New York City big-wigs offer views over MTA reform


In a New York Times article, reporter Emma Fitzsimmons, does a great job highlighting points of view from New York City big-wigs over the MTA reform:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has faced its greatest challenge in a generation as officials have struggled to modernize New York City’s failing subway. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has responded by promising bold solutions to fix the troubled agency and regain the trust of angry riders.

But here are the changes Mr. Cuomo and state lawmakers unveiled this week as part of the new state budget: A reorganization plan due in June, a “forensic audit” of train cars and signals, a group of outside experts who will review major projects and a “debarment process” that would ban contractors who do not finish projects on time.

And even though state leaders have vowed more transparency, the authority’s new chairman — among the most powerful positions in New York government — was confirmed by the State Senate around 2 a.m. on Monday when most New Yorkers were asleep.

Transit advocates have praised Mr. Cuomo for persuading state lawmakers to approve congestion pricing, which will raise billions of dollars for the subway by establishing tolls to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan. But they were less enthusiastic about his changes at the transit agency, which appear to be more of a bureaucratic reshuffling than a radical transformation.

Many New Yorkers view the authority, the nation’s largest transit agency, which oversees more than 70,000 employees, as inept — if not corrupt. The authority’s construction projects are routinely late and over budget — as high as seven times as costly as elsewhere in the world.

The authority’s new chairman, Patrick J. Foye, was approved by the State Senate in the dead of night after hastily called hearings on Sunday, leaving virtually no chance for any significant public input.

“This is just a wildly bad start at real M.T.A. reform,” said Benjamin Kabak, a transit advocate who runs the Second Ave. Sagas website.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term, defended the timing, saying that Mr. Foye’s appointment was part of the budget deal, which included both congestion pricing and changes at the transportation authority.

“I said unless we have a management reform plan, I’m not going to approve more money,” Mr. Cuomo said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

His budget director, Robert Mujica, said in an interview that new rules would make the authority’s board more accountable to the public and the M.T.A. leadership team understood the urgency of overhauling how it does business.

“You have a management team now that recognizes what the failures are and recognizes that there has to be a significant cultural change,” Mr. Mujica said.

But Richard Ravitch, a former M.T.A. chairman credited with turning the subway around in the 1980s when it was plagued by delays and crime, said he was concerned about new rules allowing M.T.A. board members to serve only while the person who appointed them was in office. The board’s members need to be more independent to make tough decisions for the system, he said, instead of acting like political appointees.

“This certainly gives the governor more power,” Mr. Ravitch said of the reforms.

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group, said the changes did not address the agency’s politicization under Mr. Cuomo, who has been accused of micromanaging the system. Mr. Cuomo has at times prioritized aesthetics, like the appearance of subway stations, over the nuts and bolts of maintenance.

“The thing at the top of everyone’s list is to hire good transit managers and let them do their jobs,” Mr. Kaehny said. “It may seem obvious, but that’s one of the crucial problems.”

Maria Doulis, a vice president at the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, said the changes did not address the costs of an upcoming union contract for subway workers or improving work rules to reduce costs. The union, Transport Workers Union Local 100, is a close ally of Mr. Cuomo.

“Increasing the productivity of the work force to be able to perform the work more cost effectively is essential to the success of the M.T.A.,” she said. “I don’t see that part here.”

The legislation did expand the use of “design build,” a construction approach favored by Mr. Cuomo that bundles together the design and construction phases of a project instead of carrying them out separately.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a frequent adversary of Mr. Cuomo, said on Monday that he supported the M.T.A. reforms, even though some say the congestion pricing plan gave away control of city streets to the state.

“The final plan on the M.T.A. is one I fully supported,” Mr. de Blasio said in a television interview. “We got the important changes and reforms we wanted to see in the name of fairness.”

The authority, which oversees the subway, buses and commuter railroads, had gone nearly five months without a permanent leader. Its previous chairman, Joseph J. Lhota, stepped down in November amid questions over his potential conflicts of interests and outside jobs.

Mr. Foye is a respected transit executive, though not exactly a revolutionary choice: He had been a top leader at the agency for the last year and a half. He is taking over at a critical time. The subway’s leader, Andy Byford, has an ambitious plan to fix the subway by upgrading its signals.

The agency’s bridges and tunnel division will oversee the rollout of the Manhattan toll plan in 2021, making New York the first city in the country to impose congestion pricing.

Mr. Foye told reporters on Monday that the agency had to do better and “everything is on the table” in terms of reforms, like merging procurement and legal departments at different parts of the agency. “The harsh truth is we’ve lost credibility with our customers and with our funders both in Albany and City Hall,” he said at a news conference to discuss the congestion pricing deal.

At a hearing called by the Senate on Sunday afternoon that was streamed online, Mr. Foye pledged to serve as the authority’s full-time chairman and chief executive, without taking on outside jobs. Asked why the system had not improved since he joined the authority, Mr. Foye said the subway was getting better and now he would have full responsibility as chairman.

“The buck stops at my desk,” Mr. Foye said.

  • 04/02/2019
  • Emma Fitzsimmons