Transparency for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was previously promised in 2013 by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He issued an executive order for all state agencies and authorities to publish their data online. This was followed by the State Legislature passing the "MTA Open Data Act." The legislation directed the MTA to publish all statistical and factual information it maintains.
The Federal Transit Administration provides $1.5 billion in annual capital grants to the New York MTA. The amount will grow by several hundred million more in coming years. This is accomplished under the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Transit Award Management System (TrAMS) that is used to award and manage federal grants. The MTA currently manages an active portfolio of federally-funded capital improvement projects and programs in open grants worth more than $12 billion in direct federal financial assistance. This does not include $15 billion in COVID-19 relief funding from Washington, D.C. that has also been previously approved.
As part of the requirements contained within all master grant agreements, using the FTA TrAMS System, the MTA provides updated quarterly financial and milestone progress reports to the FTA on active capital improvement projects and programs. These are required to be submitted within 30 days after the fiscal quarter has started on the first of the month and ends on the last day the third month. Federal fiscal quarters are October - December, January - March, April -June and July - September.
Information contained includes status of capital project contract award or initiation of in house projects. You can learn if projects and programs are progressing on schedule, completed on time and within budget, based upon the original approved grant milestones and budget. Explanations for project delays and change orders over $100,000 are provided. Project delays require recovery schedules and revised interim milestones to document future completion. Financial draw downs against open grants illustrate if funds are being expended on a timely basis. Unspent funds carried over year after year are provided, Open grants with no recent financial activity or older grants with small balances and no recent financial activity can be viewed. Change orders for construction projects over $100,000 have to provide documentation on how they are fair and reasonable.
The FTA has its own Project Management Oversight independent engineering consultant firms to supplement regional and headquarters staff for oversight. These firms provide both oversight and technical assistance for capital projects. The FTA usually assigns their own engineering consultant firms to those projects over $100 million or more. Engineering firms monitor the progress of these major capital projects and prepare monthly progress reports. These monthly reports are made available to MTA Chairperson Janno Lieber, MTA HQ staff, MTA Board members, MTA agency presidents, each MTA operating agency chief engineer, FTA HQ and regional office senior management teams and in house project oversight staff.
The FTA also has other consulting firms who conduct periodic Financial Management, Procurement System and Triennial (to insure compliance with FTA rules and regulations), along with various Civil Rights (Title VI, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Equal Opportunity Employment, Americans With Disabilities, Rail Station, Fixed Bus Route and Paratransit reviews). These reviews may cover either MTA HQ and/or various MTA operating and construction agencies, including NYC Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Railroad, MTA Capital Construction and MTA Bus.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has also promised transparency under her administration. One way she can accomplish this is by promoting transparency and directing MTA Chairman Janno Lieber to have all of this information submitted to the FTA by MTA posted on their agency website, in addition to the state government portal as well.
City, state and federal financial assistance along with farebox revenues fund MTA capital projects and programs. Transit riders and taxpayers are looking for accountability, efficiency and timely completion of capital projects, programs and maintenance to assure more reliable and safe commutes. Riders, transit advocacy groups, taxpayers, elected officials and transportation reporters deserve easy access to this information..
Does your transit agency share all of this information with commuters and taxpayers? If not, ask them to start doing this in 2023 at your next transit agency board meeting. Lobby your local transit agency board members and elected officials to do the same.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.