Monday, August 1, 2011

Our Transit Authority Faces Challenges

While most eyes are on the compromise deal in Washington, DC to raise the debt ceiling and cut federal spending, here at home in New York, the MTA is losing its leader, seeking debt it is not sure it can repay, seeking fare increases during a troubled economy, and facing the recent revelation of being over budget and behind schedule on some of its major projects.

New Leader Needed

In July, the MTA Chairman, Jay Walder, announced that he was resigning, effective October 21, 2011. Walder was appointed by then-Governor David Paterson, and while he was viewed as controversial by labor advocates, he developed a reputation as an effective and competent leader.

Walder is resigning to take a role leading a company that operates rail systems in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, London, Stockholm, and Melbourne. Though he was a very highly paid public official with a long-term contract, the private sector offered him superior compensation and, presumably, a superior opportunity to build a record of success. There is not necessarily a villain in the Walder departure. New York State attempted to solidify its relationship with Walder through the structure of his contract, and Walder can hardly be faulted for taking a dream job as the head of a global leader in his field. Though there may be no villain, the private sector's gain is the public sector's loss.

Financial Challenges

The MTA has experienced budget challenges in recent years and chose last week to seek to borrow nearly 7 billion dollars for key projects, despite the warnings from the MTA's own finance committee chair that the additional debt may represent a "ticking time bomb." To achieve only the "fragile stability" that Jay Walder says is represented by the borrowing and by additional fare increases sought by the MTA, the MTA will be forced to also seek wage freezes from MTA workers. The MTA will be challenges at every turn.

Behind Schedule and Over Budget

In addition to wasting $26 million through poor management of its recent track work, the MTA is billions of dollars over budget and many years behind schedule on its most high profile projects.

As NY1 stated in December 2010:
A new report finds the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority is going way over budget on its major construction projects. The MTA inspector general says the Long Island Rail Road extension to Grand Central, the Second Avenue subway, and the Fulton Transit Hub are a combined $1.93 billion over budget. The report finds the projects are also up to five years behind schedule. In fact, the report finds the railroad link may not be finished until 2018. The first leg of the Second Avenue subway is expected to be completed in 2017. The inspector general blames a lack of oversight and squabbles between managers and consultants hired by the agency for the delays.
Perhaps the arrival of a new chair of the MTA is an opportunity to fix the fiscal problems and the management problems that have plagued the MTA. The status quo is not an acceptable standard.

No comments:

Post a Comment