Watchdog Testimony to MTA on Return to Normalcy and Transparent Governance


Testimony to MTA Board
Recorded April 19, 2021

Re: Return to Normalcy and Transparency for MTA Governance

Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for a more transparent and accountable New York government, including for authorities like the MTA.

First, it’s time for the MTA to appoint its Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB) for the Central Business District (CBD) tolling program.

It is good news for the MTA and the region that the Federal DOT has finally provided clarity that an Environmental Assessment is needed for the CBD tolling program. We are optimistic the assessment will be completed by MTA in a timely manner, and urge the MTA to move on a parallel track to expeditiously appoint its Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB). The TMRB must follow the Open Meetings Law, per a NYS Committee on Open Government advisory opinion from November 2019. This means webcasting its meetings – not only for votes on TMRB recommendations, but all meetings as required by law to instill greater public confidence.

Second, as New York State returns to normalcy with various forms of reopening, it is time for the MTA to end unnecessary emergency processes – and less transparent governance – by conducting business in the open and accountable way called for in state law and the MTA’s own by-laws. Public watchdogs like Reinvent Albany are again asking the MTA to hold separate committee meetings, a call echoed by members of the MTA Board.

Unfortunately, the MTA website announced that a single monthly board meeting will be held through June 2021, without separate committee meetings. One truncated meeting deprives the public of more opportunities to provide comment, and prevents MTA Board members from hearing from a broader segment of the public — an essential part of meeting their fiduciary duty. We are also concerned that the MTA is replacing previously public meetings with private Board member briefings.

New Yorkers are rightly tired of living under emergency rules. We expect our public institutions to operate under established laws and regular order. We believe it is long past time for the Governor or the Legislature to end Emergency Order 168. This 2017 Governor’s order was issued in response to subway service meltdowns, and has since been renewed 47 times. Enough is enough. EO 168 and the COVID-19 EO 202 both suspend important anti-corruption procurement safeguards. Subway performance has rebounded and there is no justification for the MTA to be under two separate states of emergency.

Thank you for your consideration.