Photo Courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
In their letter to MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, Mayor de Blasio and Council Speaker Johnson called on his agency to “provide detailed information about each of the plan elements, including the scope of work being performed, how success is defined, and how progress is measured.”
By Michael V. Cusenza
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently fired off a furious joint letter to Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota seeking detailed accountability from the agency as it spends the City’s contribution to the Subway Action Plan.
In April, following many months of bureaucratic bickering and seemingly petty political pugilism between the City, State, and MTA, de Blasio relented and pledged to allocate $418 million for the massive initiative aimed at revolutionizing an antiquated transit system. The mayor’s decision came down hours after the State Legislature and de Blasio political sparring partner, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, reached a deal on the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 budget. Hizzoner reportedly was satisfied with several transportation items in the budget, including a $2.75 surcharge south of 96th Street in Manhattan on for-hire vehicles—both yellow and green cabs and rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft—to help ease vehicular congestion in the city.
Now, the City is demanding a comprehensive record of the MTA’s disbursement of the City’s contribution.
“It is important that the MTA provide detailed information about each of the plan elements, including the scope of work being performed, how success is defined, and how progress is measured,” de Blasio and Johnson wrote to Lhota. “City taxpayers deserve to know that they are getting a good return on their investment. The public is skeptical when it comes to work performed by the MTA, especially given recent public reports about prolonged delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns on MTA projects.”
The missive also included a series of questions and requests to provide the assurances the City seeks:
• Increase transparency: The MTA should provide a monthly update on the SAP to the MTA Board, as well as regular briefings to representatives of the mayor and Council speaker. The materials should be available to the public on the MTA’s website.
• Conduct a midcourse review: Nine months into the plan, the MTA should evaluate the effectiveness of each SAP strategy. Based on this analysis, the MTA should reallocate staff and resources to the most effective strategies.
• Focus on core needs: The MTA should redeploy staff and resources from non-critical efforts, such as station painting and retiling, to core needs, such as signal and track inspection and repair.
• Better measure progress: The MTA needs to measure progress through the reduction of time passengers spend waiting at stations or traveling on trains. It also needs to do a much better job of earning the confidence of the riding public in the accuracy of these delay statistics, de Blasio and Johnson wrote. An overhaul of how subway delay statistics are recorded and reported should be formally included in the SAP so that progress can be tracked along with the rest of the plan.
• Review operations: A comprehensive review of the use of signal timers and their effect on level of service and service reliability, as well as a review of scheduled service levels (especially at off-peak times), should be formally included in the SAP.
• Plan for the future: To ensure the City’s contribution is money well spent, the MTA must have a plan for maintenance and inspection so that any gains achieved by the SAP are maintained over the long-term.
“We are eager for everyone to put politics aside and support the important work of improving the commutes of millions of New Yorkers,” the mayor and speaker concluded.