When a New Yorker is gripping a subway railing and racing the clock to make it to work or to pick up a child from school or to catch a plane, the brain sometimes considers the sheer number of factors that determine whether you will get there on time or obliterate your day.
There could be signal problems or a sudden burst of rain that bogs the whole system down. A track fire or a “police investigation” that occurred an hour before your trip might have triggered cascading delays. A sick passenger on a train from a different line that happens to stop on the same platform as your train will wait for EMS, and you will wait with her. A car on a train six stops ahead of yours with a door problem becomes your problem. An emergency brake somewhere in the system forces your local train to go express or your express train to go local.
Waiting in a tunnel, the motor eerily quiet, the air-conditioner briefly silenced, your blood-pressure rising, the PA offers no information, let alone assurance. You wonder: Is it a little problem? Or a lot of little problems? Or is it all one big problem?
John Raskin, who founded the Riders Alliance in 2012, has looked for the last seven years at the manifold problems that affect not just one rider’s harried trip but the millions of trips NYC transit users make every day. On WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday, Raskin, who has announced his departure from the group, talked about the progress that has been made in addressing some of those issues.
But Raskin also talked about the big problem that unites all of the other challenges facing transit in New York City: The lack of accountability in the system as it now exists. Right now, the structure of the MTA allows elected officials (chiefly the governor) to deflect responsibility for performance. MTA reorganization might change that picture, and congestion pricing is a step toward increasing not just funding for but also political stakes in improving riders’ lives. But, Raskin noted, in years ahead the challenge will be to maintain that accountability for the next governor and others.
Hear the interview with Raskin below, or listen to the full show, which includes a discussion of the Department of Justice announcement that it would not prosecute Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, as well as a conversation on where the mayor’s Borough Jails plan stands.
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With reporting by Cyan Hunte.
One thought on “Max & Murphy: Leading Advocate for Transit Sizes Up MTA’s Progress”
MTA’s reorganization plan was prepared by the consulting firm Alix Partners for Governor Cuomo. Like all his previous special commissions and advisory committee reports, it is not be worth the paper it was printed on. Promised savings by consolidation of Civil Rights, Engineering, Human Resources, Legal, Procurement and other NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Road departments have been discussed and promised for decades by every generation of MTA Chairman, Board Members, Executive Management and elected officials since the 1980’s. This never happens due to work rules, seniority and contracts between different labor unions at NYC Transit, LIRR and MNRR. The same applies to anticipated savings by contracting out work to the private sector. These savings are elusive due to union work rules, union contracts and safety concerns for non MTA employees performing construction on active track.
It makes no sense for the MTA to reassign management of major NYC Transit, LIRR and MNRR capital projects to Office of Capital Construction. All three operating agencies already have their own experienced engineers, operations planning, procurement, force account, quality assurance and control employees. They have successfully managed numerous Super Storm Sandy along with other Federal Transit Administration and local funded capital projects. In many cases, they were completed on time, within budget, with few design or change orders. Check the Office of Capital Construction’s track record. If all goes well with the most recent recovery schedule, LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal will be completed by December 2022 (eleven years later than the original 2011 date) and $8 billion more than the original $3.5 billion budget. (Not counting $4 billion more in off line costs). Second Avenue Subway Phase One and Hudson Yards #7 subway extension both suffered from delays, budget, scope and change order issues. Capital Construction is preoccupied trying to complete East Side Access by December 2022 and begin Second Avenue Subway Phase 2. How would they be able to manage additional capital projects?
At upcoming contract negotiations, the MTA must insist that future union contracts include more flexible work assignments. Salary increases should match the consumer price index. Employees need to increase contributions toward medical insurance and retirement pensions just as we do. Future pensions must be calculated based on the final year’s base salary and not inflated by overtime. Allow employees to remain part time while collecting a portion of their pension. This affords experienced employees time to train replacements and be available during emergencies. Allow unions to bid on projects like the private sector. Offer union employees bonuses like outside vendors when completing projects ahead of schedule or under budget. Share these cost savings with union employees.
(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).