Home MTA Politics Editorial of the Day: On pointless comptroller reports

Editorial of the Day: On pointless comptroller reports

by Benjamin Kabak

Remember that Captain Obvious report buried on a Sunday by Comptrollers John Liu and Thomas DiNapoli that highlighted how the MTA handles service changes and track work? It seems that some folks did not take too kindly to Liu and DiNapoli’s blustering attempt at a blatant headline grab. The Daily News’ editorial board, for one, found the report misguided and petty.

Here’s how they put it:

The press release trumpeted that the state and city controllers had conducted their first joint audit in more than a decade. Thomas DiNapoli (Albany) and John Liu (New York) had trained their collective investigative firepower on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, their highly paid publicity aides announced. Gee, they must have discovered something huge. Right?

No, not exactly.

The report released Sunday by DiNapoli and Liu was more like a junior high school research paper than a serious examination of the state of mass transit in New York City. Did you know that auditors visited 39 subway stations where service had been diverted for track repairs? And did you know, horror of horrors, that the transit authority posted no more than 20 signs in each station alerting riders to the disruption? Well, now you do, thanks to the crusading of DiNapoli and Liu, who want every straphanger to know whose side they are on.

While this is one of the oldest PR tricks in the book, rarely have two such high officials attempted it with such feeble results. It goes this way: Zero in on something that annoys riders, such as service disruptions for repairs. Then count up the numbers and look for anything that suggests the MTA is bollixing up the work.

The News, not exactly a friend of the MTA’s over the years, has a better solution: Focus on the big picture and show how “the MTA is struggling to complete necessary repairs and system upgrades without proper state funding.” The paper is probably being a little tougher on Liu and DiNapoli than they need to be, but their point — that nothing new comes out of the comptrollers’ offices — is one I’ve made before. All we hear about from them are issues the MTA has already vowed to address or institutional problems that transcend an audit.

Once upon a time, the Citizens Budget Commission explored how funding from Albany for the MTA’s capital plans had dried up over the course of the Pataki Administration. If DiNapoli and Liu want to make waves, they should conduct that forensic audit of the MTA’s books while looking at Albany’s support as well. Perhaps then they would find real savings and real reform rather than the complaint that stations which see a few thousand riders per day have only 20 service change posters instead of 50.

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Bolwerk August 3, 2011 - 2:11 pm

The most important questions to ask are:

1) how do we pay for what we have? Part of the answer clearly lies in reducing some waste, but part of it lies in new revenue too.

2) how can we pay for system expansion? (I mean real system expansion, not just boutique lines for Manhattanites.)

3) how should government be structured to effectively facilitate transit?

The answer to (3) lies partly in giving the MTA a say in land use regulations. To my knowledge, only question #1 gets serious ink, and the attention it gets is limited to preventing further revenue raising. Liu and DiNapoli, unfortunately, probably are indifferent at best to questions #2 and #3, and perhaps even hostile to the idea that they should be asked.

Justin August 4, 2011 - 1:41 am

If the city’s real estate market (in terms of sales) continues to recover, this might help bring in additional revenue as a percentage of real estate taxes go to the MTA.

The MTA should do better development deals and make better use of its real estate holdings. Particularly if MTR in Hong Kong is profitable because of its real estate holdings and developments. This is my answer to question 1, and this would help with Question 2 and 3 somewhat.

I really wouldn’t be oppose, at this point, to tolls on the bridges crossing the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. I think this should be done so the focus is more revenues for mass transit, and not traffic reduction.

Bolwerk August 4, 2011 - 9:45 am

The thing is, I don’t know if the MTA is allowed to make real estate deals that aren’t directly related to operations. It’s one of those things the state probably needs to take legislative action on – and no one is even thinking about it.

The MTA having the capacity to collect rents is a much more stable source of revenue than real estate transfer taxes. People may buy and sell less through a recession, but most space still needs to be rented, particularly housing. And to say the least, the MTA is in a unique position to offer transit-oriented development to those who are interested in it.

toby August 3, 2011 - 2:25 pm

Liu us such a tool

Al D August 3, 2011 - 2:33 pm

These guys, especially DiNapoli, really need to get a life. I still can’t figure out how he got re-elected?

Well, at least DiNapoli finally closed at least 1 of the 86 con-current MTA forensic audits he has running! I am not holding my breath for the other 85 reports.

Bolwerk August 3, 2011 - 4:03 pm

Whoever the Republikans nominated is forgettable, and a Republikan comptroller probably isn’t an improvement on DiNapoli anyway.

John Paul N. August 3, 2011 - 3:11 pm

There is one supporter, State Senator Michael Gianaris (what a surprise):

Gianaris, a commuter advocate, stated: “The MTA must make greater efforts to compensate communities for the seemingly endless number of disruptions-shuttle buses based on six-year-old data are insufficient.”

The lawmaker applauded Di Napoli and Liu “for taking charge of this problem and look forward to working to make subway travel a better experience”.

As long as Liu, in particular, still thinks the MTA has two sets of books, and as long as the belief remains that a 24-hour subway system must exist because the city will die without it, pols’ dissatisfaction of the subway will never go away.

Bob August 3, 2011 - 7:03 pm

GOs are complex. To examine 50 and extrapolate to 3,000 is a fools errand. Many GOs are small things that take a few hours. Others take all weekend, sometimes several weekends. They say most start late and end early. So all the work got done. If it ends 2 hours early you don’t save money – everyone involved gets paid a full shift. (You might save some OT, but you would have to evaluate on a case by case basis. And you can’t plan on that.)

As to restoring service early – it depends. Many times they do. But if the train crews were told to report to a different location you can’t shift them back.

As to the part about making sure diversions are used to maximum effect by as many groups as want to work: that already happens. I know from personal experience there are quite a few people doing exactly that, and they do it well. What most outsiders don’t appreciate is just how much work there is to do!!

Andrew August 3, 2011 - 10:42 pm

Also, if service is restored early, people who have planned their trips around the diversions will end up in the wrong places. Say the F is running on the A, and you’re going to Chambers, and you’ve read the diversions, so you get on an F – but the work’s ended early, and you find yourself at Broadway-Lafayette. (Even if there were crystal clear announcements on the train, magine the ADA lawsuit…)

Here’s the audit itself, including NYCT’s responses: http://www.nytimes.com/interac.....eport.html


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