In its quest for more budget transparency, the MTA today unveiled an online dashboard that tracks the fiscal and physical progress of its various capital projects. Available online right here, the interactive tool allows members of the public to examine project proposals, budgets and schedules from the comfort of the web. The information will include every item in the 2010-2014 capital plan as well as some big-ticket projects from the 2005-2009 plan.
“The Dashboard provides an unprecedented level of detail and information on our capital projects,” MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder said in a statement. “From station improvements to the purchase of equipment, signal improvements to updates on the Second Avenue Subway, the Dashboard will allow anyone to monitor the MTA’s new approach to capital projects designed to keep the 2010-2014 Capital Program on schedule and on budget — all with a few clicks of the mouse.”
In a press release, the authority said the dashboard is designed to combat claims that the MTA has anything to hide. With projects that are routinely over budget and behind schedule, the MTA is trying to improve public oversight of its big-ticket construction projects while working to “reinforce the agency’s commitment to provide information to customers that is more concise and easier to understand.”
When the dashboard is up and running, it will provide extensive details on the various capital projects, including milestones and year-by-year funding. Since the capital plan was, however, only recently approved and many projects are still in the planning stages, everything appears to be both on time and at budget. It is an MTA utopia of capital investment.
Despite the nascent nature of this new tool, MTA watchdog organizations and transit advocates praised the authority’s drive toward transparency. “I believe the MTA has taken a significant step in providing MTA managers, public officials and the public itself a more user friendly tool to track the progress, in dollars and time, of capital projects,” MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger, whose office has long pushed for a dashboard, said. “I am particularly gratified that MTA has accepted the recommendation made in our Dashboard Report to make it a more transparent and useful reporting tool to the public.”
What makes this tool particularly useful — as long as it’s regularly updated — is how it removes the mystery from the capital program. For example, let’s look at Transit’s plans for rolling stock purchases. We can see information for 123 A Division cars for the 7 line at a cost of $291 million; 290 B Division cars at a cost of $638 million; and 50 additional B Division cars for $110 million. Although the dashboard doesn’t offer up more information on these purchases, it provides a glimpse into the MTA’s plans. Similarly, we can glimpse at the $200 million plans for SmartCard installation and await a future free of the swipes of the MetroCard.
For the MTA, this productive use of its website deserves a nod today. As ill-informed politicians continue to decry the MTA for being too opaque, the authority is using the tools at its disposal to combat those perceptions. The real test of its willingness to be forthcoming though will arrive as project budgets climb and timelines are delayed. As long as the MTA can easily admit that its work is lagging, it can begin to earn public and political trust.