It’s facing multiple existential crises, yet the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is about to suffer a leadership vacuum thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of the state Senate.
Chairman Pat Foye is leaving the agency’s helm in a week, with no permanent replacement on the horizon. Why? Because Cuomo chose, out of the blue, to tap him as interim president and CEO of the Empire State Development Corp. — while asking the Legislature to restructure MTA governance to break the top job in two so he could make interim NYC Transit president Sarah Feinberg the new MTA board chair and Janno Lieber the new CEO.
Transit groups and others opposed the surprise last-minute play to split the job (which has mainly worked fine since the two roles were combined under then-Gov. David Paterson). Lawmakers punted, as the session ended without any action.
So unless the state Senate holds a special session to confirm someone for the job(s), whoever’s in charge will lack the authority of a permanent leader. A “special” is entirely possible — if Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her No. 2, Sen. Mike Gianaris, are willing to take some stand on what they’ll support and/or negotiate with the gov on who’s acceptable in what role(s). Alternately, Cuomo could announce that he wants Foye to stay — for the long term — after all.
Now is no time for the MTA to be rudderless, facing crises of public doubts on transit safety and a huge fiscal challenge. Despite landing nearly $15 billion in federal aid, it’s staring at a projected $3.5 billion deficit in 2024 and 2025. The agency is considering service cuts to compensate for the drop in fare-box revenue since ridership has been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels, even as it’s putting off scheduled fare hikes.
Oh, and it has yet to name members to the panel that’s supposed to allow congestion pricing to move ahead, something that should raise $15 billion for mass transit.
Cuomo may well worry that congestion tolls and fare hikes would hurt his already-dicey chances for re-election next year; a rudderless MTA has no hope of moving on either front — no matter the best interests of commuters or straphangers. Or of a workforce that did its job all through the pandemic.
This is a shameful fail by Cuomo and the legislative leaders. Somehow, they need to work out a way to get the MTA the permanent chiefs it needs. With millions of riders and tourists returning to public transit in coming weeks, the stakes are too high for inaction that could derail the city’s recovery.