The R179 out on its first day of passenger service! #R179 #NewTrain

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What happens if the MTA spends $600 million on 300 new subway cars and they don’t work? It’s a crazy question but, in this topsy turvy world of 2017, one with which the MTA is currently grappling as Bombardier’s R179s are not passing their field tests. The MTA has 26 cars on hand for testing, and they just don’t work.

It’s been a while, thanks to my sparse posting schedule, since we’ve checked in on the R179 order, but we are no stranger to the R179’s issues. This order are supposed to replace the R42s and R32s, some of the MTA’s oldest rolling stock, and provide new cars for the J, Z and C lines. But the contract was plagued with problems from the start. Bombardier underbid other companies by nearly $60 million, but a joint venture between Alstom and Kawasaki warned the MTA against relying on Bombardier’s bid. They were right, and in 2015, we learned that delays in delivery due to mysterious production issues would cost the MTA at least $50 million.

The problem has gotten worse since then, as Dan Rivoli in the Daily News details in his latest on R179 testing issues.

The new car failed its first major test carrying passengers on the J line in Brooklyn and Queens. In fact, eight-car test trains were pulled from the tracks three times in less than two weeks since its Nov. 19 debut — dumping riders onto station platforms along the way. The third mishap for the model forced the MTA to suspend the 30-day passenger test cycle for nearly a week, threatening to further delay the delivery of train cars from Bombardier that is already two years behind schedule.

While MTA officials at the time believed it was a solid choice to award Montreal-based Bombardier a $600 million, 300-car contract in March 2012, it has proven to be a manufacturing mess from the beginning. Instead of wrapping up the contract by January 2017, it is now set to be complete by December 2018. Bombardier is now barred from bidding on a $3 billion contract for a future model set to be delivered by 2023. “These cars aren’t doing real well and we have a problem,” MTA board member Andrew Albert said.

Here’s what sidelined the R179 test train, a model destined for the lettered lines:

  • Nov. 19 — The train operator’s console erroneously indicated a door was open, when it was actually closed. Earlier that day, the emergency brakes kicked in when a bucket fell onto the tracks from the 121st St. station platform in Richmond Hill, Queens.
  • Nov. 27 — The test train leaving the Sutphin Blvd. station in Jamaica, Queens, lost motor power as it trudged uphill at half speed over a standard gap between train equipment and the third rail.
  • Nov. 30 — A red light indicating a problem with a door lit up in yet another train car, though the door was closed on Gates Ave. in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

The tests, Rivoli reports, were resumed this past week, and MTA officials hedged on short-term success. It’s not quite what you want to hear when it comes to rolling stock that’s supposed to be around for another 40 or 50 years. “The issues that have been identified are rectifiable and they have been, which is why the testing has resumed,” Phil Eng, NYC Transit’s interim president, said. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

It’s impossible to read this as anything other than indictment of the MTA’s low-bid standards. The agency is forced to accept the lowest qualified bid, and although Bombardier’s bid lost to the Alstom/Kawasaki JV on technical merit, it was deemed good enough at the time. “Good enough at the time” it seems isn’t good enough now, and the MTA has already disqualified Bombardier from even submitting a bid for the upcoming R211s (more on those and open gangways soon). Will the MTA have an internal reckoning with respect to its bidding process? Can we count on these new cars to provide a better ride for passengers used to daily trips on the C line’s own version of the Nostalgia Train?

Bouncing Bombardier from the pool of eligible contractors if a good start, but MTA officials are mum on anything else. Joe Lhota, who was in charge of the MTA when Bomardier on the contract, just wanted to look forward. “What’s important now is not rehashing the past,” he said to The Daily News, “and instead focusing on getting these cars delivered and on the rails for our riders.” For a beleaguered MTA, the R179s have been a worst-case scenario so far as the bad news grows worse.

Categories : Rolling Stock
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The mayor called 24-7 subway service a ‘birthright’ as the RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan kicked off a debate over the MTA’s approach to modernization.

Every generation or so, the Regional Plan Associate releases a major vision for the New York City metropolitan area and the ways its residents travel. The third Regional Plan, released in 1996, included calls for the Second Ave. Subway, East Side Access, and a streamlined transit hub at Fulton St., projects we know and love (or love to hate). Not everything becomes a reality — the 1996 plan also included calls for a one-seat ride from Lower Manhattan to JFK Airport and the Triboro RX circumferential line — but the plans serve as a blueprint for years’ and decades’ worth of discussions. So when the RPA unveiled its Fourth Regional Plan last week, the moment was something of a watershed for the next few decades’ worth of transportation plans.

Or at least it should have been, but one part of the RPA’s Fourth Plan stole the headlines. In it, the RPA may have proposed, to some degree or another, curtailing some or all 24/7 subway service. It was a vague, off-handed mention that that should have been clarified before the plan saw the light of day, but it cut at something New Yorkers believe to be sacred. Even if only approximately one percent of subway rides occur overnight, you can pry our 24-hour, seven-day-a-week subway service from our cold, dead hands. But as complaints about subway service the whole rest of the time mount, something has to give.

The spark to this fire was a brief mention of a plan to close, well, something at some time that arose on page 120 of a 374-page report [pdf] in the section on “accelerate the adoption of modern signaling systems.” The MTA’s need to quickly replace its collapsing signal system is hardly controversy; this paragraph was:

Guarantee track access and extended work windows. Track work is complicated and expensive on a 24/7 system. Closing the subways on weeknights and/or for more extended time periods would create more opportunities for track installation and testing of the equipment—and reduce costs. Only 1.5 percent of weekday riders use the system between 12:30 am and 5 am. The overwhelming majority of people who ride the subway during the daytime would benefit from the better, more reliable, cleaner and better-maintained system that weeknight closures allow. Of course, whenever lines are shut down, the MTA will need make sure that riders are not left stranded. New bus service should be provided to mimic subway service on traffic-free streets, and with shorter waiting times than today’s overnight subway service.

Now, it’s not immediately clear what the RPA is proposing here, and their comments surrounding the plan, including a subsequent blog post, did little to offer clarity. They say they want to “close the subways” for “more extended time periods” to allow for concentrated periods during which workers can access tracks. It’s indisputable that the current system, which allows for track access during limited overnight shutdowns, is a barrier to a quick signal replacement effort as the MTA itself believes it cannot complete a wholescale signal replacement effort in less than 40 years. But the scope of work completed during FASTRACK — night shutdowns, in which workers are afforded at most 4-5 hours of access — is limited to cosmetic repairs and track clean-up efforts. Replacing a light bulb isn’t the same as replacing an entire signal system.

Since the RPA mentioned the paucity of overnight riders, everyone latched onto this idea as a bad one put forth by a think tank insulated from the reality of low-income workers who rely on the late-night subway service, as bad as unreliable as it is, to get from work to home. Officer cleaners and late-shift healthcare aides can ill afford to lose their rides home. The outcry was immediate.

The mayor sounded an alarm and New York exceptionalism at its finest. “I’m a New Yorker, ” he said. “Twenty-four hour subway service is part of our birthright. You cannot shut down the subway at night. This is a 24 hour city.” (Of course, other 24-hour cities have more reliable late-night options via buses which are better suited for late-night ridership volumes, and some are only now introducing limited 24-hour service a few nights a week, but I digress.)

One City Council member is considering introducing a bill mandating overnight subway service be maintained if the MTA wants city funding. The law of unintended consequences is screaming in protest as this mandate could inhibit the MTA’s ability to do any work, let alone large-scale capital work it seemingly cannot do now.

Even MTA Chairman Joe Lhota pushed back hard as he seemingly objected to something the RPA wasn’t even proposing. “I believe a permanent closure of the entire subway system every night is a bit draconian,” he said. “The MTA has successfully been closing certain subway lines in evenings and on weekends as needed for maintenance and repairs. A permanent closure, I fear, would be inappropriate for the ‘city that never sleeps.'”

Had the RPA been more careful in its initial release, no one would have been talking about a permanent closure, and it’s not clear to me that the RPA intended to infer that a permanent closure was even on the table. We can unequivocally say that a permanent overnight closure of the subway system shouldn’t be on the table. The MTA doesn’t have enough maintenance workers to make this worthwhile, and there is no real underlying need to stop 24/7 service.

But to improve subway service at all other times, it may be time to consider line-by-line shutdowns for extended periods of time so that the MTA can make modernization a reality in the next 15 years rather than the next 40. My proposal comes with many conditionals and is modeled on the L train shutdown and what I believe to be the proper mitigation plan. Close entire lines, or certain discrete segments of them, for the number of months needed to make all repairs and replacements to the signal system. Provide adequate advanced notice and adequate replacement service (via bus bridges and increased service on nearby lines) and institute a night bus service as robust as the one in London. If this is sold as a short-term pain that’s necessary to deliver long-term gains, New Yorkers will accept it and plan around it. At this point, considering the state of the subway system, do we have another choice?

Last Thursday, RPA Chair Scott Rechler made just that point as the brouhahah over his organization’s plan developed.

Some late-night workers voiced their support too.

Of course, this is where the MTA’s credibility gap is a big negative. We don’t know what the L train mitigation plan is yet, and DOT and the MTA will have to collaborate on surface-level replacement service to a degree not seen in recent years. Worse though, New Yorkers don’t believe the MTA can complete work on time or provide adequate replacement service, and riders fear the MTA won’t restore service that is lost to short-term cuts. Based on the agency’s recent track record, I don’t blame anyone for this skepticism.

Yet, I’m left with the feeling that options are limited. Normal service these days is an unreliable toss-up of failing signals and endless delays, and experts expect unreliable transit to have a negative impact on NYC’s economy. If Option A involves short-term 24/7 shutdowns with the promise after of much better service and Option B involves muddling through until the entire system collapses, I’ll take A. How we get there from here involves careful messaging and a reasoned debate over the past way to fix the NYC subway system. The RPA’s plan, and the outcry over one vague paragraph in an otherwise thorough document, was not the way to start the discussion.

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Current TTC head Andy Byford will be the next NYC Transit president. (Photo via TTC)

Current TTC head Andy Byford will be the next NYC Transit president. (Photo via TTC)

Being the next head of New York City Transit may sound like a thankless, no-win situation. Between a public rightly demanding something resembling reliable and trustworthy transit service and a boss in Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanding whatever half-developed idea pops into his head on any given morning, the constituencies for this presidency are fickle and, in the case of commuters facing another morning of subway meltdowns, angry. But that doesn’t stop many people from taking on the Herculean, or perhaps Sisyphean, task of running and fixing the subways, and last week, the MTA announced that Andy Byford, from London by way of Sydney and Toronto, will assume the role of New York City Transit President by the end of the year.

Byford replaces Ronnie Hakim atop Transit. When Joe Lhota took over the MTA, Hakim moved into the position of MTA Managing Director, splitting responsibilities with MTA President Patrick Foye and MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber. “We are thrilled that Andy is going to lead NYC Transit during this time of great change,” Lhota said in a statement last week. “Our transit system is the backbone of the world’s greatest city and having someone of Andy’s caliber to lead it will help immensely, particularly when it comes to implementing the Subway Action Plan that we launched this summer. In order to truly stabilize, modernize and improve our transit system, we needed a leader who has done this work at world-class systems and Andy’s successes in Toronto are evidence that he is up to this critically important task.”

The British native started out working for the London Underground in the late 1980s before working in leadership for both South Eastern Trains and London’s Southern Railway. He spent a few years in Australia with RailCorp before moving to Toronto where he has led the Toronto Transit Commission since 2012. APTA recently named the TTC, under Byford, as its Outstanding Transit System of the Year, but not all has been wine and roses for Byford in Toronto. Some Torontonians have grown weary of near-annual fare hikes, and Toronto transit voice Steve Munro told The Times that Byford has grown “somewhat less receptive to criticism” over the years.

Still, Byford brings an international perspective to an agency that has been mired in New York Exceptionalism for years. The MTA has been seemingly shy or afraid about implementing best practices not invented here for reasons that have been tough to explain. If Byford can bring his learnings from London, Australia and Toronto to New York City, perhaps Transit can fight its way out of this crisis with an approach more robust than Lhota’s pet Subway Action Plan.

But Byford’s approach in Toronto and the legacy he leaves behind is almost besides the point as the 800 pound gorilla in New York’s room looms large. That gorilla is of course Andrew Cuomo and the influence he exerts over, well, everything. Byford brings a unique perspective to the insular MTA, but the question is whether Cuomo will listen. So far, he hasn’t as Byford participated in the laughably sterile MTA Reinvention Commission a few years ago and on a panel this past summer as part of the MTA genius campaign. Both led to recommendations that were routinely ignored in Albany.

In The Times last week, Marc Santora explored the question of politics and the ways in which Byford should or shouldn’t play politics. (It’s the companion piece, in a way, to Jim Dwyer’s full-on assault on the poor politics of transportation in New York right now.) Santora’s thesis is that Byford should avoid political fights, specifically the feud between Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. But Byford shouldn’t be afraid of taking positions, and I worry already that he’s going to thread too fine a needle. Take a look at this excerpt from Santora’s piece (the emphasis is mine) :

Mr. Cuomo supports a congestion pricing plan that would charge drivers entering the most crowded parts of Manhattan and is expected to offer a detailed proposal early next year. Mr. de Blasio has been steadfast in his opposition to congestion pricing, saying it would burden low-income New Yorkers, and has instead pushed a plan to raise taxes on wealthy residents.

Mr. Byford said he was “agnostic” about how the money is raised, adding that his task was to show that he could win political support by building a management team capable of running the subway. Transit advocates said he must also win over riders by quickly showing concrete gains, especially by improving on-time performance.

I am willing to give Byford a pass because he’s the new guy, but being agnostic as to matters of transit, transportation equity and funding is a recipe for being a Cuomo pawn. We need a New York City Transit president who is willing to be a champion for New York City transit with a lower case t. He should fight for smart policies and intelligent funding that can help stabilize and modernize our old system. That will involve challenging Cuomo and taking sides that aren’t always popular in Albany. Will that play with the Governor? Will that help push Transit toward a future where delays and poor service aren’t the norms? It’s a tall task, and for now, it’s Byford’s.

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I’m writing this from an airplane over the Atlantic Ocean or perhaps Newfoundland by now. As those of you who follow me on Instagram know, I’ve spent the last week and a half in London on vacation taking in the sights of a changing city I haven’t seen since 2006 and enjoying a city with a functional transit network. Though the locals in London may complain about crowded rush hour trains and intermittent signal issues that make service less than reliable, outsiders can find a transit paradise.

Except for a weekend trip on the Overground, I never had to wait more than a handful of minutes for a train, and rush hour service means the next train arrives before you can even walk half the length of the platform. The buses run regularly and reliably, and the system is growing quickly. It shows what a city committed to transit can do.

On Saturday afternoon, while sitting in a brewery in a railway arch underneath the elevated Overground, I read Brian Rosenthal, Emma Fitzsimmons and Michael LaForgia’s stunning overview of a transit system in crisis. In what is the first in a series, three reporters from The Times held back no punches in blaming everyone, mayors and governors and labor leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, for the decline of the New York City subway system. As I sat in a revenue-generating productive reuse of potential dead space underneath transit, I absorbed this indictment via newspaper.

You can check out my overview on Twitter. I wrote up a series of threaded tweets with excerpts from the article, but let’s dive in. It’s well worth the time you may spend reading the entire piece if you haven’t already, but let’s discuss highlights. All excerpts below are from the piece itself.

How bad is it? Bad.

Signal problems and car equipment failures occur twice as frequently as a decade ago, but hundreds of mechanic positions have been cut because there is not enough money to pay them — even though the average total compensation for subway managers has grown to nearly $300,000 a year.

Daily ridership has nearly doubled in the past two decades to 5.7 million, but New York is the only major city in the world with fewer miles of track than it had during World War II. Efforts to add new lines have been hampered by generous agreements with labor unions and private contractors that have inflated construction costs to five times the international average.

New York’s subway now has the worst on-time performance of any major rapid transit system in the world, according to data collected from the 20 biggest. Just 65 percent of weekday trains reach their destinations on time, the lowest rate since the transit crisis of the 1970s, when graffiti-covered cars regularly broke down.

And whose fault is it? Everyone’s.

None of this happened on its own. It was the result of a series of decisions by both Republican and Democratic politicians — governors from George E. Pataki to Mr. Cuomo and mayors from Rudolph W. Giuliani to Bill de Blasio. Each of them cut the subway’s budget or co-opted it for their own priorities. They stripped a combined $1.5 billion from the M.T.A. by repeatedly diverting tax revenues earmarked for the subways and also by demanding large payments for financial advice, I.T. help and other services that transit leaders say the authority could have done without. They pressured the M.T.A. to spend billions of dollars on opulent station makeovers and other projects that did nothing to boost service or reliability, while leaving the actual movement of trains to rely on a 1930s-era signal system with fraying, cloth-covered cables. They saddled the M.T.A. with debt and engineered a deal with creditors that brought in quick cash but locked the authority into paying $5 billion in interest that it otherwise never would have had to pay.

At a high level, the article discusses the turnover plaguing the MTA, but it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of brain drain at an agency that cannot retain young talent and buries progressive voices underneath layers of bureaucracy. It talks about bloated management and salaries for thousands of people that outpace what New York City’s mayor or New York State’s governor make each year. “It’s genuinely shocking how much of every dollar that goes to the M.T.A. is spent on expenses that have nothing to do with running the subway,” former EDC head Seth Pinsky said to The Times.

The story The Times tells begins at a local level with Mayor Giuliani:

After more than a decade of spending, about $50 billion in today’s dollars, reliability soared. Cars traveled 10 times farther before breaking down. Riders returned in droves. It was a golden era; New York and its subway seemed to be on the rise together. Then, records show, officials pulled back.

It started with New York City’s mayors. While the M.T.A., the sprawling organization that operates the New York subway and bus lines, two commuter railroads and several bridges, is run by the state, the subway is owned by the city. In addition to creating confusion, this dynamic sparks funding battles.

Historically, the city has funded about 10 percent of the M.T.A.’s total budget. Mr. Giuliani decided to change that in 1994, when he became the city’s first Republican mayor in two decades. Facing a budget shortfall and eager to show he could run the city without raising taxes, he announced he would cut the city’s contribution to the M.T.A.’s operating and capital budgets by $400 million.

After Giuliani instituted disastrous cuts, neither transit-loving Michael Bloomberg nor pseudo-progressive Bill de Blasio did anything to reverse this lack of support. In today’s dollars, the city gives 75 percent less cash to help MTA operations than it did in 1990, and despite owning the subways, the city and its leaders spend more time fighting with state officials than working to solve the crisis. As the city has boomed, transit investment has lagged far behind, and we feel the effects every day.

But it’s not just a city problem.

Lawmakers in Albany trimmed funding for subway maintenance throughout the 1990s, records show, even as the state budget grew from $45 billion to $80 billion. Then they kept funding mostly flat for years, despite the surge in ridership.

Under Mr. Pataki, the state eliminated subsidies for the M.T.A., opting to make the authority rely entirely on fares, tolls and revenue from taxes and fees earmarked for transit. It also ended state funding for capital work. The move rankled the state comptroller at the time, H. Carl McCall, who warned that taxes and fees were unstable.

Mr. Pataki also started a trend of redirecting revenues from taxes. In 1995, he pushed through a state income tax cut and helped pay for it by taking more than $200 million in tax revenues that had been set aside for transit. His three successors followed suit. At least $850 million has been diverted in the past two decades, records show.

Bear Stearns helped refinance the MTA’s debt and helped fund Pataki reelection efforts, and the MTA’s debt bomb looms large over everything. It seemed at one time that Eliot Spitzer may have been keen to reverse this trend, but he was ousted by his own scandals. And we all know what Andrew Cuomo has – or hasn’t – done with transit over his tenure in Albany.

Meanwhile, The Times details the myriad ways the city and state has hobbled the MTA. The pieces tells of a bond issuance fee that has cost the MTA $328 million over 15 years, and Sheldon Silver’s threats to withdraw funding if the MTA didn’t sink over $750 million to fund cost overruns for the largely superfluous transit hub at Fulton St. Cuomo lately has pushed for his enhanced station initiative, targeting stations the MTA didn’t feel required renovations and without needed dollars for ADA compliance efforts, a potential source of liability for the MTA.

The Times also takes on the TWU and exposes Cuomo’s stunning hypocrisy at the same time. The article notes that subway works average $170,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. Their raises over the past 10 years far outstrip other public sector unions, and their current salaries dwarf average salaries in other major American cities. Plus, New York trains are still operated by two workers, a oddity that makes us unique the world over.

Union rules also drive up costs, including by requiring two M.T.A. employees on every train — one to drive, and one to oversee boarding. Virtually every other subway in the world staffs trains with only one worker; if New York did that, it would save nearly $200 million a year, according to an internal M.T.A. analysis obtained by The Times. Several M.T.A. officials involved in negotiating recent contracts said that there was one reason they accepted the union’s terms: Mr. Cuomo.

The governor, who is closely aligned with the union and has received $165,000 in campaign contributions from the labor group, once dispatched a top aide to deliver a message, they said. Pay the union and worry about finding the money later, the aide said, according to two former M.T.A. officials who were in the room.

Mr. Cuomo’s office said in a statement that the M.T.A. handled its own labor negotiations and that campaign contributions had not influenced any of his actions.

Cuomo, of course, was singing a different tune two years ago when he trumpeted his own involvement in TWU negotiations.

Meanwhile, no one wants to take responsibility for this mess. We have no champion to save the system, and those in charge are avoiding culpability. The MTA has cooked its books to show better performance than it has delivered, and Joe Lhota, brought in recently to oversee the MTA, seemed to avoid taking ownership of the problem.

Mr. Lhota said that quirks existed in all data and that M.T.A. officials handled the classification consistently. He rejected any suggestion that officials were manipulating numbers to make themselves look better or blame customers for problems. “The delays are solely the responsibility of the New York City Transit Authority,” he said, referring to the agency that runs the subway.

I’m not sure where we go from here but down. No one is stepping up to bring in direct funding for maintenance or a congestion pricing scheme that will rescue our streets and fund transit investments. We’re not getting an Overground or a Crossrail to save the city, and we can barely build capital projects, let alone at cost or on time. The newly reelected mayor doesn’t care, and the governor cares only to the extent he can trumpet his poorly-thought-out support for infrastructure into some kind of platform for his doomed 2020 White House run. For me, coming home from London, New York City’s transit looks bad, and it’s only going to get worse.

Categories : MTA Politics
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A 14th Street PeopleWay could be a model for other major crosstown thoroughfares in Manhattan. (14ST.OPS)

Based on planning documents, a Peopleway may not be quite in the cards for 14th Street during the L train shutdown. (14ST.OPS)

At Transportation Camp over the weekend, I led an impromptu discussion session on the challenges we face and lessons we could learn from the looming L train shutdown. (You haven’t forgotten about the L train shutdown in my absence, right?) A room full of biased transportation policy wonks came to the general conclusion that the city should implement bus-only restrictions over the Williamsburg Bridge and the 14th St. Peopleway, prioritizing buses, bikes and pedestrians throughout the 15-month shutdown. This complete street could serve as a model for other busy NYC corridors, and the alternative is a transportation hell in which personal autos, for-hire vehicles, privately-operated jitneys and buses all compete for the limited space on the city’s limited access points into Manhattan.

Well, don’t hold your breath. A source provided me with a glimpse of some planning documents this week, and while NYC DOT is leaning toward certain restrictions across East River Bridge and some bus prioritization along certain Manhattan corridors, a full-fledged Peopleway may not be in the cards. The plans aren’t public yet and diagrams are labeled for discussion purposes only. DOT, I’ve been told, has been instructed to hold back on public announcements until after the mayoral election in November. But they tell the story of an agency both unaware of what it faces when a subway tunnel that carries over 260,000 people shuts down for an extended period and unwilling to lay down the gauntlet when it comes to restricting private automobile access to Manhattan.

According to the documents, New York City Transit and NYC DOT may not be on quite the same page when it comes to mitigating the impact of the shutdown. The MTA had drawn up a plan to run 60 buses over the Williamsburg Bridge during peak hours in both directions. The MTA had identified three potential bus corridors: Grand St. to 1st Ave. and 15th, Grand St. to the Broadway/Lafayette subway stop, and a Bedford Ave.-Broadway/Lafayette route. To do this, the MTA determined it would need bus priority across the bridge and on the approaches and exits at either end.

DOT, meanwhile, based on its modeling has other ideas. Per the documents, a bus-only plan for the Williamsburg Bridge failed due to expected congestion on surrounding streets, but the model may not have accounted for longer bus corridors (e.g., from the Williamsburg Bridge, north to 14th St and west to 10th Avenue). While the plan is not set in stone, the city agency is leaning toward a HOV3 set-up in which the Williamsburg Bridge would be a HOV3-only bridge from around 5 a.m. through at least the evening rush while the other three East River Bridges would be HOV3 only in the Manhattan-bound direction from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. DOT still plans to study the approaches and exits of these bridges in detail, but it’s not clear when those studies will be initiated. The L train shutdown, meanwhile, starts in less than 18 months.

To make matters worse, the planning documents raise some “political” concerns that this modest HOV3 plan won’t pass muster, and a bus-only lane could run up against enforcement issues. The fallback is a HOV3 policy on only the Williamsburg Bridge without a dedicated bus/truck lane as DOT claims enforcement of a mile-long bus lane is impractical. However, HOV3 enforcement on both Staten Island and the LIE is severely lacking, and I’m taking DOT’s word with a huge grain of salt. Even still, any plan that permits modest high-occupancy vehicles without prioritizing buses or truly high-occupancy transit options makes me worried about the traffic impact.

The plans for 14th St. are a bit better. The MTA plans to operate over 30 M14 SBS trips in each direction during peak hours, and DOT is amenable to prioritizing access over certain corridors to ensure this bus brigade can move through the city. The mayor hasn’t yet signed off on this plan internally, but DOT supports an eastbound busway from 9th to 3rd Aves., a westbound busway from 3rd to 8th Aves. and dedicated bus lanes in both directions between 3rd and 1st Aves. and westbound from 8th to 9th Aves. Access to other vehicles will be limited only to those making deliveries and accessing garages and only if vehicles turn from the avenue nearest their destinations. Sidewalks could be widened throughout some of the busway area, but either DOT or the MTA (or perhaps both) seem to feel adding a bike lane would both reduce space and “complicated” bus operations.

Clearly, the best part of this plan is the city’s treatment of 14th St., and even this limited busway could serve as a model for future corridors. But overall, this talk of HOV3 lanes is nothing but disappointing. The city doesn’t seem willing to take a politically risky step of re-envisioning travel corridors from the Williamsburg Bridge to the west side of Manhattan at 14th St. and can’t wrap its head around telling drivers they have to take a back seat to buses for 15 months. It also seems as the city doesn’t understand who’s traveling along the L train or where they are going as this plan heavily favors those who can access the bridges. Further, even with HOV3 restrictions across the East River crossings, Manhattan will be inundated with private automobiles and for-hire vehicles. It will be our own version of Carmageddon.

It’s obvious why DOT and the Mayor’s Office aren’t keen for this plan to see the light of day before election day. Drivers won’t like it, and a transit community already skeptical of Bill de Blasio’s approach to policy won’t either. In that sense, it’s the worst of any world, and I’m skeptical it will truly solve the transit crisis for those who rely on the Canarsie Line. With just over 17 months to go before the shutdown, it’s looking dicey indeed that anyone planning for it is truly ready for what’s coming.

Categories : L Train Shutdown
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Hollywood these days is suffering from reboot fever. Spider-Man, now a part of the all-encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe, witnessed its third stab at the webbed avenger in 15 years while the all-female Ghostbusters drew headlines last year. By some accounts, there are over 120 reboots in the works. New York, now a city to be left out of the latest trends, wants to join in, and the reboot may just be a traffic pricing plan.

When last we left congestion pricing, so many years ago, the City Council had approved Mayor Bloomberg’s request but it died a closed-door death in the New York State Assembly when the now-disgraced Sheldon Silver killed it. This move was a blow to home rule and a blow to an effort to rationalize East River tolls and reduce the ill effects of congestion pricing. It killed a potential steady stream of income for transit investments and killed the productivity gains that would come with limited single-occupancy vehicle traffic in the busiest parts of Manhattan.

Now, as the mayor and the governor square off over transit funding, some form of a traffic pricing plan seems to be back on the table. It’s a reboot, baby, and this time, our mayor is the villain (or perhaps just playing one).

The story broke last week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said congestion pricing is “an idea whose time has come.” He didn’t say too much more than that, and in the week since the story first broke, he’s been silent on details despite some back-slapping at the future Moynihan Station a few days ago. The Times had a little bit more on the lack of details and politics:

“Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” Mr. Cuomo said. He declined to provide specifics about how the plan would work and what it would charge, but said that he had been meeting with “interested parties” for months and that the plan would probably be substantially different from Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal.

“We have been going through the problems with the old plan and trying to come up with an updated and frankly better congestion pricing plan,” Mr. Cuomo said. A key priority is making it as palatable as possible to commuters from the suburbs and boroughs outside Manhattan without undercutting the primary goals: providing a dedicated funding stream for the transit system, while reducing traffic squeezing onto some of the country’s most gridlocked streets.

…Unlike a tax on wealthy New Yorkers, which would be limited in scope and affect a relatively small number of people, congestion pricing would have a far broader impact on people inside and outside the city. After Mr. Cuomo’s past skepticism that state lawmakers would support congestion pricing, his willingness now to support the idea may improve its fortunes in Albany.

Without any details of what kind of plan Cuomo is supporting, it’s hard to assess this move, and it’s even tougher to see through the politics of it. Mayor de Blasio, forever willing to give up leading on key transportation issues, has repeatedly said that congestion pricing is dead on arrival in Albany, and although some transit advocates think this is a maneuver to draw Cuomo’s hand in pushing congestion pricing as an opposite reaction to de Blasio, the mayor continued to speak ill of any traffic pricing plan this week. In fact, he and I. Dankee Miller, one of the worst City Council members on progressive transit issues, spoke out against Cuomo’s idea last week. The Times’ editorial board likes it in theory but Staten Island too is skeptical. (Some villains always show up for the reboots after all.)

As we speculate about Cuomo’s ideas for congestion pricing and what comes next, Streetsblog, in response to Mayor de Blasio’s complaints about unfairness and “penalizing” the Outer Boroughs — has written a thoughtful defense of the Move New York plan. This plan would rationalize tolls across all river crossings into Manhattan and provide money for transit upkeep while reducing congestion.

The real wild card here though is Cuomo. We don’t know what he wants to do, and his plans have always been, well, his. He’s proposed half-baked plans for Penn Station, a backwards AirTrain for Laguardia and an overpriced Penn Station Access. He hasn’t shown a willingness to let experts help guide him to the best decisions, and everyone seems to be holding their breaths on congestion pricing. New York has an opportunity to get this right, but we can’t let it slip away. While congestion pricing won’t solve every transportation ill, it’s piece in a larger puzzle of solutions that will. It’s up to Cuomo to lead properly, and so far, he has a very mixed record on that very topic. But stay tuned. This reboot hasn’t played itself out yet, and as the 2018 gubernatorial campaign inches into view, this won’t be the last we hear of it.

Categories : Congestion Fee
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Can Joe Lhota's action plan save the NYC subway from collapse? And how will the city and state work out their arguments over funding?

Can Joe Lhota’s action plan save the NYC subway from collapse? And how will the city and state work out their arguments over funding?

Over the past few weeks, months and even years, as the mayor and governor have engaged in a recent public war over responsibility for subway financing, with Gov. Cuomo using transit lapdogs to attempt to explain, incredibly, that funding the subway is a city rather than a state responsibility, a counter-narrative has emerged in some wonkier corners, and it’s a counter-narrative I have long embraced. The MTA does not actually need more money or more funding. It has an annual operations budget of over $15 billion and a five-year capital plan of nearly $30 billion. But as has been shown time and again, most notably by Alon Levy, the MTA’s spending is exponentially greater than every other subway system’s in the world. Before politicians send even more millions and billions into the black hole of spending that is the MTA, aggressively cost reform should be front and center on the table.

But we are instead left with a political game of hot potato, and instead of cost reform, we have an escalating war over money with the city and state each trying to outmaneuver each other in a ploy to get more money for subways. The latest battle in this war started while I was on vacation in Mexico two weeks ago when MTA Chairman Joe Lhota introduced the MTA action plan, a two-pronged approach with a $836 million Phase 1 that will serve as a short-term band aid and a Phase 2 that could cost at least $8 billion and that is designed to address the heart of the subway’s problems: a system-wide replacement of the subway’s signal system.

The Subway Action Plan was put together by the usual gang of NYC transit “experts” – your Wyldes, Doctoroffs, Samuelsens, Kalikos, Russianoffs and Mosses of the city without worldly input – and is available here as a lengthy pdf. In the short-term, they key elements are as follows:

  • Emergency track cleaning and repair initiatives as well as emergency signal repair efforts;
  • Increased subway car maintenance efficiency;
  • Potentially adding cars to certain C line trains;
  • A seatless-car pilot on the Times Square Shuttle and L trains that could add space for up to 25 more people per car (though this is decidedly unfriendly and went nowhere when first proposed in 2010);
  • More frequent station cleaning;
  • Streamlined EMS dispatch procedures and staging areas;
  • and

  • A variety of other management-oriented changes designed to improve subway operations.

These sound modest because they are, and the heavy lifting comes in Phase 2 when the MTA has to get down to the business of modernizing the backbone of the subway system. But the MTA feels these efforts can begin to attack the root of the frequent problems plaguing the system lately. The praise for the plan came in from a variety of corners with the MTA sending out press releases from David Dinkins and a former FRA administrator. But while the state offered to fund half of it, many of the statements — and some aggressive attacks by Cuomo’s friends at the TWU — were not-so-veiled attempts to draw more money out of Bill de Blasio and NYC.

Now on the one hand, this fight is ridiculous. New York City taxpayers are footing this bill whether the dollars are appropriated at the state level or the city level, and we’re the ones suffering through bad service and paying the fares each day. We’re paying no matter what. On the other hand, de Blasio and Cuomo are set to battle this out until one of them wins, whatever victory emerges.

For a week and a half, de Blasio refused to budge and Cuomo dug in…until Sunday when this story hit The Times. The mayor will propose a tax on those earning $500,000 or more that will help fund the subway action plan and the Fair Fares initiative to offer subsidized subway fares to low-income New Yorkers. This is part of a plan that Michael Gianaris, a state senator from Queens, has pushed recently and would affect approximately 32,000 New Yorker taxpayers.

Coincidentally (haha), both Joe Lhota and Andrew Cuomo put out similar statements praising the mayor’s move, but channeling Veruca Salt, they both demanded more now. “After saying the MTA doesn’t need money, we’re glad the Mayor reversed himself,” Joe Lhota said on behalf of the MTA. “However we need short-term emergency financing now. The Mayor should partner with us and match the state funding now so we can turn the trains around. There’s no question we need a long-term funding stream, but emergency train repairs can’t wait on what the state legislature may or may not do next year.”

Cuomo:

“The subway system is in crisis today. We need two things: immediate action, and a long-term modernization plan. One without the other fails the people of the city. “The State is currently evaluating a range of dedicated revenue proposals for the future to be discussed and advanced in January when the legislature returns. There is no doubt that we need a long-term dedicated funding stream. But there is also no doubt that we cannot wait to address the current crisis. Riders suffer every day and delaying repairs for at least a year is neither responsible nor responsive to the immediate problem, or riders’ pain.

“The City should partner with us and match the State funding now so we can begin Chairman Lhota’s overhaul plan immediately and move forward. We cannot ask New Yorkers to wait one year to start repairs.”

But there’s a rub: On Sunday evening, Zach Fink and Emma Fitzsimmons both reported that Cuomo may begin floating various forms of congestion pricing next year in his State of the State speech. As recently as his Friday appearance on “The Brian Lehrer Show,” Bill de Blasio proclaimed congestion pricing a non-starter due to the environment in Albany. The mayor, a motorist, has been loathe to carry the torch for a plan, but it could be, in the parlance of our times, something of a game of multi-dimensional chess. If de Blasio supports it, Cuomo won’t, and if Cuomo comes up with it first so that it’s one of his pet ideas, the governor will find a way to push it through.

So perhaps the endgame of this summer’s (and spring’s and fall’s and winter’s) bad subway service is a fight for and over congestion pricing. There are worse outcomes for the city; that’s for sure. But right now, the subways need Lhota’s action plan and better service before the bottom falls out. Let the politicians duke it out, and someone, for the love of all that’s holy, please pick up the mantle of cost reform.

Categories : MTA Politics
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Gov. Cuomo wants to light up the MTA's bridges, but it seems superfluous in an era of subway decline.

Gov. Cuomo wants to light up the MTA’s bridges, but it seems superfluous in an era of subway decline.

Let’s talk for a few minutes about the Governor, New York City bridges and another Cuomo-inspired idea to turn those bridges into a coordinated light show in part in order to attract tourists to the city. This has been an ongoing plan of the Governor’s for a while, and similar to the backward AirTrain, it’s a top-down plan that does nothing to address fundamental issues of mobility plaguing New York while showing Cuomo’s misplaced priorities. And someone has to pay for it.

Enter Dana Rubinstein and her piece in Politico:

Before a spring meltdown turned into a full-on “summer of hell” for the city’s subways, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was proudly promoting a project to outfit the region’s bridges with pulsating, multi-colored LED lights that could provide choreographed light shows in concert with the city’s skyscrapers. “So, literally, you’ll have bridges all across the New York City area that are choreographed — nothing like this has been done on the planet,” Cuomo told reporters in January.

Now, amid daily reports of infrastructure failures and the governor’s sliding poll numbers, the Cuomo administration will not even say how much the lighting scheme will cost — except to dispute early, internal estimates it could cost more than $350 million — or where that money will come from. “This is definitively NOT being paid for by the MTA,” emailed Cuomo spokesman Jon Weinstein.

The project, part of a broader plan called “New York Crossings,” would outfit the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels — and the Port Authority’s George Washington Bridge — with pulsating, multicolored LED lights that can be choreographed with each other, with the Empire State Building and with One World Trade. But if not the MTA, who will be paying for it? “We are considering options,” Weinstein said, “but as it is a project to generate tourism and economic development, and uses technology for energy efficiency, it will be financed by [the New York Power Authority] and parts of the project could likely be funded by [Empire State Development].”

That may come as a surprise to board members of the New York Power Authority, who discussed an MTA lighting project at their meeting in January. They were told the project would be paid for by the MTA, which, like the Power Authority, is effectively controlled by the governor. In March, the NYPA board was presented with unaudited financial reports showing an LED lighting project for the MTA was slated to cost $216 million. That the MTA would foot the bill was also the understanding within the agency, according to two knowledgeable sources. Those sources also said the MTA has been working to mitigate costs in order to make the project more politically palatable.

Later in the day, the mayor finally took a stand supporting subway riders (who also happen to be his constituents).”I can tell you that people who ride the subway are not interested in a light show,” Bill de Blasio said to reporters. In response, toward the end of the day, the Governor’s press team issued a legally incorrect statement claiming all capital funding relating to the subway is the responsibility of the city, and this debate seemed destined to become another battle in the war between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. The only casualties, besides the two politicians’ reputations as adults, are their overlapping constituents.

Politically in-fighting aside, the dust-up over the lights and Cuomo’s continued support for this show misplaced priorities and bad incentives. First, while I believe it’s ridiculous for Cuomo to tout the tourism benefits — who wants to stand near the Newtown Creek a mile from a subway stop watching traffic on the city’s most congested highway passes through the Kosciuszko Bridge? — bridge lights can and do drive visitors elsewhere. It’s not patently absurd on its face; it’s just the wrong transit priority and will incentivize bad behavior as it will lead to more cars on the road as people drive around looking at bridges. (See for instance this amusing exchange between SI Advance’s Anna Sanders and her parents.)

But it also highlights Cuomo’s fundamental misunderstanding of what’s important right now. The subway system is falling apart, and millions of New Yorkers — and visitors — can’t get around as easily and as reliably as they used to. This will have a much more negative impact on the city’s economy than the LED light show Cuomo wants to install on MTA bridges around the city. That no one knows who will pay for this or how much it will cost at a time when Cuomo’s pet projects are already draining other transit resources that should be available to address the subway crisis is icing on the cake. For now, the focus should be on shoring up mass transit. The light shows can wait.

Categories : MTA Politics
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I’ve been thinking about some ways to keep this site moving in light of the time I have to spend on it these days. As you all know, new posts have been infrequent and without warning. The site isn’t dead, but I’m going to try a new format around these pages. My goal is a weekly post on Sunday nights/Monday morning with some key links at the end. I may try to do one or two posts during the week that are links to articles worth reading. You can also keep up on with my on Twitter as well. There’s a lot going on in transit these days — both noise and otherwise — and I don’t want to stay silent.

To that end, let’s dive into the news of last month: Shortly before the first end of the New York legislative session — in fact, with only a few hours to spare, Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally nominated a permanent MTA Chair. The move was a surprise as supposedly a committee was to be engaged in a big search for a replacement, but when the dust settled, Cuomo appointed Joe Lhota, the former MTA head, to resume his spot. Lhota agreed and was confirmed with hardly any hearing, a part of Albany’s continued failure to exercise its MTA oversight obligations. He’ll be the Chair but will keep his job at NYU Langone while delegating executive director duties to someone else. For now, that “someone else” is still Ronnie Hakim.

At the time, in June, Lhota’s appointment seemed to me to be a bit of a “Hail Mary” move by a beleaguered governor. Lately, the subway’s performance decline has been notable, and a growing drumbeat has emerged out of New York City ensuring that Cuomo is named as the source of the problem, as he in charge of the MTA, and calling for him to do something. Right now, Cuomo needs someone to project competency, and Lhota projects competency. After all, he was in charge of the MTA during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and was credited with getting so much of the system up and running again relatively quickly after such a catastrophic storm. So Lhota, a member of the search committee, winds up with the job.

In the aftermath of Lhota’s appointment, Gov. Cuomo has declared a state of emergency for the MTA. It’s not quite clear if that has legal force, but it allowed Cuomo to garner headlines for promising an additional $1 billion in MTA funding. (It’s not quite clear where that $1 billion will go or if Cuomo understands how laughably small that amount is considering the cost of overhauling the signal system.) Lhota too in some of his first public comments, promised to overhaul the MTA too.

“Millions of New Yorkers depend on the MTA every day, and we must rebuild confidence in the authority with a complete overhaul of the system, he said during the Genius contest a few weeks ago, “identifying the root causes of our problems and taking immediate and decisive action to fix them. It is our responsibility to transport people as safely, quickly and efficiently as possible, and the current state of the subway system is unacceptable. In tandem with the Genius competition proposals, we will deploy a multi-faceted plan to restore confidence to the MTA and prove that we can deliver for our customers.”

Ultimately, though, the words are meaningless without actions, and actions haven’t come yet. To truly overhaul the MTA, as many have been saying for a while, requires a commitment to change at all levels. The MTA has to be able to deliver projects at a reasonable cost and in a reasonable timeframe. We need MTA projects to be competitive with European spending levels and not ten or even 100 times more expensive, and we need delivery timetables to be rapidly accelerated. The signal system project, for instance, is supposedly going to take decades, but the MTA should have a plan to shut down lines, one a time, and blitz the signal system. Could work be completed in 10 years instead of 40 with adequate attention, investment and mitigation? We the public do not know because the MTA itself, by all accounts, doesn’t know.

In Saturday’s New York Times, Joe Lhota responded to be an editorial calling for more MTA investment with a letter to the editor pushing the fiscal issue onto the shoulders of the legislature. He wants some attention on operations as well as capital. “The day-to-day operations of the subway desperately need an infusion of additional financial support from every level of government, including the city. Today, our customers pay a larger portion of the system’s operations from their daily fare than the customers of almost every other mass transit network in the country do,” Lhota wrote. “The burden of operations should not fall primarily on subway and bus riders; it’s time for all elected officials to use their budgets to support the transit system, which drives the region’s economy and makes New York possible.”

The MTA needs money, but funneling more money into a black hole won’t solve the problem. It needs to rethink who it is paying to do what, how much is being paid and how much productivity the money is generating. These aren’t easy questions, and they’ll face resistance from an entrenched bureaucracy and various special interests who don’t want the MTA’s monetary flood to slow to a trickle. These reforms — deep, structural reforms — are what Lhota must deliver to be successful. Otherwise, the state of emergency will deepen.

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It’s not controversial to state that the Governor of New York State controls the MTA. Our state’s executive directly appoints a plurality of MTA Board members, including the MTA Board Chair and all the bureaucrats tasked with leading the day-to-day operations of the transportation authority. The governor controls funding mechanisms and sets policy agendas, and this current governor has been particularly heavy-handed with pushing preferred projects and installing party loyalists in key positions.

But Governor Andrew Cuomo, faced with a daily crisis over subway service reliability, has, instead of fixing the subways, decided to draw the transit world into a different fight entirely. He wants full majority control of the MTA Board, and he wants it now. In a last-minute push as the Albany legislative session winds down, Cuomo announced via press release a move to expand his control over an agency he already controls. Cuomo’s proposal would allow him to appoint two more members to the vote and give his Board chair a second vote, thus granting the state eight appointees and nine Board votes, for a full majority of nine votes out of a proposed 17-vote structure.

Cuomo’s press release was mostly just an essay from the governor distorting the reality of MTA control. Make no mistakes about it: The governor controls the MTA, but he would have you believe otherwise. Said the guv:

“The MTA Board structure assumed regional participation in the metropolitan area’s transportation systems but left no one in charge. While New York State has six of the 14 voting seats – that is not control. There is no transformative plan that will require major change and possibly more investment that will be agreed upon by the various separate political bodies with competing needs. Complex projects don’t get effectively managed by unanimous agreement of large political bureaucracies. We don’t have 10 years to do this. The state will dedicate itself to the task and assume responsibility, but the state needs the authority.

…On the Second Avenue Subway project, for example, the MTA was floundering. The state took control of the projects using state personnel. The other members of the MTA Board did not oppose the state’s role as it was either not in their region or because they had no desire to participate in what appeared to be a doomed project. The Second Avenue Subway had been delayed for years and was projected to miss the deadline again. With the state’s intervention, we completed the task on deadline.

Some people assume the state’s six voting seats are the majority and say the state has control. Obviously, six is not a majority of the 14 voting seats, and many issues generate controversy that can cause the other jurisdictions to defeat the six votes. We have seen it already on questions of increasing local government’s operating expense contributions, but if their position is the state has control than actually providing that control should not be an issue. They can’t logically assert state control and oppose it at the same time.

In sum, let’s fix the fundamental and initial mistake – ‘put someone in charge.’ The state is the obvious entity to manage a regional network, and the state contributes a multiple of any other jurisdiction’s funding. The simple fact is if no one has the responsibility and the authority, fundamental, rapid change of any culture or system is impossible.”

This is classic Cuomo strawman. Despite his claims that many issues “can cause the other jurisdictions to defeat the six votes” the Governor controls, in practice, this doesn’t happen. Recent city appointees to the Board — most notably Veronica Vanterpool — have probed MTA dealings with a level of attention and detail not seen in recent years, but a voting bloc designed to combat Cuomo’s proposals simply hasn’t emerged. Cuomo gets his way because he has power over the MTA Board and controls the day-to-day operations of the agency.

This announcement came as a big surprise, especially at a time when the MTA has no permanent head. (As an amusing exchange between Dana Rubinstein and Fernando Ferrar laid bare, the current acting MTA chair isn’t too keen on this temporary arrangement lasting much longer.) On Monday night, the State Senate approved a Cuomo ally Scott Rechler to the MTA Board, seemingly out of nowhere, but Cuomo hasn’t named a permanent CEO/Chair or further explored his desire to split the position into two. Is he trying to distract from a leaderless MTA suffering through a crisis of reliability? Is he trying to shore up power ahead of securing point-of-no-return funding for his Moynihan Station mall or Backwards AirTrain or LIRR summer discount program (for which the MTA is already offering tickets even without Board approval)? This is speculation for now without concrete answers as Cuomo appears to be anticipating a hypothetical that does not currently exist and never has.

Jon Weinstein, the governor’s transportation spokesman, offered more clarity via Twitter but refused to respond to many reporters asking if the Board had ever overruled a governor. His statement bolstered the Governor’s claims but did little to shed light on the origins of this surprising move.

Meanwhile, advocates weren’t impressed. The Riders Alliance issued a strident statement on Tuesday afternoon. “Governor Cuomo’s MTA board proposal obscures the very real fact that the Governor already controls the MTA. The Governor appoints the MTA chair, the Governor appoints the most board members, the Governor dictates MTA spending priorities and the Governor dominates the State budget and legislative negotiations that determine how the MTA does its job. In practice, can the Governor point to any situation in which other MTA board members have teamed up to block his initiatives?” the group queried. “The problem is not MTA board structure; the problem is the absence of leadership and the lack of a credible plan from Governor Cuomo for how he will fix the subway. Riders don’t have the luxury of quibbling over MTA board governance when we know it’s not the real issue. We need a plan from the Governor and a reliable source of funding that can fix our disastrous commutes.”

Yet, on its surface, clear gubernatorial control isn’t an inherently negative idea. It would give the public a clear whipping boy for all things wrong with the MTA, and it would not allow Cuomo to take credit for the good while claiming the MTA isn’t under his control when constant bad news fills the headlines. It’s strange he would make a power grab at a time when tabloids are hammering bad subway service on a daily basis, but I’m having trouble sussing out how this move dilutes the MTA structure, unless Cuomo decided to use the power for bad intentions. He could appoint sycophants, but he’d still own the problem of bad subway service.

Interestingly, in fact, this isn’t the first time a Governor Cuomo has proposed such a move. Back in 1983, when I was but a wee lad of 2.5 months old, Mario Cuomo, who campaigned on abolishing the MTA, proposed the exact same thing. He wanted the MTA Chair to serve a term of indeterminate length at “the pleasure of the governor” and hoped to add three Board seats to cement the Albany-empowered majority. A few months later, Cuomo the elder backed down, and the largely toothless position of MTA Inspector General arose out of the brouhaha.

Will this year’s proposal meet the same fate? It’s clearly a late power-grab by Cuomo as Albany’s lawmaking clock ticks toward zoer, but Politco New York’s man in Albany Jimmy Vielkind found indifference and opposition to the proposal a few minutes after it was announced publicly. Either way, Cuomo seems to playing a game with the still-leaderless MTA that he already controls at a time when the agency, and the transportation systems it runs, need a champion, not a governor masquerading as a chessmaster.

Categories : MTA Politics
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