MTA Chief Lee Sander Gets Megamodal

The Fall 2007 issue of the NYU Rudin Center’s New York Transportation Journal is out and for anyone looking to delve into some wonkish, big picture, regional transportation policy issues, it’s worth a download.

This quarter’s Journal has stories on the benefits of regular "programmed" fare increases, Seoul, South Korea’s successful bus rapid transit system and the future of transportation in the northeast corridor. That last one is somewhat awesomely titled, "From Megalopolis to Megamodal" and includes some interesting charts comparing the CO2 intensity of different passenger and freight transportation modes, and U.S. petroleum use by sector. (Wasn’t "Megamodal" the name of a big heavy metal band in the ’80s?)

Also, U. Penn professor Rachel Weinberger, one of the authors of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, interviews MTA Chief Elliot "Lee" Sander, who worked as the Director of the Rudin Center before his appointment to the MTA. Sander discusses the challenges facing the MTA and lays out his seven-part "strategic focus" for the agency. On December 12, The Rudin Center is hosting a breakfast with Lee Sander. If you would like to attend, RSVP online by December 7.

Below are some excerpts from the interview, which you can download in its entirety here:

sander.jpgRW: Looking forward then, what do you hope to accomplish in the next four years?

ES: I would like the MTA to be the best in class of large, older public transportation agencies in the world. I have identified seven areas of strategic focus that we will be working on aggressively to help get us there.

First, I want to dramatically improve workforce development at the MTA. That includes our formal relationship with organized labor, how we interact with our workforce, and how we deal with issues such as succession planning and executive development.

Second is institutional reform. There’s a need for significant institutional reform at the MTA. We have seven different agencies that have essentially been run as independent organizations. This is incredibly inefficient. In a 21st Century world where the objective is to break down boundaries and create value through synergy, the MTA, as currently constituted, is the antithesis of a well-integrated, "flat" organization.

The third area is customer service. A new initiative that Howard Roberts has begun to implement is a rider report card. This is something he and I talked about when we were running the NYCT Bus System in the ’80s. Howard then implemented it fully at SEPTA, and he found it to be very helpful. He actually was able to increase the grade in Philadelphia.

The fourth piece is system expansion, system improvement and planning. We have a huge agenda both in terms of the mega-projects and in terms of implementing the new technologies that will enable us to have better public information, better real-time control of our trains, and faster movement of our buses…

RW: Speaking of sustainability, how does the Mayor’s sustainability plan affect you?

ES: I’m very supportive of the Mayor’s plan. I worked very closely with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff when the Mayor released PlaNYC, especially the congestion pricing component because I feel strongly that the concept of congestion pricing is critical to the city and to the region. I’m pleased to have been named by the Governor to the Congestion Mitigation Commission. The MTA worked very hard, standing shoulder to shoulder with the City, on the Urban Partners application to seek federal support for the MTA’s operating and capital budget.

  • anonymous

    I’d just like to say that while more unification of the MTA agencies might sound nice in theory, in practice, it’s not so nice. For example, Metro North and LIRR could be merged into “MTA Commuter Rail”, but the outcome of such a merger depends greatly on whether the MNR or LIRR management gets control of the resulting agency. MNR is a much more competently run railroad, with better timekeeping, more service increases, more efforts at serving non-commute and reverse-commute trips, better maintained trains, and so on. It would be unfortunate to throw it all away in the name of some supposed bureaucratic efficiency.

    What we do need, though, is better integration of the various MTA (and not just MTA) agencies from a customer’s viewpoint. Have through ticketing between the commuter lines, and between commuter lines and the subway. Just because two services aren’t run by one agency, doesn’t mean they can’t cooperate. Look at the PATH train, which accepts Metrocards, despite not even being part of the MTA.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let me second opposition to unification.

    First, the distances are too great. Where would the President of a combined LIRR/MetroNorth be located? And a regional bus agency?

    Second, every time something is regionalized, more money is diverted from less well off people in NYC to better off people in the suburbs. EVERY TIME.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Larry, the money would probably be diverted anyway. Correlation does not entail causation.

    Another problem is that these “companies” are all part of a regional agency anyway. Most of the buses run by the MTA Bus company are in Queens, but their headquarters are not located in Queens, and they don’t do much outreach in Queens. For that matter, the Queens-based “private” bus companies that they took over weren’t accountable to the people of Queens in any meaningful way. The only significant exception to this is Long Island Bus.

    Another factor is that to the extent that, say, LIRR is responsive to Long Island residents and NJ Transit is responsive to New Jersey residents, it ignores that customers are not necessarily residents. I’ve had a job in New Jersey and been a regular passenger of NJ Transit, but as a Queens resident I had no say in any NJ Transit policies, even though I paid NJ taxes.

    Unification would mean less duplication of administrative structures; there’s a lot of management duties that could be shared among the various agencies. That would mean that people who are currently duplicating each others’ functions could be reassigned to more important functions.

    Regardless of unification, I agree with anonymous that better cooperation is essential. Not just in terms of cross-ticketing, but in schedule coordination and eventual progress towards through-running. One problem with framing this in terms of unification is that it leaves New Jersey out of the equation. It’s hard to imagine NJ Transit operations ever being merged into the MTA, but the need for fare and schedule coordination between NJ Transit and the LIRR, or between NJ Transit and Metro-North, is as urgent as that between the LIRR and Metro-North.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    My recommendation would be to strengthen and reform NYMTC (the NY Metropolitan Transportation Council, IMHO the least known but potentially most powerful agency in the region, as it is the sluice through which all federal transportation $ to the region flows) and make it a truly regional coordinating agency.

    To do this, I would:
    1) Eliminate the current system of “unanimous consent,” which allows each agency or municipality to hold the rest hostage on any issue or project, with no transparency or accountability to the public;
    2) Reform membership to include NJ and CT counties in the metro area;
    3) Promote transit/train agencies from advisory to voting members, on equal footing with the DOT’s
    4) Add NYC Parks as a member, as it is co-owner of many transportation facilities (parkways, greenways, waterfronts);
    5) Weight representation to reflect populations, so that suburbs cannot dominate the city.
    6) Reduce earmarks, which do an end run around the whole process!

    Just changing the membership will not change the power, of course. City Planning is a member, for example, but is nothing but a cipher, giving NYC DOT an extra “vote”. We need a mayor who instructs all city representatives to come to a consensus on what projects serve the full interests of the city, not just those of DOT.

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