved on to other things, but unfortunately, RIOC has not. It’s just become less responsive to local needs and more obtuse at the executive level.
A simple knot prevented installers from taking the short walk from Subway to Tram, over a year ago, when OMNY readers went live in the Roosevelt Island Subway Station.
That knot is the original contract bringing MetroCard to the Tram. It’s still in force, unamended, and must be replaced for OMNY. But here’s the eye-opener. RIOC as well as the MTA have known about this for years – including a clause allowing the MTA to pocket over $1 million unearned dollars every year.
No wonder they’ve resisted even talking with RIOC about it.
The Knot Holding OMNY Out
The benefits of OMNY are clear. With an account, riders can tap and go at any MTA transit stop. No more fumbling for cash or waiting in lines to buy and recharge MetroCards. The system automatically deducts the right amount as you ride.
But there’s a problem, here on Roosevelt Island. Tram riders using the last city-based MetroCard-only location can’t transfer because OMNY readers are not available.
This means, in addition to the inconvenience, missing out on system-wide discounts open only to OMNY users. And for some, especially shocked tourists, a second fare where a simple transfer is expected.
The Knot preventing a fix: the absence of an escalator clause in the original contract. RIOC knew about it at least as far back as Susan Rosenthals’s presidency when she discussed the problem at a board meeting.
In short, the absence of an escalator clause in that revenue-sharing agreement means that the MTA collects $2.85 for each swipe but only returns the original $2.00 to RIOC.
We repeat: RIOC has known about this for years and did nothing. More appalling is the fact that the result, according to RIOC’s own figures, is an annual loss of revenue exceeding $1 million. For an agency plagued with lawsuits that says it can only spare $150,000 per year for desperate community nonprofits.
Amending or replacing the outdated contract is a simple matter for attorneys if the desire is there. It’s not complex as the mechanisms are already in place. Just substitute OMNY for MetroCard and update the revenue-sharing number.
While RIOC’s lawyers, especially Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson, are not the sharpest tools in the shed, this is a piece of cake. But it needs leadership.
With $216K per year President Shelton J. Haynes silent behind a Zoom camera at RIOC’s May Board Meeting, CFO John O’Reilly conceded that, despite pressure from all corners and especially from City Council Member Julie Menin and State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, nothing’s been done.
After all these years, RIOC waits like a hungry puppy for Momma MTA to grant them the first meeting to discuss it. His optimistic projection for bringing OMNY to the Tram: Early 2023.
Krikler’s Change.org petition hopes to reduce that unwarranted wait with residents providing the leadership RIOC lacks. It gained over 200 signatures overnight, and you can join in right here.
The idea behind Change.org is empowering people by giving them a gateway for expression in the face of official resistance. We signed on and hope many of you join us.
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