Sunday, August 12, 2007

MTA and the Public Trust

The NY Times has an editorial today that speaks of restoring "trust" in the MTA. In our view the concept of restoration implies the existence of a previous pristine condition-one that has been lost but, through the exercise of good will and hard work, can be found again. In the case of the MTA, however, there has really never been any such condition, certainly not one that would prompt the re-writing of some version of Paradise Lost.

In fact, the MTA is a monument to inefficiency and the absence of any real accountability. Certainly, given its governing charter, there is no reason for anyone living in NYC to grant the agency any credibility whatsoever. The flavor of this general sentiment is glimpsed in today's Letters Section of the NY Post-aptly titled, "Does the 'M' in MTA Stand for Moronic?"

As one writer eloquently points out; "The entire MTA organization is incompetent, from root to branch. Thanks to them we have a subway that is a disgrace to the greatest city in the world...Throwing more money at an organization this feckless would be like shoveling it into a furnace." Somehow, we think that this observation is a more prescient evaluation of the MTA-and the trust it engenders- than the tepid prose of the Times editorial.

Which brings us to the twin issues of a fare hike and the mayor's congestion tax. Clearly, in our view a comprehensive review of the MTA, both its governance and its capabilities, needs to precede any plan that increases the agency's revenue flow. In this context, the approval of any congestion tax would be akin to the gift of a prosthetic device to a quadriplegic.

What's interesting here is the remarkable evolution of the Times' view of the entire congestion plan. Looking back, we recall how the paper jumped on the mayor's bandwagon-with all of the enthusiasm of a paid clack. The congestion tax was an essential ingredient for the building up of a more robust mass transit infrastructure.

Now, however, the tone-and the direction-has taken a dramatic new turn. In today's editorial observation the paper starts to shift gears: "If Washington comes through, state and city elected leaders, including Governor Spitzer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, will begin assembling a commission to come up with a plan that relieves gridlock. The inclination will be to load up the panel with the usual suspects. We hope they fight that urge, and include independent voices who can speak for New Yorkers who want a daily commute they can count on..."

So instead of the previous, "full speed ahead posture," the Times is now echoing the positions that we have been taking about the need for deliberation and caution. The commission, widely seen exclusively as a review mechanism for the mayor's plan, is now seen by the putative paper of record as a deliberative body charged with coming up with "a plan that relieves gridlock."

This is right on the money. A comprehensive transit review commission is needed; and the mayor's congestion tax needs to be evaluated within a much broader context. There are some serious governance deficiencies in the public authority's structure. Until they are addressed, not another penny more should be allocated to these unelected bureaucrats.