As the calendar turned from 2007 to 2008 a few days ago, a few transportation advocacy groups started doling out their end-of-the-year awards. The Tri-State Transportation Committee, a group with an impressive Board of Directors and dedicated to reducing car dependency in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, used the new calendar to look at how New York under Gov. Eliot Spitzer has dealt with transportation issues. Their overall conclusions are positive, but the MTA’s last 12 months could have been better.
TSTC’s premise plays off of Spitzer’s campaign promise that “on day one, everything changes.” Spitzer, they write, during his campaign try to “push smart growth and transit-oriented development.” The first part of their extensive essay deals with NYS DOT, and we’ll leave them alone. What we care about, of course, is the MTA. Highlighting five areas in which the MTA could improve, TSTC rated this year as a steady one for the MTA. Those areas please:
- Fare and toll increases
- A lack of a formal transit-oriented development program
- Integration between regional transit agencies
- Capital construction projects
- Customer service, transparency, and the public process
For the MTA, 2007 was truly a year of changes. As TSTC notes, it was their first year under a transit policy won — new CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander — and the agency should have seen more change. However, what TSTC fails to note is that the outgoing MTA Board Chair Peter Kalikow stuck around for most of the year. If things seemed to stall out in the early months, I think this can largely be attributed to the transitional period surrounding a change in leadership.
That being said, 2007 was indeed a year of ups and downs for the MTA. We know all about the fare hike drama. In the end, I think the fare hike will matter less than people thought, but I’ll have more on that later today. As TSTC notes, the fare hike is indeed hitting subway riders harder than it is hitting drivers, and that is not a step in the right direction for the MTA.
The next two items on the list — regional coordination and transit-oriented development — go hand-in-hand, in a way. The regional plan — something that could integrate PATH trains more smoothly into the New York City subways and provide a one-ticket ride from Long Island to Westchester or New Jersey is still in its nascent stages. For the MTA to truly achieve better vertical integration, they need to be able to overhaul their internal management structure and combine MetroNorth and LIRR operations into one unit. However, state legislation approval is required for such a change, and our representatives have been loathe to give it out. The MTA gets mixed reviews from me on these matters.
Transit-oriented development is one of the goals set forth by the MTA for the next five-year plan. The idea is to build transit vilages that minimize driving and maximize public transportation. This includes plans for densely-settled, centralized downtown areas with lush pedestrian spaces and various transit options. Reminiscent of the old Gardent city movement but with more common sense, this form of development could be beneficial if suburban dwellers are willing to embrace a city-in-the-suburbs mentality. It’s still too early to tell.
As we all know, capital construction projects are alive and well. The Second Ave. Subway is on the move, and the 7 is heading west. While Bus Rapid Transit plans — a topic I hardly touched upon this year — are on hold, these two extension projects are the city’s most ambitious subway construction efforts in decades.
And finally, the customer service efforts. They started with Rider Report Cards and ended with public workshops. While the MTA seems more willing to listen customers these days, the real test will come in 2008. Do they continue to respond to customer complaints? Do they continue to improve services and the overall presentation of the subway system or were these measures simply token gestures designed to curry favor with riders faced with a fare hike? Again, time will tell.
Now, my assessment here is a little more optimistic than TSTC’s. I like what I hear and see from Lee Sander’s MTA. Having a transportation export in charge can only bring about more positive changes. To me, the MTA had a good 2007 despite the fare hike and August flooding disaster. Things may be holding steady overall, but they are trending in the right direction. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that in 2008.
[…] is on hold for Nostrand Ave., and earlier this week, the Tri-State Rapid Transportation campaign noted the same thing. I have no new information, but I will try to get to the bottom of it. New York badly needs their […]