Asking a Genie for More Wishes and Other Thoughts from the MTA Reinvention Commission

If you could change one thing about transit in New York City, what would it be?

Last week, the MTA Reinvention Commission, the panel of transit superstars convened by Governor Cuomo to make recommendations for the future of the MTA, took a break from private discussions and expert testimony to let the public weigh in.

Expectations for the Commission are muted. For one thing, it’s unclear how the group is expected to make tangible, realistic recommendations for “the next hundred years” of the MTA, as they’ve been charged. For another, the Commission’s purpose and influence are murky- is this just a pre-election year spectacle for Gov. Cuomo? Or is this a genuine opportunity to prepare New York for the myriad of challenges ahead.

At a minimum, at least the Commission provides a forum for an open airing of ideas which can intrigue minds and move policy forward. Even if short-term results are limited, the Commission has the potential to add momentum to many important longer-term initiatives. Most probably, the Commission’s recommendations will play a role in creating the MTA’s next Five Year Capital Plan, which will certainly set the course for the city’s future.

Representing the generation that will feel the largest impacts of New York City’s investments decisions today, MYD attended and testified at the Commission’s Public Comment session, putting forth our values, ideas and priorities for NYC’s transit system moving forward.

MYD Supports MOVE NY’s Fair Plan. The proposal, championed by transit legend Sam Schwartz, would adjust bridge and tunnel tolls across the city, raising some and lowering others according to the availability of public transit. This would encourage people in transit rich areas, namely downtown Manhattan, to use public transit rather than a personal vehicle. The plan will reduce congestion on the Central Business District’s overburdened streets, improve the pedestrian environment, and raise 1.4 billion dollars in revenue for the MTA.

We recognize that passing the Fair Plan will take significant political courage, but believe it would be inherently beneficial for New York, as well as provide the funds to move forward with other critical projects. In some ways, this plan is like asking a genie for more wishes- upfront, it’s a significant request but it would open doors to many new, exciting opportunities. For those opportunities, we hope this wish comes true, and believe voicing support now will help move the MTA in the right direction on this important issue.

Spending Priorities: The best thing the MTA can do is invest in repairs to the existing system. Bridges and tunnels need reinforcements and tracks must be inspected, repaired and replaced to assure the system we have continues to serve its growing needs.

As far as improvements, the MTA should have two focuses: climate proofing, and public transportation. Hurricane Sandy revealed to us how vulnerable our transit system really is. From severe delays to damage to critical components and stations, we know that our current transit system is vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change. From raising station entrances to help prevent flooding, to protecting electrical equipment, we must make sure the system is prepared for the impending environmental changes we know are coming.

Beyond that, we are strong advocates for investment in public transportation, including supporting subway improvements, new bus rapid transit corridors, and using public funds to support Citibike. These will help improve life in the city for everyone, and must be prioritized above road and highway expansions.

The MTA Reinvention has been charged with a Herculean task. Setting the course for an organization as complex and vast as the MTA will take strong wills and clear vision. But with experts from a variety of fields, with the political weight, transit prowess, and planning experience, the Commission may have a real shot to improve conditions, protect our system and get something done.