Sunday, February 24, 2013

High MTA Leadership Turnover Has Consequences

The NY Times reports on the MTA's pitfall-strewn path to replace the Metrocard with contact-free payment:

[Jay Walder] helped execute a successful regional pilot in 2010 that allowed some riders to tap a single smart card to ride parts of the subway, bus, PATH train, and New Jersey Transit systems.
. . . .
But when Mr. Walder resigned suddenly the next year, accepting a private sector job in Hong Kong, the smart card lost its most vocal cheerleader. His successor, Mr. Lhota, shuffled the structure of the project’s team, transferring management responsibilities from the authority’s headquarters to its individual agencies, like New York City Transit and the commuter railroads.

One of the project’s catalysts, Charles Monheim, the authority’s former chief operating officer, also left the agency months into Mr. Lhota’s tenure.  [Michael DeVitto, the vice president and program executive for fare payment programs at New York City Transit] said he did not believe the turnover had hindered the project. Both Mr. Walder and Mr. Lhota declined to be interviewed for this article.
 I can't say definitively why Jay Walder left the MTA.  It could be he had a better deal elsewhere and took the opportunity provided by the changeover of the governorship to exit gracefully.  But the conventional wisdom, and the most plausible theory, is the new Governor, like the two before him, wanted his own man in the job.  (Inexplicably, Cuomo's man turned out to be an ambitious Republican who would abandon the agency a mere year into the job.)

I understand that an incoming leader wants to install their own people.  But that urge should be tempered by the quality of the person serving the previous administration and the benefit of continuity to the agency's mission.  It's a shame to push out good, effective executives like a Jay Walder or a Chris Ward to make room for an ally.  In that vein, I'm already on record that our next mayor should ask Jeanette Sadik-Khan to stay on at DOT and Carter Strickland to continue running DEP.  Don't fix what isn't broken.

But to the point of replacing the Metrocard: why not something based off of the EZ-Pass technology?  The MTA, the Port Authority and other road transportation agencies up and down the eastern seaboard already accept it.  Millions of people already have EZ-Pass accounts.  Barring that, let's license or buy a system that is already proven to work.   This isn't the moon shot; there are already working systems out there serving riders.

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