MNRCC Statement – July 16, 2014 – Reinvention Commission

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Statement of Randolph Glucksman, Chair of the

Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC)

before the MTA Transportation Reinvention Commission 

July 16, 2014 

Hello, and thank you for inviting me to speak to your commission.

As the Chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, it has become clear to me over the past year that investments in strong management must accompany any capital investments made in the MTA. The MTA’s ability to attract and retain skilled labor is critical to the performance and success of both the capital and operational programs of Metro-North Railroad.

As it develops its capital plans over the next century, the MTA will face numerous challenges, many of which can be mitigated by effective management and clear communication. The extraordinary cost of our infrastructure investment needs requires a strong financial commitment from elected officials and the public, and that commitment must be matched by the ability to justify the need for such spending going forward. Understanding the economic and quality of life gains that have been achieved from past and future investments is critical to the MTA’s ability to get the investments it so critically needs to help keep this region globally significant.

The MTA must then be able to communicate that value through clear business-driven analytics. To face future challenges, the MTA must become more robust in its ability to deliver clear analytic information and use strong transparency methods such as interactive data visualizations to make the Authority easier to understand. The MTA’s weakness in this regard costs the Authority opportunities for capital resources. To gain support at the community level, the MTA must have community outreach programs that express that value and the MTA website must be a portal where information is easily accessible.

It is critical that the MTA be able to raise the level of the discussion in order for the system to succeed to the fullest. An on-going challenge for the MTA has been in letting the public and their elected representatives know:

 

That the MTA is making efficient use of public dollars.
That the MTA is making effective use of public dollars.
Acknowledging where the MTA is very effective, but still unable to achieve optimal results due to budget constraints.
What economic and quality of life gains were made in the last capital program?
What economic and quality of life gains will we make in the next capital program?
Where do we need to be 50 years from now regarding climate change?
As cuts to the Authority have been made repeatedly, we have begun to notice the degree to which the planning, communication, and other functions at the MTA are substantially understaffed for the magnitude of their tasks in today’s information hungry world. We would like to know that the planning and communication departments of the MTA and its operating agencies are adequately staffed for the tasks at hand to support a near $30 billion capital program and that these departments communicate clearly the value of that investment and the need, through the use of benchmarking practices.

We also have a concern about the lack of information regarding climate change plans. Currently, the MTA’s 20 Year Needs Assessment document focuses primarily on population changes and throughput restrictions, without much attention paid to the changing environment. For example, it does not specifically plan for areas that are geographically vulnerable due to climate change. It does not take into consideration the need for the system redundancies required to be a more resilient system in the face of environmental challenges.

The recommendations that the 20 Year Needs Assessment document does make concerning climate change should be heeded. For example, it recommends compiling agency-wide vulnerability assessments of MTA physical assets and operations followed by an engineering-based feasibility assessment of risk reduction measures. Assessments like these would allow the MTA to better prepare for the next climate disaster. As suggested, the MTA should also integrate adaptation plans into the fiscal planning process, including preparation of capital spending, starting with this Capital Plan.

Additionally, the MTA needs to clearly identify all projects in the proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program that will improve the resiliency of the system. It needs to be transparent with those recommendations and provide completion date timelines. The proposed Capital Program should also discuss how much further the MTA will have to go in the next two capital plans in order to create a more resilient system.

Finally, as the MTA develops its capital plans over the next century, it should focus on geographical expansion. Since the MTA took control of Metro-North, the only expansion that has taken place was in 2000, when service on the Upper Harlem Line was extended from Southeast (formerly Brewster North) to Wassaic, a section that lost its service in 1971.  The MTA should remedy this lack of growth by extending service on the northern Hudson River line to Hudson, NY.

 

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