State Lawmakers Are Failing at MTA Oversight

In 2016, neither the Assembly nor the State Senate held a single oversight hearing about the decline of NYC transit service.

Carl Heastie and his Democratic conference during Albany budget negotiations earlier this year. Photo: Amirabbady00/Wikimedia Commons
Carl Heastie and his Democratic conference during Albany budget negotiations earlier this year. Photo: Amirabbady00/Wikimedia Commons

An analysis by Reinvent Albany provides more evidence that state lawmakers are shirking their responsibility to hold the MTA — and Governor Cuomo — accountable for deteriorating transit service.

In 2016, neither the Assembly nor the State Senate convened a hearing on NYC transit operations, according to a review by Reinvent Albany (though the MTA budget was the subject of some oversight). This at a time when subway reliability is plummeting and buses are shedding riders due to slower speeds.

Overall, the state legislature simply does not use its watchdog powers very much. The State Senate conducted just 15 oversight hearings in total in 2016, while the Assembly held 29. By contrast, the New York City Council held 111 oversight hearings last year. At least two council hearings in 2016 dealt with declining bus service.

It’s not like the MTA is off-limits for Albany oversight. State legislators don’t hesitate to insert themselves in the city’s affairs when they find it to be politically advantageous. And they can help in a crisis, when they see fit.

“The hearings the legislature did on Hoosick Falls’ water contamination were extremely important,” said Reinvent Albany Executive Director John Kaehny in a statement. “The hearings got state agencies to clarify what the facts were and what they were doing to provide clean water. Hoosick Falls is a great example of why oversight hearings matter and why the legislature should do more of them.”

There’s practically no end to the important questions state legislators could try to answer on behalf of their millions of transit-riding constituents. Why are severe subway delays happening more frequently? Why does the MTA spend so much and take so long to deliver capital improvements? What can the MTA do to speed up bus boarding and prevent bunching?

In 2017, MTA buses continue to slow down and lose riders. As the subway was breaking down on a near-daily basis this spring, the response from one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers was fitting: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he didn’t want to spend his summer “dealing with problems at the MTA.”

“The legislature, especially the city dominated assembly, is failing New Yorkers by not holding oversight hearings that produce some clear answers about why the subway system is melting down,” said Kaehny. “The MTA is the state’s largest public authority. The public relies on the legislature to hold the MTA and other authorities and agencies accountable.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Why are severe subway delays happening more frequently?”

    In large part because of the state legislature.

    “Why does the MTA spend so much and take so long to deliver capital improvements?”

    In large part because of the state legislature.

    “What can the MTA do to speed up bus boarding and prevent bunching?”

    Things that would be opposed by the state legislature.

    “The legislature, especially the city dominated assembly, is failing New Yorkers by not holding oversight hearings that produce some clear answers about why the subway system is melting down.”

    Those are answers neither the legislators nor those who control them want to hear.

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