Opinion: RAIL Act Will Hold MTA Accountable

For far too long,  the Metropolitan Transit Authority has been a faceless organization, with Long Island Rail Road riders paying for overpriced tickets while receiving subpar service. For years, over three hundred thousand daily LIRR riders have been subjected to late or canceled trains, misinformation, overcrowded trains cars, and derailments, with no strategy on how to remedy the problems. A few years ago, the LIRR undertook major emergency repair and construction work, dubbed the ‘Summer of Hell,’ for the wide-ranging train cancellations and modified schedules as a result. The real problem?  For most commuters, its delayed trains, lack of accurate communication about schedule changes, and a standing room only rush hour commute.

The LIRR does not have even one spare train car, so if a train car is taken out of service, is sent out for maintenance, or has a problem, there is no replacement or spare car to use in its place. Stop and think about that for a second, for the 300,000 Long Islanders who ride the LIRR every day, the MTA has such poor long-term planning that they do not even have one spare train car.  The LIRR and MTA’s administrative bodies (and the budgets that pay for them) are massive, but the notion of keeping extra inventory for emergencies fails register on their radar.

That must change.

The new Senate Majority, which includes six members from Long Island, are committed to changing the MTA’s status quo. And this is why we introduced the MTA RAIL Act — a five-point platform to overhaul the MTA and provide real accountability and reform.

The RAIL Act will require the MTA to conduct an independent, comprehensive forensic audit of the MTA’s procurements to examine if there is fraud, negligence, anti-competitive conduct, bid-rigging, wasteful spending, or sufficient internal controls. It will also examine the MTA’s overuse of outside contractors, because far too many projects are being outsourced to over-priced contractors and not done by in-house workers. The MTA should be utilizing one of the best trained work forces in the nation — their rank-and-file union members — many of whom have the expertise, skillset, and depth needed to complete tasks that the MTA far too often chooses to outsource to outside consultants.

This audit will be unique in that it will be conducted wholly independent of the MTA’s administration. We cannot expect an agency whose leadership has allowed such waste and mismanagement to further to police itself, too.

Another key component of the MTA RAIL Act will overhaul the way the MTA analyzes itself. Current performance metrics do not provide adequate information about the system’s actual performance or delivery of services. Improved data collection and sharing on system performance and service delivery could yield significant improvements with simple changes like modernizing definitions used by the MTA.

The MTA RAIL Act will finally give riders a voting voice by reforming and modernizing the antiquated voting system that puts too much emphasis on administration, and not enough on the daily riders. For the first time, riders will have a voting member on the MTA board. The MTA board would no longer be able to ignore the concerns of 300,000+ daily LIRR riders. In addition to giving riders a real voice on the MTA’s 20-member board, the MTA RAIL Act gives the member representing the paratransit ridership a voting voice, so that individuals with physical impairments —  who are subjected to inaccessible train service and long, difficult commutes — are fairly represented on the board.

Every couple of years, the MTA issues a dire warning to legislators about its desperate need for a massive influx of capital funding. There are two serious problems with their cries for help. The first is that there is no real accountability as to where the funding goes and how it is spent. That’s what a forensic audit will address.

The second is a real lack of long-term capital planning by MTA leadership. The MTA RAIL Act will require the MTA to set forth, every five years, a 20-year capital investment plan. This will ensure there is a long term plan to address projected future needs and trends, and examine long-term capital investments.

The MTA has spent a lot of time asking lawmakers for additional funds to — quite literally — keep the trains running. The MTA also recently voted to raise fares on the hard-working LIRR riders who already pay hundreds each month for their commute. The public deserves to know where that money is going and what the MTA is spending that money on.

Every. Last. Penny.

That’s why my Senate colleagues and I pushed for the passage of this bill. And that’s why we are fighting to make it law.

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