E.J. and I had a podcast chat this morning to run through some of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)’s 2009 payroll data, released last week by the Empire Center’s seethroughny.net .

The data show that last year, the MTA’s 74,708 workers earned nearly $5.92 billion in cash pay (not including health-care costs or money set aside for future pensions). Payroll was up by nearly $75 million, even as the number of workers fell by nearly one percent.

The average worker took home more than $69,000, up 2.4 percent from 2008, even as personal income fell in the New York City job market by 3.3 percent. More than 10 percent of workers took home six figures, including many commuter-rail engineers and others who more than doubled their base salary, often because of overtime related to work rules.

As E.J. and I note in the discussion, the data help cut through some of the noise surrounding the two MTA topics du jour: token-booth cuts and student MetroCards.

The first issue: For the past week or so, MTA honcho Jay Walder has warned that a court order forcing him to hold public hearings before cutting 400 token-booth clerks is costing his agency $40,000 per day.

But higher wage costs between 2008 and 2009 cost more than $205,000 daily.

If Walder could have held the average booth-clerk wage to the 2008 level of $54,000, instead of watching it rise to $55,884, those savings alone cost have saved 30 booth jobs at the 2008 rate.

The second issue: Today’s papers report that 2,400 high-school students will walk out of school this afternoon to protest Walder’s plans to start charging students half-fare MetroCards this fall (currently, the kids ride free).

The measure is supposed to generate $46.5 million (and double that when Walder phases out free fares altogether). The $46.5 million in initial savings from ending the free fares are only $127,000 a day.

To recap, then: keeping wage costs at 2008 levels would have solved two of the MTA’s biggest problems — token booth closures and phasing in student fares — with nearly $38,000 a day left over.

Listen to the whole thing!

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