On March 18th, the PCAC released its third annual assessment of the MTA’s yearly accomplishments. This report is an appraisal of the activities during 2009 of MTA Headquarters, the Capital Construction Company, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, and New York City Transit. There are bright spots and there are areas that need substantial improvement.
High marks are deserved for progress in communication with riders, the MTA’s sustainability initiatives, improved accessibility and capital investment strategy:
• Communication. In 2009 the MTA continued to make positive improvements in communications with the public. Valuable information on travel patterns and preferences was gained in the completion of the 2008 NYC Customer Travel Survey . The Authority and its agencies also continued to expand their offerings of electronic travel alerts, and the quantity and quantity of automated information in stations continues to improve. Additional information on the governance of the MTA are now available with the posting of Board agenda books on the MTA website.
• Sustainability. The MTA followed through on many of the actions recommended by the MTA’s Sustainability Blue Ribbon Commission which was released in a report in January 2009. In addition to the many energy efficient strategies that were undertaken, the MTA also began to make strides in presenting a strong case for itself through regional and national presentations that showcase the Transit Effect Multipier that results from using MTA public transportation services: For every unit of green house gas that the MTA emits, it helps avoid 8.24 units.
• Accessibility. All three operating agencies continued to improve and expand accessibility of their systems for all customers. New York City Transit has now completed, ahead of schedule, 70 of a planned 100 accessible key stations. The LIRR and Metro-North Railroad, which have met minimum accessibility requirements, continue to improve accessibility to persons with disabilities in the course of station improvements.
• Capital Investment Strategy. New York City Transit is to be commended for its new Station Component Assessment program. The program will make valuable capital dollars go further and identify critical needs within the system that were being missed by a process focused on larger station rehabilitation efforts.
It should be pointed out that, under normal conditions, the MTA network largely functions remarkably well. Investments made in modern rolling stock and supporting services form the base of a system that effectively transports numbers of passengers unrivalled in the nation.
Alternatively, PCAC does have serious concerns about a number of issues. Particularly troubling are elements of the capital program and organizational structure at MTA Headquarters and the LIRR.
• Organization. Organizational concerns that were expressed in the 2008 report by the PCAC have carried over into 2009. The corporate structure of MTA Headquarters still lacks rationale. In our 2007 assessment PCAC called for the creation of an executive level position for information technology (IT) to coordinate an MTA technology program that should be implemented across all agencies. Real Estate should be recognized as another critical area that is vitally important across all of the MTA and its leadership should reside at the highest level. At the operating agency level, the PCAC has concerns with LIRR organizational structure, which lacks clarity in its lines of responsibility and appears to have been constructed with new staff layered on top of existing positions.
• Security. PCAC continues to be concerned with the delayed implementation of electronic security systems following the breakdown of the MTA’s relationship with Lockheed Martin. Exacerbating this concern is the ongoing loss of customer service staff and accompanying reduction of an official presence in stations.
• Capital Projects. There continues to be reason to be apprehensive about the ability of the MTA and its agencies to deliver major necessary capital improvements in a timely and efficient manner. Critics such as the Citizens Budget Commission have noted major cost overruns in capital projects under completion, planning efforts such as the LIRR Main Line Corridor Improvements Project have stalled, and even the Federal Transit Administration has found reason to question MTA cost and completion estimates. While projects such as the Fulton Street Transit Center appear to be back on track, in many cases their completion is contingent on substantial additional funds.
Other areas that PCAC is monitoring are the delayed implementation of smart card fare media, the progress of transit-oriented development, relations with public officials and the public at large, and LIRR diesel fleet performance.
Looking forward, based on actions taken to date in 2010 under the leadership of Chairman Jay Walder, PCAC is hopeful that many of these concerns will be addressed.
The entire report is available here.