There won’t be much about congestion pricing in here because, on Saturday, paid subscribers got an email about that. It explains why congestion pricing, despite its benefits, will not fix any of the fundamental issues facing the MTA. Become a paid subscriber today to read it and support the free editions.
That being said, I want to congratulate everyone who has fought so hard to see congestion pricing become a reality. It is a win for everyone in the New York region, whether they realize it or not.
The absolute soonest congestion pricing can be flipped on will be 2021, so there’s plenty of time to talk about the details going forward, which, as of this writing, have yet to be released. And by golly, will we talk about the details, regarding both congestion pricing and the MTA reform measures in the budget.
Now, the hard work begins.
Governor Cuomo nominated a new MTA Chairman/CEO: Pat Foye. He’s been the MTA president for more than a year and has taken an active leadership role in recent months, particularly in pushing Albany to enact congestion pricing, so this isn’t a surprise. He will be replacing the interim chair Fernando Ferrer and awaits Senate confirmation.
Unlike the last full-time chairman, Joe Lhota, who resigned in November, Foye will occupy both the Chairman and CEO position rather than breaking up the CEO position into the “office of the Chairman” or whatever nonsense it was called. You can read more about Foye and the announcement here (yes, he rides commuter rail and the subway).
My biggest fear was the vacant position would be filled by a Cuomo loyalist. Foye is certainly in the Cuomo camp but has a reputation that falls short of loyalist. As Dana Rubenstein in Politico put it, “[Fellow travelers] note he is one of the last officials in Cuomoland who does not depend on the governor for personal advancement.”
In my mind, the big challenge with this role will be keeping anyone in it for long enough to make a difference. In recent years, the MTA has suffered from inconsistent and short-term leadership. Since the financial crisis hit in 2008, there have been five permanent and several interim chairmen, with only Tom Pendergast holding the position for more than three years, a blink of an eye in a bureaucracy’s time horizon.
Riders deserve someone who both wants the job and can work with the infamously interventionist governor on a consistent basis.
In other news, the MTA board, the governing body that is supposed to exercise independent control of the authority but in reality has very little impact on policy, had a big shake-up of appointees this week. Dana Rubenstein of Politico first reported the news. Here’s the rundown:
Peter Ward resigned and is being replaced by Haeda Mihaltses, executive director of external affairs for the New York Mets. Prior to that, she worked for the Bloomberg administration. Her experience at a hapless organization that has been synonymous with incompetency for generations to such a degree that New Yorkers can’t even fathom it getting any better will be invaluable at the baseball club (I kid, I kid because I love).
Charles Moerdler, a board member known for his quotable tirades against law-breakers, parking illegally, and not reading the committee materials before the meetings, is being replaced by former Sony CEO Michael Lynton (he also recently joined the Warner Music board). Lynton has lots of board-sitting experience, including as the chairman of Snap, Inc. Moerdler’s term had expired in 2016.
Mitch Pally, the longtime rep for Suffolk County, has been replaced with Kevin Law, the president of the Long Island Association. Pally held the seat for 14 years and, like Moerdler, was a holdover with an expired term.
Add these to the list of other recent changes, including strong voices such as Carl Weisbrod, Scott Rechler, and Jamie Vitiello bowing out for various reasons. David Mack and Sarah Feinberg have filled who of those vacancies.
If we’ve learned anything from recent months, particularly the L shutdown reversal, it’s that the board has little influence on what actually occurs at the MTA, a point raised by former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch in a New York Times op-ed this weekend. I will be interested to see how Foye handles this relationship and if these new board members attempt to alter that dynamic or further reinforce it.
News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood
I went in on the ferries last week so I won’t spend too much time on it again this week, but please do not miss the Citizens Budget Commission report on what a profound waste of public dollars they are, particularly the bit about how they average 91 passengers per revenue hour. 91. Not per boat. For the whole damn system. There are individual Sweetgreens that surpass that.
The debate over fare evasion continues at the MTA board, particularly regarding the agency’s figures that purport one in five local bus riders don’t pay the fare. One bit missing from this is why the MTA suspects fare evasion on buses is so much worse here than other cities. Trying to combat the problem without answering that question sets any potential solution up for failure.
Interim chair Freddy Ferrer tried to gaslight reporters on the whole L shutdown independent contractor report issue, asserting that he never said the contractor would compare the old plan to the new one even though he definitely, definitely did.
There was a bit of a hullabaloo in campaign finance reform circles about Cuomo holding an expensive fundraiser recently even though he’s not running for anything. I only bring this up because one of the guests was TWU president John Samuelsen, who when asked about it by the Times said “The governor has been the best governor for the trade union movement ever.” TWU’s contract with the MTA expires in May.
The Times went around and photographed subway bathrooms to prove they exist and are gross.
As expected/hoped, Apple Pay will be compatible with the new fare payment system.
Cool tool from the City Council that maps placard abuse.
PATH has a new boss. She actually rides PATH.
The MTA is beginning work to clear debris on the overhead tracks on the D line in southern Brooklyn, following the inspection of the 7 line. They say they will do every inch of overhead track in the city so that stuff stops falling on streets and sidewalks.
From The Department of Old But New to Me, I wish every single community board member was forced to read this:
“The fatal flaw of such populism is that no single group of citizens — mainstream or marginalized, affluent or impoverished — can be trusted to have the best interests of society or the environment in mind when they evaluate a proposal. The literature on grassroots planning tends to assume a citizenry of Gandhian humanists. In fact, most people are not motivated by altruism but by self-interest…This is why it’s a fool’s errand to rely upon citizens to guide the planning process.”
Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World
London is soon launching an Ultra Low Emission Zone, with a very high cost for driving a high-emissions vehicle into parts of Central London.
An explainer on how Hong Kong manages to be one of the few cities in the world where public transit turns a profit. Basically, it’s a real estate company given land by the government for pennies on the dollar which it then develops for massive profit that happens to also run trains.
A deep dive into what the death of the Triangle light rail means for Raleigh-Durham.
Auckland has doubled its public transportation usage since 2012 without building a major new rail line. How did they do it? A redesigned bus network and a relentless focus on more frequent, reliable service.
Crossrail in London continues to be a g-d mess.
DC—DC!—is now ahead of New York when it comes to progressive street redesigns for prioritizing buses.
As always, head over to Subway Weekender for all your unofficial weekend and late night service advisory breakdowns
This Time Last Year
One of my favorite newsletters, Oversharing, has a section called This Time Last Year. It’s a great idea, so I’m stealing it.
My opening bit was about how it takes forever for NYCT to update service statuses on the website, to the point where I often learned of service disruptions from random Twitter users up to a half hour earlier. This is one area of definite improvement. This does still happen from time to time, but for the most part service updates are far prompter.
And a city comptroller report found the MTA is not running enough off-peak service, particularly late nights and early mornings. This issue has not been corrected.
Dog in a Bag
MTA Rules of Conduct Section 1050.9 Subsection (h) Paragraph 2: no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.
Have a dog in a bag photo? Reading this on the subway and see a dog in a bag? Take a picture and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Traci Donatto
This has been another edition of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter helping you figure out what is going on with the subway, made every week by Aaron Gordon. Read on the web or view the archives at signalproblems.nyc.
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As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.