16 Episode results for "MTA"
Episode 4 (Rachael Fauss/Reinvent Albany)
"Hello. And welcome back to another episode of the second avenue. Sagas podcast. I'm your host Benjamin. K back in this week. My guest is Rachel fos, the senior research analyst with reinvent Albany. The good governance group, fighting for open accountable ineffective government in New York state lately. Reinvent Albany has taken on a loud role in pushing for a more accountable, MTA and by extension since he's the official in charge of the MTA, more accountable, Andrew Cuomo, so Rachel. We're going to talk about MTA reform. Now we're not talking about Mt reform on the same scale as the municipal takeover proposed by city council. Speaker Cory Johnson in March rather we're talking about a report released by reinvent all the two weeks ago called open MTA, and the sweeping hundred fifty page overview of everything wrong with the MTA MTA governance and oversight these days. Reinvent Albany issued its proposal for fifty actions. We can take to, as they put it quote renew public trust. In the metropolitan transportation. Authority, New Yorkers do not often associate trust with the MTA and governor Cuomo has been working hard to undermine little public confidence. New Yorkers have in the beleaguer transit agency, but reinvent Albany wants to fix this institutional rot through as the report says changes that can have immediate impacts on improving transparency accountability and public confidence and can be made, regardless of who was appointed to control the thirty. This isn't a sweeping call to tear down the MTA, but rather suggested improvements to be made to ensure full accountability and oversight or in place for this important public agency. Rachel, you're the lead author of the report, I'm looking forward to diving. Thank you for joining me today. Thanks for having let's start with the man of the hour. Andrew, Mark Cuomo. We've all been subject to years of the skating and gas lighting regarding komo's control of the MTA. But your report makes it abundantly clear who's the boss as it says the reports most important findings is that governor Cuomo controls the activities. Planning budgeting and priorities of the MTA in its operation agencies, the governor exercises controlled through his appointment of the MTA CEO, and chairman, whom he hires and fires, and who leads both the staff and board the MTA for many this isn't a controversial statement. But in today's discords it seems to be important. Why did you choose to lead the report was such a strong statement under store scoring Cuomo's control, the MTA? When we when we started this research. We were looking at really trying to evaluate the governments of the MTA almost do our own good governance audit of MTA, and the more, we will delve into the MTA board and the governor and the role there. It just became clear, the us that the MTA board actually doesn't matter at all that made sound like a statement that maybe a a little bit harsh. But the fact is the MTA board, despite its very large public role. They vote for Farren toll increases vote for the budget in the MTA. They don't control all the processes to go into. Those decisions it's actually the governor. I think you as you pointed out are report speaks to the important role of the governor pointing this EEO and chairman and that's really where the control comes in. And we the report look at a number of case studies to make it abundantly clear, why it's so important that, that why that position is so important, I think with the L train that decision was made by Mt staff, that was made by acting chairman, FREDDY, for air without any input from the board in terms of changing the way that project was run. We also have seen another number of areas where the CO chairman has controlled a lot of the, the work of in terms of determining the agenda for the board itself. So as we dealt in the CO chairman position was really the most important one and that's why we let with that finding interesting because you hear Cuomo when he makes these public statements talk about how the mayor has voices on the board. The county executives have voices on the. He likes to talk up the fact that he doesn't have a majority of voices on the board. But the report really dives into how the board doesn't actually have too much power, and how really the personnel decisions and the policy decisions are made through the centralized CO chairman ral. Yeah. I think a good example of the limited role, the MTA board is there not like a corporate board. They don't approve the CO. That's something that happens in the private sector. It's not what happens at the MTA. So the governor has a plurality of the MTA board, so that six of the fourteen voting members, but when the agenda is entirely controlled by the staff, who is appointed by the governor, then you've got really a situation where the governor has substantial in very meaningful influence over day-to-day operations, the MTA in the policy decision making of the board as well. Now, I have a few questions later on about the board, but the setup really allows the board to sort of be a public whipping boy for the governor, because he can yell about the board. But ultimately as the report details. What he wants to do is what gets implemented talks about the New York crossings expenditures. You talk about the L train. It's really when Andrew Cuomo decides he wants the MTA to do something, it asks how high basically he says, jump. They say how high I think that the where the confusion is come in, and why we really wanted to emphasize almost over and over again in this report, why the governor's role so important is that he's trying to create a different narrative, where he has swooped in save the MTA when there's problems he swooped into save the, you know, all the writers of the L train when the project was going to be fifteen months, long shutdown fully he swooped into save the second avenue. Subway in terms of making sure it was on Borer on time in more on budget is still over budget late, even with his intervention, quote, unquote. So I think what's important is that the governor. It's not just he's made it be looked like it's episode back control that he has when he chooses to. But when you wanna get. At the heart of con- ability at the MTA really need to see who on a date day basis is the most Conable, and it really is the governor because of the, the large role of the CEO and chairman, who's directly appointed by the governor. So over the past few years as we discuss Cuomo has exerted more control over the MTA will also stating publicly that he doesn't have the power to do. So which we all of you as a lie. It's been quite frustrating for transit advocates and MTA watchdogs alike. But your report underscores this control delve into the history of the New York crossings, which we mentioned, and terms that quote the governor's vanity project, and walks through the end run Cuomo's done around the MTA board with respect to emergency. Order one sixty eight the subway action plan and the L train shutdown among others. He uses his hand-picked loyalists to work, these end runs around established professionals and the seems to be no way to run a railroad in the report, you call up on the legislature and other oversight bodies to check the governor's power. And I realize this is a bit of an open ended question. But what do you? Would be the ideal system of accountability in governance in light of the governor's power. Well, it would be a governor who fess up and owns up to the responsibilities. But I think absent that because in realistically, that's not going to change with, with the current governor, we have, we'd have a legislature that plays a much, much more active role because secondary to the governor, it's really the legislature in terms of influence. They the Senate confirms the CEO chairman position, they confirm all the board members of the MTA, who are nominated by other officials, and those confirmation hearings have been farce, frankly, you know, Pat Foy, the new chairman Zeo, the MTA was appointed on Sunday during budget discussions, where the ultimate vote took place two in the morning. And this isn't anything new in the hearing was called out an hour head of times. Nobody even good. No governance. Groups are advocates could really make their voices heard in this process, cracked. And I think the. The in contrast. We actually had a different situation with the Senate Democrats, two thousand nine which many people don't know about Jay Walder was the appointee. At that time, the Senate Democrats when they briefly controlled the Senate in that short window. They actually held a public confirmation hearing they had members of public speak who's announced many days in Vance and maybe even weeks. And they actually grilled the incoming nominated chairman for hours have vague memories of that. If I recall correctly think they even had him in front of two separate committees at various times, where they seemed interested in exercising real oversight authority at that point. Exactly. And I think that when you've got a situation where the CEO chairman Pat Foy was actually part of the budget deal this time around a position that important shouldn't be part of a budget deal in Albany. That's just not the wage work that person should be evaluated on their own merits, not saying that he doesn't have merits. Run the agency certainly experienced, but to be coupled in a political deal is not the way business should be done. And one of the interesting things that report should have delved into how the governor can hold back appointees, even though those mayor, for instance, has the responsibility for naming people to the board and he can drag his feet on that part of the job. The governor can decide that he just doesn't wanna pass these nominations along to the Senate in the Senate is in no position to demand, the nominee, even if they were interested in exercising that oversight gas cracked. We we saw that with some of the appointees from from Long Island. For example, they were held up for a long time. It was actually even, you know, the Senate Republicans even failed to act on Depositos appointees at the end of the legislative sessions that meant it dragged on for an entire year before those, those seats had representation. So when you have a system where the governor can hold up appointees when the Mt board at times has had vacant seats. Those that plurality becomes a lot more important when at times, there's fake and sees so six out of fourteen voting members when it's six of twelve because there's a concedes that are being held up by the governor, then they become even more important than we've also seen the governor's appointees, sort of former block they don't descent, too often. I think we saw even last week when Larry Schwartz called the emergency board meeting to talk about time and attendance, which you could argue sort of backfired on them. But this was a clear example of Cuomo telling his guys on the MD board. We need to have this public airing of grievances. I think that's absolutely right. And the, the staff when the staff is also controlled the, the governor and the governor has the appointees, the governor's appointees can get information quickly. They can help set the agenda they can work with staff. I highly doubt that Larry Schwarz's ten years of examples of overtime abuses, maybe he compiled them himself. I could give him the benefit of the doubt. But. I am Magid that there is some help involve I wouldn't think so. I think so. So how do we solve a problem like Andrew Cuomo towards the end of the report, new state, no uncertain terms that quote governor Cuomo is the biggest single problem with the governance of the anti a when people say decisions at the MTA are politicized. They really mean that the governor has interfered with the MTA's professional staff, or public consensus process within the board will I wholeheartedly endorse this view this doesn't leave me feeling optimistic about the future where essentially stuck with Andrew Cuomo, until Andrew Cuomo decided he doesn't want to be governor any longer. What are the best avenues for governance and accountability changes improvements that involve KOMAL and what role should these external oversight bodies play? Sharon, I think, when we were developing the fifty recommendations of this report in think, in our recommendation, section the report, we speak to. Why is appealing as it is to want to blow up the MTA? It's just not realistic. We have a governor who has immense control of the state budget process. The legislative process can veto anything coming out of legislature, and in many ways, legislatures been pretty unwilling to challenge him on other issues, if you follow Albany, politics. So our recommendations get at accountability and transparency issues. You know, the independent those who are most independent of the governor of the control in the legislature, and we're really challenging them to do a more thorough job, the legislature needs to hold oversight. Hearing said are not just part of the budget process. They need to hold hearings on major topics. They need to really hold their feet to the fire and the upcoming capital. Plan cycle is a great example of how the legislature could play much more meaningful role. The twenty twenty two twenty twenty four capital plan is supposed to be out in October. They're not in section, then that's a great time to hold an oversight hearing, the state comptroller's another independently elected official who could be doing more oversight through the audit process both off. Editing the agency and its operations but also looking empty contracts in a more deep way, unfortunately, they have some limited oversight, the one area where we actually think it might be worth shifting. Responsibility more. That would take a more legislative changes instead of having the board proof. All these contracts may be the controller who's in a has much more sophistication and expertise should be doing that role. The volunteer the MTA board moms were volunteers. They don't have the staff. They don't have really the expertise to evaluate all these contracts, and they get the materials on Friday before they're supposed to make votes. Sometimes, sometimes, Freddie, Freddie Lee, these, that's another topic that have a magenta, so that's an area, where we think it would need more study, and it needs more research. But the comptroller could play a more important role over contracts. And there's a lot of issues with procurement MTA that could benefit from the, the comptroller, taking a deeper we'll circle back to. Cure in the second. I know people's eyes tend to glaze over when you start telling that all the acronyms involved in New York state politics, but the report talks about the roles that the public authorities oversight committee play, and also reforming the capital program review board. Now, these are somewhat obscure entities, with the New York state, but they have the potential to be very powerful and could be instruments for change the capital program review board in particular is very opaque organization. They don't hold public meetings. They're probably in violation of public meetings laws. What are the ideas to make sure that, that's that, that this massive capital program, budgeting and planning processes more, transparent, and more open? Yes. So in addition to the comfortable or the legislature, there's the authorities budget office, which is when that I think you, you sort of highlighted in a certain way they are charged with looking at all of the public authorities in the state. So that's everything from the local development corporations to the Empire State development and the MTA, and they are hobbled with a very meager budget. I've never had the budget they've needed to really do. Deep dives into the work. We think that they need a budget, increase, and for a small agency. It's not very much considering seventeen billion operating budget for the MTA. Give the thirties budget office five million dollars, six million dollars. That would go a long way the capital program review board. They are indeed in violation of the. We've spoken to the committee, open government about this. We're planning some activities around this later, but they don't meet publicly when they vote. In addition to approving the capital plans of the MTA they're supposed to conduct ongoing oversight. They've never they never they've ever done. And the fact is that's not in. That's actually an area where the governor doesn't control control it in tardy. He gets one voting member where the mayor the speaker of the assembly and the, the leadership of the Senate get each each seat. So that's actually if those groups worked together, there could be I think, more meaningful oversight on an ongoing base under the reports or the mentioned this, but this is a great opportunity for the legislature to step in and say we control two of these four board seats and you have to listen to us as we set the process in the agenda, there just doesn't seem to be any appetite whatsoever for this perform. I'm going to highlight what the Senate Democrats. Two thousand nine yet again they actually created a website for the CPR that didn't happen, the last two the last capital plan twenty fifteen it was this Paik secretive process when the last capital plan went forward, but you know, because the Senate was interested in kind of trying to highlight a little bit more of what the role of this group was they, they gave it a website. They mentioned the actual names of these people. We've spoken to people in government who have trouble finding out, who are the point of the capital, and it's gossipy word. Nobody knows. And even those who are inside, the government have a hard time figuring out what their role is that speaks to think that's volumes to the fact that they're not doing the oversight role that they should be doing and somewhat tangentially. It seems that the MTA's lost a little bit of control of its own process, usually every five years, but about eighteen months or so in advance of the five year capital plan the MTA releases a refreshed twenty year needs assessment. They did it in twenty thirteen. It's now may twenty nine hundred and we haven't. Scene one for the upcoming capital planned. This seems to be a breakdown in process. I think this speaks really to control from the governor's office yet again, when Andy Byford release the fast forward plan they intended to put budget numbers in it, yet, they were not released I the MTA at the time said we don't have confidence or are in our own ability to scope out these projects. They don't have they said that they were trying to be honest, admit that they don't have the expertise. But the fact is these numbers are political. I think the report delves into this in great detail. I think it was, you know, board member Veronica van pool who had a great quote, which is when fast forward came out that said these numbers are not anything not politically palatable. These are not anything numbers that anybody's gonna like the fact is, if if that's what the MTA actually needs to be honest about it. And I think that's why we haven't seen the twenty assessment come out if the actual needs came out from the MTA before the budget. It would have been even more clear that the fifteen billion from gun gesture in pricing. The extra ten billion are just not enough. It's only twenty five billion in the next capital plan the estimates go from anywhere from forty to sixty to seventy billion. So these are political numbers, and, you know, our report gets into the need for there to be greater transparency as well. That's something we haven't really highlighted yet in our discussion. But the I think an great example when that twenty year needs assessment comes out when the budgets, come out we need those as open data. So that instead of looking at a giant PDF of lots of numbers, that are very hard to digest for an average member of the public, we can researchers academics journalists can really delve into those and compare what they say they need to what then they put in their plan because there's often been gaps. And our report gets into that, that in past years have been gaps between the actual spending that they done on state of good. Pair versus the stated need. They said they had. So we'll come back to that the minute, as well just to sort of close the loop on the, the twenty year needs assessment in the capital, planning, it seems to me that they're really relying on fast forward to sort of be the blueprint for both the public facing elements of the capital plan. And the twenty year needs assessment. The problem is, this is a ten year plan and it only focuses on New York City transit. So we have no transparency into what metro north of the Long Island railroad needs. We don't know what bridges and tunnels needs. We don't know what HQ needs to seems that they're hiding a lot right now. And I think that the other thing that has to be factored into this, that we don't speak to you in the report because it was just getting finalized us. We are writing this, and finishing it is that they're doing their undergoing reorganization land right now. And the impacts of that on their budget is, you know, their capital needs are one thing. But the fact is, they are going to need the people to manage those capital projects. So there's, there's a lot going on within the age. That's quote unquote reform that I think is going to have an effect on how all these things operate going forward. So let's talk a little bit about the MTA board. And we'll get into the conversation on open data and transparency reforms part of this, so notably. The report isn't particularly complementary regarding the current role of the MTA board. And I don't think too many board members would really disagree with what you say, you've highlighted through ways in which the MTA board structure on those designed to fail at its oversight function. What role should the MTA board, play managing and leading the MTA and does a volunteer board serving as a public whipping post still make sense as governance tool right now? You know, we thought long and hard about that last question about whether the board, plays a meaningful role. I think the answer is they could. And the way that it was designed and the way the capital program was designed, I think had good intentions to be a regional body. That represented the. Interests beyond just New York City. But the fact is, we have very controlled the, the way the board relief gets its information is highly controlled by the governor, and they don't really have the, the could be looking at big picture items. But because they get lengthy reports from staff that Gough the in some ways get into extremely nuanced issues than other times gloss over the, you know, big picture questions that should be asked the, the way the board, gift their formation is filtered. And we think that about a role for them would be to be doing larger big picture oversight. So what exactly does that mean I think, in, in real life basis it could be. You know, looking at how does getting a real staff report of how does their you know, how are their capital projects, progressing in the aggregate, you know why, you know get a three hour report on one particular project. When they don't have the technical expertise for it. Why not get more aggregate level information? So one set of ideas, I found, particularly appealing concert changing the scope of the board's authority, and you just mentioned that in a way you the group Rian that Albany suggested shifting the board scope of review and oversight to major projects rather than smaller matters, handling policy discussions outside of the scope of major decision making and reforming the way in which appointments are made. Can we talk me through some of these ideas, and how this would sort of help fix the board? So the, the issue of separating policy from contracts, what we really mean by that is, you know, I think you could look at case in point of the L train the way that that decision was made was through a contract when. In fact, how you go about fixing the tunnel is almost a policy matter to do it through a fifteen month full shutdown versus a partial shutdown something that the board could have decided as a policy matter, and it didn't have to be done through the lens of a contract. But the fact is, they had already approved this contract and the staff, then worked within it to try to renegotiate it and fix it without the board, even having a role in it whatsoever. They should have had a vote on that change, and it wasn't because it wasn't just a technical piece it really had a major impact and it was such a high profile issue that we think that the way the project was being undertaken a manage should've been decoupled from an actual contract vote. So that's that's, that's one area where we think it's important, and I think just to sort of follow up on on that specific area. It's a policy conversation because part of this forward, involved taking what would have? Been learnings from the L train shutdown and applying it on a line by line basis to fix the signal systems, and bring everything into a modern state of good repair. The decision was made by the governor to bypass a shutdown. So now the MTA doesn't know what align shutdown would entail, and how to mitigate around it. Yeah. And we also talk in the report about the seven train as another really good example of where the MTA board could instead of instead of getting these static quarterly reports, they really should try to look at things in a more big picture way. So after the seven train so that, that line they just finished up the CTO, the communications based train control, which is the new signalling system that any by speaks to in the fast forward plan what the board we asked them to they didn't take us up on on. Fortunately, was to do a really almost like a postmortem of how did that work? What did them ta learn what were the mistakes that? That were made along the way because it was over budget. And it was late. And really, how can they apply that then to their work going forward because that's the crux of the fast forward plan is to redesign and modernize the signal system. And that's going to be the thing that has the most immediate impact for New Yorkers in terms of their service delivery, and how they're trained making sure that their trains on time and they can get to work in. Get where they need to be. So the board could play a more big picture role in seeing. In helping to steer the MTA in terms of not just always having to do the immediate. Reaction to the breast coverage that this is late. This is over budget or for example, the recent overtime issue, you know something comes out. There's a fire they need to put it out. We don't need to look at things on such an episodic put out the fire base de let's look at it in a long term way try to fix problems in a strategic do strategic, planning, for example, for the MTA. That's a good role for the MTA board. So one of the one of the sort of stories of the report, tells us how the MTA staff makes it hard for the board to do this kind of oversight, because they're not providing the right information on a regular basis. They're not when projects are finished. They're not doing post mortem to say we started out with this budget. We ended this budget. Here's why they're re baselining these constantly. They're saying, here's what the expenses are. Here's what we're spending it on. And there's no snapshot at an overall level there's this very segmented month by month or quarter by quarter. Look at something, and there's no real ability. To have a body that can really institute reform you have turnover you have changes in personnel at all levels, and nobody's in, in the role of saying, where did we go wrong with the second avenue subway? Where did we go wrong? The and there's some very interesting graphs and timelines in the report, detailing all of the delays associated with the installation. Yeah. I think that's exactly right. And you, you spoke to the issue of staff and management of this in, I think, because these projects take such an immense amount of time. You know, the other parts of the report, we note that the capital plans, they're not really, five year plans more like ten or fifteen year plans when you get down to it because these projects can take seven ten years. And when you re baselining the information, you know, what does that mean you know, concrete Lii, is that the MTA will know that they have a project like the seven line is not going, well, it needs more money. So they get the. Aboard. They tell the board that they needed need to fix it. Sometimes they need to approve amendments to contracts, and that happens over and over again, but then at the end of the project, there's no look at what that all those changes and what the meaning why they needed all those changes over the lifetime of projects. And I think that's exactly the point that we're trying to make is that they need to look at things in a more long-term basis, not. So, you know, we do a quarterly report because that's the way we've always done it. That's, that's not necessarily the most helpful way. I think the reality is, when you start to look at this on a on a grander timeline, we have different governor and different MTA head different agency heads, and most likely, I haven't confirmed this, but I'm talking about the top of my head completely different MTA board than the people who've I approved the installation on the seven or the second avenue subway. So you're talking about the sort of lack of institutional knowledge, lack of political knowledge. No real continuous oversight. Yeah. And I think that the job of MTA board, member, the job of empty staff is getting less and less appealing. And I think that this is going to be a problem going forward because there's a hiring freeze, a lot of we spoke into a lot of people within the agency that are there, concretely frustrated, and they're also not getting the support from the governor, who constantly undermines them and bashes them for for being late. And, you know, it's, it's a real problem, the lack of institutional knowledge and, you know, we speak to that in terms of the hiring freeze, and, and with, with the reorganization plan also underway at the moment, I think that it speaks volumes to the issue of really needing to have somebody who's not, you know, asleep to these issues at the MTA, so sort of dovetails into the next question a little bit. And I know the report doesn't spend a ton of time on this. But they're certainly some pointed paragraphs on the tension between the state of good repair work and expansion. The report speaks about procurement issues debt spending in the. Fight between maintaining the current system and expanding it, and these are issues, I think that most folks listening are familiar with, so we don't need to get too in the weeds of it, but it seems clear that reinvent Albany feels. This is a tension that needs to be resolved. How do these conflicting priorities interfere with the MTA boards ability to oversee the agency and the MTA zone ability to deliver a modernized transit system, so yes? So in terms of the, the biggest areas, we looked at in the report is these mega projects. So that's things like the second avenue subway inside access there notoriously over budget in late, you know, you side access up to eleven billion dollars. The total MTA capital plan for this this current capital. Plan is thirty three billion. I mean, mind, you that eleven billion spread over multiple plans, but it just gives you an idea of the scope. And, and what we're trying to really talk about is by by mentioning these mega-projects these expansion projects is they really represent an opportunity cost. It's not as if. These projects could help expand the system, you know, ridership on the second avenue. Subway, is it's not quite as what they hoped it would be. But it is helping to lessen the crowding on the four five six line. But in a what cost does that come at when these projects are costing so much money. And what we looked at us that signal spending what they said they needed for the twenty year needs assessment and what they ultimately spent on recycling was not didn't match us. Small percentage to wasn't. It wasn't slightly less. It was significant as significantly last exactly. I think they were supposed to spend three billion, and it was, you know, far less than that. And the other part of that has really lagged is also replacing the subway cars, because, you know, we were supposed to the twenty year needs assessment said that they needed to buy in theory, nine hundred forty new cars, and then the order, and that we ultimately got was for. Four hundred sixty option for more death in Rome. Exactly. So that's, that's about half what they said they needed, and what that means is that we have older cars running, and they have bore problems. And we also have an operating deficit where the maintenance staff is completely spread thin, and not able to keep do the upkeep on the older cars that we have, and the older cars are not compatible. So then you run into the downstream problems where if you're modernizing, the signal system, you actually have to maintain to signal systems, revile until you phase out the old cars, so these things have cascade down the line. And I think the important thing that we were trying to highlight with these these decisions that were made a number of years ago, and they really are what helped to one of the one of the main factors precipitating the, the service crisis that we had in two thousand seventeen when we had, you know, the on time rates where at all time lows and it's not as if this happened overnight it, this was something that they were. I think clear decisions made along the way that prioritizing these big expansion projects over the nitty gritty. None, nothing's you where you couldn't cut a ribbon and it wouldn't look quite as impressive to say. Oh, look, we fixed signals having a picture in the on the tracks. Although I shouldn't say that Andrew Cuomo does direct photo pictures on the tracks. It's just a little different when you have a beautiful new station for the second of New Year's party in the station. Exactly versus you know, being on the tracks and trying to understand exactly what's the signal people don't I think the visual is different. And the way the, the press response is different these things. So empty reform goes hand in hand with open data and the report. Details at like the failure on this key element of transparency, will the agency was once toward the front of the open transit data movement. It seems as though they've been backsliding for the better part of the last five to ten years, they routinely fail to comply with foil guidelines. They don't provide through open data with. Regards to budgetary, practices or capital expenses. And the MTA has gotten into the habit of withholding MTA board materials from the public and board members until after six pm on the Friday before Monday meetings are scheduled walk me through some of the proposals to reform the MTA transparency in open data initiatives. So I think the important thing to think about in terms of open data is and freedom of information that we're actually not asking them to do anything new. We're not asking for new mandates. I think that the problem we've seen in Albany is that we have legislators who are all too willing to give them new reporting requirements. We're actually talking about just working on existing laws and enforcing them, and actually doing them, the way they're intended. So that's why we're we're trying to be reasonable in terms of these recommendations. We have. There's actually an executive order that requires agencies all stating season thorns to publish all of their data online, and in the open data portal, but the MTA really has failed at that they only have. Seventy five data sets for the entire agency, and almost all of those or maps of the of the train ridership figures that are not all that important. Yes. So the data geeks who actually dive into that they're not, it's not meaningful information. You spoke to them doing a really good job with getting the real time service data out. They J Walter, the former chairman really hired in open data team. They pushed out that information they helped facilitate developers, and it was extremely interesting and helpful, but service data is very different than budgetary information. It's very different from the type of data that helps to hold them accountable, that riders don't see immediate benefit of, but groups like ours journalists advocates AmEx really would be able to hold the MTA more accountable. If we had access to more data the budget information is all in PDF's, the board materials are all in PDF. So you can't get that granular data and you can't it's extremely. Laborious to do so, so the analysis that we've done in this report in some ways, extremely limited by what we're able to even get from the MTA, and we found a lot of things that I think were important to highlight. But the all the advocates, and those trying to hold the T accountable, could do a better job if the produced data in open formats, and it was interesting even just a few months ago, during one of the rare Albany, legislative oversight hearings. EMT said, they have no plans to provide budget data in open data format. Nobody really blinked on the penalty to sort of move past it, but the seems to be a violation of law, perhaps a lack of transparency, it was, it was fairly alarming, and it just sort of went by the wayside, and we've actually been talking with them about this issue for a number of years. So this isn't something new, and, you know, we've we'd ask them with other groups like straphangers campaign in twenty twelve to put their budget information, and their board books put out spreadsheets with them. So this isn't a new request. And, you know, you spoke to freedom of information laws. Well, that's I think that's one of the most basic tools that we have in a free society is access to government information. Keep in mind that everything that government has is paid for by taxpayers writers of the MTA pay for all the information that government has. So it's really hours. So when it's withheld, it's, it's really a violation of public trust in so many different ways because the government's formation is our information, and when affoil request goes in, and it stalled for months and months and months, it's really a breach of public trust. And that's the way it needs to be looked at. So one other interesting element of the, the lack of data transparency is also sort of the lack of institutional knowledge, we've seen the MTA, go fishing for blame over the last few years, I'd like to point fingers at their writers. Thankfully, they've sort of moved away from blaming overcrowding for all their problems. But the recent focus on fair vision has been equal is frustrating, all told though this leads. What I think is one of the more shocking sections of the report, the MTA doesn't really have a good sense of who it's writers are what their demographics look like. Or what their concerns are with servants patterns and reliability. How does this hamstring the MTA's ability to respond to rider concerns? How does this limit the agency's ability to improve it service offerings and what information should be collecting from its writers? I think things are starting to change a little bit in this way, which is which is a good thing. I know that there's more customer service data, but the fact is they don't they haven't released publicly the demographics of their riders the the data's from two thousand eight two thousand ten from the last census, and, you know, maybe they have this information themselves, and they're not willing to release it. But Hanley doubt that we spoken with a number of academics, you should would have had access to this information. They don't and you know, when you're speaking about fair of Asian, the, the data, they released on that is just extr. Namely limited, they say this is the total number. This is the total amount of money before it was all framed in terms of money discussion, but not really looking at, you know, line by line, what communities of the most affected and, you know, you had some board members who were rightfully raising issues of well, you know, we have affairs program, how can we work that program in to try to help communities who are who are struggling because fares are increasing all services, not really getting much better. So the MTA needs to be able to understand who it's writers are. And it also needs to understand its its own needs. In a better way, you know, they have this twenty year needs assessment, but we've seen them actually cutting the staff that's supposed to be managing all their internal data about what are their assets? What is the depreciation? You know, if they're cutting the staffing for the it's called the enterprise asset management program. They're cutting staffing and IT they're cutting staffing in. Surprise asset management. They they're losing the ability to better understand themselves make smarter decisions for the enterprise asset management side of things, basically, the MTA doesn't know what it owns or what state, it's in. That's, that's sort of the overarching problem with the project right now. I think that's right. I think that there are some federal mandates and they actually had to MIT something to the feds last October, for it's called the transit transit asset management plan. But none of that has been made available publicly. So there's no there hasn't been any way for the public to verify that, and I think it's gonna be so important going into the next capital plan, because we as you know, the writing public and the legislators who are going to have to approve any new funding for the MTA really need to have honest numbers about what the MTA's actual needs are because if we keep if they keep, you know, lying to themselves essentially about their needs. We're gonna be right back at square one the same problem if they. So what if it's a really terrible number? They need eighty billion dollars. We should know that ahead of time because then I think we can come up with a better plan. And it's pretty I mean when you stop to think about it, too. It's, it's almost unbelievable that in agency that controls what it says is a trillion dollars in valuable public assets doesn't really know what those are in how they need to be managed right now. Yeah. They I think they're the level of their own understanding is just it's kind of a black box public doesn't really know. We have spoken to staff there that we've seen that, there have been challenges with this program because of the of staffing, shortages and whatnot. But you know, if hopefully they will be able to come around and when this twenty year needs assessment comes out, we'll be able to make really better evaluation of their own understanding their needs. But because so much of that information has been not released publicly. It's, it's, it's really hard to tell how well they're doing. You don't know what you don't know that seems to be the, yes, I think that could wave something so many of the suggestions towards the end of the report talk about ethics compliance, which has been a sore spot over the last couple of years. And I think the stems from recent experiences with Joe load up. The report meticulously details, multiple positions, Loda held, including on the board of Madison Square Garden at a time when the MTA was assessing Penn station he was also. Serving as full-time CEO and chairman of the seventy four thousand employees public agency and maintained his job with the NYU hospital system. The report details, how he was able to execute end runs around state ethics laws and disclosure requirements. How damaging do you feel were these apparent and some might say obvious conflicts of interest in undercutting public trust in the MTA? Look, the public should have. No. There should be no question. That somebody is running a seventeen billion dollar agency is doing exclusively for them. I our recommendations really get to the point that the position, we should be in is a chairman CEO and board members and staff of the MTA who don't have any outside business with the MTA who end maybe even don't even have outside business with state government. Because the fact is, you know, one of the recommendations we make that these board members shouldn't be making campaign contributions to the governor, who they're appointed by. So that's the state where we should be. We should be in a position where everybody is beyond reproach. In their art conflict of interest, and we don't have to go through these cumbersome recusals policies. But the, the way that the former chairman Loda, you know, went about this with the joint commission on public ethics which if you know anything about ethics in New York state government, they're a much maligned agency. They it wasn't. It didn't inspire any confidence. I think it just helped spell. It didn't help dispel the distrust that the public has, and it was really undermining of, I think the public's confidence in the agency, so low to step down for a variety of reasons right at around the time the complex of interest discussions to be coming to a head, but there's been no effort to reform that in the intervening six months, do you feel that there's an appetite in Albany for ensuring that going forward, MTA, four appointees and see yo. And, and the chair position don't have these very outward facing conflicts. Well, I should say we tried the internal route to get them to update their own internal ethics policies that didn't that didn't go over very well. And actually, one of my first roles at reinvent Albany was testifying in front of one of the ethics in front of the governance committee and being yelled at by Larry Schwarz for how dare I as a member of the public say that, that. There's an issue with conflicts of interest. So I think that the, the MTA is very sensitive to this. I think that in general and state government, there's been a somewhat lax attitude about, you know, outside business dealings, because there's the sense that these people have such expertise that they bring to the table, but we're a city of eight million people surely, we can find more qualified six sixteen or so who, who don't have extra leaders, more qualified people. I mean you know what I think that this really where the rubber hits the road is gonna have to be with the legislature. You know, they do the confirmations of these board members a new board, member, he'd a halt SIS. I may not be pronouncing her last name. Exactly. Right. But she was nominated by the governor, she is, she works with the New York Mets, they're on top of Willets point, and her company, sterling equities, who owns them. That's also is looking at doing a new station at Belmont for Long Island railroad. That's a, that's a conflict of interest, and she was appointed by the Senate. It did come up in the confirmation hearings. We urged the Senate to raise these issues and the answer was that she would be recusing herself. I think that that's at a minimum what needs to happen. But we'd be in a better position if we were to ban outside income, and we were to disqualify board members from serving if they have business certainly with the MTA and probably also should ban it, if they have business with state government, another recommendation, we have is that the financial disclosure forms for the so that's what the any public official has to file with the state ethics body. J cope, those should be made public right now you have to request them only groups like ours in the press relieve another they exist, though should be made public. So the input on it, put it on the website, so that the public can make more informed decisions about, you know, who are these people rep. Presenting me on the MTA board also realize in terms of board representation, something that the report mentions to is that the some of the non voting rolls, which have been held by some vocal members over the years, come up for renewal next year which could also diminish that part of board accountability. If the Senate doesn't renew these roles than you see people who've been a thorn in the side of the NTA's or to fall off the board. Yeah, I think for, for what it's worth the meme, the nonvoting members of the board have raised some of the most important questions and through the public board process through the press coverage of it. They've helped to hold you know hold the MTA accountable and the legislature has been considering actually, making those positions voting. That'd be so that's maybe you know, we have kind of mixed feelings about that. Given our lack of confidence in the, the role of the board, generally given the governor's power of the CEO. So I'll save from that we, we have mixed feelings. About that. But I think having a informed in good discussion about what the role of the board should be the nonvoting members included is, is really important in that could be another good topic for legislative oversight hearing. If one were to be held we have a long list of ideas on what they can talk about. So for for our last question, I want to circle back to governor Cuomo, in something that you mentioned earlier, but one of your key, finding seems almost personal to me, but not an insulting way that someone who has dabbled in pieces regarding blowing up the MTA from time to time the report really seemed to speak to me when it stated radical restructuring and blowing up the MTA's regional governance compact is not politically realistic given the governor's power over the MTA and Albany, politics and would be totally a historic. In fact, you went even further and writing the reinvent Albany, reminds fans of the blow it up approach at the governor controls the MTA, only the state legislature, working with the governor can change that approaches that ignore the, this political, and legal reality are not. Particularly useful. I think that's a good reminder for people to hear as the policy discussions on fold. But it does create a box for us to operate in what are some approaches that are particularly useful should we be willing to give governor Cuomo via more and board seats, clear and direct outright majority control the MTA board or their other ways to reform. The agency. I think in terms of, you know, having more seats on the board, you know, we, we have, again, mixed feelings about, what that would mean if, if the governor had outright control the board, and it would stop the just outright false narratives that have been spun that could be potentially productive but you know key proposed a Bill number of years ago, and it hasn't gone anywhere it was really floated as a I think, by him to say, look, I actually don't control it because if I had seats than I'd be able to do more. So I think these ideas get floated around in a way that are they can be manipulated by the powers of being Albany in terms of giving excuses. And when it comes down to it, you know, we have an agency that there's a lot that can be done without changing the power structures. You know, I think if you give the mayor more if you give the governor more seats that also diminishes the role of the mayor who can whose members I think, have helped other than the non voting members have helped provide the most important check on the governor, does the other problem. The concern that I have with giving the governor more seats besides the person who's currently governor is that you sort of take a centralized decision making further away from New York City, the subways and the buses in particular are so New York City focused. But then you're giving Albany more power over that instead of maybe more local oversight. Yeah. I think there's a lot of different things that need to be weighed and, you know, one thing we've, we stayed in the report is that this, this should be studied, this should be thought of in a long term way. And the fact is the way these discussions happen is in the Albany budget cycle. It's end the Albany legislative cycle, where things are not done into liberate of way at all. And I think that that's. The danger other than just the fact while something might be perfectly pure and right. And true on a policy basis when you put it into the Albany, political sausage making process, it just there's so many opportunities, I think, for. For things to be for deals to be cut and power to be taken away from the city, for example, that it's just it's a Pandora's box. You don't know what's gonna come out when you try to put things these things through Albany. I think the report makes the very right and astute point that governor Cuomo himself is not going to voluntarily relinquish control over something, powerful the New York state as the MTA, and I think that for him to be in a position to have it, both ways, just very appealing to say. Look, I fix the L train. Look, I fixed this but. Nope. I don't control the TA. So it's just the, the will to cherry pick the instances and has just there's a reason why this approach has been used over time because, you know, it's been effective to the point where he was reelected. And in spite of, you know, his opponents the Nixon trying to highlight these issues. They didn't they didn't have the kind of. The didn't have a kind of resonance that I think, you know, the people in the transit advocacy world help had hoped. They would and you know, this isn't to be entirely negative. I think that we there are so many things that can be done outside of looking at the, the political structures and the power of who controls the MTA that really, that's why we focused on those in the report with that were out of time today. This has been illuminating lighten conversation on the ins and outs of Mt reform. Rachel. Thanks for your time. Thank you so much. This has been another episode of the second avenue sagas podcast with your host, Benjamin k back. Thank you again, to Rachel for joining me this week and be sure to check out full report at reinvent Albany dot org. A special thank you, as well to Joseph Jacob ousted for production duties if you've been enjoying the podcast, consider leaving review on I tunes and remember second avenue, sagas entirely reader, and listener funded these days to help ensure the site and the podcast continue joined my Patrie on at WWW dot dot com slash second. Avs sagas as always, you can find more at WWW dot second avenue, sagas dot com or on Twitter by at to av. S A, G S. That's that to ABSA 'gas. I'll catch you next time.
Episode 85: 275, with MTA Board Member Veronica Vanterpool
"Two hundred seventy five. The number of meetings that Veronica Vandross has attendance and she was appointed to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. She was recommended by New York City mayor. Bill de Blasio. The mayor's four seats on the twenty one member board. The members typically serve for your terms but MS Vander Pool now says she will soon step down our guest On this podcast to talk about the MTA and more welcome to what's the data point from Citizens Budget Commission in Gotha Zet. I'm Ben Max from Gotham Gazette. I'm Maria Dulas from the CBC Veronica. Poole thanks so much for joining us here today. Thank you both for having and congratulations on your new gig of. Maybe we'll have a chance to ask you about that towards the end of the conversation but congrats INC So for folks who are listening. Who No you're an MTV board member but maybe they don't know much else how'd you get there? What your background? First and foremost I'm a transit rider later and I'm a transit user but my background is an advocacy for many years. Well over a decade. I used to advocate through Tri State Transportation Asian campaign which is a nonprofit. Actually very close to the offices here on the west side of midtown and while I was there I worked on all sorts of the transportation and transit policy issues. I actually started there in two thousand seven on congestion pricing That was the Bloomberg iteration at that time time and it was my introduction into the worlds of public policy politics campaigns coalition building working with the media working with all sorts sorts of legislative partners at all levels of government and that really was the foundation of so much of my advocacy and was very pivotal in putting me into a space where I was a strong advocate on these issues and then ultimately led to the recommendation of me Being Mayor de Blasio's representative to the MTA board. which was certainly surprising? Because I'd always been very vocal advocate and sometimes that requires quiet criticism and praise of both our city and our state funding partners from that time period the push for congestion pricing any other sort of big highlights campaigns. That you you helped craft and lead you remember finally or or less than finally absolutely the push for for steady bike. We were largely involved in that the pedestrianisation of our city streets throughout the five boroughs including the closing of Times Square's two cars The promotion of select bus service that was launched in my home borough of the Bronx in two thousand eight on Fordham Road More originally we try say when I was at Tri State transportation campaign. We led the campaign for improved bus service in the Tappan. Zee Bridge Corredor in fats near State had been studying that corridor for well over two decades and when governor Cuomo proposed that he would a rebuild. The old old bridge transit had been dropped out of that plan. So we very assertively engage in. That discussion again resulted in a new transit system system. That's currently running caught Hudson Link in New Jersey. We were behind the increase in the gas tax in the state to support transportation transportation infrastructure in Connecticut. We were behind the state's passage of complete streets. So many many key signature victories that have reverberated throughout the Tri tristate region. We add as an organization how it worked in those three states. So gave me good purview. that was very relevant also for the MTA Board Zang listening to you speak about ten years ago two thousand seven when you were talking about congestion pricing and select bus service. A lot of those pedestrianisation a lot of that was met with skepticism. In the city and now the culture has sort of turned around on these things and there's a push to do even more in at an accelerated rate to miss. Be Very proud of those victories. Certainly really proud. And I'm even proud to be part of a strong advocacy contingent the advocacy landscape particularly in New York. City is unique doc and Israeli behind so much of these changes and where a tight knit community do you have The philosophy e on transit you know is there sort of guiding principle or two. That has ledger. Your work equity has been that guiding principle for me transportation transportation and more specifically transit. Speak so much to Equitable access to jobs and housing to a quality of life and and what that looks like to the sorts of communities that we live in and the types of relationships that we build Either through our civic engagement in the time we have for that or our personal relationships through social engagements so I think that equity argument and thread has been incredibly Important in how. I've advocated across the region again outside of the five boroughs of New York City. But talking about why it is important that we have affordable public transportation. That's happens he bridge corridor. Because it's not just a corridor of people who own cars and elevating that has been incredibly credibly Important to those who feel that has not been highlighted. And it's also been eye opening for many legislators who frankly may represent represent car dependent constituencies but are are are sympathetic interested in in this other constituency that they hadn't necessarily repeat attention to so equity certainly is the underpinning of so much of what I've advocated for so I guess let's jump to then being on the MTA Board Award Will I had you sort of. I think the I think sometimes even among people who've sort of follow closely. There's a little bit of a misunderstanding understanding the board versus the sort of full-time staff leadership Can you just capture for people sort of what the board does and how how how it works the. NCAA is an incredibly complex agency. And it's great When we have an opportunity to to dive into why that is so? The Board is comprised of twenty three individuals seventeen of whom actually have voting power. I am one who has voting power. I am a a recommendation of Mayor de Blasio and the mayor of New York City has four recommendations to the board each with one full vote. Now that's significant because there's this other board members Four in particular who each each of whom have quarter vote. They're very lovingly referred to as the quarter pounders enters from the far sort of far flung counties that do have MTA steak but less so than than other other parts of this exactly there. The representatives of Dutchess Putnam Orange and Rockland county So the N.. T. Board is not involved necessarily early in the day to day operations of the agency that is left to the leadership. Such as our current CEO Pat Foy leadership team There are several divisions under into the Anti Agency umbrella many familiar with New York City transit and bus which is run by Andy Byford. We also have the Long Island. Railroad Metro North Bridges Bridges and tunnels capital construction. So these are the the subsidiaries under that anti umbrella and the board is the board for all of those divisions so all our specifically our main role is to make decisions on our operating budgets in fact that is the the decision we have to make in December. We need to vote on the twenty twenty proposed operating budget and with that decision comes decisions about the number of personnel. We have what initiatives we might be investing and Whether they might be service adjustments or service reductions weather weather there might be a fair or toll increase which is not proposed for twenty twenty but his program for Twenty Twenty One and twenty twenty three So the board is responsible for making some of those larger decision making actions in other one is approving the capital program so while we rely on staff and personnel to put together those projects that should be in the capital program. It is our job as a board to ask critical questions about those projects to Challenge Challenge and elevate some key assumptions And then as a board sometimes we set policies such as board members proposing posing resolutions as I had done few years ago to ban alcohol advertising in the subway system much like Tobacco advertising had been banned several years before so we set policy In ways such as that and then we help move forward the capital program and then our operating budget aged annually so the MTA propose its budget in November as you said you'll be voting on it in December. How extensive is the boards review and sort of power to alter that document and we have limited capacity in the sense that it isn't as if we have line item veto so we have to take the budget in its Aggregates and we as a board are relying on our brilliant staff to put together these very difficult assumptions because we not any any budget for any organization or agency is really a set of assumptions. So we're relying on our staff to put that together for us. There are things in any budget that raise issues raised questions among board members and for example one key discussion point about the proposed budget has been the inclusion of of several hundred million dollars two hundred forty nine million to be exact for the hiring of additional police officers in the system and that has generated a good deal of discussion Russian. Do we have the opportunity to line item that out of the budget. No so what happens in the next month until the December board meeting eating as a discussion and whether or not staff might make a different recommendation or not that sort of one of the processes. How is it that we're discussing US up into that? Pivotal Action and decision has to be made and from your perspective as a board member who who are the most important people making those decisions. I mean there's obviously a lot of Focus on the chair and CEO Pat Foye He is as appointed by. The governor. Is your understand that when every push comes to shove it's basically the two of them that are making the biggest decisions or is it more internal darnold nat where it's the different Division chiefs that really are are crafting. Those pieces it's been a combination of the both quite frankly over the three three and a half years that I've been a board member. I've seen a very significant difference in how the governor's role has been involved in the MTA from my time I'm an advocacy in two thousand and seven we had different governorships and different people in office. We've seen some very explicit suggestions and actions and measures proposed and implemented by the governor for example That have been a departure from what has been plans for example just sticking to the capital program and talking about the implementation of open road tolling. That was something that was a good initiative but it wasn't included in the capital program but was a priority of the governor. That's one of a dozen such examples but then we have our staff that is letting us know of course what the priorities are In what needs to be invested in and we rely on individuals such as Andy Byford. Who as we all know put together? The vast forward plan Identifying the priorities in that that he noticed uh-huh putting putting it together with staff so it's a combination of the both. The board members at times have raised issues is that have been included in some way But it is mostly driven by the staff and as of late there's been a considerable amount of input from the governor. And have you been satisfied with the level of information that's been provided to you. Want some of these key initiatives and the timing of when that information is released and Albright as something that CBC has brought up. which is we have this massive capital plan that's been proposed and we've never seen the twenty year needs assessment that typically predates that plan right so in in your seat with your fiduciary duty? How can you approach evaluating the investments outlined in that plan without something as essential as a needs assessment to be able to to benchmark against that has been a key criticism of mine for three and a half years and in fact has informed some of my no votes? I have not voted no often though Oh. I am often identified lovingly as a critic but I have reserved no votes for instances where I felt. We've not been adequately adequately informed I have raised that issue around the transformation plan for example and one of the reasons why I voted no was not because I'm against ends transformation. WHO's against efficiency and operated Operating Improvement Than Staff Development. No one's against those sorts of things I was against danced just having thirty seven pages of a transformation plan that I knew as many hundred pages more detailed than that so it is very difficult. Sometimes sometimes I feel that I am not adequately prepared nor informed to vote. Yes on something. Because I've laxed some details. I have been frustrated frustrated with Though amounts of information that has been presented to us and in what time line and I'm not in the minority other board colleagues colleagues of mine have raised those issues over the years too and it certainly puts us at a disservice now four the capital program. I as many others and to your point Maria did raise the issue that we we didn't really have enough time to sort of go through. The Capitol Program having lacked this twenty or needs assessments which has customarily informed the needs of element of the capital program for the next five years. And so I a often joke that if you want information the last person you should seek information from is a board member because we're often the last week Can Be joke. But it's also I mean that's that's troubling right. I mean that's it is troubling and in talking fifty plus billion dollar capital plan billions billions and billions per year in the operating side And obviously the you know the transit experience of millions millions of riders indeed and in fact fact it impacts us on a monthly basis to one one of my biggest surprises upon joining the board. Many years ago was How how few days of preparation we were allowed by the time we receive the materials for the board meeting and when I first started on the board we were often receiving thousands of pages of material about two business days prior to the meetings? Now that's certainly improved we've got the MTA in staff have done a much better job at providing that information many more business days in advance and it's no easy feat task for the staff to prepare this. Either it's not as though so Then not often waiting for information that is still being put together down to the last minute so I wanna acknowledged that but it has been very difficult for us to both review these materials and then have informed discussion with our board colleagues or with staff about questions that we may have the materials. If you're reading something on a Saturday night and you have a question. While staff is responsive at that hour often times times it may be difficult to have a larger discussion with board colleagues at the hour of the day prior to a Monday Set of of committee meetings. So that's been a real challenge as well. There's been a conversation as Efforts have been made to turn the MT around about those cities level. We'll both With the city's responsibility to fund the MTA And what authority if you will the city should have over dictating some of the investments if and if it does provide more funding so as we said the city has four members on the board. How do you think about What the city's responsibility is is to finance the MTA and then whether there should be any adjustment made to the composition of the board given the fact that transit is the largest operation the commute arose largely served to bring people into the central business district and then bridge and tunnel also basically connecting you know Transportation assets into Manhattan. What's the city we know? How should we think about the city's responsibility here and it's power on the MTA? I think the certainly during marriage blasios tenure your has exceeded its responsibility in many ways. So prior to the two point five billion dollar commitment for our current capital program fifteen to nineteen eighteen. And for those of you not familiar with the capital program is the construction blueprints Prior to that commitment by Mayor de Blasio In in two thousand eighteen. Actually Oh no twenty sixteen. It was the middle of two thousand sixteen New York City's contribution had been significantly much lowered to the. MTA's five construction budget. So Mayor de Blasio did at that point commit a historic number unprecedented on levels. We had just seen press very small percentages of that amount during for example the Bloomberg Administration and prior administrations and then with the MTA's proposal that the city contribute three billion dollars for the next five construction plans. Twenty two twenty twenty two twenty twenty four. The mayor in the city of New York didn't Balk on that in fact they said well we have some conditions before we actually agree. They didn't implicitly. licitly give their agreement but there wasn't a lot of hedging and that's significant because it shows that the city understands that it is a valuable valuable and critical funding partner and it shows the cities understanding that seventy percent of the infrastructure lays within in the five boroughs of New York City and that the economy of the city is so inextricably intertwined with transit. So it it is a demonstration nations of the value of the system. So I think and then on the operating side. New York City has also contributed significantly through for example examples supporting anti bus Supporting Para Transit. which has been an issue? That's come up for the December discussions for the next year's operating operating budget And several other City dedicated taxes. That support our system right and the thing the point that we always make. CBC He is you know the city is not a person with a wallet and a credit card The city has a budget that draws on resources from tax payers the same way the tax The Fares and the tax revenue that the MTA collects largely come from people who live in the city so that city support is really the bulk of MTA. Funding is coming from city taxpayers. So we know obviously the the governor appoints the leader of the MTA has the most appointees to the board but the city does have the four spots at times filled and at times not Currently three out of the four are What is you know what could be the city's full impact on the MTA board and the MTA operations you know sort of just building on that last discussion? You know beyond your tenure. They'll be the four seats. Still Your Secrets Phil. Let's I'd say the MDC gets filled. You know next year sometime. These both happened What what what's the potential for the city? You know that that the city hasn't reached but that the city could reach in sort of impacting how the MTA functions the potential of the city if we had a different governance model would be to prioritize in actual action and measure some of the priorities of near city. Any so for example there was a good deal of discussion around the enhanced station initiatives Some time ago and we as the four city member contingent raised a significant amount of concern. About how that one billion dollars and proposed funding was going toward a thirty three stations. That that we saw as not truly ident- are addressing some of the priorities of the system specifically accessibility on an elevator access. Even more specifically sophocles and we were able to raise issues and ask questions and vote against it that ultimately didn't shift the power dynamic or the decision but what it did was altered a little bit d committee discussion because a lot of actions to have happened in committee and can be stalled in committee not move out for for full so there was that that situation where we were very close to changing that dynamic I think I think what's most troublesome about the governance structure of the MTA as less sort of who is appointed by whom and more how How each individual board member sees his or her responsibility and to whom so one of the reasons why I've been called autonomous and independent is because I have often asked have Some of my city contingent board members disagreed with some of the policies sees of of Mayor de Blasio for example Very early in my tenure on the board I Pens an opinion piece in the Daily News about why it was important point for New York City to support congestion pricing and that that time a mayor de Blasio wasn't yet on board he is we know now and he's been very supportive of it But that was one initiative and other initiatives that my colleague David Jones has been very A start of on has been the issue of fear Fares and why why that is Should be a priority of of New York City and we know that is something that the mayor moved on to some degree. That's that's right so I've not seen that from too. Many other board members representing their their various geographies geography is on the board and I think was incredibly important so that dynamic and that independence is appointing individuals for whom that independence is paramount's amounts and there's all of the board members on our individuals. I respect I don't agree with all of them but I respect them because they put in a lot of work and they're smart individuals and at the end of the day we all want the same things So it it strikes me as interesting I mean I would never I would never sir disagree that it's really important that members of aboard like this have independent voices that are not too beholden to the to the people that appoint them but at the same time it also strikes me that the sort of it's been rare that the mayor's appointees have sort of gotten together to really fight against something or fight for something and that's almost a little the flip side of of the independent aspect because we know you David Jones especially are very independent minded people in speak up But you know that's something that Ah has just sort of been apparent over the last bunch of years that you know. The mayor has made some some strong appointments to the board but he hasn't taken seemingly seemingly that much interest in what's happening at the MTA. I would say that Mayor de Blasio has put a good deal of confidence and trust and his board members and there is a good amount of discussion with city leadership. Abou- priorities and topics and issues. That will you WANNA highlight. And he's given us a good amount of latitude certainly do that. With great respect for the expertise and the knowledge that we have on these issue areas and again his unprecedented precedential support of the capital program. Unlike any previous city administration or mayoral administration. I think is incredibly important to highlight so so capital plan is out. It's fifty five billion dollars approximately. What is your assessment of the capital plan to focus on the right things? I would say Z.. Guests and that's because most of the capital program is an overlap of the fast forward plan nearly identically and we all as users of the system understands the real challenges that we encounter writing our subways and our buses I would've loved to see and I was vocal about. This is more investment in our metro. North System. A Long Island railroad has gotten significant investment. And it's well. Deserved much of that. Infrastructure on Long Island is from eighteen eighteen fifty s and the island has grown significantly. And I've been a big champion of projects such as third track second truck Eastside access very very much needed at the same time We're seeing a slippage in identifying. Some of our state of good repair needs for metro. North and in fact that's metro north is receiving about a billion dollars less for a comparable size railroad in terms of ridership and infrastructure. Then Long Island Railroad road and and that was a concern of mine and a number of others on the board but I think moving forward was important points out is that we have finally finally getting to a point where we're right sizing our capital program with the needs of the system for as long as I've been an advocacy so I think this is my third or may third capital Five Year construction cycle at the NCAA having this advocacy space and we had always operated with a very low capital program number and many of us are very frustrated noting that that doesn't capture the full the needs of the system so at fifty one point five billion significantly more than we've ever seen. I think we're moving to a point where we're saying in our system has greater capital needs and construction needs and we're getting serious about addressing them so I have a real concern about the flip side of that right right. which is you know? There's not it's a bit clan. It's very ambitious But there's also a lot left undone from the the prior plan so what you're looking at seventy billion dollars in commitments total between the two plans in some like sprinkles from the prior plans that are undone and you know from why is it. This is sort of two important to mess up right so it's great that we have this this big plan but there isn't a lot of clarity on what is getting done. One and the plan really assumes assumes in order to execute that the MTA will rapidly. Step up what is able to do in terms of getting these projects out the door and done. Are you concerned about this. I mean I think you know having a big plan and making us all feel better like yes. We're finally getting the the investment we've got the new revenue sources is nice but at the end of the day. Riders WanNa know. Is the system going to be reliable. Is My station going to be fixed up in one. And how can we assure writers that. Will you know that that will happen that. That's it's going to be a real challenge and one additional reason. Why is because while we're seeing this historic investment on the capital side whistling unprecedented deficits the sits on the operating side? And that has been a concern that I and others have certainly raise as you all have raised to it is worry some For many of us. How are we going to accomplish this very ambitious program With some of the projects that are still underway. We've seen money's still being being spent from the two thousand and five two thousand nine capital program In fact this Last capital program the current one. That's Papu Post Twenty twenty twenty four. We still think money's shift around between the two prior capital programs So there's a massive amount on work and we need a workforce to do that we need operating funds to support that Given that are operating budget is sixty two percent comprised of labor And we are expecting significant deficit. Still even with some very favorable projections for example on real estate taxes in money recouped from fair evasion. We are still and savings from the transformation plan and other savings at the MTA had put in place space years prior Where where I think that will be a challenge to convey to the public that we are able to do this? The one very positive thing is that we've seen significant improvements in the system we've seen Delays reduced significantly clean. We've seen on time performance improved. We've seen speeds and our bus network improve and ridership jump particularly on The M fourteen in Manhattan we've seen fewer signal delays. So and we're seeing more time saved to the average person's commute for some people that's thirty two seconds seconds and for others. That could be six minutes but at least we have a track record over this period of investments to say. Look we understand your frustrations. We are making progress where densify and the progress of progress is still underway. And I think that track doc record over the past eighteen months in particular is going to be helpful prologue for what we expect to see what this next level of investment there's a little bit of Muslim called rebuilding the plane as you're flying it to happening right with the transformation plan some new leadership a new. COO being announced Chief transformation officer. I'm not totally sure Why so many so many different leaders are needed to do? You know what's what's what's needed here. But the idea is also to streamline some of the operations and take a real close look at how the MTA operates to improve that annual budget and not run those deficits. Do you feel confident at this point that that's going to happen fairly sufficiently while this massive capital spend is also being implemented effectively done in a reasonable timeframe. Ed How concerned should people be that. Both those things are supposed to happen at once. And it's as you both said such an ambitious capital plan needed but but so ambitious. I mean how concerned are you. You know as you SORTA vote on your final budget. Here I would say identifying defying as a real challenge And certainly worrisome. I I think that there's a significant amount of action underway at the MTA that is. It's a huge undertaking The transformation effort is unprecedented. Not Not just for the MTA book for any agency and bureaucracy of this size across the country. I really in the public sector obviously their private sector sector examples. But I can't imagine I am not familiar with any other public sector example that is of this size so I think that Nisa a huge undertaking That will inform some of the capital program decision making for example. We we know that there's going to be an entirely new Line of Engineering Construction for example and the pros and the cons of that I think are going to unveil themselves as we go through this process. We've not really had the most robust discussion about what those look like. Another reason why I voted. No because I wasn't entirely we clear on what those might be And saw I. I do think that they will inform each other. They will be a challenge to balance together But at the same time there's efficiencies to be had by having this overlapping these overlapping processes So Oh as we're going through the next five construction cycle the changes that are being identified as part of the transformation plus processor them being put in in real time So there's some real benefit to of having these overlapping timelines and I'm an advocate and advocates require optimism. If not wearing the wrong the wrong business so I'm always optimistic. That things will will have positive outcomes and that there will be good results generated from this process. I was a huge skeptic of the L. train decision but ultimately it's seemingly me working out well for our writers for the project overall And I always reserved that optimism. It was more about process for me less about the actual technicality. So I think process it will be really important here and these overlapping processes might just end up benefiting The savings and the efficiencies of about one point six billion dollars that were expecting to get from just the transformation efforts along we have about five more minutes with Veronica of Andhra Appreciate the time. Yes so he look at me. 'cause you know where I'm going you know you're optimistic. I'm so skeptical. Bovine Nature Right Earl as you said you know you alluded you hit the right point about the deficits that are projected in the MTA financial plan and this is with fair. You know fare increases baked in on a biannual basis. Fear and toll increases And you know I it's contingent sort of on nailing it on the transformation shouldn't plan kneeling it on the budget reduction plan which is also very significant and also a Labor settlement that is reasonable and so the MTA has pegged what's reasonable symbol at essentially two percent increases for the life of the plan You know from where I sit. Drivers are going to have to pay more with congestion. Pricing riders are going to continue. Continue to pay more on the fares. MTA management is reorganizing tax payers. Have come to the table to say you know. We're authorizing these Lula of support but we haven't seen anything anything from Labor and the T. W. contracts expired. You know at least from the outside from what we read in. The press doesn't seem to be going so well and yet it's a critical part part about making sure that the MTA financial plan remains sound You have any insights or comments on on that part of it because to for us at CBC. It's the real worry and a risk to the financial plan as I noted earlier and you'll know the statistics sixty two percent of our operating budget is dedicated to Labor. So there's no way that we can ever as an agency Nora's aboard talk about reining in costs on our calendar operating budget without addressing labor and it's just because Labor is such a big part of our our budget when I was an executive director of a small nonprofit Labor was the biggest part of my budget to you nearly all of our philanthropic funding came in and went to our our personnel and I had to make decisions about. Okay how do I keep my staff. Happy how continued to cultivate and develop them. How do I make sure that they are meeting. Their quality of life increases So it's a very difficult. Juxtaposition and board members are not involved in these discussions. Many people might know that there's a dedicated labor team That's that's anti personnel. That is responsible for negotiations. Board members roles are to raise these issues and talk about the concerns and finding the balance And those those conversations certainly have happens. There's a great deal of respect for our our workforce and I think the conversation tenor unfortunately unfortunately has grown very vitriolic and while there are obviously Any agency an organization instances businesses where there can be abused. They there's been a mischaracterization. I think what's important. Is we identify those very few instances of abuse and we tackle them. And that is what's happening without mischaracterizing. Our entire workforce and in fact. Fortunately that's not happened. And that's supported this very hostile discussion. So I think we're always in a position where we have to. We have to work with our labor. The force of fine efficiencies based on what's reasonable making show that they feel the respect that we have for the work that they do as a board member. I often see members. There's of our our subway and bus personnel come in showing their injuries to US sustained in the system so we've recognized that it's the challenging work environment and that needs needs to be honored and respected at the same time. This is an agency that never will operate in the black we are always operating at a deficit And there's some real financial constraints here and we can't do it all we certainly don't WanNa lay people off. We don't WanNA cut service service. We don't even want an A.. Just service in ways that impacts too many people saw how are we stretching the efficiencies across every Sector of our budget. So these are the sorts of issues that we're talking about we're sensitive about and we're hopeful. I'm hopeful that resolution genus found soon. Because we certainly need our workforce and we need to find these efficiencies correct from if I've missed it Or if it's it's happened nobody knows about it But it doesn't seem like there's a real conversation that's happened around bringing construction costs down like the the you know and that dovetails to another question that I wanna get your take on which is why there's no real plan in place to build out the subway more Those two things Obviously go hand in hand when we've just looked at the second avenue subway There's obviously a plan to continue that but no other plan to you know to even even try. What would you think? Cheaper extensions and other places That's really not on the table other than some long delayed studies that maybe we'll keep going going so those two sides of a coin. Is there any real conversation on either of those. I mean I know design build has come up. That's one piece but there there has in fact the construction project delivery at the. MTA is the biggest blemish. If not one of the biggest blemishes on the agency as a whole and there was a board working group Several about eighteen months ago that convenes over the period of a year that looked at. How are we improving our procurement process and our project delivery process some of those recommendations were in fact implemented and then some of them sort of were paused as discussions Russians of transformation became or were underway and that is one of the biggest areas that the transformation plan has to tackle tackle and MTA is being very Responsive to a lot of these concerns a few board cycles ago. I think it was an October. There was the video showing. Why elevators cost so much that is one of the key? Criticisms of why from the public is the cost of elevator installation relation and the MTA put some effort into explaining some of the very unique characteristics. It's it's an attempt to explain the complexities of a system. But it in and of itself that does not preclude this constant scrutiny of what can be done better and the transformation plan has to be doing certainly will be doing that so these conversations have happens. I think there's sort of less than the public free now because so many people feel okay. Throw throw it into transformation And let's see what happens and I don't mean to be suggests anyone's being flip about it but it's such a key component of of reducing costs that it will be a key tardy of this transformation process. I was struck. You know. The General Lieber recently recently sorta said he's not really sure why it's so expensive To build end well He. He's not sure why. It's more expensive than London and Paris in particular but I think he now now he's got a handle on what some of the built in sort of processes and mechanisms are particularly in the contracting process. That drive up some of these costs and delay and I think he's laser focused focused on on working on it and we should shoot. I was GONNA say he came to talk to us when he was first starting. So it's definitely time again you know it's starting to bear fruit. It could bear more fruit. It could improve the execution. Will it improve the execution enough that they'll be able to do the seventy billion in the the next five or six years it remains to be seen so let's wrap up I guess I I've just on your sort of almost on your way out. Are there any EH. I Dunno final. Sort of you'll have other interviews. I'm sure before you before you depart but but as of now other things on your wishlist for the MTA. Not a that you would love to see next year three years from now. Whatever you know as you sort of look back on your time there are some big things that you hope happened on the road road so I would say two things First and foremost I hope that the next A recommendation for my spot is a woman. mayor de Blasio has put forth to individuals Bob Lynn. WHO's currently serving his wonderful dance? Really who's pending as we know But I think it would be important to have another woman on the board when I started on the board woman were nineteen percent of the board. Were out twenty nine percents. We need a boy that is more representative presentative of the riding public and And certainly need more women on the board and I would love again to for that person should be Independent and not worry about employment considerations by being an employee of the city of New York. I think that can Muddy the the advocacy waters and some some cases more broadly for the NC. I would love for the Anti Board to have a stronger governance model. I would love at some point for the N. T. Board to appoints its own chair And VOL- discuss its own chair higher it's CEO and perhaps even being vob door were engaged in senior Bima senior management decisions such as the presidents of the agencies or whatever operating titles that ends up having a a- as after the the transformation I'll come that's incredibly important. We are unique as a transit system in this country That does not do that. So many of our other counterparts in large cities do have that function and oversight as a board and I would love to see that a a different governance model moving forward and in terms of MTA priorities. What you think is the most important thing that needs to be accomplished in the next five years? I really do think thing that accessibility in our system and beyond elevators and escalators. Of course very very key but all the other Measures that transport support people of all abilities around system including our para transit network and the importance of that is we have an aging population. We have a younger population. Nation is not just You know people who are in wheelchairs so it has been a significant challenge the MTA has certainly try. Hi to address that it's very very closely but I would love to see continued and expanded progress on that front. We've seen progress. But I'd love to see that progress suspended in the short term and just on the way I'll tell folks what you're doing next. I am joining the Delaware Transit Corporation as its first ever chief innovation officer so working with the State Department of Transportation and again the transit company. I'm very excited to be in a new role to Be In a in a work environment. That is very different new opportunities. He's Salvi moving to Delaware soon. Okay we wish you the best of New York will miss your voice. Thank you very much to both. Thanks for your time five mm-hmm.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye 7-26-20
"Jay Farner here CEO of rocket mortgage. Making the right financial decisions has never been more important. When you turn to rocket mortgage, we can help guide you to those right decisions now when they matter most mortgage rates are near historic lows, so now is a great time to call eight three three eight rocket, and if you need some extra money, a cash out, refinance could give you that financial boost. You're looking for call today at eight, three three eight. Eight rocket or go to rocketmortgage DOT COM to learn more call for cost information and conditions equal housing lender licensed in all fifty states and MLS number thirty thirty good morning, New York. This is the roundtable on cats teams here Sunday morning well, we're trying to open up again and one of the key things reopening law city is our subway systems, and we have the terms of the MTA with this Mr Pat Foy. How are you? John I am well. Thanks for having me. This is actually an important moment for the for the MTA. The pandemic had a dramatic negative impact on our revenues, subway and bus ridership commuter rail ridership is down. It's increase from the depths of the pandemic John, but we get about half our revenue from our customers fares on subways buses long our railroad metro, north and tolls, and the remainder from the package of taxes and subsidies that the legislature put in place, both of the negatively affected. We got three point nine billion, and obviously the pandemic is a national issue and requires a national response on national solution. We got three point nine billion dollars from the federal government a couple of months ago in the Cares Act last Friday a couple of days ago, we spent the last of that money will be reimbursed for that in August by US dot, but to get through the rest of the year. The MTA needs an additional. Additional three point nine billion dollars. The good news is that the House of Representatives led by Speaker Pelosi and neither lowey chair. The Appropriations Committee is retiring after thirty years of Long Honorable Service in the Congress and the New York. Congressional delegation supported additional funding in the Heroes Act the United States. Senate is back in session and it's really critical that the Senate fund public transit across the country, but specifically three point nine billion dollars. For the MTA if they do that, John, that will take us through the rest of twenty twenty and we'll have to deal with deficits in twenty twenty one you know with whoever wins the national election whoever's in control of the of the Senate but the immediate crisis is to get an additional three point nine billion dollars the in twenty twenty one. Here's what the MTA is doing as it's part. Part of the solution in twenty twenty one. We expect to take over one point one billion dollars of expense out by controlling overtime by reducing or eliminating consultant contracts and reducing non-personnel Non Labor expense in our financial planning, our budget for twenty twenty one. We already have eight hundred million dollars. Book confident will be able to deliver it that we have also identified three hundred fifty million dollars of additional non-labor. Expense cuts in in in twenty, twenty, one for total reduction of one point, one billion dollars that's on top of about three billion dollars of annual recurring savings that we have realized over the past years. and the critical thing is funding right now. While the United States Senate is in session for the MTA. The? The other thing John wanted to talk about is the condition of the subways what? Since the pandemic at the MTA, wh, we've been doing since the pandemic started. Is this infecting subway stations subway cars buses accessorize vehicles, Long Island, railroad and metro north, cars and stations were doing that multiple times a day. we are also piloting a number of innovative disinfecting techniques ultraviolet Cya with Dr David Brenner at Columbia University of far you the which is another. Another form of ultraviolet light, which a- and actually the the work with Dr Brenner at Columbia with the MTA, we were the first collaboration to confirm that ultraviolet C light or radicals, the COVID nineteen virus. That's really important, and we've been piloting that technology on subways and buses, and are figuring out a way to operational operationalize it over the thousands of subway, cars and buses. That we have. We're also working with anti microbial solution providers and the EPA and national labs to identify and confirm whether these antimicrobials will kill the covid nineteen virus, and do it perhaps for weeks and months, and that confirmation is I is underway, and we've also piloted that on subways and buses, so we've been. We've been innovators in this and our goal from day one as been to do everything we can to minimize public health risk to our customers and to our employees. Tell me how many all. Passengers that you have before his pandemic again. That's a good question. So on an average weekday John Pre pandemic, we carry five point five million customers on the subways, and about two point one million customers on buses pre pandemic so seven point six million customers a weekday on subways and buses right now are carrying about rot. Ridership has come back from the depths, but we're far from those highs subways. Yesterday we carried about one point two million customers on buses about one point one million customers so about two point three close to two point four million customers. We expect that number to rise, but when you compare it to the seven point, six million customers that we carry on a typical pandemic day. Pre Pandemic. Day you get some sense of the revenue destruction that the pandemic has caused the obviously that's had a significant adverse effect on our finance. It's. All these numbers. To important thing to offer citizens into my kids. Ride the subways patiently. Here's the they feel safe house. The state facts in subways well look from a public health point of view. We're in a good place from a crime point of view. We've got work to do as you know. The NYPD has primary responsibility for policing the subways, obviously the NYPD has had its plateful the last the last couple of months, and as a result of that for instance felony assaults on the subways. In the last thirty days we're up approximately thirty percent. We're working hard with the leadership of the NYPD and with the with the with the transit. Bureau chiefs dilatory to make sure that we were able to contain crime in the subways and the increase in felony assaults that I just mentioned is obviously troubling and and remember. That's occurring in a situation where we've got one point. Two million subway customers instead of five point five. So this is an important priority. For, the MTA, and obviously the city and the the NYPD we need to do more, and we need more resources from the NYPD on that issue undisturbed, so you're calling upon all New Yorkers to call congresspeople and call this. In terms of. Of the MTA in New York I absolutely I ought to say that senator. Schumer has been completely supportive of the NCAA in the past, and on the three point nine from the cares. And is supporting in the Senate. The three point nine billion that I referred to that. We need for the rest of the year The New York Congressional Delegation Nita Lowey CARBS MINNESOTA. Congressman Akeem Jeffries has been completely on. It it your listeners. could talk to members of the US Senate from other states on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democratic that would be incredibly helpful job undisturbed and I know governor Cuomo has a good relationship president fashion eventually signed it, and that's good news. anything else where to say. We have thirty cents up. Yeah? Look for some seventy percent of our customer survey say that the subways has never been cleaner subway, cars and stations. We're doing everything we can to disinfect customers or to feel secure and coming back and riding the subways. I will say that transit agencies around the World Asia Europe Europe that wanted to the pandemic and came out before New York and have seen ridership increases. There's been no spike. In Kobe nineteen cases attributable public transit public transit is is safe. We're doing everything we can to disinfect multiple times a day and we're going to minimize health risks, all of our customers and employees to the absolute extent we can't. And then of the NCAA pets. For everything done in the past and continue to do all the off his. and. God. Bless them. St John Thanks very much for having me. Take Care, thank you. This is the catch roundtable. It'd be like that.
Episode 2 (John Raskin)
"It's time for another episode of the second avenue, sagas podcast. I'm your host Benjamin k back and joining me this week to discuss subway writer advocacy and its role in securing congestion pricing for New York City is writers alliance executive director John Raskin before we begin I offer this. Disclaimer, I am on the board of the writers, alliance have been advising the organization since its inception in twenty twelve in covering the riders alliance. Over the years, I've always been up front about my involvement with the organization and have not shied away from offering criticism when warranted, including around the messaging during the fight for congestion, pressing, I owe it to you my listeners to be forthcoming about my involvement with the group and without further ado, my conversation with John. Congestion pricing charging drivers for access to busy city streets, isn't a new idea. It's been implemented to great success in London Stockholm in Singapore, as well as a few other cities around the world at its core. It's a pro environment. Pro economic growth pro transit fee, designed to limit pollution, clear up congestion and productivity loss to traffic and generate a steady stream of revenue for transit reinvestment and growth located on an island in the middle of the harbour Manhattan. The main economic hub for the New York City region is a prime candidate for congestion pricing. But then mayor Bloomberg's first effort failed in two thousand eight when Albany quashed the plan in a closed door session since then New York City has suffered through increased traffic and slower travel speeds as our transit system, the lifeblood of the city has suffered from declining reliability and a lack of investment its needs, including Andy Byford, forty billion dollar fast forward plan, chief among them are clear. The dollars. And the source of those dollars were uncertain until recently, spurred on, by scenes of transit riders trapped in a stifling, subway, a few summers ago and inspired by Byford call to action a coalition of transit advocates renewed. The push for congestion pricing path to fixing the subway as March ended governor Cuomo in the state legislature came through congestion pricing will be a reality New York City in Manhattan, central business district, the area of the borough south of sixtieth street, the details will be worked out by six member traffic, mobility review board and their pricing scheme will be implemented in late twenty twenty or early twenty twenty one. The fight was long and hard in the victory hard earned. Joining me today to discuss the fight is John Raskin, executive director of the writers, alliance grassroots group of transit riders pushing for transit investment. John, thanks for joining me. Thank you for having me. So let's start with the effort that you and your fellow advocates foot and put into this fight the fix the subway coalition. Why congestion pricing? Why now talk to me about the riders alliance role and approach in this. Push for traffic pressing. I think everybody who lives in New York and takes a subway or talks to anyone who takes us up way realizes that our system has steadily deteriorated over a number of years, and that deterioration in the quality of service that people experience through spike in delays, or, you know, increased overcrowding that deterioration of service is really a direct result of years of under investment in the transit system, right there. Managerial issues other components of that, the MTA be doing differently, but the reality is, if the MTA is operating with century, old signal technology and signals from the nineteen thirties and train cars in the nineteen sixties, I really is not going to be in a position, no matter how well it's run to provide transit service for twenty first century city, and so coming back to your question. You know what is it that we did our primary work was to connect in the public mind, the quality of service on the transit system? With those decisions that are made by our elected leaders. And so really it's to say governor Cuomo runs the state state budgets and the MTA funding are determined by the governor in collaboration with the state legislature. And what we the millions of people who rely on transit service every day need is for those, those political leaders who work for us to make the decisions we need that are about reinvestment in the transit system, when when the transit system came to the summer of hell in twenty seventeen and more broadly, the, the poor quality service that everyone's experiencing. We helped form a coalition called fixed the subway, as you mentioned, we joined with business groups and labor groups, and, and other folks as well. In addition to the grassroots organizers, who were accustomed to working with, and we brought the fight both to the governor and two members of the legislature, I to demand their attention. And then once congestion pricing was on the table to demand. Passage of that policy. Which is not a silver bullet, but will make a significant difference. So how did how did the coalition sort of land on congestion pricing? I know we, we have the history of Bloomberg's failed attempts. There's been sort of a low level drumbeat among policy wonks in among some of the niche advocate blogs for congestion pricing over the past ten years. But it really seemed as though something tipped over the last two or three years. What was that? How did the community decide now is the right time for congestion pricing? I, I would say it's a combination of a few factors. I think that. One of the reasons that folks settled on congestion pricing about political realities, which I'll describe a little detail. I think one is about the longstanding desires of the community, to have a policy that serve multiple goals, not just transit funding, but also reducing craft traffic congestion and improving air quality, and one was really the leadership of the governor that the, you know, the mayor of the city had proposed a millionaires tax, which the writers lines endorsed and many grassroots organizations did as well. And we, we advocated for and would have fought for as well. But because of that political reality that, I mentioned, the Republicans, controlled the state Senate, and even now with the Democrats control the state Senate. It's a body that has to attend to its suburban members and there are many folks who did not support a millionaires tax there. Many folks would not be interested in a tax increase. And I think the governor who is a very astute political player made an. Assessment of what was really possible to make happen. And I think that's where his lending on congestion pricing, which I think, was both for reasons of substance and also political feasability matched with our, you know, the transit advocacy communities longstanding interest and congestion pricing because of everything that congestion pricing would do for the city, right. We'll come back to the governor's role in just a minute. I have a question first about the people in Albany, who are most helpful most willing to be part of this coalition because you need to get legislators on legislators on board to sort of build a coalition. How do you go about building up the support for an idea, and who are the politicians, most helpful, and really getting this idea off the ground and pushing it towards reality will, so I mean that's an interesting question because building support is not linear. It's you know there it's a multidirectional in a number of ways in part of what I mean by that is for many years. We have worked with a growing coalition of state legislators. To demand transit funding and in some cases to push back on when the governor had proposed to reduce transit funding. And so we had the framework for a coalition of legislators from years of working with them not on congestion pricing, but on other transit advocacy issues, and I think part of what has really changed in the years since mayor Bloomberg had proposed congestion pricing, a little more than ten years ago, part of what has changed is that the subway system has gotten so much worse that even legislators who many of them personally, don't take the subway drive, but even legislators recognized because their constituents are complaining to them. And because it's in the news that public transit needs a new generation of attention and the new set of funding of investment. And so part of what I think, is interesting about the dynamics in Albany is that first the state legislature demanded true. Visit funding for many years. Then the governor proposed what I think is more significant transit funding than they really pushing for which is the proposal for congestion pricing. And then it took some work back in the legislature to get them on board with what many of them had extensively been demanding in the first place. I feel like one immediate recent tipping point was the, the press conference, the w was very instrumental and drowning out some of the opponents of congestion pricing. I think that's right. I think there's, you know, I think there's a lot that led up to that moment that you're referring to where some congestion pricing. Opponents had an event and the transit workers unions, well is various grassroots groups, like ours, went and to w certainly had the loudest voices present. In, in telling them that they were wrong in their position to congestion pricing, but I think there is a dynamic that led up to that even just within the legislature where there are some folks, who have always supported congestion pricing, whether it's because they represent transit riders. That would be a significant source of transit funding or because of environmental reasons or because, you know, of, of values reasons of wanting to charge car drivers into Manhattan, who are generally wealthier and use the money to fix transit, which is generally used by everybody, but who are on average, less wealthy. You always had some core components, but the deterioration of the transit system, and some of the work that we and the other grassroots groups did meant that this time in vis congestion pricing fight some, the folks from Brooklyn from queens, from the Bronx who had not always been supportive of congestion. Pricing were much friendlier to the idea. And I think that openness, which really was a good faith reassessment of the idea that openness, I think made a big difference in the legislative dynamics I feel like an in a certain way to this is a good cumulation of the writers alliance approach to building support for transit, if you target individuals and work with them to get them to this idea, and to see how this idea benefits, a lot of people and not just a few people and how it really benefits everyone, you can bring them on board. More and get them to be if not advocates for the plan at least receptive to its that they'll vote for it. I think that's right. I think. We at the riders alliance and some of the other grassroots groups that we work with have had a strategy for many years of building legislative advocates, and champions in the legislature. And for congestion pricing. Specifically, I think it's valuable to note that some efforts that have been going on for years in the wilderness like the move New York proposal, which was a version of congestion pricing. I think that those efforts over many years, did a really valuable job of, of recasting congestion pricing in people's understandings away from the Bloomberg plan, which was perceived as being Manhattan Centric, and best serving Manhattan and really aimed at building support in the boroughs in the suburbs by showing that, that's where the real benefits crew, and it also, I think it also helped to sort of normalize the conversation, this was part of the conversation for a bunch of years in policy circles, when the idea came back in the popular arena. It wasn't starting from scratch, there was. There was work that had been done. Do know spreadsheets that have been developed? Plans that you could point to, to say, here's an idea we can improve it, but we have this framework, and we've spent years listening to people's criticisms feedback et cetera in, in the world of public policy. I think that shows you how those long-term efforts that you never know whether they're going to bear fruit, you know, a lot of factors need to come together for them to happen. But that effort over many years with no guarantee of success turns out to have been quite necessary. When the governor came to the congestion, pricing idea, having rejected mayor de Blasios proposal for millionaire tax. When the governor rolled out his proposal for congestion, pricing, much of it resembled the framework of the move New York proposal that that group and many of its proponents allies had been working on for years. So I wanna talk a little about governor Cuomo as I see it. He is an unlikely candidate to be a champion of congestion pricing. He's he has a self-proclaimed love of cars. You know, we see the images of driving across the. Bridges. And he's had a bit of a love hate relationship with transit often refusing to take responsibility for the bad, while claiming credit for the good. In this case, though, he has spoken frequently about the holistic benefits of congestion pricing in ways. Other New York City representatives have not and he secured the votes for this plan. Ultimately wanted talk to me about his role in the process. How did you work to get the governor on board how I know he deserves a lot of credit? How much of that credit is, is? I think he deserves a great deal of credit. And I think that's fair to point that out at this point having succeeded. I'd make two points about the governor's involvement one is governor Cuomo as everyone is allies and detractors alike will agree is a very savvy political player. And I think for many years, the governor actually never said, I don't like congestion pricing, and I don't think we should do it through those at least since he's been governor what he instead said was. I don't think the politics of that have changed since it was last considered, and I think that gets a little bit of insight into his thinking about congestion pricing and probably various other issues as well as that what governor Cuomo was always looking for is what's possible his political animal. He understands how to get stuff done in our political system. And I think he had made an assessment for some time that it wasn't possible or wasn't the best idea to bring forward in that political environment. And I think he reassessed so that gets to the other part of your question why did he reassess? And I think a part of that is the work that we end the other groups who are our partners in this the work that we. We all did. I think that we made a deliberate decision to take the misery that everyone was experiencing on public transit every day and turn that into political accountability. And that includes our state legislators, who vote on the budget and that includes various other players as well. But it starts with the governor and not that's not personal. It's not about this governor, it's because the governor structurally, controls the MTA, and the governor, dominates the budget and legislative process that can lead to sustainable solutions for the MTA. And so when everybody was so miserable on public transit when delays had tripled and it was there were derailed Mentz and, you know, the problems on transit were stark, we launched the hashtag, Cuomo's MTA, which was later than picked up by his opponent in the democratic primary our members filled his Twitter feed with demands to fix the subway, no matter what he tweeted about. And that was kind of a sustained effort by our grassroots members. We carried a cardboard cutout of the governor on the subway to demonstrate that the governor is the one who's in charge here. And so I think part of what got the governor's attention on this and, and help persuade the governor that was an issue worth taking on was a pretty broad effort that we were part of, to make the transit crisis about his political leadership and the leadership of, of his colleagues in Albany. I think it also helps when you have concrete proposals for investment, right? I mean antibi- for puts out this very aggressive fast sword plan. And he says you brought me into this. Here's what we're going to do. Here's the money and then various factions. Come back and say, we can either have a funding plan that relies on congestion pricing or you're gonna sock everybody with thirty percent fare hike to fund it. No, I actually think that the governor bringing in Andy Byford, who is not a political hack. He's. Known transit expert manager. The governor bringing Andy Byford, I think was turning point because the first thing that ended by for did when the governor brought him into run New York City transit was to put together that proposal for how to fix New York City transit, and the fast forward plan did was not just about this way. It was about buses. It was about accessibility. It was about MTA culture and performance. But I think you're exactly right. I think that one of the things that changed that allowed congestion pricing to move forward was having a concrete plan for what it was supposed to pay for now. Speaking of the governor for another minute or so in a part of the trade offs seem to be the introduction of this MTA reform plan, that I think is drawing a lot of skepticism from good governing governance groups. I know reinvent Albany has cast a lot of doubt on this plan. Whether it's good whether to chiefs anything is this. Part of the trade off the governor's exerting more oversight over the minutia of the MTA, but an exchange they're getting this funding source and get congestion pricing. I mean, look on the substantive MTA reform proposals. I think that making the accountability clear is a good principle to work from. But I think that reducing oversight is not a great principle to work from. And so I think that the governor the governor said that he is not interested in passing congestion pricing, unless he also gets the MTA reforms that he needs which really I would say are generally in the category of increased control over the MTA's functions. By the governor, we made an argument that said, you know, we can do empty reforms at any time it is, rare to have an opportunity to secure a lasting revenue stream. And so let's do that right now. That is an appropriate. State budget conversation congestion pricing, and these other dedicated taxes that will help fund, the MTA that is the conversation we should be having as part of the revenue conversation in the state budget, but MTA reform is actually more complicated. It's longer and not every changed the MTA is helpful reform. And so that's something we actually made the argument to say, let's pick these apart. Let's do the revenue component right now in the budget process, where it belongs, and let's make MTA reform, a spray separate free standing legislative conversation, because that's where you can really delve into the substance instead of having a rushed conversation that, that's blended into this much larger budget Bill. It seems though we get those reforms the MTA gets new chair appointed overnight. You know, it's, it's the good and the bad. You see Cuomo Cuomo. But you also see Cuomo taking a chance here with something that may be isn't as politically popular in the polls, as it will be a post implementation, but it's still arrive. Lives. Yeah. I think that's right. I think that on congestion pricing. The governor has made clear that he that his priority is to deliver results and congestion pricing is something that will lead to very concrete results if done. Right. Right. It's not guaranteed. We need to implement it, correctly and on MTV reform. We should be talking about MTA reform. We should be talking about cost control. We should be talking about efficiency. We should be talking about reducing the time that these projects take, we should be talking about agency culture and being open to creativity, and they're all sorts of things that should be part of an MTA reform conversation. I just think that not everyone's definition of reform is how the governor proposed it in this budget excess. I think that's right. And I think it's part of the ongoing conversation that, that hopefully, the window will still be open to have in Albany. Right. Hopefully that we've moved on from the conversation about whether or not we're doing congestion pricing, because the decision was made it past. There is implementation to work out. But I think we've, we've flip the switch from New York does not do congestion pricing into a new territory of New York does do congestion pricing. The conversation is not over about empty reform, because that is much more nuanced. And we'll take longer. That's good. So shifting gears from Albany. I wanna talk a little bit about the mayor. I haven't been particularly impressed with the mayor statements on congestion pricing. He would frequently go on Brian Lehrer and talk about his preference for the millionaire's tax. He introduced the concept of exemptions to congestion pricing. He does. Doesn't seem to totally get the benefits of reducing traffic in city streets. What was his role in this process? And how do you feel about whether or not he did a good job standing up for New York City's interests? I actually think that the mayor did a couple of things that were very valuable on the road. Congestion pricing. The I was proposing the millionaire's tax. I actually think that part of the problem that we're having in twenty sixteen and twenty seventeen is that the conversation was stuck and that was that we needed. We needed forward motion, the governor and the mayor reporting fingers at each other, we were out there with our komo's MTA hashtag ended in some ways the political system was running in circles, and the mayor proposing a specific revenue source that would be used to upgrade the transit system, actually helped move, the conversation forward, even for folks who didn't agree with the millionaire's tax part. Of what it laid bare was it the mayor and the city of New York did not have the legal authority to create a renew revenue source for transit. You may recall the mayor proposed a millionaires tax and then couldn't implement I became quickly apparent as insiders were aware that any revenue proposal would require the approval of the governor and the legislature. And I actually think that, that shift in public understanding to seeing that it's the governor and the state legislature that are responsible helped lay the groundwork for congestion pricing. That's good. So the mayor's role I mean as much as he doesn't seem to have come to this proposal too. Late in the process, it does seem as though the mayor played a useful part in getting us to where we needed to be. Yeah. I think both I think the mayor's proposal the millionaire's tax was helpful as I said, and I think the mayor endorsing congestion pricing in the endgame of the conversation was also helpful. The mayor is. Is a known progressive people understand the, the values that he brings to policy questions and his endorsing congestion pricing helped allay what I think was a misconception at times the congestion pricing was not progressive. Because in reality, I think it is, I think it is I've made the case for in various outlets that I think it is so shifting from the politics. I wanna talk a little bit about the process. I mentioned earlier the traffic mobility review board. This is a six member board. That'll be run out of the triborough, bridge and tunnel. Thirty it'll feature one member appointed by the mayor to from outside the city and three appointed by the MTA and already the times in an article you were quoted in today talked about how special interests are jockeying to push for exemptions. Now, I don't believe a final plan with numerous or really any exemptions is the best interest of the city, but that's the next fight, what's your view on exemptions, and then what role will the writers aligns and the fix the subway advocates. Play in this discussion. First of all, I think that as a process question, some folks are critical of the legislature taking some of those decisions to a panel down the road. But I actually think when you take a step back, that seems like a pretty appropriate decision to make it this time not just for strategic reasons of them, not wanting to make tough choices. But because the legislature never decides on tolls and on the minute show of, of tolling and charging and fair fairplay panel is less likely to be subject to capture than legislatures because you can directly lobby a bunch of elected officials. It's harder to lobby panel and the panel gives everybody a little bit of arm's length distance from those decisions. It makes it in some ways a little more technocratic, but I think it's also fair to point out that the panel will ultimately, the decision will ultimately may be made by the triborough bridge tunnel thirty which is a subsidiary of the MTA, which reports to the governor, and that's a, that's a reality. But I, but I do think it's the with. The structure they created in which penalize making the decisions. There is a bunch of advocacy work for us to do to make sure the congestion pricing plan is robust, and that it's fair and it's special interest groups do not get to lobby for special exemptions. And you know that's not a zero exemption policy. I think that all of us can picture some circumstances in which we think some flexibility could be fair. But very limited, right? The, the queens midtown tunnel does not have exemptions on its toiling and the George Washington Bridge does not have exemptions on its tolling, and I want to be very careful that congestion pricing remain fair as the concept is, and part of the Galateri in nature of congestion pricing is that everyone who benefits is chipping in and every time you do create an exemption it that premise, if I've thought about the exemptions in the context of the mayor statements, because he often talks about making sure that people who are driving to the hospitals which are all within the congestion pricing zone for the most part. Are exempted and, you know, at the surface that sort of sounds like a ridiculous exemption. There are people who take the subways and buses to the to their doctors appointments every day. But on the other hand, the seems like one of these limited cases, were maybe an exemption isn't bad public policy. But when I see organizations like the truckers association start lobbying for exemptions. I roll my eyes, little, they're the ones who should be paying, but they're also the ones who would benefit tremendously, and who could more easily pass costs on. And I think that's what you're raising is a real question of how this conversation will go over the coming year. If the conversation is about vulnerable low income, people who for rare reasons, need to drive into the central business district. Then I think you're really having a values driven conversation. And it's one that a lot of folks would be open to if cautious. I think if you have whole industries and swabs of the economy saying, we want preferential treatment that is a very different conversation and one that, that I would hope would be less well received. So I want to switch shifts focus a little and put on a bit of a skeptical hot here over the past few months. Ivan expressed some concerns about the messaging behind the congestion pricing push, I think a few others have as well. Now don't get me wrong. I think this is a very big victory, and we should definitely be celebrating it. I sometimes worry about the public facing messaging congestion pricing is being trumpeted by everyone as a way to fix the subways, but the money also has to go towards increased transit reach to provide alternatives for those who will no longer choose to drive end. There are immediate ideally immediate congestion reduction benefits. So it's not just about fixing transit. It's sort of about fixing everything fixing New York City streets, do feel there's some tension in this messaging, and do you think that in light of the fact that truly fixing the subways, and most importantly, overhauling, the signals will take longer than a few years that were over promising at the outset, I think that all these repairs will? Necessarily take longer than a few years on that note of the timing. I actually do think it's important for the MTA to roll out some service improvements in service increases in the near term. Even just as a as an element of rolling out congestion pricing in order to demonstrate to the public that congestion pricing is not going to provide only abstract value in the future. But real life value that we can experience right now. Under question about the messaging, I I don't know. I think you're asking a lot of our political system. I think congestion pricing has been proposed as the solution to various problems over the years. And I think that, that's rooted in reality congestion, pricing, does not solve any of our problems. It reduces traffic and it brings in a bunch of money. Those will help make the problems easier to solve and it's not. I think that's the, the most accurate way of describing it. It's not a silver bullet, but it is progress. It is a step toward all of these goals goals of improving transit service goals of adding transit because there is a new source of funding that can pay and loosen up other funds. Right. Even if it goes to the capital program, it does have an impact on the MTA day-to-day operations budget. And that can if done right increased bus service in the boroughs, for example, it does reduce traffic congestion. It does improve air quality all these things are true. Not, not at miraculous, right? It's not it's not black and white. It's not. Yes or no? So it's not it's not a miracle cure, but I think it's fair to use all of those messages to talk about congestion pricing. But I think that the reason that it's talked about so much in the context of fixing the subway is because that's the concern that's pressing enough to get it across the finish line. One element of that, too, is that we've already seen from queens. You representatives trumpet part of the deal that they made to pass congestion pricing. I think these were fairly transit sympathetic representatives in the first place, but we saw yesterday Wednesday, some of these representatives put out a press release saying the MTA's promised to look at L A R affairs as a way to rationalize them for those constituents who don't have subway access. And they've already looked to expand bus service. I'm sure we'll see more of those, I think I would view that as a victory as well. I think that's totally reasonable. I think that a bunch of legislators, I think if we get into political horse trading in destructive way of people are using their. Congestion pricing vote to demand leverage on some unrelated topic that has nothing to do with, with transit for their constituents, but I think if they're making the reasonable argument that we're asking people to leave their cars at home. And so we should be providing better transit options, not just in the core of Manhattan. But in neighborhoods around the city that have worse transit. I think that's a very reasonable position for a legislative to take. And if that's what they've been negotiating for. I think there's something commendable about that. I've seen some people also complain and I think this is not the right complaint. But some people have complained about the two year implementation period or eighteen months over-long, it'll end up being, but when I've looked at other cities. That's pretty comparable, I think London spent about two years planning it, and you need the leeway to roll out transit improvements before you start charging people because otherwise you'll create chaos on the first few days. Yeah, I'm actually less worried. I think that unless worried about the technicalities of how long it will take implement I am more worried about the polish. Ix of congestion pricing, because we reached a point where folks all the benefit of congestion pricing, enough and saw the urgency of fixing the subway enough, that we were able to get the policy through the legislature. But historically, if you look around the world at other places that do congestion pricing, it gets less, and less and less popular until you actually start doing it, and then people see the benefits and they like it. And you know, six months later year later it often has overwhelming popularity. So politically, I think it will be a challenge and something we all have to be vigilant about to get through that valley typically appears before a congestion, pricing policy, actually goes into effect. It does seem like we're in that valley right now. I know the, the polls that came out this week showed about the same level of support that it has, but it's still underwater to the tune of around forty one to fifty four percent. I think there's no way to fix the problem of congestion pricing getting. Less popular until it becomes more popular, but I think there are ways to ameliorate it. And so part of what will be advocating for is a clear public information campaign that lays out the benefits of congestion pricing. So people are working with real data and part of it will be advocating for is real life improvements in transit, that people experience. See, because that will help people see that it's part of a package that ultimately will benefit, not just the economy in the abstract. Not just a certain subway riders who are plagued with delays, but really the city is a whole, which I think, is reflective of reality. So that, that's a good segue into a couple of my last questions, one of the key projects that the riders alliance and other advocates working on before congestion pricing was the bus turnaround, fix which was a, you know, a city wide plan to really focus on bus service, make it faster improve the routing. And this seemed to be something that was gaining a lot of traffic the gaining. Of traction, the MTA's working to redesign bus routes. And the city is focusing more in a degree on on buses. How do you see congestion pricing related to this bus fix? I think congestion pricing and improving city buses go hand in hand, part, you know, they're part of what we. Researched and laid out when helping launch the bus turn around campaign is there is not one solution that will solve poor reliability and slow service in our city buses, you have to do all sorts of things in concert in order to make bus service better. And so that includes bus lanes at includes boarding through all doors and it includes transit signal priority. So the light turns green when buses waiting right they're all, and there's more and they're all sorts of, but getting people out of their cars to free up some street space of buses can move is really helpful not to mention bring in a bunch of money. So the MTA is a little bit less squeezed for cash and theoretically could consequently offer a little bit more bus service. And so, you know, we've been working on the bus turnaround campaign, the MTA has committed to doing most of what we've asked the mayor has committed to doing most of what we've asked of the city, but there is a difference between commitment and implementation. And I think we. Will still have to hold their feet to the fire and make sure that they follow through on everything they promised to do, but I do believe congestion pricing will make it easier for them to succeed. So you mentioned revenues for operations. I think part of the authorizing legislation for congestion pricing was a lock box, which transit advocates had been fighting for for a long time. The problems I see is that this lock box siphons congestion pricing wherever you into capital spending rather than operation spending. How can we ensure that congestion pricing money also goes towards expanded operations? All you transit nerds are so adamant that there is a fundamental distinction between capital funding and operating funds. And it is technically true that there's one budget that pays for capital expenditures, like new subway cars and signal technology and stuff. That that's equipment to last a long time. And there is a different budget. That is year-over-year that pays for day-to-day operations and personnel and kind of all the, the moment stuff. But the reality is. Is if we don't sufficiently fund the capital budget. The MTA goes out in borrows, a lot of money, and then the debt service for that money comes out of the operating budget. The is now spending in the range of I don't know the precise number and you might off the top of your head, but it's seventeen percent eighteen percent of its budget every year, just managing the debt that it has taken out that is responsible for which pays mostly for capital spending. And so if we don't fund the capital program, the MTA borrows more money pays more money out of its operating budget, and there is less money available, you're every year to pay for bus, service and subway service, and everything that it does. And so it is true that there separate budgets, it is true that the, the congestion pricing funding is locked boxed and guaranteed for capital, but is also true that if you fund the capital budget, you have more operating funds to work with. All right. Final question I want to shift gears slightly. So with congestion pricing on the way in funded cap. Little plan on the horizon. The riders alliance in the fixed. The subway coalition have achieved one of its greatest triumphs as we discussed the results are a few years off. It must feel good to earn that victory. Still advocates aren't wants to rest on their laurels. What's the next big fight for better transit service? I think that's a question that our organization, and the folks that we work with on transit advocacy have to answer in the coming months, because the reality is congestion pricing, does not solve public transits woes. It is a tool, we can use to help solve the problems with public transit, and so part of what I know will work on is goals. We already have making congestion pricing, work, and making sure the money is used well holding accountable, the MTA and the city on their promises on buses, so that bus service actually gets better. There's some stuff that we know will continue to be a priority goal. But I think that there's a real question facing our community, which is we know public transit is not Saul. And that we need to continue to do a bunch of work, including political work to keep it on the path toward improvement. But there's a real there's a very important question. We have to answer because all of our organizations are small, and with limited funding and limited capacity. And the question is, what are the most important specific issues? We should be working on. They will actually make a difference in people's lives. The will actually improve performance at the MTA guarantee that the purpose and under funding available. So the MTA Ken succeed, keep our elected officials on track to fulfill the promises that they're making to improve public transit. We, we the writers line today, campaign driven organization, not a campaign to elect somebody but a campaign to win a policy goal. And I think you're asking the right question. That's one that will be asking our members to weigh in on our colleagues to weigh in on in the coming months. Is, you know, we, we spend a great deal of effort. Great deal of time working on winning congestion pricing, and that was the right fight to have in the past few years. And I think there's a strategic question of given. How deeply we care about fixing public transit, and given our strength as aggressive organization. What is the right fight to have for the next few years? And I don't know what the answer will be. We'll, we'll be looking out for that. John. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you so much for having me. That's all for this episode of the second avenue side is podcast. Thank you, again, to John Raskin of the Rogers alliance being this week's guest and thank you to Joseph Jack abou- ski for handling production duties, you can find more from me on WWW dot second avenue, sagas dot com or via Twitter at two av sagas, I'm able to produce this podcast, thanks to listener contributions. So please consider becoming a supporter of the site on the podcast. You can learn more at WWW dot Patreon dot com slash second. Avs, sagas until next time I'm Benjamin came back, and thanks for listening.
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.
Episode 7 (Sarah Feinberg/MTA Board)
"Back to another episode of the Second Avenue Sagas podcast I'm your host Benjamin k back and my guest today is Sarah Feinberg the former administrator of the federal route welcome outskirts of Charleston we actually lived outside of the city limits so so that was my first experience with transit and in Washington to when I got to Washington right after college was the first time I had ever written subway I visited New York like once with my mom when I was the biggest city so obviously there's no subway there there is a bus system I actually took the city bus for an increased urgency and investment station accessibility it's just another year for the MTA but it hasn't all been bad news though as Omni the governor and his way of inserting himself awkwardly into the MTA's affairs and there's an ongoing debate over the role of the board governing the MTA the board formation while the board recently approved a fifty one billion dollar capital plan the largest five year investment plan in the agency's history the MTA came under Eh Bloomberg and facebook she served as chief of staff at the US Department of Transportation for heading up the F. R. A. for the final two years of the Obama Administration Group in Charleston West Virginia which is actually usually the biggest biggest city in West Virginia except during WVU Football Games morgantown and You know the bus that I rode before it came up the hill to get me serviced even more rural part of of the school most days and when I wasn't playing sports took the city bus home and so I was bus rider from early on Thank you so somewhat rare among MTA board members these days is your background you grew up in West Virginia spent twenty years in DC with a stop in San Francisco before arriving fire from transit advocates who charged the governor with delaying the public release of the plan advocates for New Yorkers with disabilities have been flooding MTA board meetings for years urging is act as a buffer between the governor and the agency it's that role and her experiences at the federal level that Sarah and I are going to discuss today Sarah thank you for joining me not as long awaited Metro card killer debuted earlier this year and this month's launch of the Fourteenth Street bus way has been hailed citywide as a transit success story with the N. responsible MTA allow voice speaking up for some of the more powerless transit riders during MTA board meetings the first eight months of fiber time on the board would have been anything but quiet for the MTA the L. train work has loomed over the city while a fare hike went into effect in April meanwhile the governor has been pushing for MTA Trans on Tuesday so I've spent a lot of time living near a system that is clean and beautiful and accessible capital plan largely supporting Andy Byford fast forward initiatives and the launch of the bus way the MTA seems to be on a better path lately but I still hear lots of skepticism towards the how did the transit systems in the places that you've been to compare with New York's and what can you learn from these places great question yes a growing up in West Virginia work in so many people on the MTA board to seem to be New Yorkers for the duration of their lives or their adult lives their careers I think it's important to have a diverse array of voices on the Board Sara joined the MTA board in February after serving as a judge of the governor's genius challenge in twenty seventeen over the past eight months. She's been a vocal advocate for responsive city but people love it because they say it's cleaner and I guess getting to be more reliable than it used to be yeah I mean and look when I was a dot we were in the about like putting my card in and I would frequently take the train in the wrong direction and get off and turn around and come together way and and obviously got got used to it over title we didn't take the subway I don't know why and and I remember to this day I used to feel so grownup when I would ride the metro and I get nervous of of the rail system that way and then at the F. A. Obviously tons of of safety issues that we're working on work you have to shut down the system so those were not good times they are such a better place now than they were anyway already gotten distracted real lesson that you may WanNa talk about it at some point in in pushing a bureaucracy when I was chief of staff at dot and then F. R. E. Administrator we were in the middle of this debate about whether we needed to actually shut down for some amount of time because the system had not unlike New York had reached a maintenance level that where it had just fallen off a cliff and we were having we try to use the system and were frequently like waiting for ten or twelve fifteen minutes for train not at two o'clock in the morning three o'clock in the ears but but I am still frequently in DC because my family they're my partners families there's were there a lot and but in terms of safety lessons I mean it it it always has to be priority number one and then everything else can get done after that but if you're not able to keep people's thing smoke incidents fire incidents which were really really dangerous and you don't know how much you paid attention at the time but it we F- Attala the If the administrators willing to move safety deadline we will have much bigger problems and so and so the reason they moved it was because was because we refuse to move it it seems like a commuter system almost that is sort of masquerading subway stops are very far apart and don't go to a lot of areas there's not good inter connectivity across the safe then you can't do anything else so after your departure president trump named former railway executive to the IRA which sometimes people viewed as asking the read by rail issue which was the movement of volatile crude Oughta added the BOC into the to the coast and figuring out what we could do to improve the safety of I'm first priority because nothing else matters you can't get that right right so that was very much the the priority when I was chief of staff we spent a lot of time working on the and the congress eventually moved to the deadline because they because they failed to get me to move the deadline because the administrator said I will not move this deadline because from smoke inhalation and it was horrifying and so we were in the process of and obviously it's one thing to work in transportation at the federal level and then the system that Sir at a time when the Senate decided to push out PC compliance deadlines but it's still been a big focus of the administration and something that you are speaking out for you nation is willing to stop a project in its tracks for no good reason whatsoever that anyone can determine mta all that much look I mean secretary chows impact has been enormous even if you just look at gateway the fact that the admission reference the Senate pushing back that deadline first of all that's probably a whole other podcast we could do an it's an actually the P. T. C. debate is into guard the Fox to guard the Henhouse and Elaine Chao is hardly been a friend to urban transit agencies has the shift in federal policy harmed the MTA in meet a challenge that it does not think that can meet and then it's not particularly interested in meeting and that was really it was a huge piece of the two years that I was there on Capitol Hill working with polly Bergen others you know this is an unprecedented really abuse of what the we'll get back to the capital plan do you think it's safe to still assume a massive federal contribution to the MTA's long-term investments sell so my successor Ron Batori been particularly alarmed by any safety decisions he's made he's continued to prioritize PTC when the easiest thing in the world would have been for him to walk in and find ways to extend the administration should be doing of what any administration should be doing I mean the responsibility is to keep projects moving not to kill them in the cradle so that that that alone has been the federal government to actually think about having to shut that down because you have safety concerns we were going through the steps of trying to figure out how you get an entire federal workforce to work here's what are your experiences and perspectives from the FAA have you been able to bring to the MTA discussions and meetings and how does their safety records stack up well anytime you're at a department of Transportation Transit Agency any kind of deal like that at an airline the whatever safety is the top there's some talk about about funding but in my experience in history and long before I was in the Obama Administration I spent many years was a CEO at At conrail and and you know that the the sort of knee jerk reaction is that's the Fox guarding the Henhouse I have to say I have not the ball and and well-built but boy leaves a lot to be desired the services that's always that's always the the DC New York debate that we all get into the from the president he doesn't want to support a region that's not going to vote for him didn't vote for him doesn't particularly like him look I I mean I don't know if it's secretary chows that's quite all right so safety it's part of the conversation safety I feel like has been a theme for you over the last few years you know when you're you started at the CIA and I think at some point someone will probably do this that you know we just we probably need to do a quick and dirty study about what the economic impact will be if we lose that tunnel out money funding let's have a debate about how the you know what exactly is included in the project maybe we should include bridge maybe we shouldn't include four whatever none that line so I I actually feel like he's done a great job and I I don't think that his tenure Fra's necessarily impacted you a whole bunch to get that car started but at some point the car just didn't starting anymore and we're dangerously close to that in my mind it's similar to what you were saying about the metro then you have to figure out so because again and you know there's a people who are focused on gateway in more and more people are understand what we're talking about when we say lose a tunnel aw I don't often by the way there are a lot of places you can't get so great if you're going to dismiss greatest going to Capitol Hill great if you're going you know harder if it's the president's part but it's hard for me to understand or imagine someone who's been elected by the American people intentionally wrist fatalities just by the number of people on the road and if they don't drive it's going to be the greatest it's going to be the largest work at home experiment the New Jersey has ever seen and a couple of hours in the morning to spend time with my daughter and soon as we woke up I was excited it was my birthday was mostly excited about the best way so genevieve got up and had had her bottle and breakfast only been a couple of weeks yep changes changes the whole area changes Fourteenth Street do see this as a model for transit growth the MTA should be aggressively pursuing and it's not that all of a sudden some of the tunnels going to go floating down the river and we're GONNA have a we're going to have a massive incident what's going to happen has an engineer is going to walk through that tunnel one day is gonna say that's it like trying to start your thirty year old car in your driveway on a cold day at some point you can you can asking the economic impact that we could be flirting with in New York I mean the the governor and I've had multiple conversations about this and I I've suggested really get into how much that can harm the region you know even if trump loses next year and there's a new administration and they sort of ramp backup gateway funding still four years let's get a ton of attention but I actually am equally if not more focused on buses because I think it's the workhorse of the system and has not gotten sufficient focused getting all these people through the region to work up back and forth between DC in Boston right and if they drive you're going to have massive increase in incidents injuries gonNA meet terrible for the economy of New York it's going to be a a sandy it's yet have a massive impact and it's not just work it's entertainment it's people coming in about it I'm super excited about it it is a game changer for the neighborhood it feels better it sounds better life is easier it's just good and we're not getting back right the time has been lost and to be clear like this is nothing short of someone sitting on a piece of paper so that the project won't move forward this is not let's have a debate it's sort of the focus of of your effort here the last few months WanNa start with something good we were talking about this before we started recording the fourteen seems to be an unqualified success so far on about so I would love to see it I would love to see it expand and for us to do other busways I've said repeatedly that as Transit Chair I cross fourteenth I don't know you know on a weekday at least four times a day on a weekend it can be ten whatever I'm constant New York can overcome that look I think this is I mean it's super frustrating right you've got small groups of people who will it seems like it's much faster than building a subway you can sort of say totally calls first of all I live in that in the neighborhood I live to I live on twelfth and that is being debated this is an administration sitting on a piece of paper because they don't want to move for and it sounds sort of like a silly question but is this just personal petty revenge and look the city can we can move faster on to your point we can move a lot faster on this stuff than other projects it's interesting too I think watching this whole debate and out of the city for dinner it's this whole region sort of works together because people can get through that tunnel they're gonna like invest in robots is not expanded the ferry system problem that if people are going to be fighting against each of these new busways as aggressively as the folks living in the West village did it can slow down progress how do you feel urge particularly because it's an ongoing lawsuit and they don't want to insert themselves in ways that would cause problems in the court I know any by talked about this but there's this who will seemingly stop at nothing to stop progress right and you know they feel very strongly about the reasons that you know the reasons that they're fighting we're hearing was twelve thirteen fifteen sixteen seventeen it's gridlock people can't move ambulances can't get through it's dangerous we have a huge problem we again I live on twelfth and there's not there's not some huge backup of traffic on my street in fact I think that traffic is actually improved on twelfth because there are fewer cars it's frequently small groups of people who feel strongly for one reason or the other but look I mean the the process is what it is much credence to the complaints of people who don't understand the traffic modelling if they get out there and aggressively sort of saying this isn't going to happen this traffic apocalypse isn't going to on or whatever but I was like you know look at this genevieve like fewer cars now honking you now so it's an total delight and my family's excited worked up and even if you're polydor whoever you're the expert here the traffic engineer and you know the answer people still want to have the last several years and I would love to and Craig and I talk frequently about the need for additional busways the need for additional bus lanes and so I think it's a beautiful model you know tell us what they think the today let's execute before since this is still a pilot I'm slightly afraid we're GONNA end up re-litigating all of these issues again in eighteen months when up costing yourself time and you know generally I come down on the side of let's let people having opinion let's let people have a voice let's let people you think this has been a lesson in you know let's if we think that we have an idea that will move more people and make the city work better make the system ended up I think there's a whole bunch of ways we could have gotten here right so an effort to be as transparent as possible in to give everyone to my in laws who has a metric fly but other than that you know you're you could be in some it's very much into the DC metro don't work better let's do our best to execute on it as quickly as possible and if it's a disaster we can pull it back right if like we're in the midst of if all of a sudden all we have a system of busways and a few years I hope so and I will do everything I can to make that so but I would not underestimate there will be people who will undoubtedly go find data that supports their side of the argument and so this is probably GonNa go to court again at zoom so it's most likely the bus stops busways projects result you know when you try to be transparent and try to be open and listen to people you end public face the governor of course looms large over everything the MTA does and he's been exerting more and more control over the MTA sometimes well stating publicly that he doesn't necessarily have we got in the stroller and we visited the best way and and of course she was like what are we doing and we just go to the diamond can we go to the player go down that road so moving moving on let's talk a bit about the MTA out about it has and so the best way went into effect on my birthday that's a good birthday birthday present and because it was my birthday I stayed home for eroded ministration and a current Cuomo appointee to the MTA board. Sarah joined the White House following Obama's election in two thousand eight and after brief St Dot says this pilot's been a success we're GONNA keep it but I think at that point they'll be enough of a drumbeat of people saying this has been great let's definitely keep it and also let's expand it and I think that can happen because it hasn't happened everywhere else that had traffic and put on a bus way you're not gonNA convince everybody but I think it gives them more authority and allows them to sort of take shorts the ability of the interest of some folks to to find examples and everyone you know and on the board seven eight months now what are your views of the biggest challenges the MTA faces and what have you seen that works and what doesn't so look if and that continued we would be looking at it like we need to do something we need to address it but sometimes you gotta just move and execute and the power to do so and I think there's been some frustration from transit advocates but there's been a recognition that the governor is willing to step in and pushed for heart solutions you've been older not the not really a debate but the legal fight the MTA and dot sort of stepped back from being the public face of the fight and I think we're happy to have the advocates take charge in the end of the day hopefully you know the curve towards justice but that doesn't mean we're not gonNA continue to end up having to have this fight in court so let's talk a bit about Ta governments in the MTA board it can often be a bit of a thankless job working for the MTA or serving on its board these days the MTA is a constant public whipping post the board is the the project more and they seem a little hesitant to do that sometimes because I guess maybe they don't want to over promise and under deliver well look who knows how you had you ended up in the place where you at their opinion and voice their opinion right and so is that a good thing or bad thing well sometimes hold up projects but like is it appropriate to say we know better than you and we don't really helps her to change the public conversation because you'll see other neighborhoods saying wow I only fourteenth street at that let's put this in flushing but this on thirty Fourth Street and hopefully choice and let everyone express their opinion about the project bus way this that the bus stop the MO- more bus stops best whatever means you got a whole bunch of people such a detrimental and it's I think people struggle with this because there's a drumbeat saying gateway cost too much but there's also been no progress in three years now and it's hard to an and see what happens I mean it's sort of experimenting it's I mean you've got to just execute on the stuff in order to do with impact I sometimes wonder too if dot itself gives WanNa know your opinion probably sometimes right but I mean we get into the same debate when we are trying to speed up buses and move bus stops or take your have fewer and I don't dispute that but look at it happens the federal level all the time like the end the process I mean the the environmental process can kill a project I am convinced that we can get back to a place where this system is the shining star of the city the shining ooh I would say suits but I think it's been seven or eight months like you said I would say that I am As optimistic a union management relationships is the operating budget is broken the culture around the system is broken working better as a team all the time but when I say everything is broken the system is broken the the is contradictory. I understand what you're saying when you say it could be much better I mean I've seen the inner workings of the MTA for a long time and things have not been working particularly well a and and again we have a huge opportunity and I think that we can get to a place in two years where the system doesn't look anything like it did I blame the governor and then we'll move on until you the news of the day and look it's broken right so I get it others get it and by the way I'm not are getting better every day I absolutely think they are but the entire thing is broken and needs to be fixed and we can get where we're going we have I am also as convinced as ever that the entire things broken the entire thing top to bottom is broken doesn't mean we're not making improvements doesn't mean things the way people view the system is broken the the interactions the public have with the system is broken the press corps a lot of that at this point re-litigating the past I think he's shown a willingness to take chances and to push the MTA out of its comfort zone of late and maybe there are ways the covers the system is broken. I have I have had that hard conversation with I think every border the covers transit and no one likes to hear it so I think that things are getting better every day I think the subways are the subways are getting better the bus systems getting better people are focused on improving service we are here two years ago doesn't look anything like this system now five years from now we can be killing it running on all cylinders providing a service that New Yorkers they like they can't live without that they're happy with it is pleasant that executes well and it's music town work but I'm but I make my case to all of them because I feel like it's part of my job and I want to be honest with folks I mean lately the thing I can say is competent ever been that we can get time it's funny you say you know the Governor I feel looms large over this and I feel like I could do a whole series of podcasts about the governor's history with the MTA don't take for granted how helpful it is to have a smart aggressive governor on your side right massive opportunity right now right never let a crisis go to waste where we are in a crisis we are in a worse crisis two years ago we are still in a crisis but we can take advantage of that crisis and stupid enough to try to tell the press corps to cover what's news and how to write their stories but when I say the whole thing that's broken the whole thing is rockin they come from a state where the governor doesn't show up he's a Republican and he doesn't show up because he stays at his mansion in a different part of the state and he runs is he can do it that are a little more friendly with some of the folks who I feel should be getting more support but ultimately he's the one in charge he takes the blame he takes the Credit Jeff not just back where we used to be but with a system that is the off the world that'd be great and I think as much as that yeah I mean one of the things I found myself talking about a lot around the time of the L. Tunnel was remember the the number one rule of Fight Club don't talk about me talk back by the number one rule of the transit press corps is always playing the governor and the L. Train project in particular I think has been a good indication that if you push hard enough the MTA will actually respond and there are other ways to do it he may be so hands on bothers you he may be so aggressive that it offends you it may be you may feel like he came late to the table guess what you have no idea how good it is do you have a governor who agrees with you and you just sometimes don't like tactics so I'm from West Virginia when I was the administrator the P. T. C. deadline was looming and literally everyone within the organization the all the time but Omni's being headed by somebody who cares passionately about it L. Putra is doing a great job and you can see it in the measured rollout stuff right so you can have your you can have your complaints that you know it was it was too you know too late in the process or you know why didn't this get addressed you're someone who as someone who came from years of bureaucracy I totally see how that happened like it doesn't surprise me Elvia reliving an absolute nightmare and it turns out that that accident was completely peachy preventable it was crazy you strangle money out of the system or Republican wants to sit on a piece of paper's Gateway Project can't get time so you know and look the tunnels a good example really broken it's a very silent organization I think projects live and die based on the personality of the person in charge of them I go back to on the village right it wasn't like that at all it was like it was the it's what happens in bureaucracies when you put your head down and you're executing on some Asian say hold on earth sure are we sure should we think about this again because if you do that you're causing people enormous amount of work an enormous amount of de hang and you're trying to meet a series of deadlines and one decision leads to another decision leads to another decision and you never pick your head up and go back to like the first decision or fifty we should we go back to that initial decision to make sure it's the right thing I've heard lots of reasons as to why that's the case and I think that gets back to your point that there's something within the MTA that's funded needed to be reminded every single day that the law was the law and we we're going to enforce the law our job was not to be convinced by aw and by the way you know anything wrong like there's not some bad guy in the bowels of MTA who was like boy I can really hose those people in Williamsburg Coleman's and he doesn't choke to work and it's the subject of a lawsuit right now so I'll take a hands on governor that's on mighty any day over a Republican who wants to it is not specific to the MTA it it it's a big problem with MTA but it's not specific to the MTA so let's go back to PTC for a minute so early and it's going to be really expensive and we had the Amtrak derailment which was horrifying incident and many of his spent days in a railyard and a deadline. I finally put up a banner I went to make your own banner dot Com I put up a banner that said the deadline is December thirty and we've got to start functioning a real board right real boards should not stay above the fray Laker holier than thou stave of the synced to happen none of them didn't implement PCC and it's the same at the MTA they're all good people absolutely they're all good people and you get beaten the would would actually real board right so you you are and I'm not singling out I'm this Dorky to you and I are the Dorks that watch location of efforts and you don't WanNa do that you don't WanNa be that guy you don't WanNa be that person meeting right but it's also like there's something that's supposed to be nine at you saying are you appointed working supposed to exert oversight it's supposed to you know act as a you know overseer down by the institution you get beaten down by everyone on the outside telling you you're doing a terrible job get beaten down by all the people telling you whatever you're trying to do is going to be hard and impossible that was a thousand person bureaucracy the MTA is seventy four thousand person bureaucracy by the way none of the people are bad people none of them want every month but they're not like me watching these videos or the folks who go to the meetings every month how much time do board members spend digging into the inner workings of the agency I know some are more involved than others but do you feel the board should be above the fray or involved in the day-to-day going goings on within the MTA. Well I mean in a perfect world was that Amtrak was farther ahead than any railroad in the country actually implementing P. T. C. I get home from that accident and and the FAA's still like Oh yeah they're never going to be we're doing work it's supposed to be above everything so it can like keep a view on what's happening below and try to help the organization execute the timeline but I think if you don't have that kind of person leading everything you can end up getting stuck in a Rut of the organizational bureaucracies pressing down on everything the we are so I spend often twenty to twenty five hours a week doing MTA work unpaid competition it it it it does seem to be getting worse do you are there ways that you see that are getting worse that are alarming to you I think so I what am I supposed to be focused on what am I supposed to be doing so let's peel back the curtain a little bit a lot of New Yorkers I don't have a sense of how the MTA board works they know me so in a perfect world the board would be above the fray and would be would be functioning like a real board we're not in that perfect world we're nowhere close and so there are a bunch of board members who it was too hard or that it was too expensive or that it was impossible or be convinced by the Congress of other news things it was to enforce the law so so so you're not micromanaging not you don't appoint a board so that someone else can micromanage things in the middle of the agency right you hire board because it's supposed to does came to the conference room they would see the banner and be like okay she's not messing around that was part of it seventy five percents reason pedestrian rock was because my own bureaucracy and and management from the top all the way down to the bottom get super annoyed with this board which means we're doing right because every company gets annoyed I two thousand sixteen it's the law right and I hung it in the conference room and the reason I hung in the conference room everyone thought was because when freight any produced a report calling for some incremental reforms that could help improve oversight of the board including shifting their scope of review two major projects for the CEO exposed to create policy exposed to block and tackle to the extent that it can for folks and you get beaten down by the fact that you're meeting deadlines and you're trying to execute on projects and and at some point you have to pick your head up and say like well we what's my north star again like what am I like Oh yeah no one's going to meet that deadline just not going to happen and I would do would you talking about why the freight railroads always didn't like the deadline and they always thought it was like to your duty to serve public so I'm into it but there are many weeks spent fifteen twenty twenty five hours a week on this stuff I shouldn't be doing that right if the board were if every that sort of parallel to the governor and doesn't necessarily have the same level of do -ciary oversight that aboard would have at a Boeing recently reinvent you every company when they're in the middle of it and in the thick of it puts their back against their board and that means everybody's doing their job so in a similar vein then rather than all the smaller ones that show up handling policy discussions like fare hikes outside of the scope of major decision making and reforming the way in which appointments are made which would even give the board more power over management or ensure that the governor's the one directly appointing management do feel that these are suggestions the MTA should be looking thing we're functioning while I wouldn't be doing that but that's both my role as the transit committee chair and because I feel the need to dive into stuff to try and I'm not saying that happened the the the staff did but part of that twenty hours a week is getting on the phone saying what's the latest what's latest latest word after the oil spill now right so that's just it's part of being aboard and it's an served on Amtrak Board for for some amount of time and I think there's been increased attention on the structure of the board it's a little bit of a political issue because you have the governor who's in charge and you have a board talk to the vendor can we execute on this faster do you need more people I think that helps put people sort of out of their comfort zone talking about before right and that I thought some of it was useful I mean I think it's I mean I think frankly it is we should be so lucky to be having that debate right now like the board meeting and before it was on the board I was like watching the videos web stream so I'm right there with you and two you've heard my mantra that you also risk a bunch of people spending three months writing a piece of legislation that restructures aboard and good luck getting stuff done and frankly I think some of the some of the debate over who should appoint and how should happen it just feels like the to block and tackle for people to try to execute to try to keep people focused to say you know to to sort of beat a drum saying where are we on bus lines where are we on bus lanes where we invest lanes you probably heard anything on the cameras where are we on the cameras where we want to turn the cameras on I want to get bustling violations out there landscaping that we should do later you know so because the problem is when is that policymakers only have so much bandwidth I wish they had more but provides us with a massive opportunity massive opportunity we've been looking for and that we need to change everything so look the the report at one point calls for so it just feels like that's not what she spending time on right now so let's fix the place let's put the fire out three both the house and then you know like sure I I it's I think that a lot has been made of a blueprint I think it's a really helpful document I think it provides some guideposts knock guardrails but a guy posts I think that it blueprint but if we go over the next year from seventy four thousand employees to seventy one thousand people and then consolidate some stuff we will not have made it people on board who are appointed by column Special Interests or advocacy whatever you WANNA call them we've got people on the board who are aligned with the person who appointed them we've the organization do you feel that this transformation is part of the rebuilding of the roof that you were just talking about is this where the MTA is going to fix itself it's a blueprint right the report found some if it helpful I felt like a lot of it was too being dead horse but but yet I realized there are political decisions intimated Albany but would that help with the board would harm the board I mean I read the report this is like one hundred fifty yard like you know consolidate a couple things here a couple of things there you know somewhere between two and three thousand jobs the house is on fire and so we got to put the fire out and we got away put a new roof on and we got to like rebuild the house the agency while moving some power around centralizing management some folks have noted that looks like it's adding some more bureaucracy to the top of an early topic then let's do a lot of navel-gazing about who should be on board and what they should be doing it's certainly not a perfect setup we've got people on the board who don't vote we've got the other thing though there is will glaze over in asking you about the bus stop that was moved from one quarter to another which is all the time but if you are successful in that conversation different nope that's showing it's yeah and it's I mean and so I think it's a really helpful blueprint I think the brilliance of it was getting don't have much and so if you go to Albany new say I three priorities for the MTA this year and one is restructuring the board and governance and one is whatever and okay that's a fine blueprint if that's if we execute precisely at that massive failure like it's a it's a so this is I mean I think the segues nicely into the MTA transformation effort that's been ongoing the Alex Partner's report released over the summer seems to envision reshuffling the inner workings the on board who you know are appointed by someone and are probably aligned but are actually digging and doing a huge amount of work like is this the way I would build board no but like you know you you go fix the MTA board you have you don't wait till you have the perfect board and then you fix the MTA and execute on really massive change so looming over all of this too is the fifty one billion dollar capital plan which I think was a great board when the temperature is turned up right so you think you think Boeing likes their boy definitely not right do you think you know BP liked there rating budget because we've heard a lot of tension a ton of tension we've heard transit officials repeatedly over the past few months warn that there are potential service cuts need to understand that we need to reorganize the entire place I think it's really hard to tell us an organization to go reorganize yourself I think you need outside it's the road that's when like the real change happens right and that's when it's going to be really incumbent on the board and on the senior management people to come in with fresh eyes have experienced at other organizations to say think about this way think about it that way here's recommendations when the rubber way for the MTA to present what needs to do it was aggressive it shot for the moon it wasn't sort of just beating around the Bush laid out here's what we need to do to fix the great we can be great we can be big we're going to do big things are we struggling yes but we're going to get there and so against that but at the same time like of course we have to continue to do the day to day work of just running system that's losing money that it says worst struggling to execute on day to day life and maintenance and running this system but we know we can service around the margins to save a million dollars and investing billions into the system I mean I think it says the right I mean I think it's the right thing to the public this is Albany State legislators MTA management the public advocates all everybody has their Look there are all kinds of things you can you can find an operating budget that are problematic not lose sight of the fact that we have to address the day to day needs so like you know clan to have the best system in the country execute da over the next five years. I think there's this is what we can be there's a little bit of tension between now the capital plan and the star of the state the best transit agency in the entire country like the queen of the city. I'm absolutely convinced we can get there is coming up at some point before the end of the year with the budget sort of hanging in the balance what does this say to the public how do you sort of help reconcile the tensions between cutting the governor and on the mayor and the people who really matter here to to come up with insists and insist on is in a state of disrepair much better than it used to be a couple years ago but that is a constant source of of stress and struggle there is like look keeps coming up at board meetings and it should you've got to think big you've gotta shoot for the Stars but we've got we can a whole bunch of who we should wait until they figure out what the Billard should be restructured as and maybe we should just I don't know if we should procurement because who knows who's going to be here search for the joys of being ridiculed on twitter fan I do enjoy it and then I love public service and I feel like it's baby right that gets thrown into things like an operating budget we're running a shuttle service my favorite one is the shuttle service for running one hundred and eighty first street the reason we're running it to be clear is because there are a lot of folks who need us to take them up the hill okay so got it I Uh-huh if these plans are important forcing mechanisms they help you determine your priorities they act as a catalyst to get things moving but is my preference that Albany stays out of it sure because then it's one less one less entity in the mix right but they're not written in stone and they're always subject to change and you know again island on the side of transparency but anyone who argued gateway tunnel failure which means we have to pick up slack somewhere right so something will always happen and so the capital plan is these parents you fight was a little bit small to me because here's the reality which I the the reort plan is a blueprint to you know scroll back thirty minutes in our conversation generally you know I'm for people telling me what they think I frequently say at Transit Committee meetings the capital plan is a blueprint it's a plan plan beaten beats no plan Rutland always beats no plan plan also only lasts till the guy he ah a ten year budget that you see at the federal level does it mean that what we've said is going to happen year nine is going to happen but it's a it's a plan for how you get there and so estate is gearing up to hold some hearings on the capital plan next month is there concern that Albany is gonNA start putting its foot in the door here and try to change the plan fifty people telling you what they thought in New York whatever no-one calls me so so that's stunning to me but that's why I think the Tree uh-huh into a ways and means document the president's budget the President Obama's rhetoric president trump's budget
Episode 70: $175.5 billion
"One hundred seventy five point five billion dollars the size of the New York state budget for fiscal year, twenty twenty enacted by the legislature this weekend for fiscal year. Start date of April verse the budget includes several notable policy changes including making the local property tax cap, permanent fanning plastic bags several tax policy changes criminal Justice reforms and both new funding and reforms at the MTA CBC state team is here to discuss the key takeaways with us. Welcome to what's the data point from citizens budget commission and Gotham gazette. This is Ben maximum Gotham gazette Maria CV Satan, and we are here for our quick reaction state budget edition of the podcast as Maria said a deal came together over the weekend. We in the media got a press release in the wee hours after midnight Saturday night. And then the governor held a press conference Sunday to outline elements of the new state budget ready to go into effect on Monday as Maria said and then legislators were discussing and voting on the bills all through the night on Sunday night into Monday morning, as they do and there's a lot unpacked. So were here to discuss it, and we are joined as Maria said by CBC state team of Dave freed fell the director of St. studies for CBC and Patrick Ereki. A senior research associate at CBC, welcome guys grabbed his on. So we're going to jump into all sorts of details here. Here of the state budget deal that has been reached and inactive Maria from CBC's perspective. What are some of the sort of big initial takeaways? So we did do a nice podcast on the executive budget that everyone should check out if they need a little bit of a refresher. But just to give the context for this budget. This is a budget that was enacted on the heels of actually this the state realizing two point three billion dollar shortfall incurring your revenues an economy that everyone agrees is now slowing and with a recession possibly looming or at least economists realizing or recognizing an increased likelihood of a recession a year or two out. And as the governor likes to remind us a budget presented in inactive after the enactment of the cap on state and local tax deductions. The saw cap. All which are really important. I think for understanding the context here because the revenues have equal the expenses, and those things are important impacts on revenues, which I think we will monitor very closely and unwind continued to unwind as the fiscal year unfolds. So that that being said the budget plan was really depended heavily on a proposal to extend the temporary millionaires tax at it included healthy increases in both Medicaid spending and education aid, which were the two big big slices of the budget. Overall. The governor proposed a budget that was growing at about three point four percent on state operating spun days spending this project that was enacted will probably be around the same. If not a little bit more and proposed very little in savings for a recession or a rainy day. And we'll talk a little bit more about the level of reserves at the state has. So we see some warning signs on the. Horizon in terms of the economy. There's already been some some worrisome signs with revenue shortfalls in the current year. And what the possible impacts will be the salt cap and yet pressures on spending that continued remain drive spending in the budget. There's a lot in this budget a bunch of policy stuff a lot of fiscal decisions, obviously that were made this budget. As Maria said is also coming together as there's a lot of uncertainty about the tax receipts that the state is going to to see and we of course, are talking in the state fiscal year begins before tax day, which has been a subject of conversation, but will probably leave it to another time. But Dave take us through some other broad strokes on the spending side the state budget. As Maria said details about one hundred seventy five point five billion dollars in spending for the new fiscal year. But not all of that, of course is state spending. And it's a mix of funds of state and federal funds, but give us a couple other of the big takeaways, folks should know. As we break down this budget. So the states or a budget like you said is one hundred seventy five point five billion dollars, and it's an all phones budget. So that includes the capital as well as federal funds again, a normal state funds or state operating funds as kind of the term of art. So the state operating funds budget is about one hundred two billion dollars. That's what the government likes to take his his two percent spending Ruth number two that's eight operating spending. What you adjust for some of the things that they've done to remove things across years or off budget that that's good that spending with about three point four percent in the executive budget. Like Maria said budget was built on a two point three billion dollars revenue shortfall, those experienced in January in that added to accumulative gap of about five point eight billion dollars that they were trying to lose with this year's budget. Do that about four point four billion dollars worth of either spending cuts or spending changes end in about one point four billion? Dollars worth of new revenues that that's really how they closed the gap in Lake Mary mentioned, the the PAT surcharge. Those those little more than half of the of the new revenues for the coming fiscal year into we have a lot of detail yet on where they were slicing and dicing some of the expenses or it's a little too early to unpack all that on the we have nip some good again in the the two biggest pieces of the budget, Medicaid, end in education spending are really kind of outlined a head of time on this year. They were able to push some additional money into Medicaid where they have this special cap on they would push some additional spending under their own for some savings. But a lot of that ending savings actually comes on the agency agency operations said a state operations spending has been held basically flat since the governor came into office on some usually Sosa Klein's or their ears. Very small increases. That's where a lot of that savings comes from. And in terms of the revenue raisers. Now, this is a little bit. I think complicated for folks. Because there's the the big taxes that I think a lot of people are hearing about are actually ones that are dedicated to the MTA now. So there's there's kind of a mix it play here. Yeah. Yet in some of the the attention doesn't necessarily always go to where the largest money is. So the PAT searcher those extended higher rate of eight point two percent versus Boeing back. Six point five percent. This is always knows the millionaire's tax break in that raises about seven hundred eighty million dollars in this fiscal year. But that's only be because it's only one quarter is doesn't apply in January first two thousand twenty. So so that's where you get small amount of seven hundred eighty million whereas flannel basis is going to bring it about five billion dollars per year. And actually has got very little. Attention, particularly in the last few weeks or months because it was just kind of agreed to at a time. I think. I mean, it's such a notable increase in taxes in tax projection revenues, it is fundamentally how the budget becomes balanced in twenty twenty in supports a lot of the spending in the out years. And yet, even though the governor has railed about the Saul cabin the income on these high income earners who are very mobile. And yet the state is so relying on them for basically the base of the personal income tax. It was given that the millionaire's tax would be extended and coverage Lee, no attention in the run-up to to the Tanakh -ment mostly because all the parties agreed that that was ago. So it was something that they all read upon very early. And I think also when something is is just an extension. It's not an increase. It's not there's no big change to it. It's probably a little bit easier to say, well, we've been doing this for just going to continue to do it. But as you say Maria, you know, this does fly in the face of the red flags that have been raised by the governor and others about what's happening with the highest income earners in our questions about our people changing their primary residences. Is to change where they're paying most of their taxes and things like that. We don't know the answers on all that yet. But certainly extending this millionaire's tax raises some more questions about that. But as you say, they might not have really been able to do a reasonable budget without I mean, we've been talking about huge, huge shifts without it, right? Right. And in terms of managing a budget through a recession it, you know, you do it usually through spending restraint you make some cuts, and you do raise revenue mean is sort of like the standard things that you expect. But that's how we got to the millionaire tax to begin with. Right. It was enacted as a temporary measure Moore recession to say, we really need the revenue the state revenues at time. We're almost free fall. And so now that that has been sort of baseline for the next five years of recession occurs in the next five years where will they go to to increase revenues. You're gonna say they've. Another will be sixteen years that this temporary surcharge has been has been in fact in and that's not temporary anymore there. Certain things state does every couple years to extend where the expectation is that will be extended. They just wanna have opportunity to revisit it, which isn't a bad idea. But but this was supposed to be temporary. This wasn't supposed to be firm. I wanna come back to something on the spending side, but on the revenue raisers other things you wanna mention the millionaire's tax extension. Obviously, this this very big chunk. What else? So they also did something in statute related to marketplace sellers or online sellers, these are kind of like Amazon EBay, those types of entities that many people when they when they buy something from Amazon, they'll notice if you know if it's prime eligible than it'll get sales tax collected. If it's not primarily Jabbour, if it's a third party seller, then they will get sales tax collected on it, so Amazon in other places don't actually currently collect sales tax if they're showing it on behalf of someone else. Whereas now now they'll have to and that was done statutorily. And then this state is also induced administrative things about about two hundred fifty million from the marketplace change per year Lynn about seventy million per year through some administrative changes that they're gonna make also more sales tax from online sales, and now that internet sales tax or closing of that loophole. I guess you might say that is one of the dedicated new revenue streams for the MTA, correct? Kind of the way it was sold. Okay in and I don't I don't think anybody. I don't think it was strictly dishonest or anything on. But that's definitely the way. It was sold in reality. What they did was they made these changes in said, New York City is going to give a chunk of sales tax money to the MTA in his state is gonna give chunk of sales tax money to the to the MTA. This figures are about fall on a fly annual basis will be about one hundred seventy million from the city and one hundred fifty million from the state, and those are kind of pegged to a little bit less than what what they're expecting those places to get from the collecting taxes here from from the city in much less than mistake, but they're not actually linked. So if you know, it gets hold up in court, or if nobody, you know, the internet crashes that nobody buys anything on EBay ever. Again. The, you know, the money's still gonna go from the city to Tidiane yet. Okay. Good point there, and let's come back to spending. Explain what's going on with the capital side of the budgeting is specific to the state or to the MTA. Oh to the state sorry. Yeah. In terms of we didn't get a lot of great insight apparently into state capital spending yet on the state capital. Bill issue was actually was pretty late in comparison to prior years on the governor talked about this increasing his his capital campaign of a hundred billion to one hundred fifty billion, but really isn't too much that able to find any capital Bill in there actually a few things that that had been there in prior years. The state municipal facilities on funding, which is kind of is basically pork Brown, the governor would allocate in there was no allocation mix year, which was which is a good thing to say. But but a little surprising normalized yet. Very surprising. Where's the pork that the legislature will allocate? Will they allocated? Some of the the statement is both acivities money as well. They're agreements there on our smother pots of a still have a an access to. So let's talk about what these taxes are supporting right? The two big slices of the budget, our education aid that goes to local school districts and Medicaid spending. So let in the, you know, as you mentioned state agency spending has been flat for a pretty long time. Not so with these two pieces of the budgets. Let's take Medicaid. I that is still projected to grow at three point six percent. But what were the substantive changes in Medicaid, but in the health sphere overall? Yeah. On on the Medicaid front, the story became especially after the January revenue shortfall was announced on the governor proposed a few actions that would reduce some of the plant spending increases in the Medicaid program on the three main items, the first being undoing a planned temporary rate increase for hospitals nursing. Homes on that was going to be financed with some money to state had from a conversion of a for profit health insurer transaction the second being at the state was going to reduce Medicaid rates beyond that across the board. None of third thing was kind of reprogramming in reduction of a supplemental payment in the Medicaid program. So the basic point there being that the budget negotiations process started with a proposed five hundred fifty million dollar annual cut to the Medicaid program. So very quickly the legislature Bauchard itself descended, those cuts weren't acceptable in very quickly in the negotiation process, all of those cuts were restored. So there are still a no changes to have a state allocates supplemental payments, which is important thing. It's something that we the CBC of EV written a lot about basically kind of maintains the status quo of Medicaid spending growth in. Budget year? There are many supplemental payments in the Medicaid program. The one that this is targeting was a one point one billion dollar pot that basically has paid out to just about every hospital in New York state what the governor proposed to do was to reduce that by nearly three hundred million dollars a year in more or less prevent the wealthiest hospital systems in the downstate region from receiving any of that funding, even though that was something that more or less, targeted wealthier, private hospitals. It's still was considered by the legislature to be untenable cut. So basically the status quo continues in those supplemental payment programs sounds a bit like the education aid outcome. I don't know if you wanted to mention anything else on Medicaid before we switch over to education. Now, I I think it does follow the education formats, no losers in getting back to Britain stand. The rate of growth of three percent or more. Dave, what's the what are the couple of the big takeaways on the education funding side? So the governor hip oppose the Batu billion dollar increase in educational role. It had some really kind of technical programmatic language that would or certain school districts to spend more money in higher need district. So it was kind of a complicated forming about having got there. But he was I mean, he was sort of getting down the road to what CBC has recommended which we've covered in previous episodes of the podcast won't go into detail, but targeting aid, better kind of the big difference. I think is that we've talked a lot about how districts need districts should have poor district should have more a targeted to them on. This was more about within the district in the truth is outside of New York City. You do not have a lot of variants with individuals will districts. I mean, they they kinda picked on buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. But but those areas. Did not like their neighborhood schools with high wealth neighborhoods goes with low of it's not like the city. It's just those districts are are pretty homogeneous. So is really the New York City was really kind of the main target. But those those changes were rejected governor also proposed to consolidate all expense based aids. So these are things that reimbursed for transportation and books and building aid those types of things to consolidate make some streamlining their those proposals were also rejected, but the legislature did shift more money into foundation in you know, the governor pushed pretty hard about how now seventy percent of the increase is gonna go to poor school districts. But that means thirty percent increase is gonna go to wealthy school districts. So kind of half glass half full. We had done some analysis showing that you could fund the sound basic education statewide by adding under sixty four million dollars. They added a billion. Advocates or pushing for two billion. So could've added more than they needed to. But but not as much as some advocates were pushing. Yeah. I mean that seems like an issue where Cuomo basically got what he wanted in. And certainly that was some of where the fiscal reality seemed to really set in for what advocates were pushing for and even some legislators. Yeah. They'll here. I am. I'm wondering how we could be comfortable adding a billion to the the budget and still not getting to sound basic education in some districts. I mean, how is this acceptable outcome? And that's not even to say that once you meet a sound basic education requirement you're done, right. There's probably more that you want to do and that should be targeted. Also. But now education eight at the state level is meant to supplement Los local resources, right? And for the most part it is progressively targeted. So we'll be clear about that. And it's probably much improved before the foundation eight formula came into effect. Nevertheless, there's still about you know, Dave's last estimate. I think at the time of exact was a billion dollars out of the budget. Just. Going to the wealthiest districts to to supplement spending. That's already really high just based on very minimal local tax effort because they're very affluent regions to that find the so troublesome. I the governor was pretty Frank about all this when he discussed it on different radio programs in at press conferences in such Amini. He acknowledged of some of the reality that that were getting at here that you know, that some of these increases are not not really necessary. But that legislators from these areas always wanna bring back more more more more money, sustainable trajectory for the state budget, frankly and speaking of this ties in with the property tax cap it does. So the the governor hidden pushing for a parade property tax f for while the day. This is everywhere outside of New York City. Just remind folks right is applies to districts as well as municipal governments counties. It's special districts it every so the government pushing for permanent property tax cabinet is a hard two percent or the raven. Whichever is lower handing out whichever is lower has has angered many yet, many government officials level government officials because you know, years recent years, it's been quite well, you know, it's been below one percent. There've been a few times, but it the cap was made permanent. People have been pushing for a lot of changes to the cap. None of them were in the adopted budget is just a straight. It went from the way. It was expiring to now, you know, it's permanent. And this is a little bit of as you just indicated there something that really didn't necessarily be need need to be dealt with this year as speaker Hastie said, but something the governor said he wanted to give people some more assurances, you know. He was playing I think a little bit of a political game. They're trying to push through some of the other things he pushed through that. We're not necessarily as popular in some suburban areas like criminal Justice reform, we think, and you know, we're we're mostly focused on the fiscal aspects of the budget here. But there certainly were some policy elements like bail reform speedy trial reform discovery reform that are very signif-. But don't necessarily come into sort of the, you know, the study of the fiscal impact that we're mostly getting at here in this conversation, but but he did really make a focus on his property tax cap permanence, and they passed it. I think it's pretty popular among some seventy Democrats particularly those in suburban districts where that are fairly moderate germ and have previously elected Republicans. So, you know, in the last few minutes, we have to of course, talk about the MTA which drove a lot of the attention in coverage of the budget of lease downstate. Let's recap what's in there. In terms of new funding for the MTA what that's supposed to leverage for the capital plan. And then what reforms were included if you will? Or if we can call them that on government side, you're on the on the revenue side on their three main pieces. There is the transfer tax. I'm so on properties worth more than two million dollars or Vecchio more than two million dollars. There's gonna progressive sliding scale. Of transfer taxes levied only New York City, but it's going to benefit the whole MTA event can top increase could be as much as three point one five percent in that some properties valued at more than twenty five million dollars on. So there's obviously very very wealthy people purchased properties. But it's also a significant tax increase in one of the concerns. There is is that the property any type of property transfer tax revenues are can be very volatile. So not only does the the overall market weapon down we have more transactions or less, but particularly high value properties will go up and down in value considerably from from year to year as the Martin was up and down. So it's definitely something to keep an eye on and the MTA's expecting out three hundred sixty five million dollars per year from that tax. There's also that sales tax dedication, we touched on before her on about three hundred twenty million dollars between state end city hundred seventy million city one hundred fifty million state. Why annual that that will go to the MTA Indian? There's you know, the kind of biggest pieces congestion pricing you I'm gonna turn that over to Patrick discuss. Yes. Oh, so-called congestion pricing, or as formerly called within the Bill the title congestion pricing stricken, the central business district tolling program with something that was talked about a lot during the during the budget build up in the Bill that was released Sunday afternoon laid out some details of what that program will look like, but some other things are are left to be determined administratively in the future. But what we do know is that the congestion pricing or congestion Tolan program will affect sixty th street and south in Manhattan. So all vehicles entering that area. Will will be told. Although they are exempting the east and west side highways. Yes, that's among among the exemptions. That we know that are laid out in the legislation. Some other things that we know is that there is a specific requirement that Ashford there has to be cleaned signing on that lets people know when they're entering that district in win. They're going to be told on. But a lot of the details are not yet formally known yet. So we don't legislators are going to be his biggest wondering. Yes. Yep. So the legislation sets up basically, a so-called traffic mobility, review board within the tribe, rare triborough bridge and tunnel authority, which is affiliate of the MTA traffic, mobility, review board is going to have the jurisdiction to decide. Basically, what the range will be they'll be in charge of setting up any other discounts exemptions. There are a lot of things that were talked about. As you know users of of bridges and tunnels around the area. Will there be some kind of discount may enter the central business districts, motorcycles, all kinds of things that'll be left up to to that? Or to determine exactly how the program's going to roll out in most of those details. The the board is required. So release basically at the end of calendar year twenty nineteen. So the other thing to note here is that while it was very good that they all came together and agreed on new funding sources for the MTA capital plan. We know what the needs of the system are we've talked about that repeatedly. There's no lumpia capital some clear what the number is they're trying to meet. So there's no capital plan in the the part of the process that should have already happened is that there should have been the release of this capital needs assessment, which also has not been made public. If it exists. So you know, they they came together on this. Now, the question is what will the calculus be when the plan how planned is constructed devise? What it will include in? Then there are some requirements in statute now about how the money will be used. Right. Patrick. Yeah. So we know that the board has to confront those rates to be sufficient to support fifteen billion dollars in additional capital spending at the MTA. So whatever calculus they have to do has to meet that benchmark so the congestion pricing revenue along with the two other revenue. Sources said that David mentioned will go into a so called locked box that'll support those additional kind of state of good repair pursuits capital projects at the MTA. We also know that of that lock box revenue. Eighty percent has to go to subways buses ten percents who the ally are and ten percent to metro north railroad. So those revenues are divvied up between the the main assets of the main railroads of of the NCAA and his Marie indicated the next MTA capital plan is going to be a subject of a. Lot of discussion and scrutiny coming up very soon. We'll have a separate episode on that at some point in the not too distant future. But this is where they are gaming out revenue from these three new streams, basically trying to get as close as they can to what people are estimating will be a thirty to fifty. Let's say billion dollar five-year MTA capital plan. So there's a lot still to be determined. But they tried to set up in this budget, at least a path to getting most of the way there. So that the state and the city are not, you know, overly stressing future budgets, and they're not having to come up with additional new revenue streams in there will be you know, there will be, you know, discussions at the MTA about how to how to meet those needs. And what the needs actually are. Yeah. I don't think the funding question is so fully solved yet. And one reason is that the the revenue source the real property tansel transfer tax in the mansion tax Dave spoke about as the new taxes. Backing the TA, you know, I know from my work in the city that source of revenues really volatile which makes it a really poor choice to bombed out of time because in order to get a rating to have sufficient bond coverage have that revenue stream be fairly consistent. So I think there may still be some questions here about this. But you know, again, overall good that became together to pass congestion pricing and agree on some additional revenue sources for capital plan that will be pretty large still unanswered questions vow. What that plan will look like what share for the subways versus the railroads in. How much will be on the core state of good repair work the system needs versus additional expansion. Right. And there's that Andy Byford fast forward plan that's sold serve. Just like hanging out there waiting to be finalized and funded and that's going to be a big part of the. Conversation. We'll we'll come back. Another time. You mentioned you know, that that from CBS's perspective. And I think a lot of other folks out there, you know, the the fact that they finally got to this congestion pricing deal with a lot of details. Still be worked out was seen as a positive development. Other things sort of fit into that bucket are the property tax cap. We mentioned also a deal to ban mostly ban. I I'm having a hard time using the word ban. Because there are a lot of exceptions. But the the near ban on plastic single use bags and the potential opt into a paper bag fee in localities. Let's just sort of leave that leave that to be discussed another time as well. But that got through there were some other things that I'll mention around voting reform, and they agreed to come to a new public campaign financing system. But that's also kicked to commission included some money in the budget for previously past voting reforms like early voting that was a big even though it's not. That much money. It was a source of consternation among some localities. Okay. We wanted to early voting. How are we gonna pay for it? There's some money in the budget to send around for that E poll books which were seen is necessary to institute things like early voting were passed and some funding allocated. So last couple of things we want to get to here though, Dave take a minute on economic development spending. You know, this continues to be a source of controversy. What's the state spending on economic development? How's it spending, it, etc? What a couple of takeaways folks should know from this budget. So when the governor released his budget, there was a five hundred thousand dollars to build a database of deals, which is kind of what we've called in what other groups called it engages quoted database recommend development spending. And it was just kind of a blank by hundred thousand we really push to have the statutorily defined what's gonna be in there. So that the public- example. Being spent exactly how many jobs are being created. How many were promised and really kind of it idea on a return on investment Bill will house the legislature had some language in there. One house budgets that would have put in some specificity there. But the final budget just has that five hundred thousand dollars so much Dr disappointment. There was also an agreement announced by the governor of the counter or that they were gonna restore some oversight for the contractor. But they didn't do that that story that was the basically by handshake sewed anytime, if either one of the party decides things aren't working out they could cancel that. And that's that was one of the issues that we believe may have allowed buffalo billion scandals to happen in that the state comptroller didn't have preorder review of those contracts for those are piece flag issues that later on turned into said criminal proceedings. The other thing that got added at the last second was another eight hundred forty million dollars for the film tax credit. Outrageous, reagents, it is an know they kinda couch it as extending the tax credit, but because of the way the credit functions is really just piling on in extra eight hundred forty million in a soon as they eat through whatever money was allocated, you know, before the budget was passed than they just keep plowing through the next eight hundred forty million to subsidize an industry that's well established. You know is not the not exactly wanting for performance and on on that front. Is there any any change on the regional economic development council's or any it doesn't seem like there's any big changes on the economic development front is that a good way to put it or on. Yeah. Basically, there was one change is probably more political than than budgetary. But the governor inserted in sexually the very last piece of like the very last Bill. It was a change to the way public. Authorities control board. Nations. A now is the board that was tied up with that, you know, the approval Amazon in a changed it. So that now a member there three members one appointed by the governor. When from the Senate the assembly that the members are are not allowed to vote no against the proposal unless it is. Because the the proposal is in is in finance properly and presumably deogee sets the agenda the division budget says agenda for these meetings. So they're not gonna put anything up there that doesn't have the money behind it. So so now person who get kicked off the board if they decide that they don't think it's a good use of state money, or there's some other consideration weather gonna vote. No. All right final takeaways here. Patrick. I assume next steps things you're watching include what happens with this. You know, the outline of the congestion pricing scheme. You're sort of looking at leadership changes and things at the at the MTA. And then the creation of this new panel that's going to help set those markers. Yeah. Absolutely. There were a lot of lot of MTA reforms that were put in place in conjunction authorizing congestion pricing on a lot of new reporting requirements performance metric reporting twenty year needs assessment on all these things that are now going to to to change governance student extent at the MTA, potentially. We'll be something that will watch going forward. And we briefly touched on this. I think Maria mentioned early, but Dave it's it's certainly worth watching right that the state has fairly limited money in reserves. And we need to see what the tax receipts are going to be coming up, and you know. We this could be you know, we could be revisiting this budget deal potentially. We'll we could one of the things that they got left in the budget put into the budget that the governor had proposed in a slightly different form is that if if the budget is imbalanced, according to the way DO beat looks at things by by five hundred million dollars or more in deal be gets the proposal plane in the legislature has thirty days to respond in a don't then deal beacon cut locally known includes school eight amongst the amongst other forms of eight, and that's kind of a sign that they think there is trouble on on the horizon in didn't want to deal with it right now that side to kick the can down the road. And like Ray mentioned, you know, the the state's reserves are really limited. They only have if they make all the deposits. They're promising the posit two and a half two and a half billion dollars on reserve and a recession could wipe out thirty four billion thirty four billion dollars worth of revenue over three years. So so less than ten percent. And I'll just say a few things, you know, worth watching the governor apparently part of the budget deal, which I don't know if it's in language anywhere. Exactly. But you know, that that the state is gonna finally release a several hundred million dollars that were previously your Mark for Nitra. Now that there's a modern place will be having to watch. How that plays out? There's always city state and nitrous squabbling over over the state releasing money. That's promised, you know, the mayor's office estimated that there's about one hundred eighty five million dollars in cuts or cost shifts from the state budget to the city web to take a closer look at that. And see exactly what that looks like. And then the city budget, obviously, processed now unfolds with the state budget in place, the city can now react more as it heads towards its fiscal year that begins July first, and then there's the post budget session, which you know, some of the things that are going to be discussed here. We'll have different fiscal impacts in some ways like the governor's top agenda items. Is continuing to look at marijuana legalization rent regulations are going to be a huge battle in discussion on in a variety of other things from more healthcare reform to environmental issues and beyond. So a lot still to look for. Thank you. Both gave him Patrick for helping us break down some of this, and you will be coming up with more episodes of what's the data point? We've been on a string of episodes in a short amount of time. But some really great conversations with the July, and it's poly trot. Berg Alicia Glen, our CBC state budget experts and then coming up we're going to have Dr Mitchell cats of health, and hospitals and some other great stuff coming guys. Thanks for joining us. Good to talk with you.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye 8-30-20
"Jay. Farner, here, CEO of rocket mortgage making the right financial decisions has never been more important. When you turn to rocket mortgage, we can help guide you to those right decisions. Now when they matter most mortgage rates are near historic lows. So now is a great time to call eight, three, three, eight rocket, and if you need some extra money, a cash out refinance could give you that financial boost you're looking for call today at eight, three, three, eight rocket or go to rocketmortgage DOT COM to learn more call for cost information and conditions. Equal housing lender licensed in all fifty states and MLS. Number thirty thirty Good Morning New York this is the cats. Con Catch Matiz here Sunday morning. Are we going to reopen New York, and what other problems do we have with us this morning we have packed foy he's chairman CEO of the MTA since April Twenty nineteen and he's executive director of the Port Authority and he's GonNa tell us what it's GonNa take keep the Subways going the morning pat how are you? Good morning, John How are you tell us? Oh, what the heck is going on. So he here's what's going on as a result of the pandemic. The MTA is facing the most severe and life threatening challenge in the hundred and fourteen years hundred fifteen years that there had been subways in in New York City and and let me explain the challenge. That the MTA is facing subways, buses, Metro north, and Long Island railroad is greater even than the ridership declines and revenue declines in the Great Depression and I'll just give your listeners. One example I asked them on one, thousand, nine, hundred, twenty, nine and I know John, you're a student of New York City History after the October nineteen twenty, nine stock market crashed ridership on the subways peaked in nineteen thirty. The Klein to a low in nineteen, thirty three. But that decline was only twelve percent compare that with at the depths of the pandemic in March and April subway ridership declined ninety five percent as compared to the twelve percent decline during the Great Depression and even now subways are carrying only twenty five percent or pre pandemic levels that ridership declined decrease in tolls and fares. Our customers pay us about fifty percent of our revenue that ridership decline has exacted significant damage to the MTA's operating condition and our financial condition, and right now we need twelve billion dollars from the federal government to get us through the remainder of twenty, twenty, twenty, twenty one. The A fiscal crisis that we face is not one that we can cut our way out of it. Although we're reducing costs, we will take about one point, three billion dollars expense out of the MTA in twenty twenty, one about eight hundred of that has already been budgeted, and that's on top of two point five billion dollars of cost that we've already taken out, and then I wanNA point out to your listeners John that at the beginning of the year pre pandemic and twenty twenty, we expected the MTA. In operating surplus of about eighty million dollars, we had a new capital plan of about fifty one, billion dollars and operations on time performance was increasing ridership was increasing. The pandemic has changed everything. It's changed everything in terms of our ability to frankly pay our bills going forward the only solution to this given the fact that the pandemic is a national issue and a national challenge. The only issue is federal funding frankly for the state. Of New York City New York. But for the MTA. And what we need is twelve billion dollars the state of new. York in the city of New York have their own financial challenges as a result of the pandemic and I don't think it's reasonable to expect for the MTA to expect that the state or the city. This time can come to the rescue. So it's only federal the federal government that has the ability to fund. This senator Schumer and the Newark Congressional delegation and have been heroes in terms of getting the NCAA three point nine billion dollars in the cares act in in March march march and April, we've exhausted the last of that funding on July twenty fourth. So we've got no more funding available to us, and unfortunately the Republican leadership in the United States Senate has been indifferent to the needs of the MTA and frankly to the state. And the cities throughout the entire throughout the entire country and what we're doing is we're calling upon New Yorkers business leaders, ordinary New Yorkers, union leaders, and members who've been great in terms of supporting the MTA's requests for additional funding. But New York all types to reach out to the to the Republican leadership in the United States, Senate to the federal government and to make an appeal for twelve billion dollars funding for the MTA. I understand the situation and. And I had Richard Ravitch on our show last week and he appealed to all business people to appeal to the United States Senate into the president trump. And I know governor Cuomo has always been friendly with. With. President trump. Is a way to. Get everybody around a round table and make a deal. Well, John I. We have gotten great support from the New York City Business Community The New York City Real Estate Community, the Chambers of Commerce labor leaders of all types including the labor leaders of the MTA unions at the regional and national level the not for profit community the Partnership for New York City. All of those leaders have reached out to representatives in Washington on on both sides of the aisle. So what Richard Ravitch obviously highly regarded former chairman of the MTA described happened in one, thousand, nine, seventy five is happening right now business leaders real estate leaders, union leaders not for profit leaders. Have reached out. So the Republican leadership in the Senate, it's really critical that the MTA get this twelve billion dollars of funding so that we can continue operating continue taking first responders is essential employees working people office workers to work to help in the recovery of the. New. York City economy frankly the probably the most important agency in terms of the recovery of the New York City economy is the MTA subways buses commuter rails accessorized of vehicles as well. If we don't get the federal funding John or a board meeting last Wednesday, we described cuts in subway service that could be as high as up to forty percent and having to lay off. Over seven thousand employees at New York City Transit Subways buses staten. Island Rail up to a fifty percent service reduction on Long Island railroad and and Metro North elimination possibly of west of Hudson Service elimination of one or two branches on the island railroad and possibly. One one or more subway winds to clear. These are actions that no one at the MTA wants to take neither of the board, the management or all of our tens of thousands employees. But if we don't get this twelve billion dollars are hand may be forced. Then we may be forced to take these actions in terms of dramatic service reductions, which would not be good for New York or its economic recovery the. Last. Point I'd make is the national government. The federal government has a huge stake in the recovery of New York City given the fact New York City's regional economy given the fact that so much of the GDP of the nation approximately ten percent slightly under that percent comes from the New York City region. So this is not an investment that is only in the interest of New York City of New York State. The entire country upon my discussion with summer to people in Washington, I can't tell you who? The highest levels can get. Let's put it that way. They may be willing to put the money in, but don't forget. They're gonNA make forty four states that. The, that will call them. Crazy. They have to. Justify that is that the fact if they put in a federal monitor seeing the money is spent, they might be able to do it. What do you think about that? Well, John here's what I'd say the three point, nine, billion dollars that the MTA got in. The cares act we had. We exhausted at your wife twenty four we were the first transit public transit agency in the country to exhaust our funding. Every dollar that we got, we had to report to us dot that we expected dollars of and April and x dollars of revenue in made that we had additional expenses, for instance, for disinfecting subway stations in. Subway cars and we had a report that to the Federal Transit. Administration which is part of the was dot in Washington we were able to make that case we we're not looking for nor do we expect the blank check? We realize we're going to have to show that we have these increase courses costs, and that revenues have been the have have been reduced significantly as a result of the pandemic and we're prepared absolutely to do that with FTA. Again when a MTA relief bill passes packed way you have my commitment I will continue to work on this and thank you for all the great work you do. and. Let's keep the system going and until we have some kind of compromise between all parties. John thanks for all you do from. New. York. Thanks for inviting me God. Bless and have a good weekend you got. This is the round table will be right back.
Episode 176: The MTA's New $55 Billion Plan To Save The Subways & More
"In just a few minutes. We'll be digging into the new. MTA capital plan which was approved moved by the MTA board today and we'll be joined by Nicole July of the Manhattan Institute and City Journal and the New York Post who is a close just watcher analyst and writer on the MTA and she has some ideas about how the MTA can save more money inch. You'll have some thoughts on the new MTA capital plan which clock Senate over fifty billion dollars for the next five years and she will help us put that in perspective historic perspective in a way it lines up with the reason conversation very fraught brought conversation about transit in the city. That's about twenty billion dollars more than the previous for your plan is wrapping up now so this is a really significant significant yes but isn't even enr isn't wrapping up. That's part of the problem here is the MTA can't even spend the money that they allocate or you know they commit to spending the projects are way behind hind so this five year plan has to also you know account for trying to finish projects from the previous plans. It's it's it's a mess actually and so yes you will help us focus in on some of why it's such a mess in why this plan. I think and I think she agrees. We'll see what she says is really really problematic and misguided. They should not really be going this big for a five year plan of fifty plus billion dollars when there's no hopes of that being anywhere near realistic and on that front I would also direct folks listening to to an op Ed column written by Rachel House of Reinvent Albany for us at Gotham Gazette about about the problems with the MTA capital plan design. She wrote a really good column for us last week about this very issue and makes a lot of really salient points as as we indicated the top of the show we're going to the first guest segment today talk about the MTA capital plan that is on the table and today passed the MTA board. It still has another approval that needs to be had before it's official but it looks like that's going to happen and and we're. GonNa Bring on our guest to talk about that. WHO's an expert on the MTA the MTA spending and that is Nicole gelatinous senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute a Contributing Editor Irv City Journal and a columnist at the New York Post Nicole welcome to Wbai. Thanks for joining us good after Jarrett is. There's something going on national uh-huh yeah we struggled to as well when we want to dig into things like the what's happening at the MTA. It's it's a bit difficult. Go in when heads are spinning all the time but what's happening nationally but we know all of us have been you know keeping most of our two is on on what's going on here locally elite when that's our that's our main. GIG so this. MTA Capital Plan that passed the board. Today is for fifty one point five billion dollars over the over the coming five years as far as you're concerned. What are some of the big sort of headlines. People should know about this plan or things they should consider from your sort of analysis standpoint when when getting to know what's going on here well. If you WANNA do the positive I I think first of all it's good that we have have and on time capital plan as you noted. It's still has to go through this capital review board which is made up of people from the state legislator Bridges as well as the mayor's office and the governor in in so that's not the guaranteed but so far we have an on time capital plan which we did not what have at the same time five years ago so that's certainly good and the plan is fairer to New York City if you think about New York City having ninety three percent of the ridership but since we actually started building things around the year two thousand and it's only gotten about half of capitals of the spending money for expansions this time around New York City is getting both seventy eight percent of the money in the capital plan so that's not perfectly fair but it's it's much better than its it's been over the past twenty years and it is putting significant money behind a new subway signal system. I mean what's that the most one of the most important things probably be most things modernized the subway signals so that we can run more trains per hour get more people through the tunnel said at any given time and this provide seven billion dollars in in money for signals and I think you know even without understanding ending the numbers. It's a good sign that Andy Byford who was hired two years ago to sort of six New York subway and bus system that he seems pleased enough with this that he hasn't resigned if if he were to leave that would be a sign that he doesn't think this plan can can get through the next five years but he seems willing willing to bet that this is a good start so you know I would say those are in there is some money from for the Second Avenue Subway we we do. We're not done I mean people sometimes may think we built three stops and declared victory but this is supposed to all the way up through Harlem and in eventually through downtown around so we're going to build three more stops up through central in East Harlem. It's still too expensive. I mean it's going to cost seven billion dollars to build three subway stops but and Lisa priorities laid out in the capital plan are pretty good in in the governor's pleased enough with this to put before the MTA. Can you talk listeners and and and this report through the revenue side of this in the sense of this is a big a big number of fifty billion dollars how much of that is coming from the state. Obviously in the past and I'm sure now there is the issue of what the city's contribution is going to be and of course we wonder whether at this point congestion pricing icing figures into that nick do we know what is supporting this very large spending plan sure and you're right that the the revenues are not we do have a congestion pricing plan that was approved this spring by the state legislature but this does not bring in enough revenue for the capital plan if you look if you want to break it down through the exact numbers as you noted is. This is a fifty one point five billion dollar capital plan. We can talk later about how realistic it is the MTA's going to spend fifty one billion dollars in five five years but congestion pricing only pays for fifteen billion so what the MTA will do is essentially bond out or borrow Laura against an annual congestion pricing revenues of about a billion and a half dollars year bond out about thirty years worth of those revenue come up with fifteen eighteen billion dollars for this capital plan so there's fifteen billion. There's some other new revenue sources. There's a new tax on mansion sales and there's a new tax just to sorta take away the Amazon loophole of not paying sales taxes. Those new taxes should raise another ten billion so you're at twenty five billion the MTA is expecting about eleven billion dollars to come from the federal government and that's you know given the National Environment Stat that is it it is both reasonable but perhaps unrealistic but the MTA doesn't it doesn't need that money right away. It can wait till after the election and if we do eventually get some kind of infrastructure bill with Chuck Schumer still in a position of power. It doesn't seem crazy to think that the MTA could get eleven billion dollars from the federal government. So where does that leave you. The MTA still needs to borrow ten billion dollars. That's after congestion pricing after all those other revenues that's the problem because the MTA doesn't it doesn't really have room to borrow another ten billion dollars. I mean it. It already owes forty two billion dollars. It has a good half a billion dollar annual budget deficit. If you go out to the to the end of the four year plan so if it borrows another ten billion dollars has it's the pay the interest on that debt every year. Where's it going to get the interest. That's really the money to pay the interest. That's really not something that the MTA has answered third and then the MTA wants three billion dollars. A piece from the state and the city of New York isn't that that seems realistic enough so the the big problem here is how does the MTA end up borrowing another ten billion dollars in does that result in the MTA need needing even more revenue sources a a couple of years down the line and just want to add to that to one of the big question marks here which may be as less less of a question mark than the borrowing and even even the federal funds but is whether the congestion pricing you know plan really comes to fruition. I mean they still have to design the system. We have to see how it the changes behavior of of New Yorkers and those driving from elsewhere into New York City right. I mean there's a lot of unknowns here. Aren't there unknowns being the the big thing will be do. They get it bills out in time. How how many people are drivers just leave. Leave the system and take mass transit rather than paying the congestion charge which should be the goal by the way but isn't really the goal. That's that's the problem here right. They want people to stay in their cars to pay the tolls yeah yeah. I mean steep legislation that lays out congestion pricing pricing. It doesn't actually say what the goal is which is kind of interesting. I mean do they want to reduce congestion by X. PERCENT THEY WANT to speed up traffic that they want to reduce pedestrian Austrian deaths. You know they've never said what's the end goal here but I think even though there's some uncertainty there's a lot that we know. I mean we charge. Urge people you know fourteen dollars less if you have easy pass to come over the port authority bridges to come over the existing. MTA Bridges and tunnels roles and people still do it. I mean they pay the money to to come into Manhattan essentially and whenever the Port Authority or the MTA raises bridge tolls. There's there's often a little bit of drop off traffic but then people start taking the bridges and tunnels again so you know there's precedent for doing this. It's not like you know what whether they raised. You know one point two billion a year or one point eight and how that all works out but it is it's reasonable to think that they can probably raise somewhere in the range of one and a half billion dollars year once they get it all up and running and it'll be interesting to see when they start issuing bonds against this revenue did take the bondholders. Do they want some kind of other guarantee or the or will they be willing to just have the bonds backed by this congestion pricing revenue if you want to ask a question of our guest and talk. MTA capital plan. Please give us a ring at two one two two zero nine two eight seven seven so this capital plan plan. You know if you look at the front page. It says twenty twenty two twenty twenty four. Does that mean that all the projects that are described in this plan are going to be don. Come the end of fiscal two thousand twenty four. What's the what's the timing and sequencing look like within the plan. And what does it look like within reality well. That's is an excellent question and the short answer is no and I think it's a it's sort of like a little bit of a myth that the MTA MTA says we're going to invest fifty one point five billion over the next five years because they they sort of proven over and over over that they really can't do all of this work in five years or even commit to doing this work. If you look at the existing capital plan that we're in it's it's going to be over within a couple months. Existing capital plan is about thirty three point three billion dollars in of that. They've only spent about thirteen billion so they're they're very haven't even spent a close to half of it. I mean they're twenty billion dollars away from spending the money in this current capital plan and even if you go back to the capital plan before this which ended in two thousand fourteen they're still five billion dollars away from spending all of that money so the idea like that they're gonNA actually invest fifty one billion dollars over five of years and there were going to have a modern subway system by then second avenue subway and all sorts of other things it will be a good start given the realistic world world that we live in. If we end the five years and we've we've done the signals on one major line. Hopefully the finish the Queens Boulevard Line and get started on the four four five six on the line and also just made some progress on breaking ground on on the rest of the second avenue subway and and just sort of following these priorities with no crazy politically driven amendments to sort of try to give all the money in the long island railroad when no one's paying attention anymore so just I to add a little more meat to the bone here for for listeners as you indicated. There's a very very high percentage of this overall fifty one one point five billion dollar. MTA capital plan that goes to New York City transit the subways and the buses it's about thirty seven billion outlined for the subways about three and a half half for the buses and and also within the subways as you're getting at you know the the big one and the and the not only the key to better service and reliability liability but also the big expenditure is signal modernization at seven billion some new subway cars and then another big ticket item here is stationed accessibility where the MTA's CA's planning to spend about five billion dollars to make seventy stations more accessible so that's that's the key one is well here in terms of of the what listeners who are just you know just want to get to work and get home and get to their appointments and such on time. How should how should sort of average. New Yorkers think about this in terms of what it's going to mean for their commutes the MTA has shown some progress recently sort of resuscitating the subways from very dire state. Um but where we add in terms of just that basic reliability and is it just as simple as as this re. Signalling work is really the key yet in well. I'm glad you brought up accessibility and before I answer that I just wanted to out that it's not obviously making more stations accessible to people who use wheelchairs or people who are disabled and can't walk downstairs is very important but it also opens up the system to people who has baby carriages people who have small children who don't walk very fast people who have suitcases. I mean we we seem to want people to take transit to the airport but we don't give them any way to get their suitcases up and down three flights of stairs so I think it gets kind of always been a little bit ignored and I think you know Byford and an Pat Foy should the governor should get a lot of credit for making accessibility a a pretty important part of this. You'll be the fact that they're always being sued over it and they're sort of under pressure but at least they're kind of embracing this now but yeah ask for people what people see and their commutes. I think unfortunately if we're going to modern we'll see a lot more shutdowns. Shutdowns of subway lines Byford said people are going to see a lot more weekend and nighttime shutdowns and it might be a good idea. Although they're kind of like nick they're reticent to put this out. There is just to say we're GONNA shut down this whole subway line for the next nine months. We're GONNA take street beat space above the subway line and dedicated to a boss that comes every thirty seconds and the bus will be free and so will replace the service above ground but just shut down completely and get the signaling done and get it back open rather than have this constant night and weekend disruption and a lot of unpredictability not so we'll see if they if they go in that direction I think if they were to get a significant amount of this work done in five years they would have to do that rather than just wait for work a few hours during the overnight so as we think about the transit picture in New York City and all the discussions over the past few years. You know this is a big. This is a big milestone condition. Pricing was a milestone. This is another one if someone who analyzes this daily. What are the next things to be looking for? What are we waiting for next from from the MTA. What's the next sort of big decision. plan policy that we're looking to two here in in his something. We've not been talking about yet but we should. We should start talking about well. I think on the capital plan it will be the worst looking at as it goes before the approval of the legislative leaders and the mayor is there. You're sort of political horse trading that that screws up these priorities I mean we'll we'll long. Island railroad want an even greater share. This is the mayor sort of Balk at providing the three billion dollars. You know how does all that work but I think another important thing is just on the the operating side he'll operating budget and the capital budget or different operating budget is paying all the salaries wages of fuel and so forth for for day-to-day service and the capital budget is obviously all these big investments in new projects in repair and replacement but on the operating being budget side the MTA still faces enormous deficits and they really don't know what they're gonNa do about these deficits. I mean if you look out to twenty twenty three three which is an old that far away. They have a half a billion dollar operating deficit next next year. They've they've got a just just only at twenty five million dollar operating budget deficit but they're already cutting service. I mean they're they announced last week. They're gonNA cut service on the UTICA Avenue bus line in Brooklyn and make people waiting longer for bus and so does that really make any sense. I mean does it make sense to make all this investment capital and then you're going to cut back on service service so people can't use the capital once it's built and so the one big indicator is how do they clues this operating deficit in a big part of that is the the Labor agreement you know the the Union agreement between New York City Transit and the transport workers union has been expired now for four month. Do they come up with an agreement that helps to clues this stuff right. That's an enormous when I was actually just about to to take you there because I know you've obviously obviously looked at that a lot. we won't be able to get into all the details but folks should find. Nicole Jelena's plan for how the MTA can save about ten ten billion dollars. You can find that in a column at the Post and a longer reported at City Journal. Is that right yes. It's at Manhattan in Manhattan so yeah. Let's take you know we previewed a tiny bit of the top of the show and we won't get into all the details there but before we let you go Nicole. Let's take one one call hi you're on. WBZ with Max Murphy Nicole Jelena's What's your question really a. It's not so much a question as an admonition because I'm blind and I wasn't the Americans with disabilities act of we're being pushed. I said okay. I don't have any problems but if I do I'll give you a call turns out. It had nothing to do with blind. People logo is a wheelchair. I found that out five five years ago in other words you said disabilities and what I want to say is a mobility civilities because what happened was was now. All the curbs are gone. I I got hit by a car now twice. You know I say labeled curbs as architectural barriers well perhaps to a wheelchair but to a blind people their vital warning so what I'm saying is don't say disabilities say mobility impairment and mobility challenges but put the word mobility in there because using the word disability is it's you told me completely didn't pay attention attention to thank you for that just just quickly to follow up. Do you have an aspect of your an. MTA ridership experience that you want to mm see addressed by the MTA actually a funny thing the path train. I fell off the platform. The a a few months ago as a path train because I don't know I was distracted or something I never thought I would fall off a subway platform but it was just a matter of being in other words that the texture things on the edge didn't warn me that I was on the edge of the platform and people well ahead. Were I guess looking at their smartphones or whatever in the past people would have said look. You're walking on. The edge of the apply for people are like looking at everybody's looking at their phones. Well thank thank you very much for the call. Nicole Jelena's a final thought before. We let you go anything in particular. It doesn't seem like there's really much time or or or willpower here for Justin this plan but anything particular that you think needs to be thought about further here rethought as we go forward. I would just reiterate and I agree with the gentleman who who call that this is a mobility issue and I'm sorry to hear that the city's failure to keep keep the street safe helps perhaps make him get hit by a car twice but on the MTA budget side I which is reiterate a good half of this or more than half of this is the cost that now we that we've got the money in hand or sword in hand. We need to make sure we build as much infrastructure as possible for this given amount of money getting good labor agreements both on the operating side and the capital side in making sure that a well-paid workforce's as productive as possible you know that can make the difference between getting another three second avenue subways in another ten ten years or just having to stop because the MTA's just out of money very good. Nicole Jelena's there were other things. We wish we get into but we appreciate all this time. I'm an all the thoughts and thanks for joining us. Please come back soon.
Episode 66: An Opera For Plants, China's New Domestic Abuse Law, Facial Recognition on the Subway
"Home where families connect and memories are made. Find your new home with pen fed a mortgage partner who brings confidence value to your home buying experience they offer low rates and no lender fees, and can even help you find a real estate agent through their trusted partners. Let Penn Fed bring you home, visit Penn Fed dot org slash home or call one, eight, hundred, nine, seven, zero, seven, seven, six, six to receive any advertise product. You must become a member of pen fed insured by NCUA, equal housing lender. Strange News daily is a production of iheartmedia. In a world full of bizarre events, unsolved mysteries and two billion stories from all corners of the globe, some news gets lost in the shuffle. This is your gateway to the stories of the fringe of the mainstream map. These are your dispatches in the dark I'm Ben Bullen, and this is the strange news stable. Our first story, today. And Opera House in Barcelona reopened its doors on Monday for the first time in over three months they held concert, but not for human beings. Instead the audience was loosely plants, nearly two thousand three hundred house plants one in every seat organizers say the intention was to reflect on the absurdity of the human condition in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, which deprives people of their position as spectators, executive producer Eugenia Pujo said. Nature advanced to occupy the spaces. We snatched from it. Can we extend our empathy? Let's begin with art and music integrate theater by inviting nature in. After the concert, which was live streamed the two thousand, two hundred ninety two nursery plants placed on every seat were donated to frontline health workers. This concert for the bio scene was made possible by the ending of Spain state of emergency on Sunday. It featured a string quartet playing Italian composer Jacome Puccini's Chrysanthemum was chosen for its requiem sadness. The. Opera House observed all the usual rituals of regular musical performance with announcements given over loudspeakers when the concert was about to begin, both before, and after the six minute performance for elegantly dressed musicians respectfully bowed to the audience of plants. The. Opera House says it hopes the show will reaffirm the value of art music and nature while serving as a roadmap for returning to normal activity after the pandemic Spain has been one of the nation's worst affected by covid nineteen. As of this week, the country officially has twenty, eight, thousand, three, hundred and twenty three cove, nineteen deaths, and a total of two, hundred, forty, six, thousand, two, hundred and seventy two cases so far. Our second story today a city in eastern China is introducing a new system that will let people getting married if their partner has a history of abuse. The town of you who is launching this inquiry service, and it will be available to residents starting this July. People who are ranging to get married will soon be able to fill out a form to see if their partners have any history of violence, either between family members, or during times of cohabitation. All they need to do to access. This information is to produce a form of ide- as well as personal information on the person. They're planning to marry. One. Person is allowed to make a maximum of two inquiries per year. The Women's Federation in the city welcomes the move, saying the system will help protect people from domestic violence. The domestic violence registered database will begin by using information provided by the courts and public security organs from two thousand seventeen onwards. This system also got approval from academics like law. Professor Han. Who says this system protects a person's right to be informed about the personality of their significant other before tying the knot. The systems also been praised on Chinese social media and many social media. Users are calling for this program to be rolled out across the country. Some, say the new system should also include child abuse, noting that it's geared toward giving transparencies of beatings and physical abuse rather than sexual violence. There have been growing calls in China in recent years to recognize hold accountable people who have a history of domestic abuse before two thousand and one physical abuse wasn't even grounds for divorce. Domestic violence only became punishable by law in March of two, thousand sixteen. Concerns about victims of domestic violence have been growing amid lockdowns during the epidemic. Domestic media sources are Nudie police reports on domestic violence doubled or even tripled in some areas where citizens were under lockdown. And just last month fears about domestic violence grew after China made it more difficult for couples to divorce introducing a new thirty day. Cool off period that was meant to allow both parties time to rethink their decision. Social media users at the time. Reese concerned that this law could lead to some people being coerced into backtracking or that it could deter victims from speaking out or leaving violent relationships. This law which will come into effect at the beginning of twenty twenty one is not applicable to families with a history of domestic violence. However, they're also standing concerns that not all cases can be detected. Will keep an eye on this situation. An update on its progress as the program kicks into gear. Our third story today takes place in New, York City where transit officials are exploring a controversial plan to use AI software to track how many subway riders or wearing face mask and where they're wearing them. This technology is already used in Paris. It's one of a host of ideas presented in a consultant's report released to the public earlier this week. That could help transit authorities measured the level of facemask compliance at specific subway stations. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority commissioned this study inmate. Though forty one page document details, the best practices from transit systems around the world in combating the spread of Covid, nineteen. The list includes things like high tech tools such as thermal scanner temperature checks as well as UV lamps, or even robots, which China has deployed on buses to kill the virus on various surfaces. Andre Behrman a spokesman for the MTA says. We're exploring the feasibility of a wide range of tools and approaches for helping to keep our employees and customers safe. A is one of those tools and will continue to research whether it might be effective, and if so, how it might be deployed in an appropriate manner to continue ensuring best public health practices are followed for the safety of our customers and employees. So. Why is facial recognition controversial? Well? It has strong potential to be weaponized and using this in such a widespread manner will likely continue the debate around privacy and transparency. But. The current debate over a is much more complicated. New! Yorkers are struggling to resume their lives amid the shadow of a pandemic. That's already killed more than twenty two thousand residents of the city. Knicks. As the executive director of the Tri State Transportation Campaign's said. We have to juggle the Chitimia. Privacy concerns and concerns about public safety and public health, according to see as the evidence suggests that the MTA needs to prioritize mask enforcement over arguably more expensive and unreliable technology, I e temperature scans. He says the goal is one hundred percent mass compliance. The public health threat that you pose is certainly much greater than the privacy threat as a noncompliant individual. Supporters say concerns about privacy could be addressed by using anonymous data where the system would remove personally identifiable information. That's what's happening to the Paris metro system. The software is not used to punish individual writers, but instead to collect information. That'll help. City officials anticipate the location future outbreaks. The technology can also be used to measure the level of mass wearing at specific locations, and this could allow transit officials to direct resources to stations with low compliance. Still critics of this surveillance technique remains skeptical in twenty, nine, thousand, nine, the MTA acknowledged a Wall Street. Journal story that it was already running a pilot program to record an identify faces of drivers driving through the Robert F Kennedy Bridge the initial efforts here were not successful. A spokesperson said the information was only being used for security. Albert Fox Foxconn. The founder and Executive Director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project or stop for short notes that the MTA has a standing trust gap with the Public Cure. Stop recently sued the MTA over its refusal to provide information about video monitor installed time square to detect fare evasion MTA officials said that the camera was not using facial recognition technology, but stopped demanded to see internal agency documents about the cameras installation. In May Supreme Court, Judge ruled that the agency had wrongly denied Fox. Requests without any explanation. Con Warns that the use of surveillance technology could give way to a predictable result or police encounters, more needless arrest and more violence. He pointed out that MTA's cameras were being used by NYPD to locate and remove homeless individuals in subway stations. He also says excessive surveillance is a matter of life and death I am terrified that we will see writers of color singled out by and arrested for not wearing masks. Early on information from the city showed large racial disparities in the social distancing and mass wearing policies of New Yorkers in mid-may Mayor Bill De. BLASIO announce that the in PD would no longer enforce the facemask rule after video of Brooklyn mother getting handcuffed in a subway station for not wearing a mask went viral another challenge here the MTA will soon be managing a growing number of mass transit users as the city continues to reopen, so we ridership past one million on Tuesday June twenty third, and that's a more than one hundred and fifty percent increase since April before the pandemic weekday subway ridership was around five point five million. Sarah Feinberg. Who is the interim head of the New, York, Metropolitan Transportation. Authority recently said the key is going to be masked. Vigilance Danny Perlstein the policy and communications director for the advocacy group Riders Alliance still voices concerns is urged the MTA look more broadly at other solutions like increasing the frequency of service, especially during off peak hours in terms of safety, he said that giving passengers, even just a little extra breathing room would be better than resorting to surveillance technology. Ultimately, he summed it up by saying using machines that can profile riders will make people less comfortable than giving them an extra six inches for their elbow. That's all for now. We've been asking you to Chime in with suggestions for stories. You think your fellow listeners might enjoy to hit us with your best or worst puns and bad jokes, and to tell us about your personal experience, covid, nineteen, the ongoing protests or strange local stories from your neck of the global woods. Let us know tag, Hashtag strange daily on twitter or reach out to me directly I'm APP bullying H. W. on twitter or at Ben Bullen on instagram. Thanks as always to our super producer Dylan Fagin. Our Research Associates Sam tea-garden and. Thanks to you, I'm Ben. Bullet will see you tomorrow until then stay strange. Jetta, Credit, card, that gives you what you need now. A low interest rate on everyday purchases an placed a transfer high interest rate balances the pen fed gold contactless card is our lowest interest rate credit card. You can even earn a one hundred dollars statement credit when you spend fifteen hundred dollars in the first ninety days. Join Penn Fed and together they can help you. Keep more of what's yours visit? Penn Fed dot org slash gold card to receive any advertise product. You must become a member of pen fed insured by NCUA.
Episode 3 (Aaron Gordon)
"This is Benjamin k back and you're listening to another episode of the second avenue, sagas podcast, this week, we're talking the transit Newsbeat as far as local news. Beats go covering transportation in New York City, and all of the various warring factions at played the governor the mayor the MTA the DOT, the is an exercise in acronyms, end futility, arcane budgeting practices frustrating, lack of transparency and government agencies of frayed of public scrutiny create a seemingly impenetrable veil of silence. And the public often feels as though faceless agencies operate at their own whims transit beat writers were tirelessly to bring these goings on to light in an effort to shed publicity on the way transit agencies are working to improve. But more importantly, the way transit agencies struggled to improve low remaining transparently accountable to the fair pain public so dependent on their services. Joining me this week is Aaron Gordon. A soon to be former transit beat writer. Aaron picked up the transit beat a few years ago as a writer at the village voice and well with the voice, he started the popular signal problems newsletter using his talents as an investigative reporter and his keanae for transit stories, Aaron's reporting, shed light on questionable subsidies for the NYC ferry system, and highlighted how the MTA's approached signal timers slowdown subway service throughout the city among various other stories, the newsletter is read by veritable, who's who NYC's transit and political community from the speaker of the city council to the current heads of the MTA. In fact, both Pat Foye and Andy Byford have mentioned the newsletter in recent meetings. Now, Aaron his hanging up his subway reporting spikes before he sends out those last few issues of signal problems, along with a few more photos of dogs and bags Aaron agreed to sit down with me for a conversation on all things transit. Erin, thanks for joining me. Hey bends pleasure. Let's start with the question on every New Yorkers mind. In previous issues of signal problems you used to predict when things are going to get better. And you used to land generally on mid twenty twenty two though subway service seems to be on the upswing. When do you think things will get better and why you know, but thinking about this question? A lot recently partly because several readers road in with that. Same question for the meal. Edition. I'm going to do a couple of weeks. But I'll I'm happy to answer the question. Here is a preview of sorts. One of the reasons I stopped doing that little section of the newsletter. A couple of months ago, which as I wrote was, it became increasingly hard to separate or I'm sorry became increasingly hard to reconcile, these short term gains. The subway has been having in performance with kind of this long term pessimism. I have about whether the fundamentally changing and I think those fundamental changes are necessary in order to make sure we don't repeat, this boom and bust cycle that the subway kind of Mt. Properties in general have but in the short run. I mean, there's really I think no debate that the subway is and has gotten better since I started that feature. So there's kind of like a it's like when Reverend Lovejoy Simpson's like. Short answer. Yes. With enough long answer. No with the but is kind of like the answer. So I think like the reason I picked June twenty twenty two as the date that kind of hung around for a long time is because according to the fast forward plan that was when re signalling on the Lexington avenue lines would have been completed about it didn't give a strong date. But if you kind of peace to couple of pieces of the puzzle together would have been about in the summer twenty twenty two and that seemed like a good basis as any for like, when the subway would be better. It really seems like if you can fix the Lexington avenue problems, and then sort of focus on queens boulevard. You've solve two of the major pain points in the subway system. And that's when people really start to feel that services getting better. Right. And queens, boulevards currently undergoing recycling process. Although it's not incredibly clear like how far along that is or how reliably we should how much confidence we should have in the expected, completion date. They're given how the L and the seven recycling's have gone. But yet I mean if you. I think that's right. If you if you solve queens boulevard or if you if you get signaling there, and if you get signaling on the lex, I think that really frees up a lot of operational possibilities, and it's certainly been interesting to see service improve fairly noticeably over the last couple of months. No, the MTA likes to promote the subway action plan. I think we could discuss an bit. Whether it's that or the save say, seconds, campaign or some of both. But the feeling is definitely that subway service is better than it was eighteen months ago. Yeah. I don't I don't really think there's any debate about that. I think anyone who doesn't feel like subway services, better, probably just isn't paying very close attention. That's not to say, you know, a lot of writers don't wanna pay close attention to that. And that's totally fine. But I just think like if anyone is paying attention, I think they're noticing things are definitely getting better. So let's shift to the topic of the weekend. So to speak the times reported yesterday. That's on Friday that the relationship between the two Andy's Cuomo, and Byford was on the rocks. I don't think anybody was surprised to see this reporting. There's been some concern. Turn that Cuomo had been sidelining Byford over the L train, shutdown, and certain other projects that have been ongoing, but the governor brought in by for to reform the transit system. Cuomo's struggles with Sharon credit, when good things happen on someone else's watch do you think Byford may leave or be forced out? And how big of a loss, would this be for Andrew Cuomo? But also four New Yorkers in terms of whether by will leave or before style. I don't have any tremendous insight into that question. I think only only one person really knows the answer to that. I've always been of the of the belief that anybody really does enjoy his job for the most part. I think like I think he really does love running New York City transit. And I think he likes tackling the problems to make the subway speed up in the same way that I think people like you immed- your benefit from writing about these issues because we feel like we're helping public 'understanding with I think by feels a similar sense of public duty to making. Subway function away. That New Yorkers can benefit from. And so I think that leads him to be predisposed to stay longer than I think a career bureaucrat might, but that being said, if governor Cuomo starts interfering in a way that seriously prevents him from doing that job or that, you know, jeopardizes the safety of New Yorkers Byford feels like he can't sign off on, then I think that's when you start to get into the danger territory, where Byford would consider resigning I get the sense from conversations. I've had that Byford isn't going to leave on his own volition before the job is done. I think where things are. Now, they may not have the best working relationship, but unless Cuomo really starts to actually force him out by for we'll stick around and try to see this through as much as he can. I think that's right. The flash point that I kind of look towards well, I guess they're kind of two, but they're related one is how much money. We re signalling the subway gets in the next capital plan. And whether Byford feels like that's enough to get the job done. And the other is this bizarre, Oltra wideband versus CBS divide. And how far that gets pushed. Which is, which is really, really frustrating as a as a New Yorker who wants subways work better because they're talking about the same thing as of written about before, like ultra wideband is just a virgin of making the communications of communications based train control work. But again, kind of speaking, what you said earlier about how Cuomo doesn't share credit. Well, he doesn't want this to be a win for anyone other than himself. So he feels like he needs. I think he feels like he needs the solution to be his and by has already claimed the space. So now he's thrown in with ultra wideband very bizarrely. And so kind of like how this conflict at solved moving forward. I think kind of to me looks to be the central question. I think that the ultra ride, Ben conversation to is a little bit different than the one over the L train because the L train work, we can debate the ins and outs of that. And how long this fix will be. But alter wideband for uses the communications back background for signals. System is completely untested. There's no way to know if this is actually going to lead to a functional CBT implementation, and I think Cuomo is really sticking his neck out on this one bit more than he usually does. I think that's accurate. And I'm not entirely sure. Why? It seems very like obviously everything. I just said is kinda my understanding of why. But it just doesn't add up in my head. Like I don't really know how he thinks this ends for him. I guess is kind of like the question. That's I mean, that's often the problem that I have when trying to read into Cuomo's motivations here. I mean, especially with the story that came out yesterday with regards to buy furred Byford has the public trust right now. I think people are seeing results they're seeing him be the face of those results, they know that Cuomo's in charge for the most part at this point. I think there's, there's been more of a gradual public acceptance of that. If Byford is doing good job and Cuomo can enjoy the benefits of it. Why would he want to push somebody else out? It just seems sort of stubborn and shortsighted. Yeah. It's very puzzling, especially you know, if he wants if he wants to enjoy the benefits of the subway actually, getting better, you know, but that also requires a level of self awareness about or knowledge, even about what is actually the source of the subway improving. And I don't have any great insight into whether the governor truly believes that the subway action plan is what, what's made the subway better? And by just kind of like doing his little thing with the trains, you know, just playing with his trains, and thinks he's kind of like, or if he really does understand that by zephyr, the key to the subway getting better, and he needs him around, if you want to keep enjoying those benefits, I'm not sure, which, which is the case. I think I mean we've seen an interesting public display of sort of not loyalty, but recognition from the MTA to Cuomo about the subway action plan where they've come out with these very aggressive press conferences, sort of on a monthly basis when they release their performance metric saying, look at how well the subway action plan is doing. And there's a conversation among the transit community as to whether it's actually the subway action plan, or whether it's Andy Byford save save seconds campaign, which is the campaign to improve the performance of signal. Timers and speed up trains. Remove unnecessary timers, make sure the signals are calibrated properly, a lot of people seem to think that's the main driver, but you can sort of Pat Cuomo on the back and say, thanks for the subway action plan. It's working well behind the scenes implement other reforms that actually make more of the difference. Right. I also just want to know 'cause this is always something that I think, is kind of funny, that when they hold these press conferences, they occur about a week week and a half before the board meetings with the previous months performance figures until Andy Byford letter reform of the way, the agency captures and cleans up performance data the NCAA or New York, transit always made taint that it was impossible to get board, members, those numbers more advanced than they were which would typically in the board materials the Friday before the meeting. So another presenting them a week earlier in these press, conferences, about how governor Cuomo's initiatives or the are, what's making the subway better while those press colleges wouldn't even be possible without the reforms that Byford is put in. So I think I think that's kind of a low key. Insight into the dynamics at play here and to go back just a second to the sick, the implementation. One of the comments in the times article was from a governor's spokesperson, Danny lever, who was expressing some concern about the dollar figure that was in the Byford plan when he first announced it last year. There was some back and forth over whether there'd be a number various iterations of the plan that were never made public had certain dollars in it. The governor's office seem to object to it. Some of those numbers, inevitably leaked out now, the governor's office is really pushing back against the dollar figure, and it's mysterious because it's going to cost a lot of money to fix the subways, but they don't seem to embrace that spending. Yeah. So the forty billion dollar figures loan that's always been thrown out there. And I think one of the fairest criticisms against kind of the fast forward plan and Byford cz. Plans in general has been that this figure has always been very mysterious. And there's never been named true accounting, behind at least not public publicly, available accounting and various points. He has actually said there would be such a plan. It's never made public. Now, I don't know why it was never made public. If, if history is any guide by is not the source of the obfuscation there, but that being said, you know, I think it's fair to say whereas this number coming from and is it arrived at carefully through accounting of assets and liabilities all that stuff. Or is it just a number that you thought would do the job and you're aiming high and, you know, seeing what you can get? But yeah, I think I think coming. That the legitimacy of that criticism aside. I think given the source of where that criticisms coming from the article kind of raises some eyebrows, because certainly the governor's office could get those figures that they wanted or could get, you know, the background behind that number and could really dive into how much of it is necessary or not, as far as we know in the public. That's never this never occurred. I actually do think personally, that, when that forty billion dollar started to become much more generally recognized as what the Byford plan will cost was when governor Cuomo made kind of the decision that Byford, couldn't be running the show anymore because this was essentially a forty billion dollar Bill for him. And he had to figure out how to pay, and I think governor Cuomo's entire political ethos is that he should never be given a Bill. He gives the bills Bill. So I think that was kind of a key flashpoint. So I'm not surprised. That was a. The point that the governor spokespeople raised, it's interesting. And I feel like for governor who is a little bit more attuned to these issues in a way that Cuomo isn't they would take this Bill say, what is this supposed to cost? You know what does it cost to re signal something in Europe? What does it cost to recycle something in Asia? How can we get these costs more in line instead of just sort of throwing up his hands and saying forty billion? That's totally unacceptable. Right. But there's also the issue of, like we pay very close tension this stuff. And we think like that would be the right approach, but most people don't care how much it costs to recycle in Europe. Like most people if. I'm not even sure like what percentage of New Yorkers actually know who Andy Byford is I don't know the answer to that question. And I, I venture to guess it's like most people probably knew who he was like a year ago when he was the but now they might not really know that much anymore. He hasn't been the news as much he hasn't been getting these national profiles. You know, certainly more people know him than his predecessors. But, you know, how much is he going to win public narrative battle with the governor? I'm not sure right. And, despite the fact that people in the transit community don't love the governor, he still enjoys relatively strong popularity numbers in New York. I said this yesterday. He has a clear path to be the governor until he's sick of being governor at this point. Yeah. And a lot of that is because of his total domination of the democratic political establishment and strong, strong control might be too. Big of a word too strong a word, but his influence in even Republicans, you know, he kind of he's just an incredibly good politician, his, what boils down to, which is, why don't out of hand dismiss anything. He does or says, as a foolish mistake, like I would I certain mayor because he just he's proven time. And again that he comes out on top. And so I tend to. Kind of pause and think what's what's his game here. What is he doing this for was he thinking? And I think it would kind of behoove everybody who wants to dismiss him as a fool to take those stubs. He's, he's just a he's a stubborn type of politician. And I think he's, he's done some good. He's done some bad. But we're going to be with him until he decides to try to run for higher office or until he stepped down. Yeah. That's right. All right. So it seems I mean we talked about this a little bit, it seems that people are far more plugged into news about the MTA these days whether the name recognition for executives there or not. And I think part of that is due to the unavoidable delays problem played commutes. But I think part of that is also due to the accessibility with, which people are delivering the transit news, including you, when you talk about these things in a way that the normal person can understand, and they see how it's impacting their commute they'll pay more attention to it for a long time. People weren't paying attention to it. Some curious to hear about the origins of signal problems, how you came up with the idea, whether you expect. Did it to sort of take off as it did? And what this says about New Yorkers desire for news about transit. Yeah, that's, that's that last questions. Very good one, but all say that for last, so the newsletter got started because I'd been on the subway for about four months of the village voice time and a over the over those couple of months it became clear to me, like you know what, what I talked to people about what, what my new job was and what my new beat was. People had lots of questions, and they were very basic questions about how the subway worked about why they're commute was bad about the structure of the NCAA about who controls. Why just like, really the nuts and bolts of MTA, New York City, transit type stuff and started making realize that there was coolly gap between the way the news was being reported and the kinds of questions, New Yorkers had, and that made me think there was an opening for me to do something at first I actually pitched it as a column at the village voice like a weekly column because I would get paid for that whereas the newsletter I wouldn't. And as a freelance news, reporter local news, reporter, that's kind of like the dominating mindset you're in an all time, like how can I how can I pay my rent with this idea? But they said, no, mostly for budgetary reasons. I think and so I said hell started as an. Later and see what happens. I absolutely do not expect it to be as successful. Influential as it was the degree to which took off, even though I was confident in the idea was a was a huge surprise to me. What we are there questions. What do you think it says about New Yorkers desire for news about transit? Tweeting says yours. I that it's cyclical that, you know, I started this newsletter in in January twenty eighteen so only a few months after the subway crisis was the subway was officially declared crisis in that really. It was a hot topic of conversation. I think if you look back, which I have done a few times, like the timeline of when news stories about the subway being in crisis really took off. It was really like early spring twenty seventeen I think was when the media really started to pick up on it, and then like the F train goes hand being against the window is like the breaking point and that was the summer. So this was only a few months after that. And there was a huge hunger at the time from from New Yorkers about what was going on with the subway and. To be honest. I already kind of detect that fading. I think people are in this is something I'm going to address my final issues. I already detect there being a waning of New Yorker interest in the weeds of the MTA, and why the subway works a certain way. I think there's a lot of complacency setting back in again, which is, you know, and this is the flip side of the subway improving, which is people are having commutes. And they're going back to not thinking too hard about about the trains running, which is both, both good and bad. I guess it's an example of good enough being sort of the enemy of perfect once something becomes good enough, and it's no longer a hindrance to the way you're getting around stop thinking about the ways that it could be even better. And for a lot of people don't have the experiences of comparing the New York City subway with other systems, they don't know they don't care. They don't travel enough, or they do. And it's just, you know for a week or so now, and then after a awhile you just fall back into this. Of being like oh, it's fine. I wasn't delayed and I had to wait a while. But I got to where I was going. Yeah. I think that's exactly right. Because the troubles really starting to late spring early summer. A lot of people went on summer vacation elsewhere came back. And in the subway was still really struggling then that was, I think another reason why people got kind of some people at least initially worked up, but yeah, I think that's right. If things just work well enough for a certain amount of time that's enough for some people to kind of check out of transit stories. And I think you can kind of already see that happening minutes. It's sort of part of the boom, bust new cycle. It's also part of the fact that everybody seems to be very distracted by national politics. These days where these stories just don't get as much traction in the local news as they might have, and we could have a whole conversation about what's left of the local news seen, and how that impacts the way people viewed transit, and transportation and how the national news sort of dominates the landscape these days, but eventually, you know, the people who are making the most noise or sort of yelling into the void after a while when the puck. Stop listening. Yeah. I think. Yeah. Totally, and, you know, you get to the point where you know, as I'm sure you've seen many times over the course of your reporting on this that, like. Everyone stopped paying attention to something. But, you know, problem is right around the bend, and that's going get worse than eventually everyone's going to start caring about it, but it's very, very difficult to make them care about it before that, you know, you fall off the cliff essentially, and I worry that we're just resetting the cycle essentially. Yeah. Will we'll come to the city in a second. But I think you can sort of see that in the way the mayor relates to transportation because people have been sort of screaming about a lot of his shortcomings for years. But you haven't seen anybody review haven't seen the public sort of pick that up until it became more and more of a problem until the streets became really choked until you started seeing these constant images of cars parked on sidewalks in the way that we've kind of just let our surface transit fall by the wayside. Yeah, absolutely. The mayor is, maybe the prototypical New Yorker in this in this only this way in that. Yeah. He's perfectly happy to ignore transit issues until someone makes in. Care about something, and then he pretends, cared about it all on, or until somebody calls into Brian Lehrer show and starts yelling at him about it. He still own acknowledge. Yeah. We'll come back to in a second. I've often just a couple of questions about your experiences reporting. I've often come back to the idea that covering transit is an exercise in futility along the lines of what we were just talking about what have you found most frustrating and covering transit. Got how long do I have to rant about the freedom of information law? The practices with the freedom of information law is probably. And this is like a, a technocratic boring answer. But I think it's super important. And if there's one takeaway from all my reporting on the hope it's that they were four and their foil process, because I have so before this job, I had another reporting job that was more nationally focused and I filed well over a thousand public records requests in dozens of states and at the federal level, I've, I've a lot of experience with public records. Request. I've never dealt with an agency any level with such disdain for what the law says, what reporters request than the MTA is easily the worst entity I've ever dealt with. It doesn't give the slightest flying fuck about what people want. So for those listening who aren't familiar with what the public records request process in the law entails. Can you just give a brief overview of sort of what, what a government agency is? Post to do and how they're supposed to respond. Yes. So I'm going to focus on the state level because this is a state agency and every state has different rules, but more or less any state agency, you submit a request saying, I want this, this information as long as you keep things pretty reasonable like I want this contract this report and you are specific about what you want in most cases. And in some states, this is in law. You should expect a reply within thirty days and by a reply. I mean like either here are your documents or were not giving you documents for this reason, not extensions. And so, that's, that's kind of the background and some states, do this better than others. For sure. But the MTA I have currently I'm trying to remember off the top of my head approaching thirty requests, still open. They have fulfilled three and some of them are more than two years old. And the idea here too is that sincere. Government agencies are supposed to be answerable to the public and should make this information readily available to the public. Yeah. If your spending taxpayer dollars to get a to hire a consultant to write a report or to pay a contractor to do work, or whatever the ideas that the public should know how those dollars are being spent or what the results of those dollars being spent, and obviously, they're exceptions to what they can disclose that generally relate to privacy laws or what they call internal deliberations before. But basically, if if you know, a contract results in a final product, you should see what that final product is. And on the NCAA level, I've asked, you know, things like. What are you got a good example, here is I gotta tip once about basically fraud at an L I double, our project, and I requested the work hours of all the employee's there and how many hours they worked in how much they were paid which are basic records that I know the MTA keeps seeing record logs before timesheets. Yeah, exactly. And first of all, I'm still waiting six months, but they tried to deny my request twice. And I basically told like they tried to convince me that this request was unreasonable and cannot be fulfilled, which is frankly, intimidation and ridiculous. And I said, no either denied this request because then I'm going to appeal and or you know, do it. And so I'm still waiting. And like these are the kinds of delay tactics, they take the frankly are super important in trying to bring to light the exactly the types of cost overruns and misspending that the MTA. As notorious for in. There's reaction from the public of why don't you just file a lawsuit against them? But not everybody has the resources of say the New York Times behind them. These are costly and time consuming and very technical. The agencies should just be responding to these requests, not only that, but if they don't actually respond to it, it actually makes it trickier to file a lawsuit. So it's pretty straight. I mean, not that I can filed a lawsuit with the with the resources I have. But even if I did. You know if they delay for more than a year, then you start to get in pretty solid territory. I'm told for filing a lawsuit, but short of that, you know, even though they're being pretty agreed just in terms of not responding to record records requests, you know, even after thirty days, it a harder case to make in court saying, they're, they're violating the law short of like, you know, the super agreed. So like, yeah, just not responding is one of the common tactics. Pat Foy recently said as the new MTA head that he's going to reform their public records process. Do you think that will lead to the right kind of changes? I hope so if he takes it seriously. And if he actually dedicates time and energy to it. I don't see any reason why he can't do that. But I think you know there are lots of promises for reform out in the air right now. And obviously it's early. I don't mean to say that to denigrate his efforts, or anything that he's been chairman for two weeks or something. But, like, yeah, I mean. Hope he does. I wonder how much, though that gets to sort of this culture of secrecy in this culture of paralysis. That sometimes grips the MTA, they don't like to sometimes tell the public what's going on, because they'll look bad and the public should know. And they're looking bad that doesn't excuse them from complying with the law, and they should be sending out public records requests, but you can sort of see where their reticence comes from. Yes. So one, I was on the phone with one foil agent a couple of weeks ago. And so the way foil foil works is, there's basically a foil department, and of course, the each agency has its own foil department. There's no central six different foil departments. Yeah. I believe. And so, you know, you call you. So you submit your request the foil department, and they have to go to whoever has the record and be like there's a request for this record. Please provide me with those records or whatever obviously more complicated. But that's the gist of it. And so I called him in recently. Now is like what's the deal with this question? It's kind of become a regular thing. I call an every month and I'm like the following. Quest are still standing. And he I think he kind of slipped at one point. And he made mention that, like, oh, yeah, those people just won't give it to me. And it's just like so there's clearly a bottle neck within the agency itself, that I don't think the foil department is wholly responsible for on to your point about, like this culture of secrecy. I think it's a real. It's a real thing on. I'm not sure whether they're more afraid of the public or the governor at this point on probably a little bit of both low from colony a little from column B, but I think the balance is shifting with less. They're less afraid of the new story itself and more that new story reaches the governor's desk, he picks up the phone and starts demanding heads on a platter. And I think that is a serious consideration in hopefully the only way to reform this isn't a lawsuit. And Pat Foye will be serious about it. But I, sometimes fear hearing sort of luck goes on behind the scenes, they're the only way to get them to comply. We'll be somebody eventually filing lawsuit and a judge ordering them to release these materials, maybe my favorite foil request of yours, though, is not an MTA one. It's the one that seems that every single transit reporter has filed with New York City ADC for ferry demographics information, which the hearing this week seemed indicate they have, but won't release to the public. Yes, I wasn't able to watch that hearing this week. So I don't know. I can't speak to exactly what they said. I saw some tweets about it afterwards. So forgive me if I get anything wrong, but my understanding is that they ask them if they have the data and then they said, no, but then they said, yes, and it was just like a very clearly liquid tripping over their own. And then some of the ferry writers later on subsequently said they've been asked by DC pollsters, about their demographics information. They've been asked about income levels and where they live. But the just keep saying, maybe this exists, maybe it doesn't we're not releasing it. Yeah. I mean, I think you've heard this on other people pointing this out to, which is I'm not super interested on whether or not, they have the information. I'm I think it's much more revealing that the mayor's office has been proclaiming that the service is a equitable injust solution to the fairness issue in the city by serving low income neighborhoods. And by them, not being able to even know whether or not they have. The data, I think kind of kind of gives the game away in that they're claiming something that may or may not be true, but they don't know for for data driven city, it seems unlikely that they don't have some data that either backs it up or doesn't back it up. Yeah. And look. You kind of mentioned in your intro, that you referred to a piece that I KoKo with Jake and Hartson Emma Whitford at, at the village voice, where before the I think we were one of the first to kind of report this out, we went I should say. Jake Emma, went on the fairies, and I and I wrote it up in tabulated data and stuff. So I should give them credit where it's due. They went on the interviewed sixty ferry writers on all the routes that existed at the time, which isn't a huge sample. It's not like Naqady study, I wouldn't use it as, like a definitive argument. But our results were were pretty stark that these people who ride the ferry are skew extremely heavily to the upper middle upper class shallan of commuters, like it's it was not. It was not. Subtle issue. So this, this leads me to the next question in terms of New York City, we talk a lot about the MTA, and that's a state agency. And you, you get into this back and forth between the governor and the mayor over who's in charge of what, and what people could be doing better. But at a general level New York City's approach to transit sort of punt on it. And we saw city council speaker, Cory Johnson put forward a pretty aggressive plan to reestablish local control that may or may not be part of the conversation over the next few years. It's not something that's happening tomorrow. What do you feel New York City could be doing better in terms of taking more control of its transit future? So you're asking like not so much, what they could do the things that they currently control. But how they can seize more control. You know what, what sort of leadership, we need at the city level to improve the system now based on what they control. I think of focus on the buses and allocation street space are kind of like the two things that immediately jump to mind. So even though the MTA runs the bus system in the city itself exerts, tremendous amount of influence over how well those buses run by nature of determining where bus lanes go in transit signal priority orienting, the streets, you know, whether it's, you know, central bus, bold, boarding, places, basically wear the buses are on the streets. And I think I think the city really put a lot of focus and energy into making sure that buses had clear, dedicated rights away, and, again, this kind of gets the enforcement issue, which involves NYPD, which is a whole whole other earliest does for now until more cameras are involved. But so I think focusing on kind of how buses move throughout. City is one thing, and then others just the allegation of street space in general, you know, I think I think both of us cycle a lot around the city or at least some in, we know that doesn't work super well for that, or at least could work hell of a lot better. And that's something that's entirely within the city's control. I'm trying to think if there's other things and for pedestrians to I often neglect to mention this, but every trip begins and ends with a pedestrian, you know, and I think it's important to give people more space to walk in the city. And, you know, you look at the way street spaces allocated, especially in Manhattan, but in areas of Brooklyn to where the sidewalks are packed people are spilling out onto them into the bike lanes. And a lot of cases which causes problems on, I think, just kind of expanding the amount of space pedestrians have to move around the city, I think would be would be a huge boon to, and those are things they can do now without having to fight the city on anything or propose we get in conversation about whether they should be investigating launching some light rail routes, not just the BQ expert, other ones that make more sense. And that's I think that actually is a conversation. That's worth having. But again, that's not happening anytime soon in terms of. Those those light rail's being implemented. So do you feel that, that's the sort of? I mean we can talk about the mayor's personality. He doesn't seem to be particularly pro transit guy. He's not necessarily plugged into the transit seen as the same way some of the younger city council reps are. But is it does it come from him? Or does it just sort of come from this feeling that a the state controls the MTA? So it's their problem and be, there's so many different. Avenues to take. It's hard to know where to start you can talk about light rail. You can talk about buses, you can talk about wider sidewalks bike lanes, and all these things that we should be doing, but we have the system. That's very localized through community boards. There's no really top down, centralized planning structure for transit in New York City, and there's no clear path to get started on that to sort of, like inaction through paralysis. Yeah, I think that's kind of related, what I was going to say, which is, I think, to Blasios, the type of politician is always looking for an issue on, which he can win. You know, he's always looking. For an issue that he can launch something or takeover and just get some quick wins on it and be like the person who launched this program in his successful at it, and as you just noted transit, very, very difficult area for that in the city, especially if you're not launching your own new transit service. So I think with where you see the few trends are related issues. He has been kind of bullish on, which is the ferries and the BQ axe are kind of like the two things really into says lot. But, you know, the BQ X's essentially, a real estate funded transit system, you know, like there that's the entire onus behind it. So he's got backing on that sense. So he's not really like going out on a limb for anything there. And then for the ferries again, it's a new thing he gets to claim his own, so and it's also. Oh related to economic development in some ways. So we've had to take extra sleep over the years because the mayor keeps pushing the project is sort of set up, though, to die once he leaves office. I mean, it's the timeline for that means that they'll produce this report, the environmental assessment report basically, at the end of his term. And then if the next mayor doesn't wanna do it, it disappears. Yeah. That's right. All right. So on the flip side of the futility, you've done some very fascinating stories of enjoyed experiences that few New Yorkers ever knew existed, for instance how many people knew that the MTA had a subway speed limit test chine in that vein. What was your favorite or your most interesting story to report on? Honestly, that was my favorite story to report as a very unique experience. I don't think many New Yorkers. Get to enjoy. I mean, we were we were on believe we were on our forty two, maybe it was an our Forty-six. I can't remember forgive me. But, you know we, we were we had the front door open because there was Greg Macher from picks. Eleven also on the train. So they wanted to give them like good visuals. So they propped the front door the train open, and we rode from Coney Island up up the N line to downtown Brooklyn. Then switched over to the B and then road southbound, then reverse back to ride back towards Coney Island. And then at some point decided, we were going to go north again. I don't remember exactly when we did, and then rode back up all the way to herald square. So doing that in like an empty train where you were purposely, violating the speed limit tripping the emergency brakes over and over again. And, you know, just getting to see like the inside of the tunnel straight through the front door with no. With no with no obstruction. And, you know, have these incredibly knowledgeable. Mt implies with you to explain. Absolutely. Every question you have about, like, how things are working as you're going was a really unique experience, one than I definitely appreciated during that I liked that at one point, we were doing that story. We pulled up next to it. So we were in obviously an older model and the and the guy who was on the train with us wanted to demonstrate to me that they had artificially restricted the, the max speed on the pre are sixty eight models, after the Williamsburg bridge crash, because they didn't want trains to go as fast. And so we pulled up we were on the B line in southern Brooklyn. And we pulled up next to a q train, which was obviously, a new technology train. And I say, obviously everyone knows cute runs new technologies. So we pull it next to it, and he pulled down the window, and he goes to the other conductor news, 'cause I want, I'm going to raise you to the next. And don't go easy on me. I wanna see what's train is faster my train, or your trading and the doctors and the operator in the just like all right. So I mean is complete. This wasn't even remotely dangerous complete straightaway. Stop was not far away, like they weren't weren't gonna cheat very high speeds but within twenty seconds, it became abundantly clear that archery not moving as fast as history and they got to the other stop about seven seconds before we did. And, you know, we were only emotion for about forty five seconds. So that was like a great demonstration of how these little choices. The MTA made decades ago is affecting the speed at which trains can go now you know, if you just say seven seconds, between shortstop, maybe it's fifteen seconds. The long stop, you add it up. That's halfway to Elat train or completely all the way to late train just because the train can't move is, then you multiply that by all the people on the train, and you can see sort of how we lose productivity. We lose time. Yeah. I wanna talk for a second about the signal reporting because I feel like this is a very, good example of how indepth local reporting can make a big difference for a lot of years. People had been noting anecdotally that trains to be slower. They remembered when trains were faster, I was one of those, I remember taking the train when I was a kid on the Upper West side, the express train would be much faster than it still is today. And nobody was really responding to why but you were able to take the resources that you have as a reporter and dig into that story. Can you sort of talk about that process, and, and how that sort of sheds light on bad practices? Sure. So there there's a lot going into that questions, kind of like the nature of how these investigative feature stories come about. And part of it is lock in part of it as making your own lock and part of it is the nature of local news right now. It makes these stories difficult. So. In terms of luck verses making your own lock. You know how source come to me saying, giving me a good chunk of information I used for that story. But the reason the source came to me. Was he you know, I was told because I had established myself as someone who might listen to those details. I hadn't established myself as a reporter who only cared superficial scoops. Or, you know, wanted to do more stories about subway culture versus the way subway. Like it just seemed like I cared to this person. I suppose. Which I did. And so that, that's kind of like a nature of. On the one hand, a lot of this story, gifted to me in a way, I couldn't report out without that source. But on the other hand, I do feel like I kind of, you know, made myself available to the sources someone who they could talk to. But that being said it took a lot of even even with that. You know, initial contact took a lot of time to report that story I think it was reporting on it for a couple of months. I couldn't really work onto much else during those months, I was reporting on the story. And as a local reporter, you know where budgets are always tight that was that was a financial burden. And luckily, voice was in a very supportive editor there, Neil to moss as someone who. Saw the value in the story and worked on my behalf to advocate for me to get paid more for the story and the amount I got paid for those stories, I ended up, it was part of the series stories, the amount of got paid for those stories. Like I don't think any other outlet would would come close in my experience, working with them on in paying that. And so essentially had that not happened reporting, the story would have been huge, financial burden, which I don't think anybody wants about, you know, wants that to be the reality for reporting, you know, local investigative stories. I don't know if that answers your question, it does. I mean, I think it, it gives people sort of glimpses to what's play between the reporters needs the outlets needs the way these stories come about, and part of that process that people don't always understand. Yeah. And I mean when I say that look the voice was able to pay me for the stories in a more than any other local. I mean they were able to cover about half of my rent for the two months. I was reporting the story. So it's not. Got rich stories, but like the other local Ellison, I tried to get a feature story from them. They would maybe offered a bump up my rate like one hundred bucks or two hundred bucks, which, you know, that doesn't doesn't go very far when you're talking about a two month reporting project. So I think it's tough a lot of the public they don't understand what goes into media production. And I think it's important for people to hear that because we don't get these stories without funding them if there's if there's no, if there's no backer for these stories, whether it's a WNYC or a village voice, these stories, don't come out, and then nothing gets better. Yeah. And I wanna be clear like this isn't about the individual reporters at other outlets. They're, they're I mean, they're capable reporters. A lot of them are excellent reporters, but a lot of them are under demand. Aditorial demands to produce a certain amount of articles that is burdensome when it comes to wanting to report out longer features, and it often makes it a trade off for them. And so I think that also plays into it too. So we have a couple more minutes. I want to do a quick lightning round. I have a handful of topics I'm curious to hear your quick thoughts on some of these that are dominating the conversations these days if I can put you on the spot. Absolutely. All right. Congestion pricing. Was a pro or con thing just give me your thoughts. We'll congestion pricing be the fix that everybody says it, no. I mean, I'm probably one of the most sceptical people in transit circles, when it comes to this know, like Richard Brodsky being like congestion pricing bad, but, like I'm also I also imprinted confident not pretty confident. I fear that in ten years, we're gonna be right back here. Maybe even sooner a recession hits. We're gonna be right back here with the saying they need more money because congestion pricing wasn't enough. Do you think the traffic mobility, review board will be able to resist this push for exemptions? Able to yes, willing to willing to. I mean, I think the structure is there for them to actually think the kind of like 'isolation they have from voters and politicians because they're like a subcommittee within the MTA, although nobody technically has to listen to them, you know, the bridges and tunnels committee, technically decides stuff. And I think like that isolation from direct political interference does structure them fairly. Well, but if we learned anything over the last two years, it's that the governor's very good intervening in those things. And whether it's this governor another governor, I. Given the culture given the culture of car driving in the city in how it seems like the rich and powerful exclusively get around by car on I'm pessimistic, but carve outs will remain limited that being won't one point us. I know you said lightning round I'm totally screwing that up. But I think the revenue requirements is actually a good kind of buffer against that, that inclination to have a lot of carve outs on, so we'll see how that a plan with too many carve-outs would reduce the amount of money that generate. So you have to get to that one billion dollars somehow. Right. I think it would be interesting, if they do a lot of car, I don't get the money and see what happens that would actually be really interesting on scenario will the BQ X ever become a reality. Oh, no. All right, for those listening to this. The fares went up a few days ago. What impact will that fair? Hi Cavan on New Yorkers. On most New Yorkers. I feel it actually won't have very big impact at all. It's a pretty modest fare increase, and I feel better and better about fair increases the more robust affair fares program is right now. It's not very robust. And I think that actually is a huge problem. But especially I think they recently announced that by the end of the year, it's supposed to be ruled out to significantly more people. And honestly, that makes me feel better about two percent annual fare hike. One of the biggest stories that you were covering last year before governor Cuomo, sort of torpedo, this was the L train shutdown. Are we ready for the non shutdown shutdown? That's about to happen. When you say we, you mean like the New York, New York City, the MTA everybody involved. Ooh, tough question for a lightning round feel like the whole podcast. I think we're not ready but not because this plan will be more impactful than the old plan on certainly I've written about my misgivings about the new plan. But I think just so many people are so confu-. Used about what this new plan like actually means for L service. I think almost nobody could actually say accurately if you pulled New Yorkers about, like what will all service be during the next fifteen months, I think you'd get like approaching zero percent accuracy rate. And so, I think just on that level most Yorkers are not ready for it. Uber lift. What do we do about them? Good question. My I guess my ideal scenario is that you start to charge per mile traveled or per time in the car with a fair or just some way to. Tax the amount of time. These cars are on the streets. I think this is one of the big reasons why pessimistic congestion pricing. We'll have a tremendous affect, because you're talking eighty thousand more cars on the road than five seven years ago. And I don't think this is going to have a very big affect on that. So I think you fundamentally have to create some kind of disincentive mechanism for having these cars on the road. Right. So we have time for one final question. I'm going to ask you about your new gig, which is covering cars with websites a lot Nick for many. That's one hundred eighty degrees. C chains from transit talk to me about the differences experiences. Covering cars versus transit in what perspectives us sort of can bring to this whole universe of transportation. Yeah. So ju ju lot Nick is definitely a car website, but I wouldn't say that I'm covering cars. So one thing I when, when I was meeting with the editors for this site. Like I could not have been more upfront that like I am not a car enthusiast. I don't own a car. I don't like driving cars. Particularly like cars. It's just not my thing. And they were like great. We're not looking for that kind of reporter, which I think speaks to them about what they want their site to be what I'm going to be reporting on the site is a lot about new kind of like what we were just talking about Uber and lift, and about new mobility means about what getting around looks like in the near future and also just talk. And also a lot of infrastructure related stories infrastructure, especially in America. I think right now is of interest to car drivers and on car drivers, like and how our infrastructure priorities are kind of being borne out by this, whiplash of administrative priorities. We get from federal government, federal government. So, yes, I work for a car website, certainly lots of the articles, they run like you know, extremely car in through the articles. But I don't think I'm gonna be writing those very much. And I've actually been really pleasantly surprised at the appetite. The audience has for coverage about the problems that cars bring to society. You know, I think your sports guy used to report on sports, and this is actually an analogy that has come into my head several times is like I used to cover basically Vel problems in sports, you bright about how does corrupt about how, you know, like minor league baseball athletes are horrifically taking advantage of all the problems. Replete in sports doesn't mean I didn't like sports just meant like we had to acknowledge what the problems were report on those problems in effort to try and make this thing we love better. I think it's kind of it kind of be who's any enthusiasts. No matter what they're enthusiastic about to be the first ones in line to address the problems with what they like to try and advocate for those problems to be addressed. So I've actually along those lines. I've been really surprised with how are supposedly car enthusiast audience is very eager to have good reporting on what car companies are doing what they're not doing what the problems with cars are for now. And in the future, and specifically to kind of like what we've been talking about this podcast, you know, with how cars, working cities, I know car enthusiast we talk about, like how they wanna be driving. What, what's your ideal version driving man, nobody's like stuck in traffic on the beach? Huey four PM man. That's the life's more like a roller coaster too in the state of the roads. Yeah, exactly. So nobody. Nobody wants cars. I think at least a big chunk of our audience doesn't doesn't think cars should be essential form, of urban transit. So I think like these idea of carpet cities about how to reduce the number of highways and cities like that's not at all at odds with the with the audience of the site. So those are all been very, very pleasant surprises me. And finally, with the end of signal problems in a couple of weeks, I feel like there's going to be sort of a void in the transit reporting seen who do you how do you think the rest of the transit reporters can sort of fill that, and make sure that these stories are still coming to light? Well, I mean, I'm not totally sure there's a void in the reporting as much I think, you know, people like yourself will still be here. And, you know, certainly I relied on a lot of your archives when I was getting up to speed on the be like, you know, there's so, I think my absence will. Be filled. Pretty pretty competently. I'm confident, but in terms of what I would say to any other trains, report, probably less. So the existing reporters more than like, you know anyone looking to get into the beat. Maybe. I always operated and some people disagree with me on this. But I've always operated under the kind of philosophy that people want more details, not less, and that doesn't mean you need to make things overly complicated or use lots of technical language. But I think there's a tendency to want to oversimplify things under the assumption that the general reader doesn't care. And that's not been my experience. Now granted, I'm speaking to a very passionate audience, who absolutely does care. But I've also cultivated that audience by writing these issues. So I guess it would just be think twice before you think in issue is too complicated or too Monday or too, in the weeds for the general population on, you know, I think a lot of people might have thought that about the signal timer story, you know, if you just said, like, you know, this is about signal timers this is about. Like the subway signals and how they work like yeah. That's on super boring, and nobody's going. But if you kind of assume that people aren't turned off immediately by the fact that it's about those things, and you find a way to freeing, the soya just like this is about. Why subways going slow or this is about the bureaucratic decisions made decades ago, they're affecting the subway today. Then I think you present an opening for people. So I think, yeah, just just assume your readers curious and not stupid is always like a good good piece of advice thing on that note. We'll end this Aaron thanks for joining me. And that's Aaron Gordon who's the author of signal problems, which you can find signal problems dot NYC. Thanks, ben. That's it for this episode of the second avenue sagas podcast, as always, you can find more from me at WWW dot second avenue, sagas dot com or on Twitter by, at two av sagas, the site and podcast our listener funded. So if you've enjoyed the show, please consider contributing at WWW dot patriots dot com slash second out, sagas. Thank you again to Aaron Gordon. I'm your host Benjamin k back and I'll catch you riding the rails.
Episode 67: 4.7 mph, with Nicole Gelinas
"Four point seven miles per hour. The speed or maybe lack of speed at which taxis travel in midtown Manhattan. It's a stunning factoid. From a recent report on New York City traffic by Manhattan institute, fellow and all around transit expert Nicolaas. And if you think this is just a Manhattan problem think again, CBS's 2017 resident feedback survey found traffic was one of the three issues of dissatisfaction in New York City to satisfaction range from seventy eight percent in the Bronx to eighty eight percent in Staten Island. We're talking about traffic, mobility, and the MTA on this episode of what's the data point? And welcome to what's data point from citizens budget commission and Gotham gazette. I'm Ben max from Gotham gazette. I'm Maria dulas from the CBC Mraz gotten us off to great star here. So we're going to jump right into our conversation momentarily. But if you've missed any recent episodes of what's the data point we've had some really good discussions. Find us on your favorite podcast platform, or you can find all the episodes at the CBC or Gotham gazette websites, and we have some great guests coming up. But let's not overlook today's episode, and let's get right into it with Nicole Jelena's as Maria said senior fellow at the Manhattan institute, she's contributing editor at city journal and columnist at the New York Post. We should not leave out a lot of your great work found their welcome. Thank you. Thank you Maria. So Nicole's recent report is called decongesting New York. How Gotham can get. It's gridlock traffic flowing again. You right you, right. It's a great report. It's got a lot of interesting history marine our talking. About. Some really nice perspective. And one of the things that you write early on is that all these facets of New York is quote, unquote, ungovernable city have had at least for now, you know, been addressed in a major way except traffic and accept congestion, which is actually gotten worse. That was very interesting perspective that you that you had there you see this is like the the sort of big unsolved problem at that the city's facing. Yeah. If you look at the nineteen sixties when governing the city became much more complex the problems that started to intensify. Then unemployment's middle-class flight from the city to the suburbs. The crime problem drugs problem the gun problem, all of these things, although they're not exactly solved the city has sort of had them under control going on for two three decades now, but the other problem that started to crop up in editor about quality life in the city. In the nineteen sixties was traffic when mayor Lindsay came into office in the mid nineteen sixty s the New York Times said that traffic was both the city's worst visible problem in also the problem that would be easiest to fix. But here we are more than fifty years later, and we still haven't fixed the traffic problem. And in fact, traffic speeds as Maria noted are worst than they ever have been at less than five miles an hour going through peak down so say a little bit more about how you diagnose the problem here. You you went through in detail the challenge that the city is facing right now diagnosis explain a little bit more for folks. How you capture the this issue? Well, there's a few things going on here. What's causing traffic? We have a finite amount of route space. The city has not built in a mile of highway since the nineteen sixties when deploy was to build an expressway across lower. Manhattan, Lindsey said in one thousand nine sixty nine just fifty years ago this summer that the lower Manhattan expressways dead for all time since then we've actually shrunk our street space. So we have a record number of people residents. Visitors people coming to their jobs all competing for shrinking amount of St. space in what does it? What does that mean? Obviously, it means the most inefficient way of getting around which is one person to a private car that way of travel has suffered and Ben encroached on by bicycle lanes. It's more efficient for someone to move around on a bicycle. So we have sixty thousand Citi bike rides a day, for example and commuting into the city on private bicycle has quadrupled over the past decade. We have more pedestrian space, if you think of Times Square, even with the larger pedestrian plazas, you still can't walk. Round in time square. When Broadway's just starting or getting out there. Still too many pedestrians on the streets far more efficient way of getting around and a private car. Add to all of this that Uber and lifts have made it cheaper easier to ride around in a private car. We've tripled the number of four higher vehicle. Registrations over the same roughly a decade. So something have something you pointed out, I believe in the peace unless miss remembering. But you know, is where we should also not forget that people have black cars, you know, people have drivers. And that that's something that's been around a long time. But those cars are around two and those are not Uber. We've started almost only talk about Uber's, and but those cars are around as well, not to mention people's, you know, just private vehicles that they're driving around to. Yeah. And then we also have construction sites that if you if you walk around mid town entirely of street grid are taken off to build a tower. If you look at fifty Thursday. Street between fifth and sixth avenue. Busy thoroughfare? But two lanes out of one of the busiest blocks in Manhattan have been given over to the MoMA construction site going on for half decade now. And so this you can say even if there's not a lot of traffic at the twelfth avenue side at the first avenue side, if you're trying to get across town, everyone is squeezing into this one lane pinch point with no warning, no management. And I think that's where we get into some of the solutions. Right. And the other part of this that you mentioned that I think is maybe not central but important is parking placards for government employees, right because it's not only about vehicles moving on the streets. But also the issue of parking, and how parking is priced as well and just other vehicles parking double parking deliveries of exploded. Right, right. We've talked about this a little bit before. But the, you know with with the explosion of people getting. Coverage from Amazon and freshdirect and things like that. You have trucks all over the place. That's absolutely, right. Consumer behavior has changed in ten impact on on the streets as well. But I think that, you know, the placard issue fascinates me for many reasons one of which is, you know, it seems pretty logical that if you're going to start to tackle this tackle your own house. I write and as you know, mayor defazio gave out more parking placards to the teachers and educational workers. The city also has increased the public sector fleet of cars, and it's not one would say, of course, if we ever record population. We need more garbage trucks, we need more police cars, but these are just small cars and SUV's that people are just using to go about their business in working for the city. So is that necessary. I would say, and I talked to Sam Shwartz former traffic Commissioner for the article with the parking. Placards. We should start at zero zero them all out if you have a compelling reason for parking placard, you have to go and apply for this arduous process in if that placard allows you free commuting parking that should be taxable benefit. I mean, this is a six to eight thousand dollar benefit a year. This should be sent as compensation to the IRS. And then the issue of illegal parking placards as a Twitter feed placard corruption says everything from a vest or business card or a police manual put on the windshield to an expired. Placards just a handwritten note at people parking in bus stops on sidewalks and no standing zones. And so this is something that it is low level public corruption corruption the mayor has said he's going to said he started to separate crackdowns. But neither of them seems to have gone anywhere. This should be something where if you're doing this once you get a stern warning. You're caught a second time you have to go to the department of investigation and explain why you are repeatedly abusing the public trust. And this should be something that is considered not just a parking violation. But essentially theft of services by government employees before we get to some of your recommended solutions and just some other thoughts on solutions and some of the things that have been put out recently by elected officials and connect this to the MTA. Let's talk about why this is a problem. I mean, we get if you're in the congestion that's a problem for you. Why do we care about this writ large? Why should folks who aren't caught in you know, Manhattan traffic every day? Why should why should people care about this? Right. Well, first of all, I think the expectations have to be clear that nobody is going to be zipping around Manhattan at thirty miles. In our nor should they be you want traffic to be relatively slow because of the number of pedestrians bicyclists children elderly people crossing the street, but should it be five miles an hour. Probably not and we can get closer back to ten miles an hour, which is about where central London is what does that do it makes people's cross town car trips more predictable and consistent, and it makes it lessons pollution. It means less productive time spent in the car, and it makes it easier for walkers and bicyclists, you I mean, if you go out there, you know, starting at four o'clock you've got cars and trucks that are backed up through the intersections. If you're crossing street you have to walk in between cars and the crosswalk. You know, if you're trying to maneuver and we'll cheer or baby carriage, or you're just worried about squeezing between two idling cars. I mean did easing the traffic should improve the quality life for everybody on streets. Say you mentioned quality of life from the survey. What you Nicole how much do you think the decline of the MTA as performance, particularly the subways is causing some of this? I think it's it's hard to quantify although ridership on Uber and lifts increasing basically mirrors the declining ridership on the subways over the past three years. But yeah, there's both a push and pull people are being pushed away from the subways and buses because of declining service at least up until the past few months into subways have been improving declining bus speeds because the buses are stuck in traffic to imply there's the pull it is much easier and cheaper to hire a lift store. Uber. And so we have these two factors. And and if you talk about mobility, I think in in some of the quality of life outside of Manhattan, you know, people are. Getting around and by bus and the buses are incredibly slow because the traffic issues. This. This issue is not around ride live far out in Brooklyn. I mean at certain times of the day. Nobody's moving on the streets. It's unbelievable. Right. And and you know, even getting across neighborhoods has become difficult on car, which is kind of insane and frustrates many residents outside Manhattan. So we're talking economic issues quality of life, which sort of is about the liveability, and I guess visited visit ability of the city, right? I mean, this is an issue or is the daily frustration. Right. You should feel happy happy during your day. You know, you shouldn't be frustrated before you even get out of your house. Whether you're in my car walking or that's right. That's right. So how does one think about how to solve this? I mean, it's been a problem for a long time. How do you think Ryan, you know, in a Broadway about how to finally make traffic governable in the city will if you look back to the CM fifty years of history since the city identified this as a crisis one thing, we know is that crackdown don't work. I mean, it's almost comical that. Every single mayor sense Lindsay has announced some kind of crackdown in Naven use the same terms for it. You know, caught China clearly program just like Bosnia where they're gonna give more tickets to double-parked cars are going to crack down on placards. Sometimes it works for few weeks. But it takes hundreds of extra highly paid police officers and enforcement agents, and then it's not sustainable. So it goes back to xactly the way it was. So what works having a reliable consistent transit system. That people want to use. And then the other thing is pricing streets, which we have never tried in. So having congestion pricing to put a ask people to pay a financial value for access to the streets in the most inefficient vehicles. That are available to them is something that would make people think twice about whether they have to drive in or whether they have to drive in at a particular time or on a particular day, so variable congestion pricing would be a big step, but it has to be done. Right. And there's congestion pricing the right way, and maybe congestion pricing the wrong way, which may be what Albany is is thinking of doing so say more about that. Well in order for this work. Well, the city leadership should be engaged in it. If you think about the Bloomberg congestion pricing plan, which is a little bit more than a decade ago. Now, this was a city. Received plan. The city council wanted to just ask Albany for permission to do it. So the city would have designed it. The city would have set the prices. The city would have decided how the money is spent both on transit and on better roads and bridges in in this case, it is Albany, and essentially the governor who was saying it's going to be a state program it'll be handled by by the MTA. So the streets will be treated just like the triborough bridges and tunnels, the pricing will be set by the state, and that could cause some problems down the line for for example, say you want variable pricing where it's the Saturday before Christmas. So if you have to make your delivery that day at two pm by Rockefeller Center, maybe the congestion fee should be fifty dollars for truck. Whereas if you can make seem delivery two am that day, it could be free or it could be five dollars. But that type of flexibility is much better done by city. DOT people not having to go through the bureaucracy of Albany. And the other thing is there's not any money to keep up the roads and bridges in this plan. And so that's really a fairness issue and also a fiscal issue that if the roads and the bridges are what is generating the revenue why should all that revenue go to Albany? Now, they've softened the language a little bit in the budget amendments that they put out a few weeks ago, but not enough to really give you any confidence that this isn't just a a state revenue grab that's actually not going to improve congestion. Well, and you have lawmakers especially in the state Senate from the Hudson valley from Long Island putting their two cents in saying if we're going to do this basically commuter fee to them, we need more investment in L A R and metro north. And you know, everybody wants different pieces of the puzzle. And there's a lot of we. Know what kind of system will come out of this? But obviously, we're trying to figure out from you. What some of the guidelines should be even if it gets messy in in Albany. Yeah. I mean, it's very interesting that you bring up the Bloomberg plan because I remember that very well also, and it was locally driven. And the sense would be that. There will be another story that with think very much about the needs of the MTA versus the needs of streets in allocate the dollars coming in from congestion pricing accordingly. We're ten years later. We're in a very different place in terms of the performance in the needs of the MTA, which everybody feels is so critical to of course, the cities in the region's competitiveness, and I think, you know, there there's a bit of a of a more compelling case. I think forgiving the MTA greater share of that just because of the raw need and of the fact that if you're gonna if the aims to get people out of their cars, you have to shore up the service, and you have to make sure they're really good options for people to get around. But still I think big outstanding question is how that pot of money is divvied up unallocated. I don't you know, I don't think I think the plan should be instituted with some level of variable pricing. I think that will be important for inducing the behavior change and getting to something more granular like you suggest would be super interesting and a good goal for later on. But I I'm sort of at the point where I'm like, let's just get some version of this done. Let's get it done. And then think about how to refine later on. What do you think the prospects are for this? Passing in the session. I think there's not as much of his an emergency that people think and that the governor wants people to think this is the same type of emergency atmosphere that drove the payroll tax in two thousand nine where we basically got a billion and a half dollar annual tax for the MTA passed by the legislature in the middle of the night. And all of that money has been consumed by rising labor expenses. Whether it's raises without productivity gains or the sort of skyrocketing costs of the healthcare benefits in particular. But in two thousand nine we did have a real fiscal emergency. At least I mean, the MTA the revenues had just cratered during the recession. They were slashing bus service. I mean, there was an argument that you have to do something now and this time that's not really true. The the. Congestion pricing money is supposed to go to capitol. And although there is an operating budget problem that the MTA faces real pressure with right now, there's no capital budget problem at the moments if you look at what the state was supposed to provide the MTA for the current capital plan, which ends at the end of the year. They were supposed to provide eight point six billion out of the state budget. They've they've provided only something like eight hundred million. So the steep last year. The state still owes the MTA eight billion dollars that money should not come from congestion pricing that should be the next capital plan. If that makes any sense, plus the they are still consistently slow in completing the projects that they've already started. So are the reason that money hasn't been drawn down. Right. Well, perhaps the my impression. Yes. But they. They don't they're not in a capital budget crisis right now there is time to say, let's do congestion pricing. Bright in also, let's see a real reform plan for the MTA before we award them all these new revenues that for example, before we do congestion pricing. The public should know the terms of the new labor agreement with the MTA as biggest union because we don't want the risk that somehow this money is just once again consumed by the rising labor costs. I think that's absolutely right. And that's coming up this spring. Yes. But conveniently it. After the budget season. But putting this, you know, I guess I'm not one to tell the governor what to do, but pudding congestion pricing in the budget with everything else that's going on right now reauthorization for Merrill, control schools, a possible marijuana tax in all the social implications of that a possible Pieta terror attacks, they're sort of too much going on for people to digest and do it the right way, which is part of the reason they might want to jam it through in the brave, and that's always what Nicole says just so critical on his appoint that's missing from the discussion because we are having the debate about the capital plan in terms of what it should look like more focus on state of good repair more focused on signals. How big should it be? What are the needs? Should it be? You know, how do we deal with the commuter rails? Share? Should there get we're not having the discussion about the operating budget? And we're not having the discussion about what is driving those costs and bringing you know, everybody is being asked to make a sacrifice drivers. Gonna make a sacrifice riders. They're gonna pay higher fares might have additional taxes, but whereas labor in this equation. And it's nobody's asking the question. And you don't get the sense that anything is happening on that front and until the operating budget and the productivity of that workforce is increased, you know, the money will feel like it's Evaporating. Yep, in it's not even the wages. Of course. These are difficult jobs. People deserve to have a middle class income and get an inflation base wage, however every year or so forth, but the healthcare benefits if you if you look at the pension and the healthcare benefits, they've basically tripled in cost over the past fifteen years it if if you look at the cost of the healthcare plans, they're unsustainable over the long term. And so why aren't we thinking retirees over the age of sixty five they should be going to the Medicare system. You know, the country has had unit. Personal health care for retirees for the multiple generations. If that's good enough for everybody else. Why is that not good enough for the MTA people? And if you retire younger than fifty sixty five that should be essentially your responsibility to decide in my ready to retire. Well, if I if I don't have access to healthcare, maybe that keeps people working for a few more years, which is good. But this idea that we can promise these retiree healthcare benefits. It does a disservice to transit riders. Eventually it does a disservice to the retirees because it costs are just not. I mean, they've got a a twenty billion dollar unfunded liability for retiree healthcare. It's hard to see how they're ever going to pay that. So just at least just talking about it would be a Seth. And when the mayor and the governor recently put out a ten point plan. That's that's not that's nowhere to be found. Right. They they agreed upon ten. Principals. They put forward again, this is it's a proposal. It's they can't just do it on their own. There are some aspects they might be able to push forward. But it needs to go through the state legislature for the most part. It includes congestion pricing. Basically getting the mayor on board with it with some his priorities for tweaking it. But you know, there's a little bit of MTA efficiency in reorganization in that plan, but they didn't highlight labor as a as a key factor. Right. Interestingly they said that they want the MTA to keep spending growth to two percent a year, but without addressing the healthier and the pension costs. That's basically impossible. So it sort of it points to the hurry nature of this agreement that they sort of just dashed this off in the mayor took his to subway rides on. Yeah. So we need to be keeping an eye on those negotiations. We need to see obviously, then Goshi those labor negotiations. But first we need to see what might happen. In this April one St. budget around congestion pricing. There's seems like there's a likelihood that if congestion pricing plan is in the state budget that the tolls and fees will not be set that that will be kicked off to another entity to figure out in the future. There might be some accommodations made that certain amounts of revenue goes here or there. L A are you know, metro north at cetera. But we need to be keeping an eye on that and the specifics there, or if it doesn't go in the budget continues in the legislative session what's happening there. And you you know, you discuss in your piece about some of the solutions to the congestion traffic issue had a toll in price road. Space fixing mass transit to get people out of cars. And then also this idea of St. redesign, and how we use our public space in would have a few more minutes. But let's talk about that a little bit. Because city council speaker, Cory Johnson and. And feel free to sort of give us your thoughts on the proposal that he laid out, you know, he wants municipal control of the subways and buses. I don't know if we have time to get to into that today. But he also says he's going to introduce legislation around a master plan for city streets. And that to me sounds like something that that you'd be very intrigued by. Yeah. I think it's a great idea. And I know that the Cory Johnson plan. It's a it's a very tall order to bring back control of the subways and buses for various reasons, including that the taxes are set by the state and always will be set by state, but it's a good sign that someone in high elected office and who's running for mayor or exploring running for mayor is saying I want to be responsible for this. And I care about this. We we don't we don't get that much from the current mayor sort of idea that you know, I think poly Troughton Burke has done a pretty good job given the constraints. That that didn't exist during the Bloomberg years, but we certainly need a master plan for a weird we want to build out more bike lanes. More bus lanes. What is the timetable for these things what's to schedule explaining to the public? Why we need these things and things like if we're going to shut down a subway line for a couple years to modernize a signals. Why not replace that above ground with a free bus? That comes every minute. It have a sort of bus caravan just like loaded after hurricane sandy these things they shouldn't be done in the sort of ad hoc piecemeal manner manner that they're done now in the fourteenth street L train shut down you had city make all of these plans, which were pretty good plans. And then the MTA comes and says, we'll never mind we're not going to do this. But we should still be doing things like dedicated bus way on fourteenth street in thinking. Longer term about one hundred twenty fifth forty second thirty fourth in the idea of just getting private cars off of the streets altogether, even pedestrian ising more of east midtown mini. We did the time square side. But we never did the Rockefeller Center side, it is impossible to walk around for two months on the year when it's the holiday season. But no one seems to be thinking about these things strategically or at least if they are it's hard for them to get a the top official backing to go through this sort of political blowback that always comes with these things, I think part part of corey's argument when he was presenting this plan, which I also think is a great idea is that well if communities understand how it all fits into this larger picture, there'd be more willing to go along. So what's your assessment of that take good general planning principle? Right. So you think that's true? And also, so what would the kind of streetscape redesign look for look like and eastern queens. Where I live, for example, where folks are get angry with bike lanes, which I think is silly. But you know, it takes up their parking, and they need cars because the bustards are not allowed to go and not dependable and too slow. Right. So what would it look like in other parts of the city that are not as heavily trafficked or commercial business districts? Yeah, I think that's the first thing is consistent predictable in more frequent bus service in faster bus service in things like even if we increase the subway fare, again could we have a lower bus fare at you know, you could maybe the bus if the so way costs three fifty and a couple of years could the bus cost two dollars. And so people can get us order interest reward for taking the bus into in. Of course, if you don't have a subway nearby. But at least it if you do then getting on the bus keeping subways from being overcrowded is a help. But yes, more bus service, dedicated bus lanes and. The parking issue in the bike lane issue. I think in some cases bike lanes or not well designed which sort of like if you like this part to Staten Island. You're crossing the street bike bike lane. Is there sort of in the way of both pedestrians and drivers, and it just sort of starts and stops with no rhyme or reason to it. So clearer consistent design, I think might alleviate some of the the public distrust, but you'll never get rid of all the public opposition people. Don't people don't like change. I think like partisan that don't have good subway service or don't have subway services. At all extent Nyland it's a complex issue because some people choo- choose to live in a more suburban urban environments because they like it, and that's their free choice. But that comes with certain draw. Bax including that you have to have a car, and there is a cost to that decision in. So if I say, I want to live in eastern queens or Staten Island versus living in midtown Manhattan. That's great. That's wonderful. But there's no particular reason why it means it should come with free parking at the expense of trying gradually to ameliorate some of these things less governments. But I just want to ask couple of other quick things. I do want to note that bus redesign and the signal upgrades. And some of these things are in Andy Byford 's fast forward plan, which is now surrounded by a little bit more uncertainty about exactly where that's ad and where it's heading. Do we have? I mean, what's your sort of sense about about where that's Adam whether that's going to be pushed forward. Well, one thing. Everyone seems to agree on is. They all want to keep Byford, you know, whether it's the Cory Johnson and Merrill, control. He certainly didn't say we need a complete leadership change. No one seems to be blaming him for this. But the fast forward plan it's not by full, but it's a year old now. So this sort of schedule that we were going to modernize all the subway lines within five years, arguably one of the years has already gone by. And so it would be nice to see a firmer schedule of which lines. Are we going to do first what's the mitigation for that above ground? What's the price for each individual line? And what's the specific schedule that would give congestion pricing some more credibility. It's almost like a a little bit of a rehab fast forward congestion pricing plan, the MTA capital plan and a city street use master-plan should all be actually aligned and combined in some way to give people a real sense of what's going to happen in what's going to cost. And what are the midday? Gatien, but that's not happening in stream JR. Inconsistencies like we're going to embark on this fast forward plan to modernize the subway signals. That's greet. But then at the same time, the MTA is budgeting for continued decline subway ridership and sort of saying, and it's planning documents will subway ridership is never gonna come back. Well, that doesn't make any sense with the rest of what you're doing last question from me. Should we be at all talking about building more subways? Should we should that be part of the conversation at all, it seems you know, I think Cory Johnson has sort of hinted at it a little bit of something we should be talking about. But nobody else seems to really be talking about it. It should that be on the table at all. I think it should. I mean, the second phase of the second avenue subway is proceeding if slowly, and it's depending on federal money, but we're kind of still this remedial stage where it's still the nineteen eighties. And we've neglected the subways throughout the sixties and seventies. So we have to do all this catch up work. And then we can think about building new subways, but we should have done that already. We should. I mean, we're forty years along into rebuilding subway. So it would be better if we could be thinking more about expansion in less about remedial action, but we're not. So the document we should have had to help us clear this up a little bit in at least put some numbers to frame the discussion is the MTA needs assessment. And we haven't gotten a document yet. And I think when it comes out it would be very very telling. And that's another thing that won't be released until after state budget season. Plus, it's so general dick ravaged former MTA chairman always saying, they should have a very clear itemized list of assets and their price and how much they've depreciated. So I mean, even something like when he side access opens. What's? What is value of that asset? How much is it going to depreciate every year? And that way, we know are they keeping up with the depreciation rather than come along forty years later and say the whole thing fell apart and we need to emergency infusion of money. But there's no clear like they'll often say, it's a trillion dollar asset. But there's no financial backing for that. And we have a huge problem in the public sector where we like to build these things. And then forget about budgeting for the costs for their operation and maintenance, you know, and you have to be thinking about that at the beginning in for the long term. So and you have to make sure that the escalators and the elevators work right from the start and ongoing. All right before we go down before we go to in a darker direction. I think we've identified a bunch of problems and a bunch of solutions, which I feel good about as we wrap up the discussion here. But seriously, some some very clear things that leaders of. New York City transit. I don't mean the organization. I mean, the elected leaders and appointed leaders who deal with transit issues really need to address here, Nicole Jelena's of various titles, including senior fellow at the Manhattan institute. Thank you very much for for joining us, and you can find Nicole's piece on decongested New York at city journal. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you file. Bye.
S13E08 Black cats
"Welcome to season thirteen episode. Eight of the open to podcast in this episode. We're going to be talking about mountains network going to have some command line. Lou and will go over all of your feedback joining me this week. All the usual suspects Allen Pope. Hello Mark How are you? I am well how are you I am to devote good now? We pleasantries out the white mountain friend. Just say hello friend. How you Martin? Very well thank you. I'm on holiday. Well right for some yes. Where are you on holiday at home in the House I well? I haven't been now allows for three and a half weeks as you are not working but I'm not working. This is Sofa break after a successful release. No doubt that's the general idea. Yes excellent well. So what have you been doing while you've been on holiday? I've been live streaming on Youtube. Live streaming what have you been? Live streaming I've been doing. Let's code live streams. And what have you been counting Well at the moment I'm working on a utility that you can use on a boon to serve for the RAWLS reply to turn into a desktop for the raspberry Pi. I say I'm both seen while. Doing that are just in soling. Do Desktop on the Raspy Pie. Well there isn't an event to desktop image for the Raspberry Pi bus is first class support for the RAJ reply in Ben Too. So it's a small matter of somebody that knows so of what the differences between server and desktop PA to write something that can automatically turn a server into a desktop. And that's what I've been working just amps install desktop. That's what I would have cried if someone said Hey. Can you turn this severance stolen to desktop ago? Yeah little carry on the end or Us talk some more to it than that will get you eight tenths of the way there. I mean when I did the first livestream that was basically MVP There's an additional package which boosts Bluetooth that needs to be installed on then they stuff like so the suffering which has cloudy knit. Uncloudy Wants to net plan for the network managements that means network manager is that that doing nothing so you have to poke around and disable the clouding network fig and then tell net plan. You'll you'll not responsible anymore network manager is so there's a few little tweaks like that and then there's a few things you can do with the different desktop environments to just shoot them a little bit to take advantage of the The hardware thereon. So I'm I'm well down that road now but what I've really enjoyed as Virtual pair programming where you have like thirty people spotting will guitar powers and mistakes. And what have you and then people coming up with grand ideas like we should have a C. I. Job The automatically runs everything through shell check and then whilst you talking about it a pull request derives that that's that very thing and then you find out your program doesn't Shell check validates. Everyone's like right Martini. Should back this partial checks. You've got Stewart language standing on the sidelines cheering. Everyone alone. Watching made my head and struggle as I'm trying to work out. He's a satiric shall check issues but yes. It's been jolly good fun. And if that sounds like jolly good fun to you. You can find out more at youtubecom forward slash. Wimpy's weld excellent at with that. Let's get on with the show. So Martin you've been making some changes to your Home Network. I Have I've had up greats. Tell us about your upgrades okay. So we did have a forty megabyte down eight megabyte up fibre to the cabinet service. Which was from Benza? Going over the BT openreach stuff but we now have a five hundred megabyte down thirty five megabit fibre to the premises from virgin media. Wow I mean you'll previous connection some would argue is quite good. Yeah it was like we were struggling of into live streaming recently and we were struggling with that. Because it meant when I was doing that. I as a Netflix embargo in the house which was a side for everyone else. So now means everyone can go about their business. And on I can Entertain myself as well. So did this call some issues with because obviously you'll internal network might recall required some upgrades over the hundred megabit down. Internet speed for everyone. So yes the island was is the time in addition to having a Wifi router which gives us the house network. We also have a number of power line adapters around the house which enabled devices which have got ethan only to connect to the plex server in the office so all over powerline also some other devices to get out over the palying to the Internet because it connects to the root of the power lines away of connecting wide devices I quickly identified. They were not good enough for the job. Which ones did you have developed? A teepee Lincou seems to be the most popular ones. Yes so I had been using Teepee link AV twelve hundred powerline devices and they've been able to stream from the plex over in the office to the home. Cinema downstairs Full H day and four K. video justify measured the performance. But it worked just fine but from my office. On this workstation I was only getting about one hundred twenty megabits download to the Internet with the new fancy stuff. So that immediately made me very sad So sorry you had the link of hundreds and how many of those scattered around the house a four. That's the same I've got. I've got the same devices. Some of them have got one poll in the top three ports in the and stuff like the set top TV box. Steam link is connected to and stuff like that and they. They seem okay. I've never identified them as being a problem. You you think you'll were well. Hit hairstyle story so I went and did some research and I found the DIVO- Who you mentioned have got these think magic twos and they do Wifi and Lan and they have the advertised. Av Twenty four hundred so full twice as fast as my eight hundred teepee links so Egeli. Well some of those and I then Decide when they arrived. I plugged into my workstation upstairs and everything connected and network performance was not as good side is where the story starts. I used a utility cold. I puff three which will find in the archive and it takes active measurements of the maximum achieve boo bandwidth on IP networks. So I had the workstation upstairs running I three in a diamond mode and then I take a laptop downstairs both have gigabit Ethernet and false processes and they measure the performance between the two of them over the power line. So this is like using something like speed tests dot net but within in your internal network into exactly like that yes. What's the difference between? I'll always just use. I prefer minus ASO machine and I prefer minus on the other. What was the difference between IPAD iphone three IPAD? Three is just the one I read about as being the current version implementation but it had one feature. Which is I was running as Damon up here but from the client downstairs you can tell the Damon tweet send or receive so you can do to us the two way test without actually having to manipulate ends of the connection. So why learned using hyper? Three is the divo- magic twos Giving me ninety-six megabits per second between the two rooms. So I plugged in my old teepee link Av twelve hundreds and discovered they were getting one hundred thirty one makeup his second between the two rooms and I tried absolutely everything to get the viral load to perform and they simply didn't they all rubbish. He Donald The old light turn on or off the encryption. Do the foam or updates will let nonsense plug into a socket no into full way all that stuff. So all of those things which in in itself meant I had to use net discover to find the IP addresses of the Devil. Powerline adapters in order to do the firmware updates and violate the configuration. Because although they have a utility for up into to detect these things first of all after I did get it running which is a story in itself. It didn't detect anything on the network so I couldn't configure them so I I use net discovered find the Ip addresses and then connected to the web server run each of them to date and configure them. I put two of them on a perfectly clean circuit right next Jason sockets so about full meetings between the sockets and measuring their the absence imperfect conditions. I got two hundred and seventy megabits per second so in my opinion. That's like the best case that you can get out of those but way off the five hundred I'm trying to achieve side. They went back and I thought well I wonder if teepee link have teepee link Av to thousands so I thought I wonder if that any good I got some of those and They measure a one hundred and eighty nine megabits per second Between connection so it's an improvement but not you know what I'm looking for but nevertheless of decided to keep those because it does mean that there's just a better connection around the house over the powerline. Now if you wanted to re connection would it not be worth just running aretha cable between these two rooms yes? This is an option but That is quite a distance that I need to cover and I don't actually have an Ethernet cable for that and I didn't fancy getting up ladders and running cables from the upstairs room around the side. The House down draft the front null rest of it so I'm being lazy. I've got nice long drew but you can borrow and more importantly it wouldn't have given us a segment for the show right so we just WanNa cable so yeah so anyway I F- The whole power line thing the super useful but that kinda limited in what you can do in the tests. The I've done that so of maximum I could get was around to seventy megabits but over a distance. That's really not that useful and in typical use room to room. I'm seeing about one hundred twenty to one hundred and fifty megabits which is fine for streaming from Roku device from the server upstairs. It works fine for that but for my Internet. Not so great. I've seen most people talk about how power line devices are really adversely affected by the wiring. And all it takes is for a bit of ropy wiring all for a noisy charger or something to be on the same circuit. And that's enough to to just completely ruin your your bandwidth so it's worth pointing out the one. I did these speed tests. It was at two. Am in the morning. And I was deliberately doing a time when I could unplug everything I could to try and identify where problems whereas I it was some distance. I imagine there's probably about thirty meters of electrical cabling between the two. Maybe more than that between the team wins but nevertheless so I decided alter my attention to wi fi wi FIS got fast recently so I bought and your wife. I heard I had been using a T. P. Link via twenty six hundred. I've had for Idaho four five years. Maybe and I have bought a new link archer. A six thousand at sound impressive is going to x in the name space. Looks like one of those robots that Boston Dynamics would have sat upon your you know when the when the robot I've lots Comey's senate impressive looking kit and already that because it's just faster I did wonder if it would help the performance of the land but he didn't support six so everything from here. Onwards actually mattered. Whether I'd replace the route or not but I put a new retrain because I wanted an upgrade. Didn't get in a routine with the change in Internet connection or are you talking your own. Russa in front of the incident connection Ma. Yeah I'm talking about my retrieve front of that yes. There is a new bit of Kit in the network. Which is a high tron sort of route a stroke modem from Virgin Media? The connects to the fiber network provides that point of presence but my home rates are still required to actually create the Wifi network in the land in the V lands and all of that stuff so I then say about using Wifi and that was made me sad so the first thing I date An APP in the from the Google play store on my phone called Wi fi analyzer to say what channels are in use by my neighbors in order to find the optimal channel for my networks. My two point four GIGAHERTZ and five gigahertz network so the I'm not competing for the same frequencies that they are. I've used the same the same tool quite a bit Use that lights county network but I just have my wireless network slid figuring out itself. I'm sure I could probably do better but I probably should. Because he's dense with one finalist round. Here is radio way but yeah I mean I did discover. I've only got one device on the two point four GIGAHERTZ network so. I don't technically need that. I could just replace that device with something else but the other thing that this reminded me about is Chenowitz so you can only t peeling greeters. You can configure the channel wits of the networks either. Twenty to forty megahertz on the two point. Four gigahertz networks or twenty. Two hundred sixty megahertz on the five gigahertz Networks now what latte means. Is the wider the channel. Width the more data. You can transmit so wider faster basically And I played with that and certainly did get some improvement in Wifi performance. And I went to the Max with the five Gigahertz and chose one hundred sixty bank of huts channels at the back of the eighty because it turns out that tem Some of those new tablets and things I spoke about. Recently they don't support hundred and sixty megahertz and they couldn't see the. Why lex while until that point say yes. Some one hundred sixty megahertz with Wifi six and a five guys. Networks with caution was basically for replacing the hardware like once. You've once you've got. You'll decent powerline decent wireless. You're done right. Well you'd think so. But of course at this point I've now got my new wireless seen and I'm wanting to use WIFI on my west to try and get more of that high speed connect Jim than the power line can deliver certain. My workstation has built in Wifi And didn't have his sockets run antenna but there wasn't a an antenna connected yet so I ran the Pinault's getting eleven megabits rummaged at like a coat hanger in the back of well I I. I remembered that come with an antenna in the box rummaged around him found that goal that connected and then I'm getting two hundred twenty megabits not happy with that turns out put an antenna radio gripe turns out really helps. Yeah and then I thought what if I get a bigger antenna color Makiko? I bought a high gain antenna from Amazon and connected that up and then used a tool cooed. Wave Mom Which is an anchor is based monitoring application for wireless networks and it gives you all the metrics and the way I was able to use that easy tells you the signal strength and the speed that the is connecting to the access point and the quality and the sick noise ratio just everything all with nice graphs and stuff. It's so up your street Allen Anyway. Using that and the new antenna I could objectively a range the antenna poles and position them in the room to get the best signal possible. And now my Wireless connection is three hundred thirty megabits per second by doing so. That's quite an improvement. Does your new Wadis Rita tell you what he theoretically thinks. It can do in. Terms of bandwidth over the wireless network. And how does it compare to that It tells me that it can do five gigabits. Okay that's multiple antennas talking to multiple devices at the same thing right but individual stream should be about a gigabit. But that's only if you're using the new eight to eleven. Am Six or Wifi six. Which I an rights. Because my in my workstation is the AC standard so Looking in Wave Mon- it tells you what the actual connection frequencies are and is getting close to the line limit Of what those can deliver. So I'm pretty happy with three hundred thirty megabits per second Dave. Wifi is only thing left. The you need to do all that you would do that. You need to tweak is that you know everything. on the wireless side of things that. I'm pretty happy with that. I mean the latency over the local area network over Wifi from up here. He's way way lower than over line. So teaming from up here to the root downstairs. He's no point eight milliseconds. I've Wifi an EVA powerline. It's about four minutes seconds so this that's interesting because one of the reasons why I wanted to keep power is because I mentioned I'm doing live streaming and I felt that that would be a more reliable stable way to have the upstream connection but I've powerline and Wifi. I'm getting of a nice solid. Thirty five megabits constantly so I can just switch between Wi fi and wired on my workstation. When I went to straighten might can switch to Wyatt. I get lower download. I've got a stable Wyatt upstream connection. But I'm going to experiment with streaming. I've Wifi because objectively is faster around the house I did consider getting a Mesh Network but see Super Expensive By did learn that there was another problem that I didn't realize I had so My new radiator. You can configure the MTA use is the MTA. The maximum packet size. You'll send out to the Internet and I remembered from when I used to do this stuff as eternity trace poff which will look at your route to a destination and analyze the Mt. You changes as it goes along and when I ran that I found out that the virgin network is changing B. M. to use size of my packets in hopes and its network. That would different office from how my Ruta was convicted and that's causing packet fragmentation so by using trace path you can see what your is pays mt you is and then you set your routers. Mt You to be the same and that prevents the packet fragmentation. But then what you will sunny to do is changed the MTA new of all of your devices on the network or may be older devices that you care about And so in order to do that. On My workstation which has a static. Ip Address are used an M. T. U. I which is the N. curses interface for network manager. Phone favorite Yeah What's interesting is that exposes. Mtu configuration but the desktop graphical Ui dozen have MTA full wireless connections but does the Ethan it. Well there's a modified love as a whole lot of them will have to ask riot police. Maybe I'll put links in the show notes to the those utilities the I found useful and the other the other things useful for him to you is if you're using. Dns Moscone you'll network DNS. Moss consent to use is for clients that again I P addresses from it. So you can do that to hit lots of devices and net plan I've set the. Mta Use is on the server There as well so I now have everything network who correctly optimized well. I've Sandy Land Lancelot. I've been having some issues with with my network so there's Nelson things which I'm going to go away and try and if any listening have any other top tips for optimizing your home network you can email us to show up and do cost dot org and now it's time for some command line and this week's come on love is sick. Nothing we are. We normally pronounced amounts sorry. It's S and I found this out from the oven to focus telegram channel which you can find at a poke hostile slash telegram when I was chatting about my ad. God appliance the other day We would talk about binding to ports and Ip addresses and stuff and someone said Just run pseudo. Ss Dash Taylor. And I thought what Nevada VISCO mom before and it lists. The sockets is the name of the application is another utility to investigate sockets and it lists all the network sockets that are open and so you can see which ports are in use so for example if you have just installed the system and it's got some kind of Web Admin tool and you segment will pull the wet. Admin mental is running on you can use s to discover this and this is a learning process for me because I've never heard of US NETS. Roy never used the SS. So do you run this on the on? Whatever machine on your network run on the thing which has the service on Iran on the thing that had the service on these just running that on a local machine to find out? What's what's running. He'll get ports is this thing open And I discovered all the ports that open which were not many like Web. I've been to SSH and the data server and that was it this gold. I hate grappling with nets that to try and find the correcting canton to tell me what it is. I want to know this is a million times better. I love it. This is the best one of these we've had for quite some time. Cincinnati discovery in fact. We love in your feedback. If you've got the comments about something here on the show. Why don't you drop his name out on? Show at the to podcasts. Dot Org now. It's time for all of your wonderful feedback and to start us off from twitter. Wendy Bach tweeted at up into podcast. The new open to release has been really impressive until this keenum bug with tablets. I guess I would now be heading to another version. It is a serious issue for those. Doing graphic work or interestingly one of the reasons given for to studio moving to plasma for his desktop was plasma has good support for welcome graphics tablets and obviously one of the Mina use cases four into studio as people doing creation of stuff like graphics so it might be worth giving that a guy. Yep well you know. Software has box is unfortunate. That The you've discovered a bug the effects you next journey Sipho. Sheep tweeted about Lennox fines. I ever been using my to touch device about four years now the only thing I need. Gps music and pocos player browser email client telegram and interactive fiction player. Like into is designed the way I wanted it. That's follow on from their conversation. We had a little while ago about the future of phones and the feature set that people need in their devices. I we Ashville Jan Raritan and Chris. Big House tweeted. I took the B. To Test Challenge which you suggested during the nineteen. Ten cycle was hit with a relatively minor but annoying bog where the functionality of numb lock was reversed Yeay. I got to contribute. Wow that's a curious one it is. I mean I've seen I've seen where holding down. Sometimes a key makes the led inconsistent with the state of things. And you end up with this. The state I've seen that with the microphone the speakers buttons never seen it with gnome load. I I don't actually have a number look on any of my keyboard skits. They think by keyboards and they didn't have them yes. I don't have a ten K. On this keyboard so I don't even know why looking for a number look suppose Martin peering at his cable was the the Egg Thomas Spinning around in my brain. I was looking at at this. Gal What does looking at Russell Dickinson tweeted hearing you. Say git hub of one. The code hosting war makes me sad outset as advocates for open source. Why no mentioned get lab because because get lab? Hasn't won the voice you know a lot of open source. Projects are on lab. That's true when I say a lot of Katie moving there I believe and a whole bunch of application developers have stuff on get lab but a tremendously higher number. Have we'll get up. This is just a fact of life. L. is something I've resigned to. After everyone decided launchpad was not while they needed. And yes I know. Launch Pad are not get out and launchpad initially was not open source. But now is and I'm not bitter about the fact that lewd open muscles and everyone uses get hob which is not open source. I yes I am secretly not secretly very bitter about. But that's fine get lobbies great. Also what was good all the other options for self hosting your own Git Repo Light Gig get Goldberg's and get t and yet there's loads of there's loads of possibilities for you to host somewhere other than get hub. But I still think is true that they won the code hosting war James Swift email to show at apple. Podcast Dot Org I just upgraded twenty. Oh four from nineteen ten on my tablet laptop detachable a cool to in one these days. I think and sadly the onscreen keyboard support winning tablet mode is now pretty broken. I'll be submitting bug shortly. But it made me wonder what the bigger picture is for tablets support from Ben to. Is it an active consideration when planning for future releases? We should talk to someone in charge of the desktop. Possibly get on that. I know this will write. This is something that we are going to be actively working on in the upcoming cycle and predominantly. That's because we have. Oem Partners who want to ship more to in one devices preinstalled with two and as you highlight it is in some places less than stellar right now so we will be putting some effort into making it good coal yes good to achieve Em's are interested in shipping device. With until on yes. Ken Fallon emailed the Canonical. Employees are on the receiving end of bug reports. I would like you to share your thoughts on this Katie bug which was reported in. Twenty fifteen not so much about fixing the shirt self but what has gone wrong in the bug reporting here this seems to be very little feedback from the developers and the uses. Do not seem to be supplying technical insight to support a fakes. I would like to know what you think could be done to improve the process of bug reporting. Okay so if you want to follow along home. The bug number is on Katie's bug tracker and it's three five six two two five. That's three hundred and we'll have a link in the show notes. And yes that bug had walls indeed reports in in December twenty fifth Dane and has one hundred sixty three people on the CC list. So there's a number of people subscribed to his know all of those are affected by this because some of them have come into it. But a lot of people are affected by this and there are a fan number of duplicates of this bug where other people are reporting the same issue and basically the issue around the performance of the way Plasma works on multi-screen Environments Specifically. When you add a screen things can freak out a little bit and things move around unexpectedly or disappear unexpectedly as you add or remove a display and. This is tricky. Because I've also seen issues with multi-screen environments Not necessarily plasma on every Lennox desktop that multi-screen Workflow has broken in some way from me at some point and I think most people have found have found that even unity. Yeah yeah totally on us is triggering me now thinking they stop it. So there's there's a lot of comments on this plug and I think the short summary is there's a lot of talking to each other and a lot of people bringing up similar but maybe not exactly the same thing which is causing a lot of confusion. in in the conversations and it's very hard to pick out a very specific reproducible thing. Because there's lots of different people with lots of different problems is it. Seems like there's a wider problem. It might be. The plasma developers need to sit down and have a multi monitor sprint or something get a bunch of developers who know this area with his acts or Wayland or K. Win Or whichever components it is in an office with a bunch of laptops and a bunch of displays projectors installed plugging unplugging reproducible this stuff and trace it all but the problem is time consuming and somewhat expensive and very difficult to get people in the same place and just full fan to the same problem with all open source. Projects is not enough developers working on these complex core components. It's just hard you as a halftime develop as a half. The heart was affected as well which is also tricky when we come to multiple monitors yeah and also even even even enough to have the right hardware for multi monitor bugs. You even have to have displays physically arranged the same way as the person who reported the but I had a the. We reported recently only manifest itself. If you've got one display above the other know if you've got one side by side the budget doesn't appear the bonus side by side and so if someone reports about against says I've got to monitors and this happens and you try and reproduce if you have them in exactly the same orientation in the settings you wouldn't say it and so it's always difficult to debugging diagnose about if you just can't reproduce you just can't make the thing happened that the users repulsing and I I still waiting saying this is down to enough people that's not a slight on Katie. It's all open source projects. Have this problem and plenty of close. Oh yeah next up I ever GonNa see he my old. I love your show and I love listening to you. Will I have one quick question? I currently use a into eighteen o four LTS and don't plan to move to twenty Oh four until next year. Will any improvements done on twenty? Oh four be back ported to eighteen o full not really but kind of is the PGA so in terms of the Stop itself a lot of the fixes and performance improvements. That could reasonably be back. Ported have already been back ported to eighteen o four so don't expect any significant new features or a new version of Ghanaian or anything like that if there are significant bugs to be fixed to get addressed because you know that eighteen hundred four releases got another eight years on the clock before now it's potentially Out Support for the SM But the one thing that you will be getting soon is a new hardware enablign mun stack which will come with a new colonel and that will include why God for example so you will have access to why a God on eighteen? Oh four a round of the July timeframe something light that co and finally is that moment. You've all been listening for David. Seguin has written into Allen's thinkpad corner. Thank you David for keeping alive. He says I have a few older thing pads running into which tend to run quite hot wanting to preserve this hallway. I wrote a service to better control the fan speed based on CPU temperature which I've submitted to get hub and we'll put a link to his Galbraith. Po in the shadows he says. My rationale is at the defoe. Fan Behavior is not aggressive enough especially for the older generation machines a Mitee full twenty example temperatures ten degrees cooler on average when running his teepee fan software. The fan noise is quite a bit louder under load but the temperature never exceeds eighty degrees C. Which is all I really care about. An alternative solution will be to replace the Feminine Compound but the t full twenty and thirty models would need to be completely disassembled which may be on the ability of most people so that end. I think making the fan more aggressive in software is a reasonable tradeoff. Ps I work at refurbishing company and I have thousand think. I firmly believe the best laptops on the market. Well done debut are right and thank you very much. Feel input to think pad cool. I love the we have a thing. Pat Cornell please keep The emails to think thinkpad cornea coming in to show at a to cost at all. And that's all for episode eight off-season Thirteen. Thank you very much for listening Next week we'll be discussing son community news going on maybe some events if there some events happening which you'd like us talk about. Please let us know you can email shower to Polka dot org. You can send US messages in all telegram. Atapattu into pasta talk slash telegram or you can tweet us at podcast on twitter until then stay safe. Remain Indoors and see you next time
Episode 68: 202, with Polly Trottenberg
"Two hundred to the number of traffic related fatalities in New York City in two thousand eighteen a record low for deaths among pedestrians bike riders car occupants from crash incidents on city streets. The number was a reduction of twenty deaths from the two hundred twenty two in two thousand seventeen which was also a record low at the time. There have been your your fluctuations over time. But for more perspective there were two hundred ninety nine traffic deaths in two thousand thirteen four hundred twenty nine hundred ninety nine seven hundred and one traffic deaths in nineteen ninety and nine hundred eighty nine in one thousand nine hundred seventy one those numbers are all from the city's department of transportation where our guest today is the Commissioner who is implementing the vision zero street safety program at credited with exceleron the decrease in traffic fatalities down to last year's two hundred two poly trot. And Berg is here today to discuss Visagie or how us New York City streets her roles and MTA board member and anything else that we can get into in this comp. Gated city of ours. And how people get around. Welcome to what's the data point from Susan budget commission and Gotham gazette the spend max from Gotham gazette. Unfortunately, Maria Doulos of CBC is not here with us today because she's at jury duty doing a different kind of civic duty than bring you our podcast. So last week we had on July from the Manhattan institute and city journal, she discussed traffic, and transit and her view on things with us. Find that episode if you missed it, and we're sticking with that theme here today. So let's get to our discussion with Polly trodden Berg, the Commissioner of the New York City department of transportation, a member of the MTA board. I think you wear a couple of other hats, but we can get those thank you for being near thanks for having me. So it's really good to have a chance to talk with you. There's so many trans related issues going on. I guess as always. But it seems like that's really been elevated to the top of the discussion before we get into some of that and back to vision zero just for listeners who might not be as familiar with you. You or who were when you first got into city government under mayor de Blasio five years ago or so just a little bit about your your background before this job. I've been DOT Commissioner now for I'm on my six year little over five years. I started in January when the mayor came to office before that I had the honor of serving in the Obama administration at the US department of transportation, I was undersecretary for transportation policy there. And before that I had a long career on Capitol Hill, including working for a couple of New York. Senators people know Chuck Schumer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, federal government experience any one or two highlights from that that folk should know about well, one of the things we got to work on in the Obama administration that I'm very proud of something called the tiger grants, which was an opportunity to really try and take a stream of federal dollars and actually put the money to things that were more urban focused, helping our cities in terms of mass transit bike projects the kind of things that the federal government tens often to ignore. So no, the Obama adminis-. Ration- was really trying to I think make them more city friendly sustainable, progressive transportation policy at the federal level. And no now, I'm having the chance to do that here at the local level. So you're the Commissioner of the department of transportation, let's put the MTA offer. Now, your your membership on the board there. What's your purview? What's you know, you described to people that aren't really familiar, what are you in charge? And it's a good question. People often confuse city DOT in the MTA understandably because our our our work is very intertwined, but New York City DOT, our principal responsibility is six thousand miles of roads in New York City, eight hundred bridges and tunnels twelve thousand miles of sidewalks all the bike programs. You see now when it comes to our roadways. Of course, we work very closely with the MTA on things like bus service. We also oversee the Staten Island ferry which is now becoming the largest passenger ferry in the country, all the traffic. Signals you see and then a bunch of programs you'd be familiar with Citi bike and car share and a whole bunch of the other sort of new mobility thing. So it's a big bailiwick. And then as you mentioned, I'm on the board of the MTA, which is the agency that oversees the subways buses stuff. Yeah. The buses maybe as the biggest sort of crossover Iraq, you explain that a little bit of and how how do you sort of capture that? Because the the city really owns and designs the street. So we sort of helped create the, you know, if you see those red bus lanes, we helped design how bus routes work and put up the bus stops and the bus boarding islands. And the traffic signals the MTA, obviously supplies the buses. The drivers we really try and have a partnership to work together and a big imperative right now for both agencies. You've heard from the mayor, and you've heard it from Andy Byford, who's the president New York City transit were really trying to see what we can do to improve bus service in the city buses have been slowing and we're losing ridership and both agencies are really working hard to see if we can turn that. Around. I guess let's call it the let's pause that for a second. We'll come back to buses by to return to division zero. Which correct me if I'm wrong, but you know, the signature program of your administration's term. Okay. So. Visions. You're how how do you capture its successes? You know, those numbers I read out and looking at the helpful information that DOT puts out traffic fatalities have been decreasing at a pretty rapid pace. Over decades is vision zero definitely accelerating the pace, or you know, how do you know that visions zeros working? How do you capture for people? Exactly what what it is. And how it's worked. Right. It's a good question. And we are proud of it. It is a signature initiative of the of the Blasios administration and one the mayor has invested a lot of leadership and resources DOT NYPD lot of work on all the agencies. I would at least contextualized it this way. You gave the numbers twenty thirteen. Two hundred ninety nine deaths on the streets of New York last year twenty eighteen two hundred into it's almost a almost a drop by third in that same period nationwide fatalities went up around fourteen fifteen percent. So not only have we seen a really encouraging drop in fatalities here on the city. It's very much bucking a national trend that's going in the other direction. And how'd you do that? What's the where the key tenants of there's street redesigns, making sure that pedestrians half a little more time to get across the street. What are some of the some, you know, they're sort of a traditional what's called the threes in traffic safety, which is engineering enforcement and education, and the city has invested aggressively and all of that, you're right. We're doing over one hundred street redesigned projects every year as you're saying building pedestrian islands shortening crossing distances putting in protected bike lanes. We've done a lot of signal re timings and then work with the end. PD on what we hope is a smart and strategic enforcement strategy. And I'll take the opportunity to say we've done a lot of legislative things to particularly up in Albany. We just had a big it's just going to bring that up big victory this week, which were very very excited about the city has been running since two thousand thirteen speed camera program, and we think it has been one of the key components in vision zero and places where we put up the cameras and we put them up near schools. We see speeding drop by over sixty percent. We see injuries. Go down by seventeen percent. When I first came into this job. The city was operating twenty speed cameras. The first year in two thousand fourteen we got up to one hundred forty and now the the legislature has just passed a Bill that will enable us to go to seven hundred fifty locations, and the governor's indicated is going to sign it. So we're very very excited. We think that's going to be really really really important in continuing to reduce fatalities. So I understand obviously, the focus on schools, but some people might say, well, why don't we have a speed Cameron every senior? Center. Why don't we, you know, have a speed camera at every busy interstate? You know, why not just have them everywhere. Why not have red light cameras on every on every light? If these things work. Why aren't they everywhere? It's very good question. And I think I'll mention not only have the numbers increase, but our ability to deploy them in a quarter mile radius more generally around schools, we think it will allow us to get too many many of those dangerous corridors and intersection. I think the debate up in Albany has been one that has particularly focused around protecting school children understandably, and you're obviously, I think that's for everybody the highest mission the Bill that the legislature has just passed. I think is going to enable us to protect children. But also to do a lot to protect New Yorkers seniors and others all over the city. So describe a little bit. How what's what's your broader philosophy sort of St. use of transit in the city? Is there a way that you sort of think about this? I mean, I want to ask you a little bit more about sort of the proposals. From city council speaker Cory Johnson that he recently released about a master plan for the city streets, and he wants to even go further than some of what the administration's put out on on buses and bikes, but you know, he talked about breaking the car culture. How do you sort of talk about the use of city streets in sidewalks and the spaces that we all occupy? I mean, I think the way we would describe it is we're certainly looking to reduce auto usage in the city and particularly to provide alternatives and the providing alternatives is what we very much focused on. If you want to get people out of their cars. You've gotta have good subway service. You gotta have good bus service. You have to have safe protected bike lanes. So people wanna hop on bike. She want to have a robust city. Mike system, for example. And we just announced at the end of last year that we're going to triple the size of city bike, and we're going to also do more dacas bike around the city. So I think it's DOT's role to really make sure we're working with the MTA and all our other partners to provide all those incredible alternatives that will get people out of their cars. I mean, we see a New York when there's good bus and subway service, people get out of their cars when we added when the MTA added those few new subway stops on the second avenue subway, we saw a real looked at the data. We saw a real drop in traffic on the upper east saw interesting. I don't know that. Okay. I mean, it's you know, when you provide the alternatives people will take them. So I guess that leads me to a different question. I was going to ask. Which is why aren't we talking more about building more subway stops? Why why not go big for building out? I mean, there was the idea of going out in Brooklyn Utica avenue. What happened there, and why don't we? And again, this wouldn't just be you, obviously. But. City state together. MTA why aren't we talking about? It's a great question. And I sort of a joke. I made at the time that we that it took us it basically Toko like ten years to open those three subway stops. You know, given the growth and economic dynamism of New York City, we should be opening three subway stops every year. I mean, that's the pace if not faster that's how London and Paris and other big local cities are building out their systems, and it's it's a Finnish places that would be a lot easier than the upper east side. Absolutely. Of course. No, no. And it is I think, you know, the biggest transportation challenge the city faces right now that we have stopped building out our subway network. Even as the city has added really since the last sort of era of great subway building. We've added like a million and a half people and that gets into a bigger discussion of the MTA of the governance of the funding challenges there, and obviously that's playing out in Albany right now with a discussion of both congestion pricing and Mt reform. But absolutely, no, I get a lot of heat about the. Streets are so crowded, and there's so much traffic. And, you know, here's a here's a statistic, I love to give you know. We've been talking about the L train when we were going to have a big L train shut down the number of people that the L train carries in the morning rush from Saint eight to nine AM is greater than the number of people who are being carried on the Queensboro bridge. The queens midtown tunnel. The Williamsburg bridge, the Manhattan bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Brooklyn battery tunnel, it just gives you an incredible sense of how efficient subways right nothing carries people like subways, and what is the status of that Utica of study? I mean, we've been working with the MTA on that study. But to be honest, I don't it's not a I think to be fair to them a super high priority because they just don't have the funds right now to be in the subway line building game, and we should get them back in that game. Like, our like, our sister cities in other places. How do you get around the city? How what's your how often are you doing? Modes of transportation. How often are you in a car? What's your week? Look, I do every mode every week. I tried to subway driving. I mean, I oversee the road. So I do drive biking when I can. And then taking the ferry when it got I don't take the ferry everywhere. But I try and ride the Staten Island ferry when it Cantu since it's part of what we oversee and the and the bus do you get on the bus? Don't get on the bus that often. I'll admit I'm lucky where I live in Brooklyn. I'm near the subway. But I'm certainly, you know, as we've put up new SBS lines around the city, and I'd say particularly in conjunction now with what was going to be an L train shot down. And now a modified L Trayvon have spent a lot of time writing the buses, particularly along fourteenth street, the four nine to get a sense of what we need to do there. Okay. So what do we need? What's going to happen there as a as of our conversation today, March twenty first what is going to happen with the L train mitigation? Whereas that right. Well, the DOT in the MTA we are actually in a process right now of talking to elected officials community boards doing a new set of town halls and open houses and we've put a couple of proposals in front of folks about what to do on fourteenth street. One is what we had originally proposed. When there was going to be a full L train shut down. Which is what we were calling a bus way. Which would be in the street is actually at the moment designed for that. Because that's you know, until January that's what we thought we would be doing and that would be running really dedicated bus service allowing just very minimal the Hickey access, basically local pickup and drop off and deliveries but not through driving on fourteenth street. We modeled it a little bit on what they do. For example, up in king street in Toronto where they designed to street that way Andy Byford was actually part of that. And it's been very successful another alternative, we've put on the table would be our regular SPF service, which you know, you could see here. On thirty four street or twenty third street where you have the dedicated bus lanes, but you still allow, you know, some regular traffic flow, and I would say the regular SPF service. We have seen people can say, oh, it doesn't feel that fast. But we've seen on quarters like twenty third and thirty fourth. We do see ridership go up. We do see travel times go up, and that's at a time again bucking the trend because ridership and travel times are going down in the rest of the city on fourteenth street, the m fourteen has been losing ridership dramatically in recent years, and we think SPF would help reverse that a bus way would do would do that even more. So your expertise your preference. Are you more in favor of the bus way? Or you're more in favor of the SPS. I mean, I'm more in favor of the bus way. But I, you know, it's not just up to me. Obviously, it's discussion we're having with the community, elected officials, etc. And there may be potential ways we could design a bus way that could get a lot of the speed benefits. But make sure it was sort of functional for people on fourteenth street one challenge with fourteenth street as opposed to you know, to some degree like thirty four. There is a lot of residential and a lot of commercial and a lot of big institutions and just balancing all the needs of everyone on the street. It's certainly been challenged right? Right. And bikes where what what's is there? A plan at any changes in the bike lane plan for what that looks like. And I would say in our defense. We've done a lot of planning on bikes in the city, and you can look at some of our reports. I mean, we've particularly focused on building out what I would say is a pretty connected network. You can no I I met more on the on the L train allow on the ships every I do wanna talk larger larger bikes. Yeah. Well, L train. I mean at the moment we've put in crosstown bike lanes on twelfth and thirteenth street, which are working very well. I think and you think those those are gonna stay I think those will stay, but we'll we're leaving them in a so far people seem to like them a lot. So I think that's what we're anticipating. We'll go. Spend some more time talking to the community before we make total final decision on that. Spritz here that usually brings out the cyclist Ditto grand street over in Williamsburg. But then just to get back to sort of the bigger bike, ductless. So we have been focusing on building out of big net. We're going to give you an example, you can now ride on protected bike infrastructure from Brooklyn all the way through Manhattan up to the Bronx trying to create those, you know, those safe spines, you can ride in from queens boulevard and into midtown Manhattan been making a lot of key connections. And one of the things we're going to be focusing on in the next couple of years is what we're calling sort of our bicycle priority areas. They tend to be sort of the next tier out of neighborhoods from the core. We're cycling is really picking up, but we really need to build more bike infrastructure, so Jackson heights or neighborhoods again where people are starting to really bike. And we want to connect them to the network and as much as we talked about the successes of vision zero clearly fatalities are dropping. Significantly. There's also been some a series of bike fatalities early this year, what your sense of urgency on that. Are there things that folks should know are coming in reaction to that now? And obviously, we're we're heartsick about this beta fatalities and heartbroken to and talk a little bit about what we're doing. Just a little context it it's been, you know, over time bike fatalities or per thousand riders have trended down. But the numbers admittedly, sort of been in different places two years ago. We had twenty four cyclist fatalities. It was an awful year last year we had ten this year. Unfortunately, I think that number may go up these things, obviously like murder in the city. I mean things have blips in they even out in the change of you know, year over year. I always say about mission to progress isn't always going to be linear. I mean, we wanna see that the long term trends are going in the right direction. But in the case of these these tragedies with the cyclists, you know, we always go to the places where we see the crash see. What we can do, you know one thing that it emerged in the past. Couple of years is that there was a desire for more protected infrastructure, particularly the crosstown streets in Manhattan. So we've put in twelve and thirteen th we're going to be we've put in twenty-six than twenty nine th were looking at fifty second and fifty fifth so really trying to get it places where we've seen, you know, unfortunately, some of those fatalities we've been building out the bike network around sixty five miles last year twenty of which were protected we've pledged to continue to pick up that pace. And we've also, you know, we talk a lot about the miles. But it's also really important that you get some of the key connections. We put in connection from the example from the Brooklyn Bridge right in front of city hall. You've probably seen it right at park row down to lowman. It's a really short stretch of roadway, but it was an incredibly piece of important piece of connecting the bike network. We're doing that up for example on all the Harlem. River bridges between Manhattan and the Bronx that were designed in an era where they're very unfriendly for pedestrians cyclists in the cities now starting to rebuild them in his each one is we rebuild it. We're going to recreate it, and sort of remake it to be friendly for cyclists and pedestrians and allow that you know, that safe cycling travel between Manhattan northern Manhattan and the Bronx. Whether it's with bike accidents, fatalities crashes or car involves crashes. How do you avoid only being reactive for a how do you? What tools do you use? Obviously, it seems like you're obviously basing a lot of decisions on data. What does that look like how do you do that? And how do you try to get out ahead of some of these problem? Right. Well, you should take locker your your listeners can take a look we put out something called our borough pedestrian safety action plans that are we looked at every corner in the city and mapped out how crash prone they were we looked at something called chaos, I which stands for killed and seriously injured, and we looked at KFI per mile, and we did it for all five boroughs. You can take a look, and we out of that discovered that around seven eight percents of the city's roadways are responsible for about fifty percent of the city's fatalities. So we targeted like a laser those quarters and those intersections that we saw were high crash. I'm proud to say we put out our first set of these plans in two thousand fifteen we did interventions on about ninety percents of the key corridors and intersections. We identified. We saw much bigger drops in crashes and fatale. He's on those quarters. We just released a little while ago sort of refreshed the data, and again, that's the data. We use for where we do our redesigns where we work with NYPD on enforcement in education where we're focusing on. For example, redesigning intersections to make them safer for cyclists by adjusting. How cars turn so we're very focused on the is all that done within the DOT you work with other city agencies the mayor's office data analytics are there other ways. Yeah. The mayor's office of operations has helped oversee a big interagency task force. Of course, we work with PD, the taxi and limousine commission decaf on making the city's fleet and the city's drivers safer. I would also note I mentioned how we sort of us data to look at the geographies of crashes, but we've sliced the data in other ways as well. For example. We notice looking at the data. There's a spike in fatalities when you have daylight savings when suddenly. It gets darker vary abruptly people are still out getting out of school and work. And we notice looking at data, and this is true in New York City. It's actually true nationally that there's a huge bike in fatalities at that time of year in late October. And we launched a whole campaign called dusk in darkness to really educate and make people aware of that. We were seeing prior to that campaign about forty percent of the years fatalities would happen more or less in the last quarter of the year. And we've really been able to I think through education and enforcement and awareness. Get people driving safer at that time of year. We we also noticed that in the springtime something we called sort of warm weather weekend that as soon as the weather jumps to seventy degrees or so on a weekend. You also see a spike in fatalities because people suddenly they're excited. The weather's turn warm. Everybody gets out there sort of partying perhaps and driving around. So we've attempted to look at geography at seasonality at time of day. And then a driver behaviors, you know, we focused, for example on left turns where you see three times. The crashes you see in right term. So we're we're sort of tackling in an epidemiological sense. We're trying to tackle fatalities and crashes in every dimension. So we talked about the lack of build out of subway stops, and that's less your purview. But on some of this other stuff that's much more your purview. Are you moving fast enough? Are you doing enough of the bike lanes bus protected lanes dedicated lanes, you know, and even some of these more granular things is the pace what you wanted to be. I mean, there's obviously a lot of I don't wanna quit the two. But there's a lot of loud voices who say you're not moving fast enough, including now, I guess the city council speaker, and there's plenty of loud voices often in communities that's moving too quickly on some of these things again, not saying those those are equal. But. How do you manage that? And do you feel like you're moving fast off? I mean, look, I always feel like I approached the task with humility, I think we can always do better. But you know, when I look at the amazing work that the men and women of my department have done, you know, the pace at least at which were doing bus lanes and bike lanes. I can't think of another city that doing anything near what we're doing? And I think we've seen tremendous results in the drop of until there's always more to do. And we certainly accept the challenge that we can try and do more. I do also think that it is important though that we work with local communities and particularly for things like bike and bus lanes. We wanna come up with good engineering designs that are really going to work that are going to be safe that are going to work for local businesses and local residents, and sometimes people are frustrated they want us to hit all forget, the community boards and just go in and do what you need to do. And we do do that. Sometimes there have been projects where we've said we're just going to go in the safety imperative is there, but when we can. Bring people along and buy them in and makes them part of our vision zero work. I think that's better approach, and you don't want people scattering tax on bike lanes and things like that extreme example of neighborhood reaction, you know, you can have one bad actor do something like that. But. On on enforcement and movement. On on that last subject. So is what Cory Johnson outlined in terms of this more aggressive time that he wants. I mean is that a little bit unrealistic in your view me? He doesn't have to necessarily navigate all the things you have to navigate or you know, is that are those good goals. It's there certainly ambitious. I'm in I I've just found that you know, we are a city, you know, the sort of the politics of New York right now, it's very consultive. We have community boards and elected officials and remember for us. We have our local elected officials. We have our state elected officials lot of folks get interested in these projects the same sometimes federal officials, and I understand in transportation projects are keenly felt by people in their daily lives. You know, and I don't want to pretend it's not a big deal when we put in a bus or a bike lane or really make radical changes in the street. You know, people feel deeply about that stuff for it and against it. And you know, that said we can always do more we accept the challenge. You know, I think every year. That I've been in this job. We've tried to be more aggressive in what we've done, but I do want to be strategic as well. I mean again in terms of numbers sometimes that little quarter mile of bike lane that you put in front of city hall working with NYPD. That's now connecting the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan, it's small in distance. But it's really big an impact. So obviously, we're talking with Polly Troughton bird the Commissioner of the city's department of transportation MTA board member got about five more minutes or so and appreciate the time. The city bike build out, obviously relates to parking not necessarily that many spots being taken up, but but let's sort of talk about parking a little bit more. Do you? Subscribe to the idea that we need to rethink out parking is approaching the city. Do we need to really reevaluate the cost of that space? And you know, maybe do a permit system in in various neighborhoods, or how are you thinking about the future of parking? I mean with the growth of the city should be rethought is a great question. And and there's no doubt right now parking is rather underpriced in New York City in that it's free in many places and even in our commercials zones, quite below what sort of the private sector parking were charged or even comparable to what some of our sister cities charge, and we were able last year to raise parking rates in the city somewhat modestly. But definitely we don't do enough to price at the curb and something the city needs to do more of I think in the discussion now that it's happening on congestion pricing. It's going to start potentially to get better pricing mechanisms in the city and part of that is also included a. Discussion about residential parking. And I think people can have very different visions of that. I think in the advocacy community. I was surprised a lot of them came out in support of it. And you know, what they said to me is sort of like, it'll be like Paris will charge. Everybody a lot of money and will limit the number of parking spaces. You know, there is Parisian model. But there's what I think is sometimes been the American model, which was we charge almost nothing for that residential parking. And we don't limit it much. So, you know, there are a lot of different ways you can envision it working here in New York. You know, I think it's complicated to administer, but certainly as part of the congestion pricing debate. It's it's something people are talking about. Why did it surprise you for advocates to support a permit system because I think they're sort of a viewpoint that it then kind of it enshrines the notion that people who own cars are entitled to basically own a parking space. Interesting. So again in a Parisian model where you're charging a fair amount. And you're really discouraging it. It's one thing. But in a lot of American cities the fee. Charges. You know, it's like thirty five bucks. It's very nominal. That isn't really going to discourage anybody in moving the buses along and moving traffic along there's obviously the enforcement component you have to work closely with PD that also relates of course, to placards, blacker parking big topic of discussion, you know, I don't know if I've ever seen. Maybe Twitter drive a conversation. More than on the placard. It's certainly the things that I get my name sucked into one Twitter placard abuses, the numbers for sure. So where does that stand? I mean, the mayor's announced a couple of different plans, obviously, you have been there PD how to how does the city both on just larger enforcement of you know, my my thought goes immediately just to the bus lanes but larger enforce on the bus lanes. But then also the placard issue. How do we sort of get over the hump their? I mean, what is what is he going to take? I mean, I will say I think congestion pricing if we get it will make a tremendous difference. I mean that will overall hopefully, reduce the number of vehicles in the center city. So we'll see what happens up in Albany with that for bus lanes. You know, the city has limited ability to use camera enforcement in that authority is derived up in Albany. It would really help us to have much more ability to use Cameron Forsman because as much as PD. Can try and enforce and the mayor announced seven new NYPD bustling tow truck squad teams. And and I think that's terrific NYPD isn't going to be everywhere all the time, but cameras really can be. So we have them on some of our select bus service routes to have the ability to do more camera enforcement both installed on city infrastructure and on the MTA bosses themselves. I think that will be tremendously helpful in the bus lanes placard abuse, very challenging. Yes. I was with the mayor when he announced, you know, some new initiatives a couple that are in DOT's bailiwick. I'm hoping we'll bear some fruit. We are moving towards a system. I we're doing sort of an interim system where we're putting basically green dashboard decals and people's cars, which will start to cut down a bit on the placard abuse. Because you can't move them from car to car as you can do now. And it's going to start to help us build to what we hope will be a system where plates will all be in a computer. Terai system, and we can use for example, license plate readers that can just go down the street and see who's parked illegally and who's parked illegally. Take a bit of the human element out of it. You know, that's a technological approach were a couple of years away from. But I think that will really help us on the enforcement front on the placard front. Forgive me for not knowing this. But the use of placards by seeing police is that that's all is that all collectively bargained is there a city laws or state law? They're all of the above some of it is collectively bargained, and you know, for example, there was a lot of I think a lot written about the issue with the mayor and the department of education to be fair on the Bloomberg administration. They had taken away a lot of those placards, the, you know, there had been some, you know, union litigation grievance and in the end the courtroom against the city and said that some of those placards had been calm had become terms of employment and could only be done away with as part of collective bargaining. So that is the case in some areas. I wouldn't say that universe. Sel? But I would say it's generally been an issue that when you try and take placards away it can fall into a grievance process in the city probably loses more often than it wins. But that said, I think there's a lot more. We can be doing on placards. The placards that are sort of used by city employees are one piece of the puzzle. But you know, there are state employees their federal employees that use them. There's obviously a lot of fraud. There are a lot of ways we can tighten up the system while still I think, you know, enabling city employees either because they need them for work, or it's part of what has been collectively bargained to use them and to at least if they're gonna use them use them responsibly inappropriately or I want to get a couple of quick MTA questions. And then we'll let you go. Bef- before before I do. They just want to come back to one question on the on the bikes you mentioned building out city by building out the dock Lous bikes. Do you feel like the ductless bikes is something that's that's definitely going to move forward. Or there's a pilot. You're right. I mean, how you feeling pilot this past summer in the rockaways Fordham area of the Bronx north shore of Staten Island. And we learned we learned some things about how they work particularly learned it's hard and sort of to pick a random geography and keep them contained. We sort of kept them contained on the rockaways because it's a peninsula in the Bronx on the north shore, Staten Island, people wrote them everywhere. So one thing we're we're talking to the community and elected officials about is potentially doing a borough wide pilot in Staten Island, which is geographically confined area. Exactly, you could really try it on a big scale there. And I think there's some real interest in doing that. And we're looking at where some other parts of the city, and there's a reason not to do docks. I mean, you know, is there reason if you do if you want more bikes on Staten on and why not have them a dachshund general as you get into sort of less and less dense areas, docs, don't always sort of work as well. The math, and and putting up the infrastructure, and I think, you know, the city will potentially have a mixture of the two I would also just say writ large. I feel like the whole space of docks of scooters is changing very rapidly. The industry is changing it's consolidating. So, you know, we're we're still in a bit of an experimentation phase. And and seeing what's going to work people seem to be much more interested in the scooters now than than even the bikes in the there's a lot of ours. I can tell it seems like there's some shifting attention. Or maybe that's because of the company's infusing more. There's a lot of. Interest in scooters. But there's a lot of questions about the model of scooters. They're not it's not a money making venture right now, the scooters themselves they only last about a month or so before they throw them away. So thought to be determined. Yeah. The jury is still out. I have written them. They're fun. They're not legal here in New York yet that is another thing that would have to happen up in Albany. But I think that is very much evolving industry to all right? So we're not going to get to the beach. We and I had some ferry questions. I'll leave that aside. Couple quick ones on the MTA. What's your, you know, you've been on the board? Now several years. What's your five? Yeah. Saying that with with joy and enthusiasm. But what's the Polly Trotman Berg couple of key wishlist points for where the MTA heads? I mean, if there's a couple of things that need to change the MTA. What are they? I mean, I think there is no question. You know, we have a great leader. And Andy Byford, I think we need to give him the resources and the support he needs to continue. What is clearly starting to be a real turnaround in the subway system and part of that is going to obviously happen up in Albany. And he needs the support from the board. I do think that the MTA board is a very non-transparent and not particularly accountable construct. You know, I'm biased. I think the city has a role to play. We are a big investor in the MTA it most directly impacts the lives of our citizens. You know, and I'd like to see the cities, you know, priorities, really considered. And and be more a part of what the MTA is focused on on. How does that happen? Does that happen by just a slight tweak to the board representation with that, you know, sort of maybe even at mayor and governor or how do you actually think when it comes to the MTA the governance questions? Are a lot deeper than just the board. I mean, folks, folks, focus on the board. But you know, you really need to take a deeper look at how the whole capital plan process comes together the role of our legislature of our business community. I mean, I think there's more to it than just what happens on board days whether time you get to the board the processes sort of cooked. I'd like to I think see the MTA in the city, you know, work together more closely leading up to whatever happens on board day. And lastly, it seems like when things when things got really bad with the subways. There was almost like a bit of an awakening of the mayor's appointees on the MTA board that started to be a little more assertive in a little more sort of, you know, Frank at board meetings and things like that is that a misconception that I have, you know, how how would you sort of capture having having been more of a mainstay there? You know, how would you sort of capture the responsibility of the mayor's apply? Right. And I had a couple of years where I was really the only appointee. So it was certainly a great boost. I think to me into the city when sort of you know, in a in a period of pretty rapid succession. I was joined by Veronica vanterpool, David Jones and Carl Weisbrod who've all been terrific members. And obviously, I think we've been able to work together. And you're right. Have a have a strong. We don't have a vote. We've never actually I think one of haute in the case of the MTA, but we've certainly been able I think to highlight some of the issues that have been emerging, you know, what's been happening with our subway system and decisions like, for example, the, you know, some of the station repair programs at the MTA was undertaking. Where for example, they weren't adding in elevators and highlighting questions about whether if we're going to go in and repair subway stations shouldn't we make sure we've made them accessible. And now actually the courts have spoken on that point. And and going forward, I think the MTA's really going to have to do that was that some people saw some real risk in that. Because that might slow down some rehabs is that not your perspective. I mean, look it. It's a dancer. The courts have spoken. I think if if the MTA is going to go in now and do major rehabilitation work in the subway stations unless it is absolutely technically infeasible they're going to have to make them accessible. All right. Thanks for the time. Polly trodden Berg Commissioner of the department of transportation for New York City MTA board member thank you for joining us. Thanks for having me to talk.
Episode 11 (MTA's COVID-19 Financial Crisis with Nicole Gelinas)
"The deep welcome to an emergency episode of the Second Avenue. Saugus podcast. I'm your host Benjamin K back and today I'm joined by Nicolaas that Hatton institute were talking. Mta finances amidst the ongoing corona virus crisis as. We've seen the last week MTA. Ridership has tanked precipitously amidst a slowdown in the city. In anticipation of more orders for people to stay home and just the general unexpected nature of this public health crisis. We've seen ridership dropped by sixty percent with the New York City. As of the most recent numbers other cities are reporting ridership drops of eighty percent to ninety percent or more and the MTA. Recently put out a call for four billion dollars in federal in federal bailout because their finances are simply in the garbage right now. Nicole is an expert on MTA finances. She's going to join me to walk us through what's happening what the future holds for the MTA and it's already precarious budget and what we can expect to see in the coming weeks and months Nicole. Thank you for joining me today. Good morning thank you for having me on. I'm honored to be on the podcast. Although sorry it's under such difficult circumstances will have to reschedule a session under better circumstances later on Can you give everybody an overview of what's happening what's going on with the MTA? How does this ridership drop impact them? Sure if we had been talking perhaps early last week or the week before what we would have been talking about is a crisis that causes them to have a higher budget deficit in other words if they had seen a little bit of a ridership dropped off and if we had gone into a recession you know sort of like a run of the mill recession. Although guests no recession is all that run of the mill maybe they would have seen a drop off in tax revenues and a drop off in the fare box in toll revenues that might have done something like give them a half a billion dollar annual budget deficit on their seventeen billion dollar annual budget. Maybe IN WORST CASE SCENARIO BILLION DOLLAR BUDGET DEFICIT. So that would have been significant. But it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary in that the answer would have been service cuts perhaps new state tax revenues. You know all the normal things. Mta does when it gets into trouble but by this point we're looking at what is essentially a cash flow crisis so you can just forget about the annual deficit for the moment. This is more. Can they manage to take in cash in order to meet their ongoing expenses and just today they made their second material impact statement to their bondholders. They made one last week. They made another one just this morning. Very serious signal to bondholders. Essentially saying they're in a material event that could potentially cause them to not be able to pay their bonds that's why they have to tell the bondholders and they're essentially conserving cash. You know they can't. They can't go on with maintaining schedule in maintaining their cost will essentially not taking in very much cash at all and they gave us some new statistics on ridership subway ridership. Yesterday was down. Sixty percents of the commuter rail ridership on Yesterday was down sixty seven percent. Metro-north ridership was down ninety percent. So they're seeing a significant cut in their cashflow. How long could they go on like this? I did a little thing for the month of March the other day if they were to have the situation continue for the whole month of March that would cost them a billion dollars. If it went through April that would be two billion dollars and then we have no idea what ridership is going to look like. May June July August. So short story is that they are in what they call a very severe situation so I didn't even notice that they put out this update today. I'm looking at it now. They're saying a sixty percent drop in subway ridership. A fifty percent drop in bus ridership a ninety percent drop in a m peak usage for metro. North these are stunning numbers right now. Yep IN IT. It shows they You know any sort of social sociological perspective. Who can work at home? Who can't I mean? The Metro North Workers. Obviously ninety percent drop office because these are mostly white collar jobs until there is a lot of flexibility to work from home. It looks like from this bond statement to that the MTA is projecting in agency-wide revenue loss in excess of four point. Five billion dollars. I can't recall a situation where the MTA's finances have gone so S- out so quickly and one of the questions I have is. How much cash reserved they have? How can they continue to operate the system at the levels? They need to before they start running out of money not for Very Long. I think even just based on the ridership numbers. They're going to have to think about cutting back metro north and long island all railroad service but they say that they have liquidity resources which means money to service debt in provide Services of a little bit less than four billion dollars. But this isn't this starts to become basically borrowing to pay for operating resources. So what would this mean Things like taking away their resources. They've put aside to pay for future healthcare benefits to future retirees. So that's money that would have to be repaid Then they have a commercial line of credit about a billion dollars which they're actually going to take down on by Friday so when the when they are going to draw down their bank line of credit. That's a very serious signed to bondholders. It means that you know starting Friday. They'll essentially be borrowing a billion dollars to pay for operating expenses which is usually a very good idea so yes they have some cash that can get them through a couple of months but the It if this were to go on past you know mid April they would have to be thinking very seriously. About how much money do we want to send to the bondholders? In how much do we wanted to keep to provide essential services In now of course remember right off the top of their revenues. They are supposed to take the first twenty percent of that in in pay off their their bonds. Roughly Twenty Thousand Right. So what happens? After they draw down this line of credit they access their billion dollars. That really only takes them through about three or four weeks at most at current service levels. They can't really reduce service in a way that saves them money without a significant lead time based on the way their work shift picks or surreal. You're looking at a need to sustain levels spending for the next few months that they can't support with the money they have on hand. Yes in I think. Also the what happens after this crisis over has to be something that they they're thinking about in terms of revenue on the tax side and ridership because okay say everything works out in the best case scenario and everyone is back to work toward end of April and we can all move around freely in Hopefully not seen Terrible death toll from all of this. What is ridership look like over the summer? I mean our tourism is tourism. Going to come back. Are we going to have our global tourists in our domestic tourists back over the summer months? How many people will have lost their jobs? Unfortunately in so they will be taking subway. Bus and commuter rail how many people are going to have to save money so they won't be driving on the bridges tolls and paying into the toll. Revenue that subsidizes transit What are we gonNA do about congestion? Pricing may not an unclear thing so I think in asking for four Billion Dollars Pat. Foy IS SORT OF UNDERSTANDING. This may be the the. Mta's only chance to go to Congress if everybody has forgotten about this by summer in the MTA is left with significant cash crunch because of this and then they have to cut service even when things are recovered from the perspective of the coveted then that really harms regions recovery new worst case scenario. If they're running a Saturday service in the middle of the summer that really hampers the city's ability to get get its economy back up and running it certainly alarming to hear. The governor yesterday predicted that the peak of this was still forty five days away. I think that takes us well outside of the window the MTA is anticipating right now and that could lead to billions more losses On the bright side it does seem that the countries that have emerged from the other side of this are reporting fairly rapid economic recovery and somewhat of a return to normal. I guess there's a question with a New York. As to whether a lot of these businesses the bars and restaurants and the hotels have closed for. Now we're going to be able to reopen without so massive infusion of cash so we don't bring pictures very unsettled right now break in that goes to their tax side You know we we think about when we pay our subway fare or bus fare. Where paying for services. If this were a normal Martian this had never happened. They would've taken in about seven hundred fifty million dollars from fair in toll revenue. They would've taken in about nine hundred million dollars from taxes and from subsidies that city and state provide for various services like the city providing public. School Service So that would let them than they pay their expenses. They would had about one hundred million dollar cash balance leftover and that that sort of like these cash reserves that they they sort of keep an spend a little save a little bit on an ongoing basis but with a sixty percent drop in these revenues that would cause them a billion dollar deficit for the month in in a good deal. That attack side. In if if you think about what will the tax side? Revenues look like by summer. If you think about walking around Manhattan in all the bars and restaurants closed a lot of retail stores closed. The these are sales taxes payroll taxes because they get a little bit of the payroll tax from downstate every year Petroleum business taxes a lot of activity down probably lower tax revenue their mortgage related taxes if nobody is buying or selling property taxes really plummet until their tax bases obviously highly dependent on the downstate economy. It's interesting to see the statement. Say THAT PART OF THE MONEY. Requesting is three hundred million dollars for increased cleaning so it sounds like they're anticipating the need to maintain the level of cleaning. They've currently implemented to address the health crisis for the foreseeable future. Yeah I mean. They're they're workers have been out there doing heroic job in I'm not going to call it sanitizing. But they are. They're they're cleaning the system on a deep cleans on a regular basis now But yes I think you know for even if some of that is more like psychological than than really health-based if you if the purpose is to encourage people to get back on the subway buses and commuter rail starting four weeks from now six weeks from now eight weeks from now who knows. Then they're going to have to maintain doing that so that people feel comfortable using service. I know that there's a big concern to that if the MTA can't get this money so it looks like I've I've been reading through the the bond statement as we've been going They seem to think that this three point seven billion dollars would cover them for about six months of sustained ridership dip at current levels though. My anticipation is that the current levels are a little bit optimistic. And by the end of this we'll see ridership dip closer to seventy five to eighty percent as nearly anybody except for essential workers. Stay home for a few months People are very concerned in the initial going of fare hike that could further damage the economy if the MTA can't get this money they're gonNA have to turn to fare hikes right. Well yes but they are already diversity inc a four percent fare hike. That would start a year from now and March. Twenty twenty one you know they do these fare hikes every two years to sort of keep up with inflation so you have to really think how much more in fares could people pay. I mean you're GonNa have a lot of stressed out economically riders people who've Lost Restaurant income retailing com even at the higher end the income scale. I mean we're not gonNA get outta this without significant cuts on wall. Street significant cuts to professional business services sector so can people really withstand something like a fifteen percent fare hike? Probably not and so. That's when you really start to think with our we would we have to think about restructuring Some of the some some of this debt this is also happening in the context of the capital plan. There's this fifty one billion dollar capital plan. That's out there that we really only have a general sense of how it's being funded the MTA was already looking to the federal government for large contribution. You mentioned congestion pricing. We still don't know when that's going to be implemented how meanwhile the MTA is also working on this transformation plan that is a sedan simply going to save them over a billion dollars per year but again the numbers are a little fuzzy on that math. How do you see this playing out in the long term? Does this torpedo the capital plan in the projects that we need to see developed this torpedo? Transformation yeah I mean you have to think with MTA kind of having all hands on deck to deal with this crisis right now. They're not spending as much time as they. Otherwise would be on implementing the transformation plan which is basically a lot of back office job cuts. And I think that's a big danger is do. We get into late summer and fall. Hopefully this is all over with in attention has receded from it at the national level but if they have lost their window to go to Congress and get a big bail out there then left with potentially lower ridership in all of these existing capital needs which puts them in a spiral. You know do we do. We WanNA cut back significantly on the capital budget in. What does that do to future ridership in the city's economic in tax breaks? You know going out a few years rather than a few months. I think we'll see some restructuring of the capital plan but I think it would be a terrible outcome if we said because of this crisis we can't modernize sub waste signals. We can't make more stations acceptable Accessible to the handicapped into People with with small children. I mean that just hurts. The city's economy over over the long term. I think the problem with the capital plan. Really besides the fact that it's going to be hard for the anti-ageing deliver on all its projects. Within the timeframe they propose is that there's not a lot of fat to trim there's fat to trim on the dollar side of things they're spending is just not in line with international standards but in terms of projects. They need to do everything. That's in the capital plan. We need the signals. We need new rolling stock. We need the accessibility upgrades and it's going to be very challenging for them to start prioritizing insane. We're cutting this. We're cutting that right. And you know you mentioned their existing cost structure. I mean I certainly don't want to kick them while they're down or I'm sure nobody else does either but it is true that they don't start out in a very good position man. You're looking at an authority. Just just signed a not very economic agreement with its labor force no givebacks in terms of productivity or not I should say no but not significant givebacks and productivity from the labor force in last year's agreement Things like Having to keep to people on every single subway train may be important for rush hour for pack trains. But maybe some flexibility on that on the the nighttime in overnight service you know they were never able to achieve those things in. They already have forty five billion dollars in existing debt. I mean even if none of this had happened they would have serious difficulty in borrowing even more money for the for the for the current capital plan. So the question I've always had for for a few years as the MTA's debt has piled up. And I think this is an important one these days is Ken the MTA as a state agency default on its debt. What would happen if they didn't pay well? Anybody can default on their debt. I mean you just don't pay your debt You don't you don't have to go through bankruptcy to do that. But the beer bond structure in their bond documents into state law that they operate under is very complex. This short story is that the MTA can't declare bankruptcy. I mean they're not like a company or person or city in some cases that could say okay. We have to go through a bankruptcy process. State law prohibits them from declaring bankruptcy while certain obligations are outstanding and. That's that's shoe obviously provide assurance to bondholders. That this is not an option that they take lightly to to Default on the debt and the same time. Their creditors can't put them into involuntary bankruptcy. So say you were airline. You could be put into involuntary bankruptcy But what does that mean if this were if we were not to get the money from the federal government in this. This situation worsened than they would have to do. A very unique restructuring process with the bondholders and sort of. Make it up as they go along very similar to what we saw in Puerto Rico. You know there's no real template for this But it would probably mean delaying payments on bonds. And so you would have like a a sort of debt moratorium for six months of payments or a severe curtailment in what you pay on your debt so push out these existing obligations into the future To start with and so there's no situation or no scenario where the state would actually have to step in to assume all this debt directly new. I mean the MTA's bondholder the bondholder agreements stay say very clearly to bondholders in often. Very Big Red Prints. We do not have the ability to raise taxes. We don't have recourse to the state budget. Which is is certainly true and I also think We ought to keep in mind with their outstanding forty five billion dollars in debt. They're huge issuer in the municipal credit market people think of them as credit in oftentimes when we have an economic crisis people by municipal bonds. Because they think that that's one of the safest things you can invest in. But in this case they haven't been in the MTA's bond prices have gone down this week because people don't WanNa Institution don't WanNa buy them in. So whatever happens here has real implications for the rest of the National Municipal Bond Market. Like if if it creditors to other public authorities across the country. Were to see something. Pretty negative happened here they would also can this happen in in my state in my public authority. It's it's interesting to see how the politicians will I know that they're very busy focusing on getting supplies to hospitals and making sure that people are getting the treatment they need. There hasn't really been a shift yet to look at how people are getting around all these cities in in any sort of public statement. You know at some point. I think the governor will turn his attention to this crisis at some point the House representatives in the Senate will have to take a look at this but right now there's just been a lot of silence at a lot of yelling from public authorities in ways that they're not used to yelling. Yes very unusual to say the least when the MTA comes out and says look at our financial situation. It's really a crisis. I mean made the sort of normal times. They try to minimize their ongoing financial situation. So the last question to put it very directly could this lead to a service stoppage if the MTA cannot access more money. What happens to service? It would not lead to serve stoppage because if it came to that I believe that the the MTA and the state and the city would choose maintaining basic services over paying bonds and I think frankly the bondholders would choose that too. Because if you stop service you're GONNA have even less money to to repay the bonds so I think that we could have a service stop because of the public health crisis. I mean if we did go to shelter in place. If the number of Cova cases did get significantly higher than the state would probably direct them to run barebones schedule just for essential. Employees may be replaced subway service with bus service but even that cost them money. They've they have to have security to keep train station secure. They have to maintain track and everything else. But when we're done with this public health crisis or at least it's receded. I don't think that they would choose a bare-bones Choose maintaining their credit rating in their their current Keeping current on their bond obligations over providing basic public service. This was definitely an unexpected turn of events and I know the. Mta Board is meeting virtually next week. So I'm sure they'll be talking about this as well yet in. I think we'll we'll see almost no talk about any other topics. I mean the good news this week which I guess we shouldn't let go unnoticed isn't it? They did finish the positive train control on significant stretches of Metro north. That's true. I saw that press release came in it was a little surreal to see that. Come in. They're sending out all these other notices about media appearances in declining ridership. But they've got to keep going on these projects. Basically all right Nicole. Thanks for joining me. Hopefully we'll be able to catch up again in better times and and have a more in depth conversation about the capital planet without instead of Stinky Ben and likewise surviving surviving through this. Stay healthy and talk to you soon. You too thank you. That's the end of the special episode of the Second Avenue. Saugus podcast focusing on the impact of the corona virus some MTA finances. I'm your host Benjamin K BACK. Thank you again to. Nicole gelatinous for joining me this episode and as always a special thank you to Joseph Jakubowski for production duties. If you've been enjoying the podcast please consider leaving a review on itunes and as always you can find more at. Www DOT second avenue sagas dot com or on twitter by at two AV SAG a s? That's at two APP Sagas. Thank you for listening. Stay safe. I'm Benjamin K back catch you next time.
Nicole Gelinas 2-9-20
"Good Morning New York is a catch roundtable Tronchetti Matiz here sending more the state of the city mayor de Blasio. This week Katainen front of her body gave us the state it is city. And what is this morning. Is Nicole Gelinas from Manhattan Institute to tell us what what did he say. Okay and what does it mean for our city. Good Morning Nicole. How are you this morning? I'm doing well how are you. I am well I'm downtown and Sunny Miami. But I'm coming back to New York for Monday morning work. Oh good for you. We had a little Dorm inhale over over in past couple of days. So you're not missing too much. Tell us about the state of the city. I understand that there's a lot of business people upset at as You know we've got problems with design which had problems would be a reform and now the city council attacking business people. I'm going to give the floor to you yeah well. The mayor gave his State of the city address. Last Thursday natural history museums and according to the mayor the Stephen City is very bleak. He gave a very negative speech. It was almost like you. He's he's been the mayor now for six two years in two months and this is almost more of a speech that someone would gear if they were not happy with the current mayor in other words like you could see to Blasios zeal giving this type of speech if he were trying to kick Bloomberg got his fourth or fifth term in office. I mean the laws. He'll just said the city's city. Is this going in the wrong direction. He attacked various forces. I mean for example he kept saying bad landlords bad landlords and he never defined. And what is it bad landlord or all inwards. Bad I mean to Blasi himself is a randlord out in Park Slope Brooklyn but he made it very clear that if people who are worried about the direction that their neighborhood is going in if they're concerned about too many vacancies and real retail spaces which is for caused by high taxes That they shouldn't blame the mayor. They should blame the forces of greed and bad landlords. So he's kind of trying trying to get people. He knows that people are unhappy but he wants to direct their unhappiness away from him. So it's kind of a very strange speech. And I think a couple of the mayors would be successors Cory Johnson City Council speaker. Said I would. I'm paraphrasing but he said he would not have been this negative. Yeah we have some problems in the city but we need to address these things with league. Visionary proposals not just attacking landlords mean for example cory. Johnson said we need to do infrastructure investments. So you know not not along the way of policy proposals just sort of very dark picture of where the city in years. Six years and two months into into Doi- Zeo well the biggest landlord city Is a city that runs the New York City Housing Authority already anywhere from six hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand people suffering suffering no hot water lead paint. Taste underworld's what say you about that. I mean I think that there are constructive to put proposals to get night night. You some money For example looking at the Chelsea houses and the Elliott houses in Chelsea not very densely built up there's a lot of empty open lands within those housing developments. It's a lot less dense than the rest of the area and so leading leading developers bills on some of that empty space in giving that money tonight. You something that you know. I think the city he just needs to focus more on executing these these things rather than attacking Kinda easy targets. You're absolutely right. And if you look at who are who are actually bad. Private sector landlords mortgage in terms of who doesn't keep their building up to code who who constantly has dozens and dozens of cold violations that are not fixed. These are often Entities that have contracts with the city. I mean these are the companies that have contracts to provide cluster cluster housing for homeless services to provide homeless shelters and so you know the the vast majority of people they pay their rent their housing is then okay condition depending on how much you pay in rent In because a third of the city has rent regulation. They really can't the evicted from from their apartments and so constantly going after the sort of Renter owner rental building owner class. I mean they've Kinda scraped the bottom of what they can continue to do to tighten up friendly relations and sort of constantly saying. We're protecting you against your landlord. But they they they have a very difficult time finding another enemy. So this is who the mayor in in the state legislature are sticking with for now I know bigger bless your long time and I usually support him in usually has some common sense. But I I think the situations getting out of hand especially you would be Letting out rikers island and bail reform. I understand the crimewave is up seventeen percent and the the January has said that that he wants to take action. What's going on I think You know the mayor does is deserves credit on the fact that he's been very clear that the seat enacted this bail reform. There's no provision for a judge edged to be able to say this person poses a public danger and so we send remand this person and keep that person in jail and most most most of the states that have done bail reform. You Know New Jersey California these included a provision that says someone who poses a public senior can be kept. Njit New York just did this. And they didn't include such a provision and. I think that's going to be an ongoing problem and on that the mayor's on the right side I mean it's the legislature uh-huh enacted this without consulting. They never held a hearing to say let prosecutors say what they let let let the judge see what they they let different police departments around see what they think and maybe not agree with everything but at least get the information. I mean the seat pass this as part of the budget last zere never really thought through the implications and so we're starting to see some of the early results of that But yeah with the rikers closure. The mayor is absolutely responsible. For a very bad decision to clues. rikers down open up these four Jails and four Varos over the next five years and there's a lot of Problems that they never addressed for example if you have to evacuate the jail. Where are you going to put fifteen hundred prisoners on the busy streets of the Bronx or central Brooklyn or Or Queens Boulevard in Queens you know the issue issue of a power source of blackout all kinds of issues that face a sort of vertical skyscraper jail which is. Why if you have the whole island where you could rebuild? Please and build modern jail facilities with outdoor space and therapeutic. Sti Speaks and hospital beds there or you can deal with the issues that are lot harder to deal with in in building four skyscraper. Jails you know power source What do you do if you need to evacuate security issues So you know this isn't they haven't awarded contracts yet but I would hope that at least some council people or people running Cou- council running for for our president would say let's put a pause on this enc- is this really the best way to go about spending nine billion dollars worth of taxpayer money yet ta we had a good leader De and designing effective next week or two. I mean what what this could happen. Now anybody I who was the head of New York City transit which is a part of the MTA. That wrongs subways and buses. Obviously he didn't get along very well. Governor Cuomo I think he wanted more control over things like modernizing subway signal system. I think in the end. You know the governor's governor. He's not going anywhere and so both of them can't stay so by for does sat at you. Oh he he. He accomplished a lot over the two years that he had this position. But I think he just decided you know this is. This is the time to get out when at least on time performance to stabilize. MTA's not doing great but at least they're back to the performance of five six years ago you know before we started seeing all these breakdowns and tens of thousands of passengers Delayed didn't sometimes in just one major incident but the MTA's nowhere near where it needs to be so who's going to do this very difficult. Work of modernizing the signal system Trying to modernize the bus line. So that bus lines run more quickly and serve more people not really clear I mean the MTA has hired a lot of transformation officials but a lot all of these people don't have on the ground experience in subways and buses McCall. We have all sorts of messes in our city right now but another situation coming up the. Nobody's focused on I here. We have twenty six council seats at have term limited coming up in November next November. Yeah so long it when the mayor When we elected mayor will essentially elect a whole different city council other any qualified people to run? Well I think there are lots of qualified people I think what we need is a non partisan movement to say let's focus on delivering seraing city services competently. Let's focus on the quality of life so whether you're quality life problem is illegal construction noise poisoned some neighborhoods or traffic Ito's car speeding down the road and in other neighborhoods. Or you know you. You want better sanitation pickup. Or you know all sorts of like basic bread and butter issues that everyone in this city hall is kind of Noreen Nori is set out. What are your five goals to improve? Every New Yorkers quality life no matter how you know across incomes in in across ethnicities rather than just constantly focus on things like another big issue is. What do you do about the homeless and mental illness crisis? You Know No. It's not very humane to let homeless mentally ill. People live in the subway system. It's just unfortunately many of these people end up on the subway doubly tracks. Every year. They end up injured or killed and no one is thinking about. How do we help these people and so you know a real movement in on delivering on very basic simple promises without feeling the need to constantly pander to kind of like a AH very small segment of extremists who are focused on things like rikers or or focus on things like you know? We're going to have three subways. He's now is like a a big new movement which is highly impractical. So you know. I think there's an opportunity there but the people running needs to be very clear we're not just pandering to one group of people. We want to be the council people into mayor for the whole city. The Toga leanest Manhattan Institute. We got one minute. uh-huh oh you know I would just say one of the biggest existential threat is the steed of our infrastructure. I mean if you look at the subways like as As a gentleman named Ben Quebec pointed out this week on twitter. We've only built built. Four subway stations Since nineteen eighty six and so you're looking at Close to forty years now or thirty thirty well over thirty five years with no subway stations. Their degrees at subway stations on Second Avenue and then the one on Hudson Hudson yards. But we don't have a full second second avenue subway we haven't thought about. How do you provide much more frequent bus service to people? So they're not pensive. Take private cars into the city so so just refocusing the city on. What can the city do to help the MTA achieve these goals in? How do we just improve our public infrastructure? It's like answering that question. Kinda helps determine whether the next thirty years or are as successful as the last thirty years Budget are we gonNA have a shortfall We have a shortfall. I mean not well if we have a recession we'll data shortfall. But you know this year you're looking at about ninety six billion dollar city budget so we're reaching toward that hundred billion dollar mark you know by by two two years from now we'll have the city budget that's above hundred billion dollars for the first time in history which is Pretty pretty remarkable. If if you think about it but for now as long as taxpayer news keep keep coming in as long as we don't have a national recession. The mayor air can balance this budget. It's just a question of water. His priorities I mean why not why not use some of these good times to think about something like cut into sales tax. You Know New York City sales taxes close to nine percent. Retailers are struggling against Amazon struggling. With the you know oh the high cost of doing business in the city so why not why not cut the sales tax and give small retailers. A break I mean it's it's just a constant focus on. How do we spend this money to me? All these special interest happy rather than why not think about giving a little bit of this money. Back to people in the form of kind of modest incremental tax-cuts Nikko to chances of taxes. Being cut slim. And none thank you so much coming on your show. Thank you Neeson. Well thank you for telling All Yorkers the truth and you really know your stuff into God bless you have a good rest of the weekend likewise sean this is the catch roundtable. We'll be right back.