Preliminary MTA transportation plan calls for more centralization

July 15, 2019
The preliminary transformation plan makes seven recommendations surrounding the MTA’s focus on service, the centralization of several department functions and hiring additional leadership.

An early step in efforts to reorganize the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) took place on July 12 with the release of a preliminary report containing recommendations on a transformation plan. The report makes seven recommendations calling for the MTA to refocus on core objectives and centralize many department functions. 

“Today is the beginning of a new, modern MTA – one that delivers better service, completes projects on time and on budget, and uses its resources effectively and efficiently,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye. “Make no mistake about it, this transformation will allow us to finally give our customers the system they deserve, and prepares us to execute on what is likely to be the biggest capital plan in MTA history.”

The reorganization of MTA, the first in the authority’s 51-year history, was mandated by New York State’s budget bill that passed in April as part of widespread reforms. AlixPartners performed the evaluation and produced the preliminary report on the transformation that the MTA says will “prepare the agency to dramatically improve service, end project delays and cost overruns, and finally establish the modern system customers deserve.”

MTA also notes that the magnitude and scale of the proposed transformation outlined in the report would be unprecedented in the authority’s history.

“This reorganization builds upon the progress made by the Subway Action Plan, Fast Forward and Save Safe Seconds to transform every aspect of our service and deliver modern, fully accessible transit to riders. It will enable us to build on our work over the last year, which has led to a historic turnaround in subway performance,” said New York City Transit President Andy Byford.

The Subway Action Plan and Save Safe Seconds campaign have led to improvements in subway service with MTA releasing new statistics the second week of July that show subway on-time performance was at a six-year high, while major incidents had decreased.

MTA notes that in order to continue the progress that has recently been achieved, the transformation plan contains the following key recommendations:

1. The MTA should refocus agencies on service delivery, core safety, operations and maintenance activities, and centralize all support functions. Instead of general support functions, MTA agencies should focus on service delivery, safety, day-to-day operations and maintenance and have reporting lines to a chief operating officer. All other services will be merged and coordinated centrally with a goal of driving a higher level of services at lower costs. This would result in consolidation of more than 40 functional groups within the existing MTA agencies to six departments in the new MTA organization. Furthermore, the Transformation Plan calls for changes to the fundamental ways the MTA does business in order to achieve more effective and efficient performance.

2. All capital-related functions across MTA should fall under a new central group responsible for planning, development and delivery of a Capital Program that improves service, the customer experience and accountability. To address slow, costly and bureaucratic processes and to create accountability, all capital-related functions across the MTA should be merged into a central group that would be accountable for planning, development and delivery of the Capital Program. This group would identify optimal project delivery (groupings, timing, delivery), increase competition in a historically constrained supplier market and complete important capital projects that improve service and customer experience quicker.

3. Establishing a centralized engineering group, led by a chief engineering officer role, would address inconsistent engineering methods across agencies, eliminate the duplication of processes and standards, and ensure quality and sustainability of infrastructure. The chief engineering officer would establish clear engineering and maintenance standards to be executed consistently across all agencies, which would provide consistent standards and specifications and eliminate unnecessary complexity and duplication.

4. Centralizing customer communication would address many existing differing communication types (i.e., service updates, timetables, customer feedback, etc.) from several different agencies. This would allow MTA to clearly and consistently manage the message, medium and content.

5. The MTA should centralize operating standards and service design to eliminate silos and enable multimodal network design optimization. Currently, each MTA agency has its own internal operations standards and service design capabilities, which would be better managed under one integrated function serving all agencies.

6. The MTA should create a centralized human resources department focused on attracting, developing and retaining the talent required to improve MTA performance and service delivery. This new entity will be tasked with clearly articulating a new talent strategy. This will help to resolve issues of duplication and improve analytics, data consistency and data integrity.

7. To drive the transformation, the MTA will require a selection of new leadership roles and capabilities such as:

  • A chief operating officer who will lead the team of agency leaders including subway, commuter rail, bus, and bridge/tunnel transportation systems to deliver safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation services. The COO will shape operations with a regional, multimodal view of service design and delivery. Critically, the COO will create a culture of accountability that permeates through all levels of the MTA, across agencies.
  • A chief transformation officer who will lead the execution of ongoing and new initiatives across the $18 billion enterprise. These efforts will include reorganization, development of strong center-led business functions, streamlining business processes, quality assurance and establishing internal controls. The chief transformation officer will play a crucial role in quality assurance and should focus on building and embedding cross-functional capabilities that ensure intended results from vendors and suppliers, including on-time performance and accountability which are pivotal to efficiency and customer service. Waste, fraud, abuse and possible legal violations remain the jurisdiction of the MTA Inspector General (IG). However, the two offices could work collaboratively. This Chief Transformation Officer will report directly to the MTA Board and work closely with the MTA Chief Executive Officer and COO to drive achievement of transformation goals.
  • An MTA accessibility officer who would report directly to the CEO and build on the progress made to increase accessibility to subways, buses, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metro-North.

“Long Island Rail Road employees are at the heart of delivering on our mission to provide exceptional service for the customers of today and the future,” said LIRR President Phillip Eng. “As they continue this work to ensure reliable service, increased communication and a robust capital program that’s expanding and modernizing the railroad, we owe it to the public we serve to use funding both appropriately and in the most cost-effective manner.I am encouraged that a fresh approach to MTA operations will help ensure that, as we embark on a truly transformational era in public transportation, that we are efficient and consistent with shared best practices, which will further our mission to give customers the service they deserve.”

Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi added, “The AlixPartners plan will create new opportunities for the sharing of best practices and new technologies across all of the MTA agencies with the goal of improving customer and employee safety, the reliability of service, and the overall customer experience.”

AlixPartners interviewed more than 100 MTA employees representing all agencies and functions, reviewed MTA historical performance, financial and operational records and analyzed peer data published by the Federal Transit Administration and other resources to support the findings and recommendations in the preliminary report.

MTA leadership will be briefing the MTA Board on the recommendation in the report in the coming days, with the Board set to vote on the final report at its July meeting.

Governor Cuomo’s added recommendation

Following the report’s release, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a letter to the MTA Board of Directors requesting that as the authority moves forward with its transformation plan that it address a society issue: homeless people living on the city’s subways.

“[Homelessness] is a crisis, and it has been for a long time and it's only getting worse. It affects service, it affects riders and it affects homeless people,” the governor said.

The governor writes that the issue of homeless individuals living on subways has ramped up in recent years. His letter reads:

“In 2018, there were 1,771 homeless people living in the subway — that number surged to 2,178 in 2019, an increase of 23 percent. According to the MTA's own statistics, trains were delayed 659 times in 2018 by homeless people who were walking on tracks, and engaging in disruptive and often dangerous behavior including blocking train doors—a staggering 54 percent increase from the 428 homeless related delays in 2014. And that number is getting worse: in the first three months of this year, the MTA reports that there have already been 313 homeless related train delays. Over the last decade, the number of incidents more than tripled, from 254 in 2008 to 856 last year.”

Earlier this summer, various New York City departments announced that they would work in tandem to implement a pilot program to offer shelter and services in lieu of summonses to unsheltered individuals in the subway system in Manhattan.

The governor’s letter said now, as the authority plans an unprecedented reorganization, is the time to provide better solutions this problem:

“The MTA must develop a comprehensive outreach plan that coordinates MTA personnel, social service providers and shelter and supportive housing providers to help the homeless out of the system and into safe, supportive environments. If the MTA needs more police or social service providers, now is the time to make that adjustment. Hire them and include it in the Reorganization Plan.”

Gov. Cuomo, who has worked to remedy the issue of homelessness at the municipal and federal level, added that “no one is served by leaving homeless people to sleep in terminals and on trains.”

“The MTA runs the trains and the buses and the terminals and they can do better and they must do better,” added Gov. Cuomo. “This is not going to be an issue of reinventing the wheel, this is not sending a rocket to a planet unexplored. We know this issue all too well. We know how to do outreach. We know how to have private organizations that specialize in outreach. We know how to bring people to appropriate facilities. We know how to do this. We just have to do it and we have to do it better.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.