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DRPA Op Ed Piece
Op Ed Piece Submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer, August 20, 2010
From: Chairman John H. Estey, Vice Chairman Jeff Nash and John J. Matheussen, CEO, DRPA & President of PATCO
The DRPA has been at the center of media attention for the last number of weeks with little or no attention to the efforts made everyday by the men and women who work for the DRPA and serve the traveling public. They are our toll collectors, train operators, police officers, mechanics, electricians, and so many others who do an outstanding job. They are on the job 24/7 whether it’s a winter storm in the middle of the night, in the heat of summer on top of the bridge, in a hot tunnel, or wherever or whenever their skills are needed. Our workers are dedicated professionals. The DRPA/PATCO is very fortunate to have some of the finest, well trained and dedicated employees in the region. The brush of criticism that has painted the Authority is not deserved by the employees who work here everyday to make the Authority run so well. Their concern is that the trains run on time and the bridges are safe and our customers get to where they need to go safely. Our employees give their best to that commitment. We acknowledge their dedication and commitment and thank them for a ‘Job Well Done’. The Inquirer’s reference to the Authority not “finding the best and most qualified employees” is just plain wrong.
For the past seven years, we have had the privilege of leading the efforts to provide efficient, convenient and fiscally responsible service to the public who rely on our 4 bridges and PATCO. Keeping theses bridges and trains and the people who travel them safe and secure is our highest priority.
In 1992, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, through their legislatures and with the approval of Congress and the President, directed that the DRPA become a regional economic development authority in addition to caring for our bridges and PATCO, hence the investment in a number of projects in the region including the Constitution Center, New Jersey Aquarium, Philadelphia Navy Yard shipbuilding providing thousands of jobs to South Jersey and Philadelphia, the Kimmel Center, RiverSharks Baseball, Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, to name a few. Through the years there have been discussions about the merit of DRPA’s participation in economic development and it has been widely reported in the press. The Board of the DRPA has voted to end the practice.
When the current administration arrived at the DRPA in 2003, we found a structural operating deficit of $15 million and Authority debt exceeding $1.1 billion. DRPA’s annual debt service payments were approximately $100 million and were anticipated to grow due to risk laden refinancing schemes. Due to these risky refinancing schemes, millions had to be paid instead of reinvesting these dollars to reduce debt.
In April of 2003, we implemented a strategy based on guidance from the Board and Governors, to reduce costs immediately, beginning a program to not only examine our capital needs but also our operating standards. Below are some of the significant highlights of what has been done to control expenses. Cost efficiency continues as a top priority now and into the future.
- We reduced staffing by over 120 positions – a 12% reduction in force and have maintained a workforce of approximately 900 employees and have frozen salaries over several years and negotiated 3% salary increases with our employees.
- A cost containment program was implemented sharply curtailing travel, vehicle and equipment purchases, and we have consolidated our fleet.
- We reduced subsidies to several lines of business, spun off the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia as a stand alone organization, closed AmeriPort and opened the Cruise Terminal for additional revenue opportunities beyond cruising.
- Excess properties were sold, we have consolidated space and increased office rentals by leasing two additional floors in our office building, One Port Center. W
- We have pursued outdoor advertising revenue at bridge properties and PATCO, leased Authority property for cell tower communication networks.
- In 2004, we implemented employee and retiree health care premium contributions for the first time, restructured our health care program for all 65+ retirees.
- Our finances are audited by independent auditors every year and not only are they public record, they are posted on our website for all to see.
- We kept our bridges safe, secure and serviceable while greatly paring back our capital program for a period of 9 years deferring maintenance projects to alleviate the need for a toll increase for close to a decade.
These and other initiatives have resulted in a savings of millions of dollars to our customers. As a result of these actions, DRPA and PATCO actual operating expenses have increased by an annual average of 1.2% over the period 2003 through 2009, excluding debt service and related costs.
With regard to governance, all actions of the bi-state Authority are taken in accordance with the ByLaws. The Board of Commissioners, who serve without compensation, consists of 16 Commissioners, 8 from Pennsylvania and 8 from New Jersey. All Board actions are voted on in public. The minutes are public record.
But more can and will be done in order to earn the trust of the public. At the direction of Governors Rendell and Christie, the Board has enacted a series of changes on how we conduct our business, including conducting all Authority business in public by eliminating caucus meetings, requiring all contracts be awarded at a meeting open to the public, requiring the Authority to create an Audit Committee to oversee an independent finance, performance and forensic audit every two years and establishing a policy prohibiting undue influence by Commissioners, Officers and employees.
We are committed to seeing these and other initiatives become the standard of how government should work and pledge to you, the traveling public, to keep our bridges and the trains you ride safe, secure and serviceable.
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