Any hope that the state government will fix the MTA ended last week when Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio released a disappointing reform plan. In the guise of promoting efficiency, it would weaken the last checks on Cuomo’s authority and disempower forward-thinking managers such as New York City Transit president Andy Byford. Meanwhile, the plan ignores the MTA’s biggest issue: the agency’s labor contracts require unaffordable overstaffing of its day-to-day operations.
Once, though, New York City didn’t need to beg the governor for help. From 1940 until 1968, New York City ran the subway itself. City officials, or city-appointed board members of the New York City Transit Authority, could choose subway managers, negotiate labor and construction contracts, and make improvement plans, without asking Albany for permission.
In 1968, though, the NYCTA and Robert Moses’ Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority merged into the MTA, on whose board the city gets only 4 of 14 votes. Though NYC still owns the subway, the MTA leases it on terms that give the city no control over subway operations.
The merger made sense in 1968, as it let the MTA use bridge and tunnel tolls to pay for subway improvements. But, as City Council speaker Corey Johnson recognized in his State of the City speech Tuesday, it’s time to reconsider. Johnson has proposed combining NYC’s subways and buses, as well as the Staten Island Railway and the MTA’s bridges and tunnels, into a new city-run organization called Big Apple Transit, separate from the MTA.
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