Sunshine Week Testimony: MTA Must Look for Transparency Opportunities to Build Trust with Riders


Testimony to MTA Board, Recorded March 15, 2021
Re: This Sunshine Week, MTA Must Look for More Transparency Opportunities
as Part of Building Trust with Riders
Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable New York government, including for state authorities like the MTA.

It’s sunshine week, and now is as important as ever for public agencies like the MTA to build greater trust with the public as they respond to the greatest public health threat in our lifetimes. We understand that the world changed dramatically when COVID-19 hit New York a year ago. We recognize that the MTA’s workforce has suffered tragic losses, which we honor today.

The MTA has also faced the greatest fiscal crisis in its history, and providing the public with greater transparency of its finances is crucial to furthering public understanding of its financial needs and challenges going forward.

Nearly two years ago, Reinvent Albany released our Open MTA report with 50 recommendations for the MTA and state lawmakers to build trust with the agency. Eighteen of those recommendations related specifically to transparency. Also nearly two years ago, Chairman and CEO Pat Foye made a commitment to improve open data and Freedom of Information Law responses at the MTA.

We believe that now is a crucial time for the MTA to renew its commitment to transparency as it seeks to have more riders come back, and ask the MTA to do the following:

  1. Improve FOIL and create an Open FOIL platform that allows the public to better track FOIL requests, with proactive disclosure of public records;
  2. Create an MTA Open Data portal, with centralized, proactive release of MTA data;
  3. Create an MTA contracts database, with contract numbers, information about bidding processes, associated capital project numbers, and unique identifiers for vendors;
  4. Provide more data about COVID-19 mitigation efforts and cleaning expenses, as well as expand its public data about crowding and ridership;
  5. Improve the capital program dashboard;
  6. Release more and timelier budget information as open data, clearly show state actions to withhold, raid or cut MTA dedicated funding, and use of federal emergency funds; and
  7. Hold separate committee meetings again, with extended and real-time public comment, and earlier release of board materials.

Thank you for your consideration.