Why Is The Tram Still Without OMNY? Just the Facts Now

Why Is The Tram Still Without OMNY? Just the Facts Now

A petition with nearly 1,000 signatures – including mine – circulates, and City Council Member Julie Menin again pushes the MTA and RIOC to get OMNY readers installed at the Roosevelt Island and 2nd Avenue Tram Plazas. But while well-intended, both take simplistic approaches that have no chance of success. Here’s why – and how we can fix it, if the will is there.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Frustrated after the recent “mass transit weekend from hell,” where both Tram and Subway partial shutdowns left many stranded in long lines, Menin fired off another letter. (See below.) This one she addressed to RIOC‘s beleaguered CEO Shelton J. Haynes – again – along with MTA CEO Janno Lieber.

City Council Member Julie Menin has twice tried getting RIOC and the MTA to get moving on OMNY for the Tram.

“I would appreciate an update on the OMNY installation and swift action by the MTA and RIOC to move this forward,” she wrote. She mentioned the 900+ signature petition.

But such letters are for public show. They demonstrate an elected official’s commitment to helping constituents, but they are no substitute for action. And there is no indication anywhere that action has been taken. By anyone.

Least of all Shelton J. Haynes, the head of a state agency charged with representing the Roosevelt Island community, whose ineffectiveness is becoming legendary.

The OMNY Train Problem in a Nutshell

OMNY is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new contactless payment system. It’s designed to replace the MetroCard, which has been a reliable workhorse for years but is now outdated.

But because The Tram is not part of the MTA, fare collections are governed by a contract negotiated in 2010. That eliminated RIOC’s independent system, still relying on tokens, and replaced it with MetroCard readers.

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Supported by RIRA Common Council President Matthew Katz and then-City Council Member Jessica Lappin, it was a boon for Roosevelt Islanders. For the first time, they could seamlessly transfer between Tram and Subway without an extra fare. And refillable MetroCards were far easier than buying a pocketful of tokens at the Tram station.

But good things come to an end, and they aren’t without flaws. One giant flaw in the RIOC/MTA deal emphasizing the traditional weakness of RIOC’s legal team is the absence of an escalation clause. As a result, when riders use MetroCards for the Tram, RIOC only gets the original $2.00 while the MTA pockets the other $.85.

That’s not news. RIOC knows it, has known it for years, and so does the MTA. And given the MTA’s endless financial crises, there’s a fair chance that the annual unearned $1 million plus that it pockets is playing a role in their yearslong refusal to discuss a new or renegotiated agreement.

The Mystery: Why Aren’t They Talking?

This is the hardest part to get your head around.

It seems like pre-history now, but back when Susan Rosenthal was still RIOC’s President and Jaci Flug Chief Counsel, Rosenthal laid the facts of the matter out before RIOC’s listless board. She explained the need for renegotiating, but somewhere, that initiative fell through.

Fast forward a few years. It’s RIOC’s May 2022 Board Meeting, and CFO John O’Reilly explains that the MTA has still not agreed to a first meeting on the needed contract revisions. Underpowered President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes has not said a word about it after being slapped back after an ill-advised attack blaming the MTA, earlier this year. And we know about that only because Menin along with State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright made an exchange of letters and emails public.

But Haynes’s weaknesses aside, a clear avenue exists for discussions that should have been finished off long ago. The culprits in disservice: Governors Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul.

Keeping in mind that most political maneuvering takes place behind the scenes, what startles us is a simple fact left unrecognized as far as we know. That is, State Budget Director Robert Mujica sits on the board of both the MTA and RIOC. While he sends a substitute to board meetings on Roosevelt Island, he remains a key player.

Why hasn’t he or his designate been brought into the process? Why hasn’t he, a gubernatorial appointment under both Cuomo and Hochul, spoken up?

Another Mystery…

“The elected public officials who represent Roosevelt Island shall be representatives to the board of directors of the corporation entitled to receive notice of and attend all meetings of such board but shall not be entitled to vote.” RIOC Enabling Legislation.

So, why the hell don’t they? Board attendance by Seawright and Menin, both firm advocates on behalf of residents, would lead to more meaningful debates. As it now stands, RIOC Board Meetings are little more than cud-chewing events where everyone votes, “Yes,” and the details are kept as hidden as possible.

Shouldn’t Menin or Seawright be inserting themselves into the discussions? They, along with Senator José Serrano, are the only officials voted in by the communities served.

They’d provide fresh air where the stale scent of self-serving egos prevails, and who knows? RIOC’s resident Board Members might get the idea of what having a spine is like.

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