Earlier this year, in an attempt to save face on his lack of transportation policy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed a who’s who of global transit experts to the so-called MTA Reinvention Commission, and then, nothing happened. The commission met a few times, but the meetings were underwhelming. Then as Election Day came and went, nothing arrived from the panel. It seemed as though Cuomo didn’t want the report to discuss MTA financing ahead of Election Day.
Now, though, the report — or at least an early draft of it — is out, and well, it’s boring. Dana Rubinstein got her hands on it, and you can read the thing at Capital New York (PDF links: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). Here’s Rubinstein’s take:
The resulting report suggests that the M.T.A. continue to do some things it’s already doing (make its subways more resilient in cases of flooding, partner with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to improve access to the region’s airports), and some things it’s not…If the commission’s prescriptions occasionally border on underwhelming—it recommends, for example, that the M.T.A. remove the word “bus” from Select Bus Service to distinguish it from its less-sexy bus counterparts—the report’s description of purpose is strongly worded…
The M.T.A. underpins a New York metropolitan region that “accounts for 60 percent of the population of the state and 80 percent of its tax base, and contributes nearly 10 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product,” the report says.
“Yet despite the value of the system that enables this success, even a cursory glance at peer regions around the world makes it clear that New York is significantly under-investing in its public transportation infrastructure,” it says. “The past is not prologue to the future: if New Yorkers want to continue to live in a world class region they must envision and develop a world class transit system.”
What’s Select Bus Service without the bus? Select Service? That makes no sense to anyone unfamiliar with the transit network, but I digress.
As Rubinstein notes, and as the report clearly details, the commission wants the MTA to continue its capital expansion plans, respond to the challenges of climate change, develop a next-gen fare payment system, build real BRT and, uh, do something about funding. What that something is what the commission punted on, and therein lies the problem.
Reinventing the MTA means answering very hard questions about funding schemes, transportation equity and who’s paying for and using what mode and how. It’s also about pushing politicians to take ownership over the MTA — which is a creation of the state — and it’s about building support for transit from all constituents who use it and their elected representatives. Sometimes that may mean angering smaller, more vocal constituent blocks to deliver something more beneficial to many. That’s just the reality of it.
Here, we have a commission of big names running away from the problem. It’s not clear, and probably never will be, if someone above them torpedoed the politically challenging aspects of transit support, but what we have, unsurprisingly, is a commission tasked with someone grand and delivering an obvious message on a small scale. It’s a reinvention commission that itself needs reinventing.