What We Know So Far About Cuomo’s MTA Reinvention Commission

In early May, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the MTA to create a “transportation reinvention” panel as the authority prepared its next five-year capital plan. Members were appointed late last month, and the commission has launched Facebook and Twitter accounts. But details about its agenda and how open it will be to the public are scant. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking: The MTA capital plan has to be finalized by October 1.

Think big, act fast: Details are still murky on Andrew Cuomo's MTA reinvention commission. Photo: joiseyshowaa/Flickr
Think big, act fast: Andrew Cuomo’s MTA reinvention commission doesn’t have much time to come up with its recommendations. joiseyshowaa/Flickr

The MTA says it will announce public meetings by the end of this week, and commission members say those sessions are likely to happen next week, just days after being announced. Beyond that, things are hazy: There is no agenda for future commission meetings and no schedule for reporting the commission’s recommendations.

The 24-member panel, chaired by former US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, is being advised by MTA staff as well as mega-consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff, which is already working on the Fulton Street Transit Center, East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway, and 7 train extension to Hudson Yards — all of which are in various states of budget overrun or delay.

Advocates on the commission say it’s off to a good start, however, and they’re optimistic about what will emerge from the process.

The panel met for the first time late last month and members have been broken into five subcommittees:

  • Operating and Maintaining the Existing System
  • Meeting and Exceeding Customer Needs
  • Spurring the Continued Growth of New York’s Economy
  • Financing Investments into the Future
  • Expediting Processes, Procedures and Project Delivery of Capital Infrastructure

The subcommittees, which have weighty issues to consider, have each met at least once, sometimes via conference call. Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says members haven’t been afraid to think big. “Many of us are taking it to heart that this is a reinvention commission, and that things that have not been discussed before really should be on the table going forward, even if they’re just ideas,” she said. “It’s sort of rethinking our transportation network in this region.”

“The whole thing feels like it has more energy than the typical fare or service hearing,” said commission member Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign. “I’m hoping the commission finds a serious way to get people to think along with it about how we improve on transit.”

How that will happen remains to be seen, even to commission members. “It’s hard to talk specifics,” Vanterpool said. “I’m assuming this is going to be due this summer, but I don’t have any firm dates.”

“The commission hasn’t yet established a specific date by which it expects to conclude and/or report its work,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan. There is one final deadline: The MTA will submit its five-year capital plan to the governor and the legislature by October 1.

The MTA reinvention commission isn’t the first transit panel created in New York state, but the three most recent examples all had more time to deliberate publicly and come up with recommendations than the MTA reinvention commission.

In July 2007, the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission was created to study congestion pricing after Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal was introduced in the legislature the month before. The 17-member commission, selected by Governor Spitzer, legislative leaders, Mayor Bloomberg, and Speaker Christine Quinn, was appointed that summer and began meeting in September, tasked with making a recommendation in January 2008.

Between September and January, the congestion pricing commission met seven times and held 13 public hearings, gathering testimony in all five boroughs, Westchester County, and Long Island.

While the congestion pricing plan supported by the commission ultimately failed a few months later in the Assembly, similar issues came up again later in 2008 with the Ravitch Commission, created to address the MTA’s capital and operating finances just as the economic tailspin was wreaking havoc with the authority’s budget.

The 14-member commission, appointed by Governor David Paterson in June 2008 and chaired by former MTA chair Richard Ravitch, met seven times, including three public hearings in Manhattan, Westchester, and Long Island, before releasing its final report that December.

The most recent transit-related panel was convened by Governor Cuomo. In August 2012, county executives backed his Tappan Zee Bridge project in exchange for study groups on tolls and transit. While the toll task force has yet to materialize nearly two years later (a re-election campaign is underway, after all), the Thruway Authority announced the 28-member transit task force that December.

Nearly 15 months after its first meeting, the transit task force released its final report in February 2014. Along the way, it held 12 meetings, with 10 of those open to the public and eight accepting public comment.

Compared to the leisurely pace of the Tappan Zee transit task force, if the reinvention commission is going to have an impact on the MTA’s capital plan or its increasingly debt-dependent finances, it’s going to have to act fast.

  • Kevin Davitt

    I’m hoping one of the geniuses on the Commission acknowledges the fact that transportation is a regional issue and that more than half of NewYork’s commuters come from NJ and CT. Extremely short sighted not to have NJ Transit represented.

  • Mark Walker

    Will the commission have anything to say about the governor siphoning millions from MTA dedicated tax revenues to the general state budget? OK, that’s a sour note, and maybe something good will come of this. We’ll see.

  • Alon Levy

    More than half? What? There are 2.3 million people working in Manhattan. 1.7 million live in the city; 260,000 live in the rest of the state (mainly Long Island and Westchester); only 300,000 live in Jersey and 33,000 live in Connecticut.

    Or are you only counting commuters from out of the city?

  • BBnet3000

    You can have your reinvention but you aren’t allowed to smoke it.

  • Bolwerk

    You better drive it yourself.

  • Bolwerk

    What is there to reinvent? Most elements of best practice are globally visible for those not NIH enough to miss them. Being able to build transit on time and on budget hasn’t turned Spain into an environmental wasteland, AFAIK, so we even have rapid transit construction process procedures to emulate.

    Knowing Cuomo, “reinvent” means “dumb down.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    The question is, are people in NJ and CT willing to pay for anything? Or do they just want NYC to pay.

    Whenever these commissions show up, I expect the serfs to get screwed if it isn’t all for show.

  • Kevin Davitt

    “are people in NJ and CT willing to pay for anything?” – I’m not sure what you’re asking.

  • Kevin Davitt

    I have no ideas what your numbers are? There’s 8,414,350 people in NJ? Not sure what point you’re trying to make?

  • ohnonononono

    When he said “commuters” I’m sure he meant people who come from out of the city. This is not an uncommon distinction, for instance when people talk of reviving the “commuter tax” in NYC we mean the personal income tax on non-city residents…

  • MTAreinvention

    We just announced our Public Input Sessions for July 15, 16 and 17. Yes, we are on a fast track and since the Commission was created June 24, we have been trying to get the word out to as many people as possible. Be sure to view our online link (http://web.mta.info/mta/news/hearings/index-reinvention.html) for meeting information, but as importantly to the right of the page are links to submit comments if you can’t attend or sign up to speak at the meetings. Also, please share this information with others to encourage as much public engagement as possible in this short time frame. People can also follow our Twitter page @ReinventTranspo or Facebook TransportationReinvention.

  • Janice Schacter Lintz

    We hope The Commission will evaluate the MTA’s position on hearing access. Despite the successful induction loop project for the city’s information booths and call boxes, the MTA cancelled the installation of induction loops on all city buses. The loops were tested on two buses under a former NYCTA Chairman and have been successful on London’s buses. My understanding was the project was to be funded from the 2014 Capital Campaign fund. I was told the dollars were diverted to the Metro North incident and the Sandy clean-up. Why is disability access always the first to be cancelled? What message is NYS sending to tax paying citizens with disabilities?

    Induction loops are critical for passengers with hearing loss to receive timely and critical announcements. They should not have to rely on other passengers especially, in an emergency. If visual information is sufficient for passengers with hearing loss than why isn’t it sufficient for passengers who can hear?

    The MTA also decided not to include induction loops in their recent bid for new rail cars on the LIRR. They were deemed too expensive despite being inexpensive. Australia, England, Ireland and Spain have or will have induction loops on their rail cars. Why are they not being included in NY?

    The MTA now appears to be trying to prevent the inclusion of induction loops in the new rail guidelines. Is this an appropriate stance for a NYS agency to take? It seems odd that other countries have been able to add this technology but NY can’t and seems to be finding every excuse possible for why it can’t be included?

    The MTA’s Compliance Officer upon information and belief, had no background in access until her appointment to her current position. Recent MTA disability access meetings fail to even have hearing access on the agenda for the last three years. The MTA then wonders why hearing loss organizations fail to attend the meetings? At a recent meeting, neck loops were unavailable, the real time captioning wasn’t working and the sign language interpreter was off to the side in a dimly lit area of the room. No one from the MTA seemed to notice or even care.

    We hope The Commission will remedy the MTA’s approach to hearing access on our state’s transit system. NYS should be an inclusive state starting with our government agencies.

    Janice Schacter Lintz, Chair, Hearing Access Program

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