How the MTA Spent Millions on a Cost-Cutting Effort That Spurred a Worker Shortage
The promise of a “new, modern MTA” came in 2019 as the transit agency dropped $4 million on a consulting firm’s blueprint for a makeover largely built on eliminating jobs.
Then, six senior executives were brought in to carry out then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “historic reorganization” of the MTA. They pulled in six-figure salaries that totaled nearly $2 million annually, including money for relocating and housing expenses.
But the pandemic pushed the cost- and jobs-cutting goals of the so-called MTA Transformation Plan off track — and now the transit agency is going on a hiring spree to stem a shortage of train crews and bus operators that’s led to bus and train delays.
With Chief Transformation Officer Anthony McCord announcing his resignation last Friday — and more of his colleagues out the door — the MTA is quickly moving beyond the pricey and unpopular campaign championed by Cuomo and mandated by the state Legislature.
“We have to focus on our mission, which is transportation, not transformation,” Janno Lieber, the acting MTA chairperson and CEO, said Wednesday. “Bringing back riders and delivering service has to be our top priority right now.”
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli criticized the plan last month, flagging how the transformation team took credit for eliminating nearly 2,300 operations and maintenance jobs — and fewer than 300 administrative posts, leading to service woes.
“That was the exact opposite of what the transformation plan was supposed to do,” said Rachael Fauss, an analyst with Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group. “From that perspective, it was a failure.”
A ‘Midnight Deal’
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens), who chairs a Senate committee that oversees the MTA, told THE CITY that Cuomo foisted the transformation plan on state lawmakers as part of a last-minute package of legislation in June 2019.
“It was one of those midnight deals we were forced to vote on,” Comrie said. “There was no real opportunity to have a discussion or debate about the transformation plan — it was just a last-minute bill.”
On Wednesday, Lieber credited the transformation plan for “significant progress” in how the MTA better manages costs on major construction projects and on how the agency communicates with riders. The MTA has said the plan contributed to more than $400 million in savings this year.
Still, Lieber told a panel of state lawmakers last month that he was “not thrilled” with the results of a transformation plan, which was designed to improve subway, bus and commuter rail service and streamline a bureaucracy with nearly 70,000 employees.
He expressed similar sentiments Wednesday, noting elements of the effort “remain problematic.” Lieber cited a hiring process that was in “disarray” as the MTA ended a long-running jobs freeze that has, for months, contributed to tens of thousands of canceled trips.
“We have to make good on this,” he said.
Cuomo hatched the plan in 2019, ridiculing his MTA as a “disgrace” and declaring reforms were needed. Mario Peloquin, one of the executives brought in to lead the transformation effort, told THE CITY that “the concept was good” but difficult to carry out because of the pandemic and resistance among bureaucrats and union leaders.
“The traveling public would benefit by changing things to 2021 standards,” said Peloquin, who left the MTA in February, after less than a year as its chief operating officer. “But the inertia is just so big.”
‘Remake the Remake’
Andy Byford, the former New York City Transit president, cited the overhaul in his January 2020 resignation letter, writing that the reorganization had left him “to focus solely on the day-to-day running of service.”
Byford, now the head of London’s transportation system, declined to comment.
Larry Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo lieutenant and MTA board member, had previously promoted the plan as a “shiny object” that would improve efficiency and restore rider trust. Schwartz, who this month resigned from the MTA board but remains an active member until a replacement is appointed and confirmed, also declined to comment.
“The transformation plan ‘goes out as a failure — a sheer and utter failure.’”
Meanwhile, the MTA made another set of senior-level hires this week that, according to the agency, will “streamline management functions” and create a new organizational structure.
“Remake the remake,” scoffed a former transit official who asked not to be identified by name.
John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union and an MTA board member, said the transformation plan’s only legacy is “hamstringing the system.”
“It doesn’t go out with a whimper,” Samuelsen said. “It goes out as a failure — a sheer and utter failure.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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