Episode 10 (Transit News with Jose Martinez)


Welcome to season two of the Second Avenue Sagas podcast. I'm your host Benjamin K back and I'm bringing you all things transit from subways to buses and everything. In between after a short break this winter we're back with new episodes. New guests new pandemic and a newly departed trained daddy. Today we're catching up on the transit beat with Jose Martinez senior reporter at the city and a longtime transit beat writer. Martinez is one of the veterans of the transit. Beat New York originally a newspaper man. Martinez started out with the Journal. News in Westchester in the mid nineteen ninety s before jumping to new glorious tabloids. He spent over a decade covering courts for the Daily News and the post before transitioning to New York. One where he covered the transit beat and hosted the popular in-transit newsmagazine segment. I've appeared on his show and in his stories countless times over the years as the first three months of twenty twenty have been busy ones for the MTA. I wanted to welcome Jose to the podcast for discussion on everything. That's been going on lately. Jose welcome and thank you for joining me. It's always good to see you been my pleasure. Thank you for having me this great countless times. I think I can count on one hand. The number of times. I put you on T- well I've been in your stories. Maybe not so before we dive into the news. And there's been a lot of news lately. Let's talk about your current Gig. I'm a big fan of the city. I think the coverage has been top notch and at a time when local news outlets are dropping like flies around the country. The city offers a voice in the wilderness. But not everyone is familiar with it. Can you give a little overview for those listeners? Who Don't know what the city is. It's an online outlet it's at the city dot NYC so were available online though. Our work does go out via other venues. But this is what's known as a nonprofit news outlet it was started officially we launched in April of Twenty nineteen though the team that we have together there which is a mix of veteran reporters and some younger ones. We all rive in January of two thousand nineteen. So what we do. Is We publish stories pretty much every weekday sometimes on the weekends and it's what's known as count ability journalism so you want to call people out We are covering politics recovering. The Correction System I eh was recruited specifically to cover transportation and the transit. Beat which is something. I've been doing now for about seven years on that front and it gets into things that other outlets perhaps don't have the chance to because they're feeding the beast daily and what we're trying to do is do enterprise work do investigative work Chase documents to freedom of information things for me. Personally it's been refreshing It's been reinvigorating. And a chance to in a year come up with more exclusives than I had in six years at new ones. So it's it's been a blast and I would encourage people to Sign up for our newsletter which you can do it the city dot NYC into Rita's and check this out when we go and do other media appearances as well the the daily newsletter. I find to be very valuable. It shows up in my inbox right around when I wake up every morning. And IT'S A. It's an easy accessible breezy. A couple bullet points links to the stories. It really sort of fills in the gaps of what's going on in the city and that's great to hear you're not the first person who's used that word breezy Which is a goal of ours. You don't want to be weighed down too much. By having the read something with countless links we tell you in a in a short punchy manner. Here's what's up on our site. Check it out and Several people told me they they liked the newsletter. So it's a way to get our work out there and hopefully more and more people are doing that as we go along and I realized this is a little insider baseball but one of the interesting elements of the site. I find is the ability to reproduce articles. You guys have a very liberal reproduction policy. You encourage people to get your stories out there. That's correct so our stories can be published. Really why anyone who's willing to follow our code Which is available on our website that they have to follow certain rules and then you can publish as is so for instance I've seen my byline and am New York. I've seen it in the Brooklyn papers. I've seen it in New York magazine and I have to tell you as an old time print guy. That's very cool Back when I was starting out in the in the early nineties I would have killed for New York magazine. Byline and I know. The businesses changed. But it was a kick see my name so it's always a thrill to see that byline that's shit is now you've covered the MTA since early twenty thirteen and you've been in the news Biz for far longer than that from the L. train shutdown too fast forward fifty one billion dollar capital plan to the are 179. Getting pulled to transformation. And the recent Byford Cuomo drama coming to ahead with allowed resignation and now with corona virus dominating the conversation it's easy to get lost in the flood of stories. It feels like the last few months or among some of the wildest and craziest we've seen in ages doesn't it it does and you know a previous. Mta had a while back said to me. You're never going to have a shortage of stories on this beaten. I thought yeah you're right. They're they're really never is a shortage of stories and the beauty of what I'm doing now is I can be pretty selective about what I'm doing and Jump in and try and do as as indepth reporting as possible. But it's wonderful. There's no shortage of things and it runs the gamut and before I started covering transit I rode the subway like everyone else. But I didn't really think about it in the way that I do now in its own world with its own rules. Its Own Code of conduct and it's it's a world unto itself runs the gamut from politics the real estate to crime to culture to health. Look at Corona virus thing that we have now It is a fascinating world and I am glad that I got the chance to cover it. Starting when I went to New York one so it's been a few months since my last podcast and I thought we could try to digest some of this news. That's been going on and and I think it makes sense to start with the krona virus which I guess is the scarier stuff. It's hard to escape the onslaught of coverage over Corona virus and the subways and buses which are petri dishes on a good day. For Everything New Yorkers carry around with them seemed to be under the microscope. The trains are a bit emptier. Politicians are focusing on them as potential carriers though our leaders don't always know what to say the governor and the mayor this weekend both urged New Yorkers to simply wait for the next train. If one arrives it's too crowded and they earned a lot of derision for that advice. It seems to be something that politicians who aren't regular rush hour writers would embrace an MTA leaders. Were trying to thread the needle. They know who their bosses are on Monday. Pat Foy couldn't seem to get his story straight though he said. New Yorkers should avoid transit if they can but then he also said the subways are perfectly safe sending out these mixed messages. What should we make of this public health crisis on the subways? And how does the MTA's response addresses writers concerns? You know it's going to be something that's got to evolve and it no doubt well because it was very curious yesterday at this briefing Down at MTA headquarters. Broadway Pat Foy begins by saying the subways are safe within seconds. He shifts to saying if you can find another mode of transportation. Walk if you can Telecommute if you can and let me just tell you for the last couple of months. I've been walking to work or offices in Herald Square have been walking from the upper west side. I started doing that when there was a water. Main break Near Lincoln Center and ever since then. I've thought like well. I'm just the smartest guy in town because I got ahead of this but I still do. Ride the subway every day though I've I've certainly Limited that by taking these these long walks to and from work and it's really interesting to see a clear shift in ridership. There's a little bit more space Rush Hour is not as crunched You will of course see people wearing masks Ridership habits are going to change. I've just considering my own on the subway. Ride down here on the I went from the e to the D- Or I'm sorry. I went from the seat of the day and then switched over and I was trying not to lean on anything. I was trying not to grab hold of any poll Doing the old surf simplisafe's off subway surf while the train moves. So this is something that the MTA is going to have to work with over time. It's messaging They've got a lot of announcements out there in terms of how the public should handle this. They've certainly put a lot of effort. into cleaning stations in the cleaning Rolling stock a little bit more frequently. They say the entire fleet is being disinfected. Every seventy two hours but as you said. It's a petri dish. So you can. You can clean the subway as much as you want. There's always going to be One new layer of grime. It's interesting I've noticed. The trains have been emptier. Even today was the first day that I've really written in at the heart of rush hour have been trying to stretch out my commute a little to the extent. I can and even today getting on a train at eight. Thirty eight forty. There was a lot of space platform. Didn't seem as crowded. I think people definitely are changing their patterns. It'll be interesting to see both. How this impacts ridership numbers that the MTA relies so heavily on in their budgeting and how this changes long-term commuting and teleworking trends right. That was the the advice from from four yesterday and for Mantilla officials was Think about new ways but they say that at this point. They don't have figures that they can release they plan to at the next board meeting In terms of whether there's been a dent in ridership there isn't really a an apples to apples comparison from last year to this year. But I don't believe there's any doubt that it gets into one's mind and suddenly it's possible to get a seat on the train that is if you're daring enough the Gal when it does strike me though is telling people to change their commuting habits is a bit more tangible than saying wait for the next train or wait for the next bus. That might not be as crowded considering the trains are credited for most of the day and the buses. Don't run too frequently. And you know. We've heard some variation of this in the past of Change Commuting Habits. You remember several years back when there was the Big Spike and delays and overcrowding was a big issue on subway lines and at the time. Mta officials said the people you might consider changing your habits I don't know that that really made any dent. But this might yeah this this really might people seem to take it more seriously when their health is at risk rather than just when it comes across as being something the MTA can't do which is provided emptier subway train at rush hour. Is it just me Ben or or is this one seemed to strike more of a cord and Previous Ebola and other similar. It's more immediate. I think you you see it more here. You know the Ebola scare there was the one guy who ran around the city but didn't manage to infect anybody and it was not it wasn't a pandemic that was happening here. It was happening somewhere else. But we've seen the numbers here. We keep hearing stories about tests. You do have the governor and the mayor for the grief that I give them around their messaging. They are being publicly out there. Multiple Times a day trying to stress the importance of changing habits and being mindful so it hits home it does and I think it's gotten through an all you need to do is take a ride on the train. People are adjusting. So you mentioned this the MTA is now in disinfecting. It's train cars and much more frequently. And I think there's been an element of surprise among the riders at the. Mta wasn't already doing this. It's sort of peeling back the curtain on their cleaning practices. Are we finding out more than we used to know about the state of the MTA and sort of how it treats its infrastructure? They changed their practices. Yeah people like to crack on the MTA for that sort of thing like wait a minute. They actually clean their cars sir. They weren't doing this before I yesterday was Tweeting out a story that I didn't twenty eighteen where I went to the aptly named Corona Yard to do a story on cleaning of subway cars. That's what they appear to be doing now. More frequently heavy cleaning disinfecting the chemicals that are to go beyond what you see At the end of the line where there's a guy with A bucket and you know a mop and SCRUB DOWN. Maybe spray some Something to keep it clean as possible or to look out for you know serious spills. So they're also going in the stations in terms of the things that are touched frequently so that would be The Metro card vending machines. That would be the The rails that people go hold onto as they go down the stairs. One of my colleagues on the transit be showed me some photos. He had taken of some rails yesterday. Handrails and I said I I couldn't from the Angleton. I couldn't even recognize what it was. She's look at that because it's sparkling. It's so brilliant. And so you know it's got shine on it but If the ridership declines who knows whether that that many a number of people will be able to enjoy the newfound China beauty and we we don't. We don't have any idea yet what this is doing to the budget because they're clearly using a lot of resources to keep these cars clean. They haven't cut service so they're getting the cars cleaned overnight. They're getting them cleaned in the off hours. They're making sure that they're maintaining service. And it's just at some point it will put a strain on the budget but it seems that right now rightly so. The focus is on the health of people absolutely four. Did mention that in in somewhat of passing form that there will be some impact on the MTA's finances and the MTA's finances are always In a shaky state so to have this come into play. It's certainly an impact and in fact last night this funny that we're talking about the cleaning. When I was walking Home Down Eastern Parkway. I saw the mobile wash unit. Which is one of the. Mta's vehicles that drives around and clean stations and it had it's emergency lights on. I don't even know that vehicle had emergency lights but they seem to be taking this very seriously. The do yeah at the same time. You have to consider that. There are a lot of places in the system where there are a lack of cleaners so that was a story we did in the city. We broke months ago about the the increase in the number of soil car reports so at terminals there are places where there aren't staff available to clean cars it come in filthier that then go back in the service so those are some issues as well and I'm seeing some. Some people have asked me about this and I saw that. It came up yesterday or Monday Tuesday right now a Monday during the the session. There's a question about how the MTA changing its approach with regards to the homeless people who are who are living in the subways. Or who sort of camp out and some of the subway cars and you know The answer I think was that they're still engaging with the task force. They haven't said anything more about that. And I know that that's a concern for some some writers as well. Yeah because there are as has been acknowledged by the MTA and the city is well. There's been an increase in the number of homeless. And I could tell you I was out early this morning at the ends of a couple of subway lines checking on this and there were a lot of people more than well. Let's let's acknowledge it was two in the morning three in the morning. Lots of people in Orange shirts and police officers just going around checking on homeless knocking with stick or whatever on the on the subway poles and saying do you need help do you need shelter I did see a couple who were led off of the train But these are things that are gonNA come into play as well because there there are people who are needed help and that's really what the MTA contracts for with places like the homeless services in the bowery residents committee to try and get the people in who are using. The train is rolling shelter some form of shelter some help. And there's there's there's also an element of The T. W. very involved in this as well I know yesterday. They had been pushing for a couple of things that they. I think we were able to get towards the end of the day. There they were concerned about the biometric clocks that they're using the high contact area. So I think for now the. Mta's said we're okay waving the bio metric lock requirements and Transit workers can now. We're masks if they feel. They need them. That had been an issue because that can Project an image of a problem. There might not be one. That's something that the union had been pushing for that its workers would be able to wear masks the MTA was late Sunday night. I got the tipped off that that was now No LONGER AN ISSUE. They won that round. Also the bit with the Cronos Those are the timekeeping machine. So it's like a metro card vending machine it a lot of fingers on it and I guess that's off for now But this is going to be evolving in a lot of different ways and we'll see more and more of As as we go on here and I know that so far for now the governor said he has no plans to shut the subways. But I guess if if it came to a city wide quarantine that option sort of always in the back of the mind you gotta figure there's a plant somewhere right in some form Boy As of now no. We're we're away from that one would think I would think But you have to figure in some form that's out there somewhere so switching gears a bit for a few hours on Friday. It seemed that corona virus had been pushed from the transit headlines. Cbs's Marcia Kramer made a big splash by letting the first post resignation interview with Andy Byford. So let's talk about train daddy himself. You've covered numerous nyc transit president since early two thousand thirteen but none of made quite the name for themselves. As by did it wasn't a reputation. He tried to seek out but rather one bestowed upon him by public whose trust he came to earn. What's your take on? Byford his time in New York and the things he accomplished it was short. It was two years and I'll tell you this much When he came in in January of two thousand eighteen they hired him in December of two thousand eighteen or seventeen. I'm sorry I am time. Traveling there When they hired him I remember at the time all of us transit reporters were as we do. You know talking sort of Joking among ourselves. Well how long do you give them? And my thought at the time was he'll make it two years in that in no way in no way at all is that a Commentary on his ability or his talents. Man's obviously very good at what he does and he did a fine job. Here in New York made an impact in a short time. It's more commentary on the tenuous nature of that position if you go back and look at who has been in charge of New York City transit over the last ten eleven years. It's hot seat. No one stays in that job for long and Andy Byford Made quite an impression on New Yorkers quickly gained their trust. He became recognizable in a way that I've not seen for many. Mta official in the past and beloved brilliant in in some ways but ultimately and he lets us all out in his interview with Marcia Kramer. He was overwhelmed as so many of us had predicted he would be by the nature of the job. It's a tough job. It's a tough tough job. And he went out quietly in his last days transit but then not so quietly in that interview with Marsha crime come back to that interview in a second. I think one of the things to me that Byford shows is that if somebody comes in and sort of takes a look at the place and says here's what we're GONNA do. You can do it and I wonder if part of that is because he wasn't a creature of the system which isn't a slight the folks who came before him but each of the previous New York City transit presidents kind of came up through the MTA organization. They were very much a part of the organization. And it's not quite as easy to change things when you have that culture as your background. Do you feel that? His role as an outsider is really what pushed to the ball. More than than we've seen in the past. It's entirely possible. Sure I I do think that because he came in with new ideas with ways to challenge the conventional wisdom the thinking of the organization and I keep thinking back to something he said back in January of twenty eighteen we stood out there and Nicole. Knee ran down. His four points The things he wanted to concentrate as he got going on this new job but but the one thing that that stuck with me is he said something about. I just want to be left to do my thing. He didn't quite say it that way. That's me saying in my way than in his Better Alison English. He said he said to to Marcy said you. Tell me what the outputs are what you want. And I'll deliver. Yeah she wanted to be left to do his thing with his team. And when that became as he said in the interview with Marsh Kramer when that became Too much to bear than he said. That's enough and he made his second resignation. His final resignation from New York City Transit. His mysterious first resignation is still out there somewhere but the letter seems to have disappeared from from all existence. The one that's being pursued by numerous reporters through the freedom of information law. No it's Apparently vanished In that Jim Dwyer article in the New York Times that Gave some hint at it. Said it was really an explosive ladder but the second one that he gave out was also fairly sharp but I wouldn't call it explosive now. You mentioned the letter. He this is the letter for for those who don't know. It was a letter that that Anti Byford Center in October. He called it he. He described it as a three page letter to Marcia Kramer over the weekend It's never materialized the. Mta has told anybody who's filed a request for that they don't have a copy of it Which is an interesting rub on their compliance with freedom of information laws? And Right. Now we're all wondering what it said. Perhaps we will be for a long time to But I think you can get a good sense of it just by watching that interview with Marcia Kramer Clearly Byford was not Thrilled with the way things have gone with the way that His role had evolved and would be changing further under the MTA's transformation plan and he said enough and I'm out so is this an example of Somebody who sort of clashed with their bosses expectation of their work. I know there's been a lot written about the Cuomo Byford relationship there's been indications that Cuomo wasn't happy with efforts press there was a New Yorker article shortly into the beginning of efforts. Tenure that really focused on his role in attempting to fix the subways. There are some some butting heads over approaches. You know it was. It was Cuomo just trying to overstep his bounds here or was Byford unable to work within that system some of both some neither probably a little bit of everything really And and you mentioned the New Yorker article you should mention also the sixty minutes profile That Byford received sixty minutes treatment He was a guy who was a strong and clear voice for the transit system. A good salesman for the transit system. Someone who gained public trust and restored some lost confidence in the system. But I have heard this from people who were have been in in the MTA for a long time that perhaps the beginning of the end was that sixty minutes profile. Where it was about Andy and not about anyone beyond that now. Andy always made sure to talk about his team. But you know the captain is ultimately the governor. I think the L. train shutdown had more of an impact than people realize too. Because you know Andy. Byford was appreciative of the fact that people came in took another. Look at this said. Hey we have a plan where we can maintain service. He asked for this independent safety assessment. And I think the governor's office interpreted that as a challenge to their authority to come in and really set the agenda and perhaps that was a great miscommunication. Perhaps this was just a train guy saying we need to make sure everything's safe and then we'll we'll do this better plan that doesn't involve changing traffic patterns in and throwing everybody's commute into disarray. But they never really could get past it after that moment. That was one of those big bumps in the relationship Byford that point. This was back Early in twenty nineteen was to have been on this And he said At the time that you know governor Cuomo came in and move things around and rearrange the furniture in a very big way. This was a plan had been taking shape for years with lifers predecessors at the MTA and New York City Transit Suddenly Byford comes in. He jumps on board with that plan. But when the role was reduced things changed significantly. And I do think that that's one of those that it's perhaps you know understated but I. I don't think there's any doubt that That was one where You Know Byford may have taken it as a slight so I WANNA get back to The idea of the slight in a second but one of the things that we heard during the Marcia Kramer interview was Byford sort of ringing alarm bell. He talked about intolerable interference from Albany minimizing of his role concerns over some interference in the safety aspects of running a transit system. When I hear somebody talk about safety and transit systems I get a little worried. How should we be taking his words? What do you think he's trying to tell people? Safety is one of the keywords in transit system safety and efficiency does are right there at the top and when he sounds an alarm if you will by saying others are stepping into turf. He can't tolerate something that could potentially put Safety on the line. That's worth digging into a little bit more. I think we'll see more about that. I think in in the coming weeks if if Andy Byford 's out there on his exit tour so to speak. I'm sure that will come up again now by out. Approximately three to eight years before he wanted to leave New York. Feels like it lost something and you've covered the MTA's legal battles against disabilities rights advocates and Byford push to promote accessibility. Do you think the MTA will still embrace this. Push to make sure that every station is accessible or that. There isn't there no more than one or two stations away from inaccessible station before the end of this capital plan. Well when I when I mentioned the four things. He talked about on his first day coming into New York City Transit. That was one of them a wanted to improve bus service. You want to improve subway service. You wanted to boost para transit. He wanted to make it more accessible subway system so this guy came out with a push to have in his fast forward plan. Fifty more stations become accessible in turn the MTA in its current capital plan at not fifty stations to the plan but sixty six so they want even beyond what Byford had pushed for which you can see that as a win for him. The guy made the sale on that now. The question is will they stick to that plan? I've heard from the people in the Advocacy community for those with mobility issues. That they're concerned that it's not binding that that could change that The plan could shift. I think the MTA is very much aware and also as it says committed to a more accessible system otherwise they wouldn't have laid the groundwork for it but it's expensive. It's complicated You know they they. Did this study. I don't know how many millions of dollars on on how much it would cost to Make all the systems all the stations in the system and that includes on the Staten Island railway as well fully accessible. It would cost a bundle. We don't know exactly how much but I got my hands on the first one hundred stations and basically it's at yet there they they can be done. It can be done boy. The question is an and it's not there. And how much is it going to cost? And that's always the issue. How much is it going to cost? But it can be done other cities have done it. there are some stations in those reports where it says the consultants found. It's not possible for X. Reasons and and and there are legitimate reasons but for the most part it can be done now. We'll see whether they stick to it. That's the real trick so one thing interesting to me When I spoke to Sarah Feinberg in the fall. And she's the incoming interim New York City Transit President. Who's also an MTA board pointy named by the governor? She stressed to me. That accessibility is not really an option. It's the law. So it'll be interesting if she continues that and she said when she was at the F. R. A. This was her her mantra. It's not you can't just choose to make something accessible. You're required by law to make the system accessible so if I think that's one area where she may continue the path that they're on though I completely understand why any of these advocacy groups are skeptical of the MTA's claims they have decades of history behind them scoring back to nine thousand nine hundred and even before that here is a system. That in the subway has four hundred. Seventy two stations fewer than a quarter of them are Accessible to those who have mobility issues it cost a lot of money to install elevators to bring the system in the compliance and it is always a hurdle for people to get around. Of course you have the buses a nurse Para transit hair transit's tremendous money loser for the MTA. But I think the most efficient way is what they're gunning for which is to to make the subway more of a welcoming environment. It's a goal. They have now to get those sixty six plus four more to make it seventy seventy more stations accessible but Well we'll see if there's an end result to take them longer speaking of Feinberg she's taking over for Byford right now on an interim basis she was very much a political appointee to the MTA board. And IT'S A. It's a much different path than what we've seen from past presidents. What do you think we should expect from her? She has been a voice on the MTA. Board I find her to be Her presence on the board A solid one Of course she was in federal government before I had been told that she had been offered the job as head of the MTA previously Before Mr. Foy took the job and she said no But ultimately settled into this role on the MTA board as chair of the Transit Committee. She's a good board member now. She's in a different role as the interim president of New York City Transit. Who knows what what becomes of it. She's got a little kid Whether she wants to stick with it full time I know that the governor can be Very persistent and in a good salesman on that sort of thing. But she stepping into the role with an interim label. We've seen interim presidents in the past and I find it interesting that these interim presidents. I didn't see them get the rollout that Ms Feinberg guy were. You've seen her in lots of television interviews Becoming very much face that the MTA in short order in a way that some of her predecessors in that role have not. I think her roll out to his is sort of indicative of the chambers recognition that they have to do a little bit of damage control. What the public here. They need to make sure that. Somebody's out there who understand the need for continuity and the ability to continue. What Andy I was doing in a way that assures the public service isn't GonNa Start to backslide was a few years ago. Well the public certainly had something of a reaction to Byford leaving and it's again it's interesting because This is a guy who draw response from the Public. That is unusual The MTA let's face it it's An easy target. It's easily vilified in spite of the invaluable service that they provide the millions of people every day but they're easy to pick on and easy to lampoon and Byford Reduced some of that. He restored some faith in what they're trying to do. Got The public to rally behind him and when he went. I think that that as you said. Van Dented some of that and then it has to be restored With someone that the public may look to so one of the other elements of Byford departure. That he talked about in the interview on Friday was the fact that his role has had been reduced as the president of New York City Transit. And I think this is something the public may not be very aware of right now but the MTA's going through this sort of nebulous transformation process. And when I've talked about transformation before with variety of people I've had a tough time really putting my finger on the problems that I have with transformation part of it seems like a political plan designed to minimize at first Byford but really the roles of agency presidents ensuring that the governor can more firmly enforce his vision on an agency that he controls. And that's fine. That's his perogative. But it also involves bringing in a lot of C. level executives without experience and transit without experience in New York City who are here to transform something for the sake of transforming and I wonder if it's just not a very thoughtful plan the MTA needs this reform. But I don't know what to make of it. What do you make of transformation if you recall going back more than a year or so where the governor would frequently mock the MTA he used the MTA as a punching bag? He would make appearances at the Association for better of New York. I recall one speech where he just you know turned it into a standup Appearance for pretty much the whole time and Byford push back against that but that was teeing up what ultimately became known as the transformation plan for those who don't follow what is ultimately a dreadfully dull. And it is but it's also incredibly important a plan that is something that's fundamentally altering the way the MTA is organized altering the duties of agency. Presidents Metro North Long Island Railroad New York City Transit. The bridges and tunnels. And it is. It's it's it's a massive restructuring and people were going to lose their jobs and he's brought in these consultant types and given them the run of the the the MTA is brought in these consultant types and they've been given the run of the place in terms of deciding What's next who stays or goes How the agency will be reformatted. And like I said it. It strikes you as dead for dreadfully doll. If you read the documents and they are they're really boring. And they're written in that horrible consultants which is say nothing and It's it's really tough the read but it's massively important because of what. It's doing a denying that one of one of the problems that I have at the transformation is that it doesn't really set out an end goal in a transit perspective. Basically says we need to save a few billion dollars and that's our goal. It doesn't really explain why we need to save that money. It doesn't say how that's going to improve the MTA's ability to provide subway and bus service. How it's going to improve rail operations? It just sort of says we're here for saving money as a government agency and then outcome be damned and lots of buzzwords about silos centers of excellence and best in class which. I hear that in my eyes glaze over Years in everybody else's I think yeah. Yeah and you know I remember when they they had these consultants for Malik partners. Come in and they did a briefing before an MTA board meeting. I had gotten a hold of their the draft of their plan In written a story about it before everyone else and then they've met with the press the next day and I'm sure they're great guys but they met with the press and in their forty five minutes. There may have been two sentences that they use that. I would have used soundbites when I was in television. And maybe one that I would've used as a quote so it's a very dry Very hard to grasp concept that their spelling out but the bottom line is it's going to save the MTA A lot of money cut a lot of positions but after you heard the presentation from the chief transformation officer at the last board meeting I would have been Feeling pretty uncomfortable if I worked at the MTA and heard that presentation because if you look at the unresolved the end result if you boil it down to. That is that jobs will be lost. A lot of jobs will be lost some of them just for the sake of cutting jobs too. I mean that that that's my concern. It's I do find this plan. Very hard to analyze and talk about it. Maybe because it's not very definitive as you're saying it's mostly just buzzwords there's something about it that doesn't seem like it was produced with the right outcome in mind and I think Andy. Byford spoke about being minimized in his role where he's just in a service delivery role which means that all he's doing is making sure that the trains are running and there's no recognition that the head of an agency also needs to be in charge of growing the system or solving problems. That are wrong with it and instead it's sort of moves everything under General Lebron's umbrella which is fine. He's he's a smart guy he's a competent guy Not Quite sure he's GonNa tackle the MTA's internal costs problems in the way. A lot of outside observers would like him to but he seems to have the governor support and seems to have the support of people who worked for him but it really seems to be just moving things under one person in a way that really silos it further than it is right now. That word silos. Yeah you've been reading the Alex Partner's hat haven't you can't escape it. Yeah it's What's what's happened. Is that as you said? And as Byford noted in his letter he was essentially going to be in a reduced role where he would be in in the role of service delivery no more in terms of big picture planning phased out and the same could be said for other HD presidents Across the MTA. So it's it's a fundamental alteration of the way things have been done there and that's something that the governor to his credit has said all along he wanted to do. He wants to change the way things get done at the MTA to change the way business gets done. This is his way of doing it. The I think I think there's no doubt that improving the way things get done at the. Mta is ultimately an admirable goal. And hopefully they can get there one way or another. I forget who it was. It asked Pat Foy Probably Clayton Goose because Clayton always asks the questions that PAT immediately responds with lied. Disagree with your premise. And that was I believe. Clayton's question was one that just tick them off in that way because he he cut to something else that you know about people losing their jobs or something of that nature and the MTA and also the governor will see it differently. They'll see it as Restructuring that is ultimately for the betterment of the emptier and of course there was there was dance question that that drew a lot of attention when some of the new transformation chiefs were brought in he asked if their hatchet men and then they refused to answer that one anthony mccord who is the MTA's chief transformation officer Brought in from Canada makes his first appearance at the. Qna that follows Every empty board meeting and Dan Straight Out. Ask Them. Are you the hatchet man? And I have the screen shot of that moment. Mr mcchord just sort of look struck by bewildered throws both his hands up in the air and and Pat Foist that that was not the appropriate. It was the end of the Cuna too. I believe that was that that was. It's it's interesting. You know you you talked about how everybody felt. Byford with last two years. I wonder how long some of these new chiefs that they call them. We'll last as well. We'll see what we yeah. We'll see This thing will play out. It'll take shape They're all newcomers He has another gentleman that he's has been brought in his name's. Mario Peloquin came in from Canada He's now the chief operations officer seems to be taking more of a central at the MTA. you have this mccord who is the transformation officer you have someone Brought in as the title is chief people officer a lot of new names and faces at the MTA and that that comes with transformation and it's a fascinating time it's always a fascinating talk some will last somewhat all right. So let's talk about your beat with the city. We have a few minutes left so besides the INS and outs of the day to day of transit news you cover the in depth stories is well you know you just paging through some of your recent stories include deep dives into the sandy repairs or the train The long just dating study for Better Transit Service along UTICA avenue problems with the the switch at Bergen Street and of course Chapel the raccoon took up residency at the Nevin Street station. A few months ago you and I have also had a long running back and forth on the. Mta's plans to install an elevator at sixty ninth street which never seems to come to fruition. While transit is all encompassing. It's also hyper local. How do you approach that element of the be? How do you find these stories? What draws you to them or it's got to speak to people beyond just those at that corner at that station. So for instance the elevator At Sixty Eighth Street Hunter College station sure that could be a story. Just about How this station has for more than a dozen years had An elevator planned but because of complaints from people in the neighborhood because of issues with Hunter College here. We are in twenty twenty and it still hasn't been built okay so that could be a very local story just about that station but to us at the city we see something bigger there We see something that speaks a little bit more broadly. And that's what we're trying to do with all of our stories here look at other projects that have taken a long time That's that's what we're trying to do with all of our stories one local thing one local angle can say something broader and affect more people so that you read it and you say Oh that's interesting. That's wild but it goes beyond that and to me. The UTICA Avenue story too is one of these all encompassing stories. Because it's about a subway extension or a transit extension that was originally planned in the nineteen twenties. It's never materialized and it's about transit it's about the city's inability to grow the transit network but it's also about land use. It's about changing the way people get around reducing auto independence reaching a neighborhood that wants that where some people want subway. Some people probably don't some people like the the less dense the lower density that comes with some people want to see it up zoned. And it's interesting that you guys are covering these stories so early. That was the goal when we started putting this thing together was to do stories that over time. Unfortunately you're seeing less and less of because of the way that our media business has has gone has taken shape and there are a lot of great outlets out there but what we're able to do at the city which is which is nice. The rule is every story should be exclusive. Every story should move the ball forward in some way that no one else is doing like I said there's tremendous Coverage in this city in spite of How the news? Business is taking shape but we have a chance to do something that in its own way. Hopefully we'll stand out and I like to think that we're doing that. And that's what appealed to me when they started Put trying to get me on board A while back and it's it's been a refreshing change to not just do the Daily News. That's the story of the day. It also speaks to the depth of the things the MTA is doing that. We don't often see they're they're constantly. Studying these corridors. You have UTICA AVENUE. You have multiple studies going on in. Staten Island. They sort of released them. They don't put out a press release. Nobody knows about them. But through your reporting you can bring these two light and make sure that people know what's going on. Thank you for reading first of all. Appreciate that and yeah. There's a lot of stuff that Is Out there and pilot programs studies things of that nature that get floated once and then just sort of vanish sort of go away. So I have a chance to revisit some of these things okay. Whatever happened to you know like that was the story. I did with the Sixty Eighth Street Hunter College station. Whatever happened to that thing? Yeah kicking around for Since the early two thousand. That's one of those stories where I think we've cycled through a few pressed representatives at the MTA who've been fielding questions on it since for for years. Now it'll happen someday one day one day so as our time draws to an end let's gays into our crystal balls at that congestion pricing remains a bit in limbo with a dispute between the state and the feds. The city's contributions to the MTA's capital plans aren't quite clear yet and the MTA's using accessibility as cudgel there and transformation is very much a work in progress what do you see the future holding for the MTA. In Twenty Twenty we've heard for so long about congestion pricing being so essential to the MTA. And then we hit this point and I. It seems that we're now sort in neutral so it doesn't happen. What impact does that have on their planning? What impact does that have? On their capital plan. A lot is hooked pricing. So that's got to be squared away. obviously the corona virus for the short term is a big issue how that impacts their bottom line there ridership the public faith in transit. How PEOPLE GET AROUND There is the leadership at the MTA always seemingly on shaky ground there or I just. It's never quite solid. There's that there is just so much and and I'll go back to what I mentioned at the top. There's never a shortage of stories. And that's good for me. That's good for everyone on the beat And hopefully will get at them. It doesn't always become an easy way. Certainly not when freedom of information laws are a request aren't being handled all that quickly Certainly when some things are just not as easy as it used to be to get out of the MTA and that can be frustrating ultimately. What all of us are trying to do. And that means every reporter in town is just getting information and it's really important. This is too important to be to leave it uncovered. But I'm glad that we have a lot of really good reporters covering it I i. I remember when I started in New York when I was the only television reporter. Who would go to those meetings every month? Now you see them covered all the time and I think that's good because it puts them on the spot It gives attention to something that needs attention. this cannot go on covered so one of the things you mentioned. I think as as a last question. This is an interesting conversation to have the. Mta has not been as forthcoming with information over the last few years as they have been in the past. And you've seen that sort of coincide with the time period where Governor Cuomo has taken more of an interest in all things. Mta How has that impacted your job? And how does that impact? The ability of the transit beat writers to get information out of a government agency to the public. Some things that you even have to put in a request for are things that in the past you could have just called up the press office and said here's my question and now unfortunately in A number of cases you were told. That's the foil and foil yet to persistent about it because it is A slog trying to get anything out of that and this is vital information Pat Foy He says the right things about the MTA needing to improve its its foil process and and and he's right however you want to see the results and that stands for all that stands for myself at Stanford. The Post the news the times anyone that covers this beat. Tv stations So that's troubling but foia at his words says things will improve. We'll see we'll see I. I have a request for a report from years ago that I know exists. I put in the request In early January they just they said thirty business days and then they sent me and follow up saying another twenty business days. So it's this process of really trying to pull something out of them and I think it. It helps to remind people that this is a public agency. This is a government agency. All of these things are supposed to be available to the public. That's right it is and the MTA twits. Credit is transparent on a lot of things. They are more than there used to be too. Yeah more than they used to be. They do put out a tremendous amount of Data and things that are accessible if you go after them and look for them and If you go under their contract so a lot of it's out there but too much of it is not and that is the problem That a lot of reporters on the speed of run into I think with that we've come to the end of our time. Jose thank you for stopping by. Thanks for helping me catch up on the fast moving world of transit news. Thanks for having me anytime. We've come to the end of another episode of the Second Avenue Sagas podcast. I'm your host Benjamin K back. Thank you again to Jose Martinez joining me for this episode. You can find Jose's work at W. W. W. Dot the city dot NYC and on twitter at J. Martinez NYC that's J. N. A. R. T. I N. Easy nyc special. Thank you as always to Joseph Chaco about ski for production duties. If you've been enjoying the podcast please consider leaving review on itunes and remember Second Avenue. Saga is is entirely reader listener. Funded these days to help ensure the site and podcast continue join my patriot. Www DOT patriots dot com slash second ads Sagas you can always find more at. Www DOT second avenue sagas dot com or on twitter by at two AB eight? That's act to APP SAGAS. Thank you for listening Benjamin K back and I'll catch you next time.

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