Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/18 Thu, 23 May 2019 21:17:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Reorganizing the MTA with a Transparent, Public Process https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8539-reorganizing-the-mta-with-a-transparent-public-process https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8539-reorganizing-the-mta-with-a-transparent-public-process reopeningmta

(photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


In advance of the MTA Board meeting taking place today (Wednesday, May 22), Reinvent Albany and ten other groups including Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, Regional Plan Association, and others sent a letter asking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to make sure that the process for developing its reorganization plan -- as required by this year’s state budget -- is public, transparent and consultative.

At a time when the MTA has been seeking to restore the public’s trust, it is as important as ever that a reorganization is not disruptive to riders, who are counting on a reorganization to provide better, not worse, service. Ensuring the discussions over the pending reorganization are open and consultative will help put the MTA’s best foot forward to show it is acting in the public interest -- something highlighted as a major need in Reinvent Albany’s recently-released Open MTA report.

So far, the process has not been public or transparent, and MTA Board members have raised important questions about their role. In March, before the state budget legislation was passed creating the mandate for reorganization, the Board was asked by MTA management to approve a contract with consultants AlixPartners. Once the budget was finalized and passed, at the April Board meeting, a $4 million contract was approved for AlixPartners to develop the reorganization plan.

While the law sets up milestones for the process to unfold, there is no detail on how the public is to be engaged in the process, and little detail on how the plan is to be presented to the public. The state budget requires the MTA’s consultant, now AlixPartners, to give its plan to the MTA Board by June 30 of this year. Our view is that the plan should be made public at that date, including any accompanying analyses.

AlixPartners is also conducting a “review” of waste, fraud, abuse, conflicts of interest, duplications of functions, etc., which is due to the MTA by July 31. Under law, the “review” is to be made public within 30 days of receipt by the MTA.

Best would be to make the AlixPartners “review” public as soon as it is received by the MTA Board, since there is a narrow window of time for adopting the reorganization plan. Within 90 days of receipt of this “review,” the reorganization plan is to be “updated” by the authority to incorporate its findings.

It is our understanding that the MTA Board, acting as the authority, will vote on a final reorganization plan sometime before the end of October of this year. Well before a final plan is voted on, the MTA Board and staff should reach out to public stakeholders, including riders groups, unions, advocates, and elected representatives, and publicly consult with them about potential recommendations. This would be best done outside of the MTA Board meeting process, which limits public engagement to 2-minute presentations and does not allow a dialogue to occur.

Beyond ensuring that the reorganization plan process is open and consultative, as supported by our partners, Reinvent Albany has a number of questions about the ramifications of the plan itself that we would like the MTA to answer:

  1. The MTA’s efforts to consolidate invoice payments, human resources, and IT functions under the Business Services Center (BSC) have not been independently evaluated, though general consensus is that the effort was rocky at first, though appears to be moving in the right direction. What has the MTA learned from this past consolidation that should apply to the current reorganization process? Reports on the BSC from MTA show that its current mandate is considerable.
  1. How will the plan ensure that the MTA’s professional staff are allowed to have independence, and be free from the past politicization that has plagued the MTA?
  1. What will be the role of agency presidents going forward? Andy Byford has hired considerable talent, including, for example, Sarah Meyer (Chief Customer Officer), and Pete Tomlin (signals technology expert). How will this staff talent be retained and used in the future?
  1. How will the plan ensure that there is not further brain drain, and work to boost MTA staff morale? The hiring freeze has put considerable strain on current MTA staff to already do more with fewer resources (in some cases necessitating overtime), and morale appears to be at an all time low.
  1. How will the state budget provision that enables sharing of employees facilitate reorganization? How will any sharing of employees be reported to the MTA Board and public? How will collective bargaining agreements affect the proposed reorganization/employee sharing?
  1. How will the plan address transparency and accountability? MTA CEO/Chair Pat Foye has promised to overhaul the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) process and Open Data at MTA, yet the Information Technology (IT) department has already been consolidated, resulting in the elimination of 187 positions, in addition to the current hiring freeze.

Reinvent Albany also has concerns that this IT consolidation is creating an outsourcing trap for the MTA that results in dependency on outside, costly consultants. Transparent efficiency efforts rely on IT staff having the people, resources, and political will to make changes. Will they?

The MTA should seek to answer these questions -- and those of other stakeholders -- in a public, consultative process. MTA riders and taxpayers deserve nothing less.

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Policy Analyst at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

 

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Reorganizing the MTA with a Transparent, Public Process Tue, 21 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
'Blow Up the MTA'? Not Yet https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8532-blow-up-the-mta-not-yet https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8532-blow-up-the-mta-not-yet state otc ad spk co jo del

Council Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


With subway and bus riders so frustrated with poor service, it is understandable that city leaders are talking about changing the governance of the MTA and its New York City Transit (NYCT) division as a solution.

Most notably, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has come up with a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided plan to break NYCT off from the MTA and vest full responsibility for its funding and operation in a mayor-controlled structure he’s named Big Apple Transit, or BAT. BAT would run the city transit used by millions of New Yorkers every day.

The speaker and I, along with MTA Board member Veronica Vanterpool and moderator Charles Komanoff, appeared Wednesday evening on a panel to discuss his plan, part of the Theodore Kheel Fellowship Program at Roosevelt House at Hunter College.

The appeal of the speaker’s plan has been enhanced by Governor Cuomo’s pre-election (and continuing, although to a lesser extent) protestations that neither he nor anyone, really, controls the MTA and is responsible for improving how it operates.

But shifting from MTA to city government control would only substitute New York City-centric political challenges for regional ones, and could well make some of the system’s problems worse. Attention and effort would more usefully be focused on reminding the current MTA Board of its fiduciary responsibility to the agency, not to the Governor, demanding more transparency and requiring serious oversight by the State Legislature.

It is far easier to argue for city control of subways and buses than to get into the weeds of how to reform MTA procurement, why and how to install a new signal system, or the need for work rule changes in union contracts. But these are the dynamics that need change the most.

There are several reasons why a shift in control of subways and buses from a regional to a city authority would be problematic.

First, the separation of city buses and subways from the rest of the MTA’s assets runs counter to the long-term goal of creating a more integrated regional transit system. More than 1.1 million people commute into New York City to work. They swipe their metrocards half-a-million times a day. We need these workers to contribute to the city’s economy, shop, and pay sales taxes in addition to bridge tolls and fares that help support the buses and subways. We need to be thinking about how to better connect Westchester and Long Island transit systems (and yes, New Jersey and Connecticut as well) to the city’s, not allow them to exist in siloes.

Second, even if it were desirable, a new Big Apple Transit would not be financially viable. We have a Metropolitan Transit Authority because it serves, and derives revenue from, seven suburban counties in addition to the five boroughs of New York City.

The Payroll Mobility Tax and the dedicated regional sales tax are levied on businesses and activities in the region with suburban counties as well as residents and businesses paying a significant share. In particular, the PMT generates more than $1 billion per year for NYCT. This tax was vehemently opposed by suburban legislators when it was adopted in 2009 and it has repeatedly been subjected to various exceptions. The state Legislature agreed to make up some of the lost revenue from the exemptions.

Can there be any doubt that if NYCT were separated from the regional MTA the state Legislature would quickly and gleefully cease providing the lost revenue from the exemption from the PMT and might well suspend or redirect other regional taxes designated for the MTA exclusively to the LIRR and Metro North?

This could mean that city residents and businesses would be required to make up the loss of some of the $2 billion in annual revenue from sales taxes, ride-hail surcharges, mortgage transfer fees, etc. now devoted to the NYCT. Even if replacement of these revenues with local taxes were acceptable to the public(!), there is no guarantee that the state Legislature would grant New Yor City authority to impose them.

And the subsidy from general state revenue would be at risk as well. The governor has made his view on this clear: “If New York City took [transit] over, they take it over. They don’t get the state funding.”

Speaker Johnson’s proposal assumes that all regional and state subsidies to NYCT would remain in place and even then, he projects the city would need to come up with an additional $1-1.5 billion in revenue a year. The loss of any or all state and regional support, totaling almost $3 billion a year, could make the shortfall overwhelming and would require significant increases in fares and other taxes. And the shortfall would be even worse if there is a recession.Will city taxpayers and riders put up with absorbing all of that?

It is of course undeniable that the MTA Board structure obscures accountability. But it is necessary and appropriate for a regional transit system to have representation of all the impacted counties on its board.

Nonetheless, the Mayor has more appointees than anyone besides the Governor, who also appoints the CEO/Chair. After all the drama of the last year over service disruptions, the declaration of a state of emergency to expedite repair work, the announcement of the Fast Forward Plan, and the governor’s last-minute intervention and rejection of the planned shutdown of the L line for a modified plan, it is now abundantly clear that the buck stops with the Governor.

Yes, the Board needs to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities, be more transparent and exercise better oversight, but merely switching ultimate responsibility from one elected official to another will not change the fact that, so long as public transit is a public responsibility, it will have political leadership that shies away from making tough decisions.

To properly maintain and improve 24-hour bus and subway service, fares need to be regularly and steadily raised. Service needs to be suspended on some lines for periods of time so they can be properly maintained and repaired. A Board appointed by the Mayor will not find these decisions any easier than one controlled by the Governor, especially if it has to generate even more revenue because of the absence of state and regional tax support.

It is clear that one of the main drivers of NYCT cost growth is personnel. Why will the Mayor be any more likely than the Governor to resist the power of the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) and other labor unions? Notwithstanding Governor Cuomo’s intervention in 2014 to forge a contract settlement with transit unions – with no productivity initiatives or fringe benefit savings to offset wage increases – TWU head John Samuelson is already threatening a strike in response to recent exposés on overtime abuses and related criticism. A Mayor would be even more susceptible to these kinds of threats.

Disjointed regional transit planning and administration, possible loss of substantial state and regional funding, a fraught environment in which to implement fare increases, raise taxes, and negotiate labor contracts – these are the likely results of “blowing up the MTA.” Better to focus on practical, feasible steps to make the MTA work better right now. Reinvent Albany recently published a report with 50 Actions New York Can Take To Renew Public Trust in the Metropolitan  Transportation Authority that contains many worthwhile proposals. Among the most significant:

-The MTA Board should vote on policy decisions, not adopt them de facto though contract approvals.

-The Senate and Assembly should create committees dedicated specifically to oversight of the MTA, not treat it as part of the general Transportation or Authorities Committee jurisdiction where the MTA region are not well-enough represented.

-MTA Board members should be subject to a real, thorough vetting and confirmation process.

-There should be much more open data on contracts, project progress, budget and capital planning.

-The MTA fiscal year should be moved to begin in July instead of January, so state budget actions can be taken into account in financial planning.

-Procurement should be streamlined so there are fewer incentives for change orders and cost overruns.

Instead of devoting time and attention to the idea of putting different people in the seats on the deck of the Titanic, let’s work on getting the ship into stable waters and smooth sailing by insisting on competence and accountability from the crew we have.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

 

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'Blow Up the MTA'? Not Yet Thu, 16 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
There's Plenty of Money in the MTA Capital Plan, It's Just Not Being Spent https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8505-there-s-plenty-of-money-in-the-mta-capital-plan-it-s-just-not-being-spent https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8505-there-s-plenty-of-money-in-the-mta-capital-plan-it-s-just-not-being-spent Cuomo subway MTA

Gov. Cuomo inspects track work (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


The subway (plan) is delayed again.

While subway service has improved since the nadir that led to the current (and controversial) “state of emergency,” it’s obvious to anyone who rides the system enough or just watches the New York City Transit Twitter feed that there’s still a ways to go before everything is at or near full strength.

But while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) needs a funding stream that’s sustainable and long-term, the authority has been unable to spend many billions of dollars already appropriated to it by both the city and state, money that’s supposed to be spent on expansion projects, getting the trains to a state of good repair, and more.

In other words, there’s plenty of money in the MTA capital plan, it may just be in the wrong hands.

The MTA’s 2015-2019 plan for capital projects is in its final year, but as the months tick by, it looks increasingly likely that the plan won’t wind up anywhere close to completed, raising questions about what will make it into the next plan and what will happen to billions of dollars allocated to this one.

By the MTA’s own account, only about $11.3 billion of the $32 billion pledged to fund the plan in 2016 has actually been delivered to the agency. It’s a function of the MTA’s inability to efficiently and effectively complete projects as well as poor planning and delays that go into the design of the capital plan, which covers everything from major expansion and repair projects to track replacement and signal upgrades, and deals with the city’s subways and buses, as well as the commuter rails.

While both New York City and State pledged record amounts to the plan when funding was announced -- a joint agreement among the MTA, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who effectively controls the state authority, and Mayor Bill de Blasio -- neither entity has given the agency anything close to the full amount promised over the life of the plan.

And there’s a particularly large shortcoming when it comes to the state’s pledge of $8.3 billion given that among several key provisions of the funding deal, which Cuomo and de Blasio haggled over for months, is one that says the money from the state and city are to be the last dollars spent.

As transit watchers turn their attention to the upcoming 2020-2024 MTA capital plan, it looks increasingly likely that the $7.3 billion New York State hasn’t sent the MTA for the current five-year plan will not be delivered to the agency during the expected time frame, or possibly ever. Complicating the upcoming picture are new MTA revenue measures, including congestion pricing, passed in the new state budget April 1.

When the 2015-2019 capital plan was unveiled, Cuomo and de Blasio put out a press release in which both men hailed the “historic investment” the two levels of government were making in the authority that, among other things, runs the New York City subways and buses. And both men promised big money.

The mayor pledged that New York City would give $2.5 billion to the capital plan, and the governor said that the state’s contribution would be $8.3 billion. But at the moment, the MTA’s own numbers show that as of March 31 the authority has only received $805 million from the state and $668 million from the city. On the other hand, the authority has issued $4.1 billion worth of its own bonds to finance the plan.

This spending pattern was designed like this from the start. In the same press release where de Blasio and Cuomo hailed their respective historic investments, it was noted that the state and city contributions would come proportionally and at the same time. Outside the realm of press release promises, state law made clear that the majority of the money would be the last dollars in to the plan as the 2016 budget language laid out:

“The additional funds provided by the state pursuant to section one of this act shall be scheduled and made available to pay for the costs of the capital program after MTA capital resources planned for the capital program, not including additional city and state funds, have been exhausted, or when MTA capital resources planned for the capital program are not available.”

Where’s the Money
This too was by design, according to a Cuomo administration official, who said that the last-dollar-in formula was to ensure that the authority spent efficiently and quickly on the plan.

“The MTA was in a state of emergency at the time we did these capital funds,” the official told Gotham Gazette during a background call under the condition of anonymity, “and we wanted to make sure that not only were we sending a record capital program, but then those dollars were going to go out the door. But the MTA had a practice of doing was enacting the capital plan funded with its funds and then using a portion of the proceeds that were committed to fund the debt service on the capital plan, but actually for operating,” the official said.

While this 2015-2019 capital plan, like those that came before it, continues to lag, the Cuomo administration official told Gotham Gazette that no part of the plan was being held up due to a lack of funds, and defended the last-dollar-in policy as ensuring the plan gets done.

“So why the agreement says that they should contribute first? Because we wanted to make sure that they did not not execute the plan,” the official said. And Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the governor’s budget office, insisted that the money is available to the MTA whenever it asks.

“The over $1.4 billion in the FY 2020 Enacted Budget is now available, as is the balance of the over $8.6 billion State contribution,” Klopott told Gotham Gazette by email, while also promising that whatever amount of funding is necessary for the plan beyond 2019 will still be available to the MTA.

But there’s also the question of where the money owed to the MTA in the current capital plan is going to come from. The latest report on the MTA’s finances from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, released in October 2018, noted that “[t]he State has not yet identified the sources of $7.3 billion of its funding commitment, and the City has not identified the sources of $1.8 billion of its commitment.”

A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told Gotham Gazette that the city “will meet our statutory obligation which is explicit about how the monies flow” when asked about the status of the money pledged to the MTA.

The Cuomo official who spoke to Gotham Gazette disputed the comptroller’s report, said that the money is appropriated in the budget, and that it “will come out of the state’s general fund. The state’s general fund is over $100 billion, so it will come out of that, and it will come out as soon as they need the funds.”

Big Budget Questions
While the MTA finds itself in a position of facing down a capital plan costing perhaps $40-$60 billion, in large part to potentially fund MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan, which involves tremendous amounts of work to get the system to a modern state of good repair, transit experts say it’s difficult to parse whether or not the authority is actually making do without the state money.

“These are not basic questions, they’re actually kind of hard questions, because I'm not really sure how the MTA is making do without this money, or how they get it back from the state,” transit expert Ben Kabak, who writes the Second Avenue Sagas website, told Gotham Gazette.

Kabak said that when the money is slow to arrive, the agency first cuts back on “cosmetic upgrades or things that aren’t important to keep the system running” to focus on signals and tracks and train cars. But over time, he said, as the money continues to not arrive “you end up with this sort of maintenance gap, where something that might have happened a year and a half ago, is delayed because of budget negotiations, and they have two stations that they need to catch up on instead of just one.”

A recent report from watchdog organization Reinvent Albany that focused on a number of MTA reforms backs up Kabak’s point on the maintenance deficit. In a look at the agency’s capital spending, Reinvent Albany found that the agency had only committed to spending $2.3 billion on signal modernization in the most recent capital plan despite the MTA’s most recent 20-year needs assessment determining the authority needed $3 billion. In addition, while the MTA needed almost 6,000 new subway cars in the span of the 2010 to 2019 capital plans, the authority only purchased 863 new cars.

“The fact is, [the MTA] hasn’t spent what they've needed to on things like signals and buying more subway cars and buses,” Rachael Fauss, a senior researcher with Reinvent Albany and author of the massive new MTA report, told Gotham Gazette. “Those are the areas where they’ve really not invested the way they should have.”

One place where the governor’s office and Reinvent Albany agree is on the design of the majority of the state’s appropriation for the MTA. But where the governor’s office suggests it is a good way to make the MTA accountable, Fauss criticized the practice as a driver of extra debt for an agency whose operating budget is 16% debt service.

“The way that that money was set up from the very beginning was problematic, because it was never guaranteed to be given to the MTA until it is finished borrowing money,” Fauss said. “I think it was always set up in a way that it was a false promise of full state funding, and it's been simplified to the level where it's been explained as it is a direct contribution when it's when it was extremely conditional.”

Where the Cuomo administration official told Gotham Gazette that the MTA wasn’t borrowing any more money than the agency had agreed to when the current capital plan was agreed to, Kabak and Fauss criticized the mounting debt as something that contributed to slowing down the agency’s ability to finish the plan close to on time.

“I think the better approach would be for the state to just directly fund all of these projects, and not fund a bond issuance, or something along those lines. If you're building out a new subway, that is going to generate more passengers and more revenue, you can bond that out, that makes sense,” Kabak said. “But if you're just investing in state of good repair service, or state of good repair projects, and then you really just pour more debt into the existing system in the hopes that the ridership will either grow organically or not start declining to boost those revenues you end up in a situation where they're at now where they're just sort of paying out debt to continue to maintain the current system,” he said.

“We're in the fifth year of the plan,” Fauss said. “So is it always meant to be that five-year capital plans drag on for a decade, and that the money from the state comes in at the last minute? Borrowing at the MTA is reaching such an unsustainable level that if the deal all along was to have MTA borrow some money, maybe that deal was bad to begin with.”

She added that “16% of [MTA] operating expenses are eaten up by debt right now. And it's going to go up to even more than that in the future, to a higher percentage. So when you've got debt service eating up the operating budget, that means less crews to do cleaning, that means less maintenance, that means fewer workers trying to do the same work when morale at the agency isn't exactly at an all-time high right now.”

That political leaders and the MTA have just come to accept that the MTA capital plans will now stretch out well past five years is also something that hurts the transparency of the plans when the agency plays catch up to finish them. Per the new Reinvent Albany report, the MTA “provides the total spending on each plan over its entire lifetime at the end of each year” instead of showing how much the authority spends per year per plan.

Having done its own math to determine what spending was each year, Reinvent Albany found that in 2017 the MTA was still spending $212 million on the 2005-2009 capital plan and close to $3 billion on the 2010-2014 capital plan.

And as the current capital plan reaches what’s supposed to be the end of its life, advocates and watchdogs are concerned that the promised state money for the 2015-2019 plan will never actually be delivered.

Maria Doulis of the Citizens Budget Commission explained that the agency could continue with business as usual, dragging out this plan for years. Another scenario is that in Governor Cuomo’s many desired reforms for the agency, the current capital plan could be capped at the projects being worked on at the moment and then rejiggered for the 2020-2024 plan “that will incorporate some of the projects that were previously there, or maybe drop some of them out,” Doulis said. “And in that scenario, the state’s $8 billion doesn't get used, and then the state can sort of rededicate it if it would like, to the new capital plan.”

A rollover like this is also a concern for Fauss. “The real question is going to be what happens to those individual projects, what's going to roll over, and our fear is that that commitment is just going to get shoved over to the next plan. Because they're not fully funded for the 2020-2024 plan,” she told Gotham Gazette.

An analysis from Citizens Budget Commission showed that thanks to recently enacted legislation around congestion pricing, an internet sales tax, and a real estate transfer tax on expensive properties, there will be $25 billion for the MTA to put in a capital plan lockbox.

“But that does not equal the forty to fifty to sixty billion [dollars], depending on who you talk to, that they need. So, if that money rolls over, or if those projects roll over they basically weren't completed in time and we're still going to be behind on them,” said Fauss of Reinvent Albany.

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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There's Plenty of Money in the MTA Capital Plan, It's Just Not Being Spent Tue, 07 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
18 Steps to Increase Transparency at the MTA and Help Restore Public Trust https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8489-18-steps-to-increase-transparency-at-the-mta-and-help-restore-public-trust https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8489-18-steps-to-increase-transparency-at-the-mta-and-help-restore-public-trust mta chairman foye

MTA Chair Pat Foye (photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


In recent weeks, Pat Foye, the new CEO/Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has twice publicly committed to improving the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and open data processes at the MTA. This is welcome news and an essential step forward for a government authority that has lost a great deal of public trust and is widely perceived as being politicized by the governor’s office. Our organization, Reinvent Albany, will strongly support this push by Foye and we hope it is a small down payment on a new culture of openness.

The MTA is widely seen as having a serious credibility problem with the public and state Legislature. This loss of trust has been aggravated by the tendency of the authority’s top management to treat routine matters as emergencies that must be addressed suddenly, in secret, and outside of existing rules and normal processes. Some days, the MTA seems to operate more like the CIA than a public transit agency. This hurts public confidence in the agency and reduces the political support it needs to make tough decisions about spending and service disruptions.

For its own good, the MTA needs to act like a public transit agency, not the CIA. The core of New York’s Freedom of Information Law is that “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public.”

In the fight for congestion pricing, which Reinvent Albany strongly supports, members of the New York State Legislature expressed frustration at the MTA’s secrecy, and constantly questioned the credibility of information provided by the authority. Some of this was political theatrics by opponents of congestion pricing. But even allies of the MTA were critical, highlighting the gap between the public’s expectations that the MTA be open and honest, and the agency’s habit of shading statistics, telling partial truths, and making it difficult for the public to see underlying data -- including on high-profile issues like Con Edison-caused service disruptions and fare evasion.

We believe the MTA’s lack of candor and transparency is hugely self-defeating and has led directly to the Legislature imposing more and more reporting requirements, including a host of new ones in this year’s state budget.

Fortunately for the MTA, there is a clear path forward on transparency. In early April, Reinvent Albany released Steps Forward for MTA FOIL and Open Data, a comprehensive report on transparency at the MTA, with 18 specific recommendations about how it can improve transparency. We urge the MTA to examine these recommendations, summarized below, and move toward “open by default.” Here are18 Steps Forward for MTA FOIL, Open Data and Transparency:

Open FOIL
1. The MTA should adopt an Open FOIL platform using best practices from other jurisdictions such as LA Metro, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, and within New York State such as NYC Open Records. FOIL requests should be used to prioritize proactive release of information via a “Reading Room.”

2.The MTA should create an in-house MTA Police incident reports portal, allowing the public to privately request incident reports online (incident reports currently make up two-thirds of all MTA FOIL requests). The MTA should work with the NYS DMV to develop their own portal, like the state’s crash reports portal. Other user-friendly models include the State of Pennsylvania crash reports site.

Open Data
The MTA should publish all tables, charts and other tabular data from their performance reports, capital plans, budget documents, Board materials, and other reports as open data. This should include:

3. Full compliance with Executive Order 95, requiring the publishing of all public MTA data on the New York State Open Data portal. Legislation should be considered in this area if compliance cannot be achieved administratively.

4. Release of all underlying datasets that are used to create MTA performance metrics, with full release of methodologies and API access (allowing apps to interface the data automatically).

5. Creating a contracts database that provides full and complete information about projects and vendors.

6. Providing all data from current MTA Board and Budget materials well in advance of meetings in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form.

7. Creating an MTA “Open Budget” website for the MTA’s budget information, similar to the state Open Budget NY site.

Budget and Capital Plan Transparency
8. Capital Planning Oversight Committee Materials should be improved through releasing all data in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form. Data should always include original project schedules and budgets. All current projects should be listed in the “Traffic Light” report, including those in the CPOC’s Risk-Based Monitoring Program.

9. Budget Documents should be made open and more complete, and released in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form. Budget Documents should also provide detailed breakdowns of past yearly expenditures and revenues, going back at least 10 years for both the capital and expense budget, comparing them with past projections.

10. MTA Capital Dashboard should be updated and improved, with improved timeliness of data updates, ensuring that all click-through data can be downloaded in bulk, more data such as contract numbers. The MTA should hold a user-group feedback session to identify additional improvement areas, and expand the “FAQs” Section.

Better Understanding Itself and Its Riders
11. The MTA should conduct and publicly release in an open data format an updated demographic analysis of its riders that looks at age, median individual and family income, race, ethnicity, gender, profession, disability, geographic locations, travel times, and other metrics.

12. The MTA should release more detailed methodology and tabular data about its fare evasion statistics, such as data broken out by borough, subway line, etc.

13. The MTA should release publicly, in an open data format, all data from its customer service portal and all staff analyses of the portal, polls and surveys.

14. The MTA should publicly release, in an open data format, its submission to the FTA of its Transit Asset Management (TAM) plan and the update to its 20-Year Needs Assessment.

15. MTA staff should conduct and release an in-depth “lessons learned” report about installation of Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) on the 7 Line.

Open Meetings Law
16. The Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) should comply with the Open Meetings Law to ensure that all of its deliberations are conducted in public meetings, in particular its votes to approve capital plans and their amendments.

17. A website should be created for the CPRB where it publishes its mission, activities, members, calendar of meetings, meeting minutes and materials, and contact information.

18. All future commissions, advisory workgroups, and other public bodies formed by law to provide recommendations regarding the MTA should fully abide by the Open Meetings Law.

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Research Analyst and John Kaehny is Executive Director at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @ReinventAlbany.

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18 Steps to Increase Transparency at the MTA and Help Restore Public Trust Wed, 01 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Battles Over the MTA’s Long-Term Planning are About to Really Heat Up https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8409-battles-over-the-mta-s-long-term-planning-are-about-to-really-heat-up https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8409-battles-over-the-mta-s-long-term-planning-are-about-to-really-heat-up govandrewcuomo canarsie engineer

(photo: governor's office)


For those of us who want the MTA to finish a favorite project before our grandchildren are retired, now is the absolute best time to let Governor Cuomo know how you feel. The MTA is finalizing a document that will shape the New York region’s public transportation system for decades. Construction firms, unions, suppliers, and real estate interests are all lobbying the MTA to protect and further their own interests.

Every five years, the MTA issues a report of its capital needs for the next 20 years. This document identifies projects designed to improve travel for subway, bus, and railroad riders as well as for the drivers who cross the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels. The upcoming report will identify the transportation system’s critical needs and more than $100 billion worth of projects that the MTA deems essential. This is an extraordinary amount of money considering that the federal government ’s contribution to the MTA’s capital program has been less than $1.5 billion per year (and its contribution to all 6,800 public transportation systems across the country totals only about $13 billion per year).

The MTA’s 20-year needs assessment will set the stage in the fall for yet another document, a five-year capital program. The proposed program will identify which projects in the 20-year needs assessment should begin between 2020 and 2024. Aside from the state’s budget, the MTA’s five-year capital program is one of the most important and controversial items that the Legislature deals with on a regular basis.

In 1999, the MTA released a 20-year needs document that reflected the priorities of Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The MTA saw the need to relieve crowding on the Lexington Avenue line and provide subway service to the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The MTA subsequently built three new subway stations on Second Avenue and extended the No. 7 train to the far West Side. Some of the initiatives identified in 1999 have not panned out though, such as extending subway service to LaGuardia Airport.

The current five-year capital program, which ends this year, has allocated approximately $33 billion to upgrade the transportation network, including purchasing new rail cars, modernizing signals and stations, and building new maintenance facilities. Nearly one-quarter of the program has been devoted to major expansion projects. These initiatives are the ones that are the most debated and anticipated, and include bringing the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, preliminary construction for the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, and engineering for work that will allow Metro-North to access Penn Station and build four new Bronx stations.

The MTA will propose to spend even more over the next 20 years than it has in the previous two decades. New York City’s population and train ridership have grown more than planners expected 20 years ago. Moreover, New Yorkers want the MTA to provide modern and safe services, and the bar that defines such a system is continuously raised. The new subway stations on Second Avenue have become today's minimum standard: spacious and quiet stations with numerous escalators, elevators, and electronic signs, along with platforms that are cooled on hot summer days.

One thing is very different about this year’s preparation for the 20-year needs assessment and capital program. Five years ago, Governor Cuomo paid little attention to the MTA. Now, the governor is intimately involved with the MTA’s planning and operations. The MTA’s 20-years assessment will be, in effect, the governor’s 20-year vision for the future of transportation in New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.

Undoubtedly, the MTA’s 20-year needs assessment will state that the authority will connect Metro-North to Penn Station and Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal. The second and third phases of the Second Avenue subway are also likely to be considered essential. This would extend the subway north from 96th Street to 125th Street and south from 63rd Street to Houston Street. Future phases of the Second Avenue subway, including extending it to Wall Street, may not be in the 20-year needs assessment, indicating that construction will not begin until after 2040.

The document will probably also indicate that the MTA needs at least $6 billion per year to maintain and upgrade its equipment and facilities. There will be a huge gap between the amount of money available and the MTA’s needs. Hopefully, the state does not burden future generations with excessive debt. In recent years, the MTA has been unable to appreciably improve service because it is spending more than $2.5 billion annually on principal and interest to pay back the money it borrowed to finance its previous capital programs.

The 20-year needs document will reveal the governor’s thinking about how he wants to allocate funds between suburban and city projects, as well between new expansion projects and basic infrastructure projects. When it comes to the most expensive projects, he will have to choose between those that would help spur new growth (like the extension of the 7 train has done in Hudson Yards) or ones that alleviate existing subway congestion (like continuing the Second Avenue Subway). The 20-year assessment and 5-year capital program will also indicate how the governor plans on accommodating the preferences of key players in the funding debate including Mayor de Blasio and the leaders of the State Senate and State Assembly.

One caveat about the assessment report and how it will be indicative of the MTA’s level of transparency and accountability. Officials might not want to release the document for many reasons. For example, despite the passage of a congestion pricing program, it is likely to show the need to raise future taxes, tolls, and fares. Likewise, the report will reveal how the MTA is slipping behind certain goals that it had set to upgrade its sprawling network. Just because the MTA has issued these reports every five years does not mean it will release one this year. That would be a shame because the public and elected officials should be aware of the progress that the MTA has been making, and to better understand its ongoing and enormous needs.

For the rest of the year, elected officials will argue vociferously, in public and behind the scenes, about funding levels and specific projects. Although the media and public opinion will shape the final outcome, savvy interest groups know that the best time to push for their favorite projects is now.

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Philip Plotch is a political science professor at Saint Peter’s University and the author of Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject. His book about the Second Avenue subway (The Last Subway) will be published by Cornell University Press in the first quarter of 2020. On Twitter @profplotch.

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Battles Over the MTA’s Long-Term Planning are About to Really Heat Up Wed, 17 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Take Down Cuomo’s Creeping Cameras https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8450-take-down-cuomo-s-creeping-cameras https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8450-take-down-cuomo-s-creeping-cameras gov andrewcuomo int

(Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


For nearly a year, activists have raised alarm-bells about how New York is creating the digital equivalent of widespread “stop & frisk” -- expansive new surveillance systems. One of the latest missteps comes from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who last July launched an MTA facial recognition program to scan drivers as they cross bridges and tunnels. For months, simply commuting to work may have involved a criminal background check for countless New Yorkers.

New reports show that the program might not just have been invasive, but also ineffective. So far, the pricey pilot project hasn’t matched a single driver’s face, according to the Wall Street Journal. But that may actually be good news. When the program launched, the governor was quick to tout its benefits, but reluctant to share some of the most basic information – where are the photos stored, who has access, how do we prevent abuse? Even without a response, we have a pretty good guess at the answer; the truth is that we’ve been down this road before.

For years, the NYPD has maintained automated license plate readers across New York City’s bridges and tunnels -- hi-tech cameras that capture dozens of plates every minute. The photos are run through optical character recognition software like what is found on many home and office scanners, creating a digital database entry for each car. There is nothing inherently wrong with license-plate readers, but the question is the same as for Cuomo’s cameras: who has the data?

In 2015, we found out the answer for license plate readers, and it came as a shock. Under a contract with Vigilant Solutions, a shadowy private corporation, police departments all across the country would have access to the information from New York’s readers. A lot of security hawks said it was no big deal at the time; that it was even a good thing to share New Yorkers’ private data more widely. But in January of last year came the wake-up call: ICE (federal immigration and customs enforcement) signed a contract with Vigilant Solutions and would get the license plate data too.

That’s right, for more than a year, NYPD data has potentially been used for immigration enforcement under the Trump regime, making a lie of the promise of a “sanctuary city.” What was the political response: nothing. Now, the situation could easily get worse.

License plate readers track just one thing: the car. But Cuomo’s cameras have the potential to track everyone in the vehicle, even children. This combination can multiply the risks to immigrant New Yorkers. Under this policy, simply sitting in the passenger seat may be enough to reveal someone’s location to ICE. And that’s just the danger when these expensive boondoggles work as designed. All too often, they get it completely wrong.

Reading license plates is child’s play compared to facial recognition. A license plate is designed to be read from far away; a short string of letters and numbers in high-contrast paint. You couldn’t have an easier target, and yet the software still makes mistakes. We’ve seen it with our home and office scanners, like the “1” that becomes an “L” or spaces that disappear.

When scanner errors happen at home or the office, it’s frustrating. When it happens with license plate readers, it means being stopped by the police, or worse. People have had guns pointed at them, had their door broken-down, and more, just because of faulty license plate readers.

If these systems have problems recognizing plates, how are they going to recognize faces? A license plate never cuts its hair or grows a beard. It never puts on makeup or a disguise. Given all the ways that appearances change, Cuomo’s cameras will inevitably get it wrong, and it will have tragic consequences for some. Sadly, for immigrant families, some will also face tragic consequences when the cameras get it right.

Until Governor Cuomo implements the privacy safeguards needed to keep New Yorkers safe, facial recognition surveillance has no place in our state.

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Albert Fox Cahn is the executive director of The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a New York–based civil rights and police accountability organization. On Twitter @cahnlawny.

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Take Down Cuomo’s Creeping Cameras Mon, 15 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Devilish Details of Albany’s MTA Budget Package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package govcuomo photos

(photo: governor's office)


My organization, Reinvent Albany, applauds Governor Cuomo and the legislature for passing congestion pricing in the state budget. Yet we are concerned about it being undermined by boundless exemptions for politically powerful interest groups, and a proliferation of other new structures and requirements for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that passed along with the tolling program.

Paradoxically, the MTA legislative “reform” package also included a deal for the Legislature to approve new CEO/Chair Pat Foye without the extensive confirmation hearings and scrutiny expected for the head of the MTA—a behemoth that is the biggest unit of state government, with a $17 billion operating budget and 75,000 staff.

We believe the net effect of the changes made to the MTA further confuse decision-making and aggravate the lack of public accountability.

We will be living with the details of the “MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act” for years, so it is worth taking a detailed look. Below is a summary of the various provisions and our brief analysis. (Those interested in reading the 30+ pages of law that makes up the package can read Part ZZZ -- yes, ZZZ -- of the state budget's Revenue Bill).

1. Congestion Pricing
Congestion pricing is officially known in law as the “Central Business District Tolling Program.” The program will be designed and implemented by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (known as MTA Bridges and Tunnels or informally as B&T), with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) laying out the details of how B&T will coordinate with the New York City Department of Transportation to get the program up and running. The law also gives B&T enforcement officers the power to issue notices of violations for transit infractions around B&T facilities, including the new tolling infrastructure.

The Central Business District is defined as 60th Street and south in Manhattan, but for FDR Drive, the West Side Highway, and the underpass to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (formerly the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel).

Tolls will be charged to vehicles entering the Central Business District by the B&T, with the amount of the tolls to be determined and approved by a majority of the MTA Board, as well as any exemptions. This will be informed by a new Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB). The CEO/Chair gets an additional vote if there is a tie.

The TMRB is to be appointed by the MTA Board. The TMRB’s plans must ensure that the recommendation would at a minimum raise $15 billion for the 2020-2024 capital plan, including costs of operating the program. The TMRB also is given the authority to “review” MTA capital plans, though what this will entail is unclear. It will have six members total, including a chair, with one member recommended by the Mayor of New York City, one member residing in the Metro North Railroad (MNR) region, and one residing in the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) region.

Some exemptions to the toll are listed in the law, such as for emergency vehicles and  “qualifying vehicles transporting a person with disabilities.” The TMRB will make additional recommendations for credits, discounts, or exemptions. This will include consideration of credits or discounts for the current fee imposed on for-hire vehicles that was passed as part of last year’s state budget. A separate tax credit was created for residents in the congestion pricing zone earning less than $60,000 annually, provided they aren’t using their vehicle for business purposes.

Revenue from the tolls will go into a “central business district tolling capital lockbox.” Funds are to only be used for the costs of implementing the program and for the MTA’s 2020-2024 capital plan. Funds will be split 80-10-10: 80% of funds are to be for capital costs for New York City Transit (NYCT), with priority to the subways, accessibility, buses, and expanding transit in outer boroughs; and 10% of funds for both LIRR and MNR, with priority given to parking, rolling stock, capacity enhancement, accessibility and expanding transit in areas with limited transit.

Annual reports are due from B&T to state and city government officials as well as the public on receipts and expenditures, to be posted on the MTA website. Another report is due from B&T due on success of program in terms of traffic congestion, air quality, transit ridership, and bus speeds after one year, and then every two years. NYC DOT is to conduct a separate study on parking around the central business district 18 months after congestion tolls go into effect.

The TMRB will make its recommendation to the MTA Board on exemptions no earlier than November 15, 2020, or no later than 30 days before a tolling program is initiated. The program will be in operation no earlier than Dec 31, 2020. There will be a 30-day testing period where no tolls are collected, and then another 60 days where only tolls are collected, but not other charges and fines.

2. MTA Reorganization
The budget requires the MTA to develop a reorganization plan by June 30, 2019. This will be informed by a separate “independent forensic audit.” The plan will require approval of the MTA Board by majority vote; Chair gets 2 votes in event of tie. The reorganization cannot result in dissolution or merger of the authority and its subsidiaries. The legislation also allows the MTA and its subsidiaries and affiliates to share employees within and between entities, provided the employee will be doing a similar function. The law states that employee sharing will not impede or infringe upon collective bargaining agreements currently in place.

3. Design-Build
The budget adds to the mission and purpose of the MTA, stating that design-build is to be used in all projects over $25 million; however, it allows for a waiver from this streamlined bidding-design-construction requirement to be issued by the Director of the New York State Division of the Budget (currently Robert Mujica), who is appointed by the Governor.

4. MTA Board Appointments
The budget makes the terms of appointees to the MTA Board coterminous with their appointers. It also limits the amount of time that MTA Board members can serve in “holdover” status to 60 days (several MTA Board members were ousted as a result of this change, with new nominations made by the Governor during the budget weekend). The law also puts in place a process for an acting CEO/Chair to be in place not more than six months unless the Senate has not acted on a nomination from the Governor to fill the position. Any candidate filling the vacancy requires advice and consent of the Senate, as for regular appointments.

5. Independent Forensic Audit and “Reviews” of Waste, Fraud and Abuse
A provision retained from the Senate’s one-house bill requires the MTA to hire a certified public accounting firm to conduct an “independent forensic audit” that will review the MTA capital program, among other items. The firm cannot have done business with MTA in the last five years, or employ a former MTA employee who moved over in the past three years. The forensic audit is to be completed by January 1, 2020, and will be posted on the MTA website 30 days after submission to the MTA Board.

It also requires the MTA to hire a financial advisory firm with a national practice to review waste, fraud, abuse, and conflicts of interest; duplication of functions; cost efficiencies; the 2015-2019 capital plan; the MTA’s performance metrics; and cash flow and accounting of expenditures. The firm will submit its “reviews” by July 31, 2019 to the MTA Board, which will be posted on the MTA’s website.

6. Major Construction Review Unit
The MTA is now required to create a Construction Review Unit within the authority, which will consist of a panel of “internal and external experts” appointed by the MTA Board. It will review all “large scale projects” (this is not defined). It is given specific authority to review plans involving signal upgrades, including Communications Based Train Control (CBTC), the current industry standard, and ultra-wideband technology before they are implemented. Ultra-wideband is one component of CBTC, the radio technology for potential use as the “communications” part of CBTC. Its review of any project must be completed within 30 days of submission by MTA staff.

7. Capital Program Review Board
Members of the Capital Program Review Board, which is made up of four voting members, one each from the Governor, Senate and Assembly majorities, and New York City Mayor, are now required to provide a written explanation if a member rejects the MTA’s capital plan or any amendments the Board is considering. The written explanation must include specific areas of concerns and steps to address these concerns. The MTA may provide a response to the rejection, and after 10 days the disapproving member can withdraw the disapproval.

8. Debarment of Contractors
The budget authorizes the MTA to develop a debarment process for contractors to prevent bidding on future contracts for a five-year period. Any regulations developed must ensure notice and an opportunity to be heard. Debarment is to only be provided for situations involving: failure to substantially complete work within time frame of contract, or in a subsequent change order by more than 10% of the contract term; or where disputed work exceeds 10% of the contract cost and claimed costs are deemed invalid.

9. Fare Evasion Plan
The MTA is required to establish a plan to combat fare evasion, in consultation with the Governor, Mayor, and District Attorneys within New York City by June 30, 2019. The details of this consultation are not defined, and presumably will be dependent on the interest of the official identified as being participants.

10. East Side Access
The budget requires that the “L Train independent review team” (the Deans of Columbia and Cornell University who provided an alternate plan for the L Train shutdown), will evaluate the East Side Access project, and make recommendations to accelerate its completion. The project is currently at $11.3 billion in total costs, up from a projected $4.3 billion in 2006, where it was projected to be finished in 2009. It now expected that service will start running in December 2022.

11. Capital Plan Legislative Funds
The budget gives the Legislature a pot of funding that is set aside from the 2020-2024 capital plan for transportation improvements for the subways, buses and commuter railroads, subject to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). These types of agreements have been used in the past for other pots of funds, and are not required to be made public. They have not been voted on publicly by the members of the Legislature, so the public in the past has not known which members are requesting individual projects.

This MOU is to be entered into by the Senate Finance Committee Chair (currently Senator Liz Krueger), Assembly Ways and Means Chair (currently Helene Weinstein) and Director of the Budget (the Director of the Division of the Budget - currently Robert Mujica). The MOU is to be approved not more than 90 days after approval of the capital plan by the Capital Plan Review Board.  It should be noted that last year’s budget created a separate $50 million outerborough transit fund, to be used annually by the Legislature for individual projects.

12. Procurement
The budget legislation made a number of changes to procurement at the MTA, relating to both how it selects contractors and who reviews any contracts before they are executed. It extends until 2023 requirements regarding the selection of lowest possible bidder, where possible. It also raises the threshold for requiring use of lowest possible bidder to contracts of $1 million or more from $100,000, and raises the threshold for MTA Board approval of contracts not awarded to the lowest possible bidder or conducted under formal competitive process to $1 million or more.

Where the State Comptroller has existing pre-audit authority for NYCT and MTA contracts (the ability to review noncompetitive contracts over $1 million or those involving state funds, and not making them enforceable until approved), the Comptroller must provide a determination within 30 days receiving the contract from the MTA.

13. Performance Metrics
Another component remaining from the Senate’s one-house bill is a requirement for the MTA to use specific performance metrics, largely borrowed from Transport for London, which are defined in law, including:

-Additional platform time
-Additional train time
-Customer journey time and excess journey time
-Elevator and escalator availability
-Major incidents metrics
-Staff hours lost to accidents
-Terminal on time-performance

On-time performance is defined as arriving within two minutes of scheduled time. Note that two minutes for the subway is very different than for Metro North and Long Island Rail Road, which are required to use the same standard though the frequency and length in terms of mileage of service are very different.

The new law also requires the MTA to publish weekly performance reports for NYCT, LIRR, and MNR, as well as release of an annual report with international benchmarking on costs per mile for operating and maintenance, as well as staff and contractor hours for passenger journeys, and staff hours lost to accidents. Lastly, the law requires release of an annual implementation report for the Legislature and Governor by December 31 every year, which will be posted on the MTA website.

14. Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment
The last component remaining from the Senate’s one-house bill requires for the next capital plan (2025-2029) that the MTA submit to the Legislature a 20-year capital needs assessment before October 1, 2023, and every five years after for future plans. Its last 20-year capital needs assessment was released in 2013 prior to the finalization of the current 2015-2019 capital plan.

The 20-year needs assessment will include broad long-term capital investments to be made, and establish a non-binding basis for planning of strategic investments involving capital elements of five-year capital plans. The assessment does not require the MTA Board or CPRB approval, and is for information purposes only, though it is required to be certified by the MTA CEO/Chair and entered into the formal records of the minutes of the CPRB.

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Policy Analyst at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

 

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The Devilish Details of Albany’s MTA Budget Package Sun, 14 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Doing Good Things Badly: Congestion Pricing and MTA Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8417-doing-good-things-badly-congestion-pricing-and-mta-reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8417-doing-good-things-badly-congestion-pricing-and-mta-reforms cuomo carol kellerman

(photo: governor's office)


Everyone complains that our regional mass transit system is in disrepair, but no one wants to pay to make the needed fixes and modernizations. Have we finally found a way?

Ten years after legislation was first proposed by Mayor Bloomberg, the state Legislature passed a plan for what has been named “central business district tolling,” otherwise known as congestion pricing, in Manhattan as part of the fiscal year 2019-20 budget. The basic concept is that driving into the central core of Manhattan – defined as south of 61 Street – will incur a fee to achieve the multiple worthy aims of providing revenue for mass transit investments, cutting down on intense traffic congestion, and curbing air pollution.

Full details are still to come, with responsibility for administering the fee collection system vested in the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), a subsidiary of the MTA, and the new charges will not go into effect until 2021.

Congestion pricing systems have been in effect in London, Stockholm, and Singapore for some time, but this will be the first such system in a major city in the United States. Given its novelty, the intensity of resistance from suburban legislators and officials (and indeed, even from some in Queens and from my dear, admired friend Dick Ravitch, a former MTA chair) and the distaste for user fees in general, it is a major accomplishment that this proposal was adopted.

Kudos are due to Move New York, the Riders Alliance, various other groups and officials, including Governor Cuomo, and the many voices in the business community who showed the foresight to press for this groundbreaking outcome. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that the legislation is imperfect and the so-called governance reforms to the MTA that were included may be a cure that is worse than the disease.

Will the new tolling generate enough revenue to fund all the transit system’s capital needs? The law requires that tolls set by the TBTA be sufficient to generate enough revenue to finance $15 billion to fund all or a portion of the 2020-2024 MTA capital plan, which is expected to be more than twice that amount in order to overhaul subway signaling and get the system to a modern state of good repair. This projected total seems to assure that exemptions (i.e. for disabled drivers) and credits (i.e. for people who live in Manhattan below 61 Street and have annual incomes below $60,000) will not be so extensive as to force excessively high tolls on other drivers. Good.

Let’s hope that a rising tide of complaints doesn’t sidetrack this initiative by the time it is supposed to be implemented a whole two long years from now. The revenue is to go into a “lockbox” to be used 80% for MTA subway and bus needs, 10% for the Long Island Rail Road, and 10% for Metro-North. This seems to be an appropriate distribution and is far better than some of the more project-specific kinds of allocations that had been discussed in previous iterations of proposed congestion pricing schemes. But $15 billion is not enough to fund everything needed, not by a longshot. So two other new revenue sources have also been adopted into law and earmarked for MTA capital use.

First, specific amounts of the projected revenue to be generated from a new internet sales tax are to be deposited in the MTA lockbox. It is appropriate to impose a broad-based tax on internet sales, but it would be better to make it part of the state’s general operating revenue stream. If the estimated revenue turns out to be unduly optimistic there will be pressure to reduce the amounts going to the MTA.

Second, the tax on transfers of residential property has been increased. Again, it is not optimal tax policy to earmark general taxes to a particular use, and this one can be expected to be somewhat volatile. Nevertheless it is far superior to the pied-a-terre tax that had been advocated by some.

It must be remembered, however, that no matter what the new law says, the revenue from these new taxes and indeed, from the new tolls, cannot be guaranteed to be dedicated to the MTA in perpetuity. A lockbox enacted by the Legislature can also be modified or eliminated by a subsequent law. Presumably, covenants in the bonds underwritten by these revenues will help assure that cannot occur if and when money gets tight in another area of government services.

These new revenue streams dedicated to the MTA also do not change the fact that regular, planned fare increases will be necessary, largely to support the authority’s annual operating budget. That budget continues to grow too rapidly, in part due to exorbitant labor costs, which must be addressed in the near future but elected leaders do not appear inclined to tackle. Moreover, the revenue from these new sources must additions to, not substitutes for city and state aid to the MTA. Those resources will continue to be needed.

There is also a welcome new requirement that the MTA conduct an assessment of all its capital assets and needs over the next 20 years, although it doesn’t kick in until 2023.

Also, in the grand bargain that is the state budget, the governor has succeeded in imposing more obligations, costs, and controls on the MTA. It seems that after trying unsuccessfully to convince the public that he is not in control of the transit authority, he has decided to completely own it and subject it to endless oversight and review by (no doubt costly) consultants and advisory bodies. He is, in effect, going to create studies and reviews of his own actions.

The new law decrees there shall be a “complete personnel and reorganization plan” for the MTA submitted to its board no later than this coming June 30 and, in addition, there shall be an independent forensic audit conducted by a certified public accounting firm, a fiscal review by a different financial advisory firm “with a national practice,” a new construction review unit composed of a panel of internal and external experts, and a traffic mobility review board that will not only advise the TBTA on setting the new congestion tolls but, inexplicably, review the MTA capital plan!

Finally, the governor has touted that he is responsible for changes to the law on appointments to the MTA board so that no member serves for more than a very short period after the official who appoints the member is out of office. The goal is apparently to assure that everyone is beholden for their seat to the official (governor, mayor, county executive) that appointed them and that the next elected official has the prerogative to assert ‘ownership’ over the seat.

It is inevitable that appointees to prestigious boards like the MTA feel allegiance to their appointing official and since the sources of the MTA’s power and revenue derive from the political process this is appropriate – to an extent. But the way this or any governor should assert their authority over the MTA (or any public authority, e.g. the Port Authority) is to appoint a full-time Chair and CEO and allow and expect that leader to run the agency. All gubernatorial concerns and requests should be directed to and through that CEO, not through extra-agency review panels or by going around the CEO to the staff.

Pat Foye has been appointed and confirmed in that role and it is to be hoped that Governor Cuomo will now step back and let him get the MTA to marshal its new resources and do its job professionally and effectively. That is the only governance reform that is needed.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

 

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Doing Good Things Badly: Congestion Pricing and MTA Reforms Tue, 02 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8412-cuomo-legislators-agree-to-175-5-billion-budget-with-congestion-pricing-criminal-justice-reform-and-commitment-to-public-campaign-financing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8412-cuomo-legislators-agree-to-175-5-billion-budget-with-congestion-pricing-criminal-justice-reform-and-commitment-to-public-campaign-financing Cuomo top aides new budget deal 2019 2020

Cuomo and top aides announce budget deal (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a $175.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins Monday, that includes several significant policy changes for New York, including a congestion pricing program for New York City, a plastic bag ban of sorts, major criminal justice reforms, and a commitment to enact through a new commission a campaign finance program that includes public matching funds.

The deal, first announced by press release from the governor’s office just after midnight Saturday and discussed in some detail by Cuomo at a Sunday press conference, also includes an agreement to make permanent the governor’s signature 2% cap on annual property tax increases that applies everywhere outside New York City, as well as an MTA management reform plan tied to congestion pricing, and a $1 billion increase in overall education aid to localities, bringing the total up to $27.9 billion, with a new “education equity formula to ensure funding for poorer schools” that Cuomo had pushed for, though it does not appear to make significant immediate changes to how education aid is distributed.

The announcement also indicated that the parties -- Cuomo and the two legislative majorities, controlled by Democrats for the first time in the governor’s more than eight years in office -- had kept in place planned middle class tax cuts.

“This is probably the broadest, most sweeping plan that we’ve done,” Cuomo said during the Sunday press conference where he was flanked by his three top aides, held as the legislative houses debated and voted on the actual bills involved (the final bills were voted through in the early hours of Monday morning). Cuomo called it a strong progressive statement that includes several nation-leading initiatives, such as first-in-the-country congestion pricing.

While there is a great deal of detail still to discover in the budget language and both funding and policy decisions to dissect, the broad strokes of the overall agreement do point to a successful budget for Cuomo, who largely got what he wanted. As the governor noted Sunday, he has accomplished, at least in some form, most of the “first 100 days” agenda he set forth for the start of his third term during a December speech.

On several policy issues, advocates see too much compromise, and debate will surely play out over the coming days and beyond over the details of the deals reached. Republicans are also attacking Cuomo and his fellow Democrats for instituting several new taxes and fees.

Cuomo called for “perspective,” saying it is “a difficult time for government, a difficult time for New York State” given federal actions, especially tax reform, the loss of the Amazon deal, climate change, and long-standing struggles like congestion in New York City, a flawed MTA management system, and a calcified, discriminatory criminal justice system in need of change.

The Democratic governor on Sunday gave a powerpoint presentation going through his “first 100 days” agenda and said he had accomplished “virtually” everything he set out to do, either prior to or in the budget deal, with marijuana legalization the biggest omission, though there are others. And some accomplishments are a matter of degree that will need to be assessed in the coming days and weeks.

Cuomo highlighted several from earlier in the year when the new all-Democratic Legislature quickly passed a series of bills, some of which Cuomo has signed, and discussed those at the top of the budget announcement sent out the night before, as well as other areas where he believes the state is making progress, such as environmental and health care policies.

"I thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for their partnership, and look forward to achieving the most productive legislative session in history,” Cuomo said in a statement on the budget deal.

The governor, who effectively controls the MTA, said his 12 principles for MTA reform had been approved and would overhaul the inefficient state authority, leading to better performance and return-on-investment for taxpayers, including those who will be paying more given the new congestion pricing plan and other new taxes and fees in the budget, including a so-called mansion tax on home sales in New York City and an internet sales tax across the state.

The details of the congestion pricing scheme will be fully fleshed out by a committee and set to take effect in 2021 -- after the next state legislative elections.

Mayoral control of New York City schools is set to be extended for three more years, through the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio's second term, though the extension has some limited strings attached, with greater parental voice involved in the city's Panel for Educational Policy (PEP).

“[W]e funded school districts, not schools” Cuomo said when discussing education aid, but by mandating transparency in where the money was going, something approved last year, the state found that districts were not funding their poorer schools as much as they should have been, he said. This year’s budget deal, with an increase in overall education aid, includes a mandate that districts prioritize funding to poorer schools and show they’re doing so. The governor appeared especially happy with the outcome on this issue, among a handful of others where he said he had ushered through major progress.

One other area of particular importance to the governor is criminal justice reform. The budget eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, creating a more just justice system, the governor said, allowing roughly 90% of defendants charged to avoid jail as their legal process unfolds. Cuomo indicated he still wants to address in some way bail for those charged with violent felonies, but the parties were able to get to agreement on all other charges and went ahead with that. He also noted speedy trial and discovery reforms have been approved.

The governor said he is “very excited about” what is being called a plastic bag “ban” though there are a number of carve-outs for single-use plastic bags. They will be banned from use by grocery and other retail stores, though they will be allowed for food delivery. The plastic bag limitations are accompanied by a five cent fee on paper bags, part of the push to encourage New Yorkers to carry reusable bags with them. 

"This year’s State budget represents very real progress in addressing some of the most pressing needs of New Yorkers," said Mayor de Blasio in a statement, broadly praising extension of mayoral control of city schools, the passage of congestion pricing, criminal justice reforms and the plastic bag ban. But, “The news from Albany wasn’t all good," he added, noting that the budget includes several funding cuts to New York City, including $125 million in cuts to funding for assistance to low-income families and $59 million cut from public health services. 

Along with bail reform and congestion pricing, the other apparently most difficult issue to find compromise on was campaign finance reform, with a public matching system. The agreement reached shows agreement on some principles but punts the actual decision-making to a new commission, which will soon be established and have until December 1 to produce results. Those results will then be binding unless the Legislature convenes to overturn them before the end of the year.

Asked during his Sunday press conference why the parties created a commission to get the details of campaign finance reform done, Cuomo said “it’s too complicated” and ran through a series of challenging questions involved, including whether candidates for state offices running in different localities would receive the same matching funds considering that there are different media markets.

“What we’re hearing is that the deal lacks a number of key elements we said would be critical if we went with what was already a compromise to have a commission handle legislative details: there seems to be no solid guarantee that we’ll have a public financing of elections system on the books with lower contribution limits, independent enforcement or a 6-to-1 match,” said Dave Palmer, Campaign Manager for the Fair Elections campaign, in a Sunday statement. The Fair Elections campaign is a broad coalition of groups that have been pushing for voting and campaign finance reforms.

In the wake of the agreement being finalized, the campaign issued a statement blaming Assembly Democrats for the half-a-loaf, and calling for “timely,” “expert,” and “independent” appointees to the commission.

“A massive grassroots effort came together this year to demand a new day in Albany, with a small-donor matching system that would give everyday New Yorkers a real voice in our political system. Despite the inclusion of public financing in the Governor’s Executive Budget and the efforts by the Senate Democrats and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to get it done, the Assembly’s unwillingness to come through on its decades-long promise has left us with a Commission that will offer a way to yet again pledge reform with no guarantee of delivering. In addition, the Governor is using a public financing commission as a way to attack fusion voting, something that has nothing to do with a public campaign financing system.”

The new commission will also look at New York’s fusion voting system, whereby political parties can nominate the same candidate for the same office. Cuomo, who appears to support an end to fusion voting in part because of his long-running feud with the Working Families Party, said that fusion voting and public campaign financing may not be compatible, though there has been no problem for both in New York City, where it is candidates who receive matching funds no matter how many ballot lines they appear on.

A variety of other decisions were made in the budget, some more quickly discovered or publicized than others. The budget appears to include funding for the Dream Act and for localities to implement early voting, both of which were passed into law earlier this year, legalization of electronic poll books, and the state codification of elements fo the federal Affordable Care Act and health exchange.

Budget language will be pored over for days and weeks to come -- as is annual tradition in Albany, lawmakers were voting through dense budget bills without having had the time to fully review them.

Also on Sunday Cuomo talked about three issues he plans to work with the Legislature on over the next two-plus months until the end of the legislative session: marijuana legalization, rent regulations, and expansion of the prevailing wage on construction projects that receive public benefits.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing Sun, 31 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Transportation Commissioner on Managing the Streets, Expanding the Subway, & More https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8384-nyc-transportation-commissioner-trottenberg-de-blasio-streets-subway https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8384-nyc-transportation-commissioner-trottenberg-de-blasio-streets-subway Trottenberg de Blasio DOT

Trottenberg, middle, with de Blasio, left (photo: NYC DOT)


New York needs to rapidly build more subway stops, get people out of cars, rethink its approach to parking, and keep working to drive down historically low numbers of deaths due to vehicle crashes on city streets.

So said New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg, appearing on a recent episode of the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast to share her assessment of city transit successes and challenges and her vision for the future of transportation in New York City. In a wide-ranging discussion, Trottenberg touched on protecting bike-riders, expanding bus lanes, fighting parking placard abuse, and much more.

Trottenberg views the the sluggish pace of subway expansion as the city’s most pressing transportation problem. “Given the growth and economic dynamism of New York City, we should be opening three subway stops every year...if not faster,” she said, noting population growth over the past decades since the subway network was really built out in a signficant way.

“The biggest transportation challenge the city faces right now is we have stopped building out our subway network,” she said. “That gets into a bigger discussion of the MTA, of the governance, of the funding challenges there,” she added, pointing to current debates over governance reform and congestion pricing that are on the table in Albany as state budget negotiations continue.

“Nothing carries people like subways,” Trottenberg said.

The main reasons New York is not, Trottenberg said, are the MTA’s other urgent needs as it digs out from crisis and a lack of political will for building out subway service. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed Trottenberg to her post as transportation at the start of his administration in 2014, commissioned a study to extend Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue subway line in 2015, for example, but Trottenberg said it’s no longer a priority as the MTA needs funding and is dealing with a multitude of other issues related to its existing assets.

“They just don’t have the funds right now to be in the subway line-building game -- and we should get them back in that game” like big cities in other countries, she said.

Trottenberg also mentioned the need to make subway systems accessible moving forward, which is now mandated by law under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Overall, Trottenberg’s primary goals are to make city streets safer and reduce auto usage by providing trustworthy alternatives. “If you want to get people out of their cars, you’ve got to have good subway service, you’ve got to have good bus service, you’ve have to have safe, protected bike lanes so people want to hop on bikes,” she said. She didn’t go as far as to echo City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to ‘break the city’s car culture,’ but she cited a number of the same goals, discussing the work she’s led for more than five years that is continuing to evolve with not only new street redesign plans and an expansion of Citi Bike, but also new transit experiments like car-sharing and dockless bike-sharing.

Accomplishing the goal of reducing car usage requires robust collaboration between the city’s Department of Transportation and the MTA, especially when it comes to buses, Trottenberg said. While the MTA runs and staffs the subways and buses, NYC DOT’s purview includes traffic signals, roads, bridges, tunnels, sidewalks, bikes, ferries and more. As a result, Trottenberg explained, DOT has a lot of say over buses, including its help designing routes, but also aspects related to bus lanes and traffic signals.

Yet, when it comes to enforcing bus lanes so that there are fewer cars parked in them, for example, the city needs permission from state government to mount more cameras on the buses so that enforcement doesn’t just rely on NYPD patrols.

Trottenberg said addressing the buses is a major priority for Mayor de Blasio, President of MTA New York City Transit Authority Andy Byford, and herself. “Buses have been slowing and we’re losing ridership,” she said. “Both agencies [DOT and the MTA] are really working hard to see if we can turn that around.”

Though she said she’s had plenty of experience on the bus and is pushing bus reform, Trottenberg acknowledged it’s not as much a part of her personal transit as other methods. When asked how she gets around the city, she said, “I do every mode every week -- I try to -- subway, driving -- I oversee the roads, so I do drive -- biking when I can, and then taking the ferry when I can, I don’t take the ferry every week, but I try and ride the Staten Island Ferry when I can, too, since it’s part of what we oversee.”

Asked about the bus, which she didn’t list, she said, “I don’t get on the bus that often, I’ll admit, I”m lucky where I live in Brooklyn I’m near the subway.” Trottenberg added that as the city has put up new Select Bus Service (SBS) lines around the city, she’s ridden some of those, and rode the buses along 14th Street in Manhattan with some frequency as the city and MTA as the city and MTA developed mitigation plans for an expected L-train shutdown, “to get a sense of what we need to do there.”

The parties had been preparing to make 14th Street a largely exclusive “busway” during what was expected to be a full 15-month shutdown of the L-train, until Governor Andrew Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA, swooped in somewhat last minute to upend the plans and push forward an alternative that will see major service changes, but not a full shutdown, as L-train tunnel repairs are done starting in April.

Trottenberg explained that the city and MTA are now holding a new set of community meetings in Manhattan and Brooklyn about “what to do on 14th Street” and other impacted areas. The new plan calls for many months of night and weekend work, with one of the two tubes closed and trains running much less frequently.

Trottenberg said 14th Street is still painted for the busway, and that she prefers to still implement one, but that it is one of two options now being presented to impacted communities, home to hundreds of thousands of L train riders and many others who use the main and surrounding roadways involved, in both boroughs. The busway would include “minimal vehicular access. Basically local pick up and drop off and deliveries, but no through-driving,” Trottenberg explained, a system that is somewhat complicated, she added, by the fact that the route has a lot of housing along it.

The alternative under consideration, she said, is a hybrid plan centered around Select Bus Service (SBS), which would increase bus service and still allowing cars on the road.

[LISTEN: Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on What's The [Data] Point?]

While Trottenberg spoke to many of the challenges facing the city’s public transit system, she was also eager to highlight successes, namely the Vision Zero street safety program, the design and implementation of which she has been in charge of since 2014 after it was a piece of de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign.

In 2018, the number of traffic-related fatalities on city streets fell to 202, down by 20 from 2017 and down nearly a third, she pointed out, since the 299 deaths in 2013. “In that same period, nationwide fatalities went up around 14, 15 percent,” she said, calling it “a signature initiative of the de Blasio administration” and outlining the key principles of Vision Zero: “engineering, enforcement, and education” that lead to hundreds of street redesigns.

The installation of speed cameras around schools has been a cornerstone of the program’s success. “We see speeding drop by over 60 percent, we see injuries go down by 17 percent,” Trottenberg said, and pointing to the recent success in Albany where Democratic lawmakers in charge of both legislative houses just passed a bill allowing the city to install hundreds more cameras near schools. Saying that she expects Cuomo to sign it, Trottenberg said it will enable the city “to do a lot to protect New Yorkers...all over the city.”

Despite Vision Zero’s overall success, six bicyclists have already been killed on city streets this year, compared to a total of ten in all of 2018 (there were 24 in 2017), renewing calls to expand the city’s bike lane network. “This year, unfortunately, I think that number may go up,” Trottenberg said, explaining that she and other officials are “heartbroken” about the spate of fatalities early this year. “Progress isn’t always going to be linear. We want to see that the long-term trends are going in the right direction,” she said. But around the tragedies, DOT always studies where crashes occur, she said, and city is looking at places to add new "protected infrastructure," particularly in Manhattan cross-streets, where the city has added that infrastructure in several places.

Trottenberg said DOT is exploring plans to install bike lanes on 52nd Street and 55th Street, in addition to many “key connections” across the city, like the one between the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. “It’s a really short stretch of roadway, but it’s an incredibly important piece of connecting the bike network.” DOT plans to build better bicycle and pedestrian friendly connections between northern Manhattan and the Bronx, in addition to expanding the bicycle network into neighborhoods where “cycling is growing,” like Jackson Heights, she said.

DOT uses a metric called KSI, or killed and seriously injured, per mile to identify problem areas, the commissioner explained. Trottenberg said the department mapped out KSI on every city corner in all five boroughs and found that seven to eight percent of the city’s roads are responsible for half of the city’s fatalities, enabling DOT to target safety measures in key intersections. This effort has also been advanced with help from the Mayor’s Office of Operations, NYPD, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, she said.

Interagency data further unveiled a spike in fatalities during seasonal changes, particularly in late October when commuters are adjusting to the start of daylight saving time, and in early spring when warm weather brings out more pedestrians and bikers. “We’ve attempted to look at geography, at seasonality, at time of day, and then at driver behaviors,” she said. “We’re trying to tackle fatalities and crashes at every dimension.”

Trottenberg said that the levels of New York City bureaucracy and community input processes can slow the pace of the growth of bike networks. She said it’s a frequent point of contention, with some New Yorkers calling for DOT to surpass community boards, while others believe that projects should not move forward without community input. “When we can bring people along and buy them in and make them part of our Vision Zero work, I think that’s a better approach,” she said, while affirming that while she’s proud of the administration’s pace she always wants to move faster.

On car usage, Trottenberg said she favors raising the cost of parking, implementing congestion pricing and turning to a computerized system that reads city officials’ license plates to fight placard abuse.

Alternative modes of transportation like dockless bikes and scooters are “in an experimental phase,” she said. DOT is piloting dockless bikes in several places, including on Staten Island, where she said the city is talking to officials and residents about “doing a borough-wide pilot.”

She said it appears dockless bike-share is best suited to geographically confined but less population-dense areas where the bikes can be kept in a defined area and docks don’t make as much sense. Scooters, meanwhile, are not yet legal in New York City, she noted -- another issue awaiting approval in Albany, where signs have pointed to likely advancement -- adding that “there’s a lot of interest in scooters,” but many questions remain. “The jury’s still out,” she said.

Regarding her role at the MTA, where Trottenberg is about to hit roughly five years on the board, she said “we have a great leader in Andy Byford, I think we need to give him the resources and the support he needs to continue what is clearly starting to be a real turnaround in the subway system.” That requires action in Albany and support from the MTA board she said, adding that the board needs to be more transparent and accountable.

“I’d like to see the city’s priorities really considered and be part of what the MTA is focused on,” Trottenberg added. Asked how that happens, she said it relates to how the whole MTA capital plan happens, the role of key stakeholders, and other changes, not just with the board itself. “I’d like to I think see the MTA and the city work together more closely leading up to whatever happens on board day,” when the board meets and often votes on things, she said.

Of the mayor’s four representatives on the board and the importance of the city’s voice there, Trottenberg noted she had a couple of years where she was basically the city’s only representative on the MTA board, but that she was then joined by three other strong members, who have been able to influence the discussions.

[LISTEN: Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on What's The [Data] Point?]

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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City Transportation Commissioner on Managing the Streets, Expanding the Subway, & More Sun, 24 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000