It's good news for subway riders that Governor Paterson has nominated Jay Walder as Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
I had the opportunity to work with Jay during the years that he was a high-ranking staffer for two former MTA Chairmen.
He played leadership roles in getting the agency's vital five-year capital program passed by the state legislature. And he greatly advanced the MTA's popular set of fare discounts, including unlimited-ride MetroCards and free transfers between subways and buses.
He is smart, a transportation professional, accessible and rider-oriented. I look forward to working with him on improving subway, bus and commuter rail service.
At a recent news conference, Walder said that a top priority would be "to restore the public trust and confidence in the MTA [...] Any long-term solution to funding requires us as the M.T.A. to show people we are using funding as efficiently and effectively as possible."
Here are a few ideas for the soon-to-be new head of the MTA to consider for fostering more accountability for the agency:
1) Urge Governor Paterson to sign into law just-passed legislation to create a new Public Authorities Budget Office. This office would be responsible for monitoring agencies like the MTA. The New York City Independent Budget Office has helped hold City government more accountable. In many cases, it has enhanced the City's credibility. The bill would also increase the State Comptroller powers to approve major authority contracts and protect individual "whistleblowers" who report wrongdoing.
2) Commit yourself to achieving an initiative or initiatives by a date certain that riders can soon see, such as smart, talking bus shelters or two Bus Rapid Transit lines in the next two years, with faster and more reliable service.
3) Create a computerized system that lets the public track the status of major MTA contracts.
4) Support New York City Transit's initiative to report performance measures by subway line. This will encourage competition among the system's "line general managers," now in direct charged of the subways score-plus lines. Each of these managers should meet with the riding public at least once every year or two at every station on their line.
5) Be a regular transit rider.
6) Encourage the Governor to make diverse appointments to the MTA Board, including more women and minorities. Have him tell his appointees that they must attend fare increase/service cut hearings.
7) Do a periodic assessment of issues that may embarrass the MTA and try and to address them ahead of time. Past examples would be free bridge and tunnel passes for MTA board members or huge cost overruns. A future example might be if there are excessive payments to bond counsels or security firms.