Mr. Inside Track Helps You Understand the MTA

This highly entertaining and informative anecdote is the first contribution from Streetsblog’s new transit tipster, Mr. Inside Track:

mysore2.jpgThe New York City Transit Museum is a great place to go to see old trains, buy holiday stocking stuffers and learn the history of the subway system. One thing the museum does really well is document the story of the transit system’s transition from private ownership to public authority. 

What is not made clear in any of the Transit Museum’s fine exhibits, however, is that, today, the New York metropolitan region’s massive, multi-billion dollar transit infrastructure is run as a kind of public-private partnership. If you want to better understand what that means, then last Wednesday evening’s Transit Museum benefit dinner at the Grand Hyatt Hotel (following cocktails in Grand Central Terminal, black tie optional) was the place to be.

The Hosts, Sponsors and Benefactors of the extravaganza were a Who’s Who of New York City transportation finance, planning and engineering. The Honorary Committee included all the leading players in the New York political economy, people like Empire State Development Corporation Chairman Charles Gargano, DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, and City Council power broker Albert Vann

The list of Sponsors and Benefactors included Bombardier Transportation, Kawasaki Rail Car and Lockheed Martin, chief suppliers of the MTA’s mechanical equipment. Benefactors included Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and UBS Investment Bank, all presumably handling the underwriting of the Pataki MTA’s enormous mountain of bond debt. 

Thinkers of big thoughts like Booz Allen Hamilton and Louis T. Klauder (LTK) were signed on as Patrons and Hosts. The ubiquitous Parsons Brinckerhoff was, true to form, listed as both Patron and Host. Two Trees Management, the General Contracors Association and other big names behind the city’s real estate boom were equally well represented.

So were the members of the MTA Board and the relevant agency heads. With the Board preparing to swap Pataki’s cronies for Sptizer’s, the revolving door between consultancies and agencies was in full spin. You could almost hear the shuffling of resumes.

It was an enjoyable affair for a good cause. The chilled duck salad was excellent, the wine flowed and the open bar began to work its magic as the evening wore on. By the time the speakers mounted the dais, tongues were loose.

The introduction of the trucking and construction magnates whose large contributions to the New York State Republican Party had earned them seats on the MTA Board earned polite applause. Thanks were offered to the subcontractors and consultants who had selflessly funded the evening and the good works of the Transit Museum.

yellin.jpgThen the agency heads were introduced. Lawrence Reuter of the TA, Peter Cannito of Metro-North, Ray Kenny of the LIRR and Neil Yellin of Long Island Bus (pictured left). All of these leaders are well respected by their peers, especially Yellin who has overseen a substantial growth in ridership without any real increase in funding. Still, the polite applause barely rose above the dinner table conversation.

That is, until the introduction of Mysore Nagaraja, a mild-mannered, well-respected engineer who happens to be President of the MTA’s Capital Construction Company (pictured top). Nagaraja, said the speaker who introduced him, "will be responsible for $20 billion dollars worth of construction contracts in the coming years."

For a brief moment, the clinking of silverware stopped. A hush fell over the crowd. Then the room burst into applause. It was like Derek Jeter hit a walk-off homerun in the seventh game of the World Series. The clapping intensified and continued. The New York City Transit World rose to a standing ovation and surged into full-throated cheering, pumping fists and ear-piercing whistles. It went on. Nagaraja smiled and waved.

Then they brought out the dessert.

  • Sounds like something out of the old Robert Moses’ old Triborough days. Perhaps next year Robert Caro could be the keynote speaker?

  • mike

    I’m having flashbacks to “The Power Broker”.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    No Nagaraja is a compentent and professional engineer. Moses had no such training though he became very conversant in the language of engineers. The closest thing to Moses we have in today’s transportation world is Charles Gargano. But he is married only to the Republicans. I lifetime committment ceremony. To be really Mosesesque you have to swing from both sides of the plate.

  • Oh, I’m not saying I think anyone in that room is as corrupt or power thirsty as RM, just that the transit world seems obsessed with huge mega projects as the solution to everything. What RM created was a systemic political addiction to the expensive and massive public works projects that are of dubious value to actually improving transit conditions. Creating public spaces, building a real solid biking network and infrastructure, building out BRT and some light rail could all fit within a fraction of what will be spent on just one of the mega projects and might have greater value in reducing traffic and making life more livable. But money speaks loudly…

  • It makes you think that if bike, public space and livable streets advocates could just come up with a way to make their projects much more expensive, they’d get done.

  • JK

    Astute observations about money driving policy and low cost solutions being lost as a result. The most outstanding example is the Second Ave subway, which is projected at $15b plus. Spending a fraction of that — say $3b — for BRT and a super bikeway (it could even be the fabled “elevated veloway”) on the same street, would carry comparable numbers of travelers, save immense sums and be completed much faster.

  • Exactly – if a bike lane created thousands of construction jobs, there would be more of a lobby for them. Instead, they just save fuel, trim waistlines, improve air quality and give people a greater sense of self accomplishment. Very little profit in all that to any concentrated interest group.

  • AD

    Finally! People realizing they can make money on GOOD transportation. I am all for people getting financially rewarded by doing the right thing. Perhaps the only way to fight against the highway lobby is to create an even more potent anti-highway lobby.

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