As you know, the MTA Board voted to revoke the free travel perks to current & past board members at their board meeting yesterday. Later on that day, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo & Straphangers Campaign Staff Lawyer Gene Russianoff released statements. Here is Bharat Ayyar’s report courtesy of The New York Observer:
The M.T.A. board voted this morning to amend its policy of handing out free E-ZPasses and transit passes to current and former board members. Now, only current board members will get the perks and only for use on official M.T.A. business.
Andrew Cuomo, who came out strongly against the M.T.A.’s previous policy, was glad:
“I am pleased the MTA board today adopted a new policy recognizing that under the law board members are not entitled to compensation of any kind. In taking this step, the MTA board now recognizes that no one, including government agencies and officials, is above the law. Getting rid of lifetime E-ZPasses and other perks will ensure the independence of the MTA board and will save New York taxpayers money.”
I’m waiting to hear back whether Cuomo will still try to recoup the money.
The Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff, like Cuomo, also released a statement today. Unlike Cuomo, Russianoff continued to be critical of the policy, and pushed for greater oversight of public authorities like the M.T.A.
The full Straphangers release:
The financial news for the MTA and its millions of riders is terrible, with threats of fare hikes, service cuts and a downturn in the crucial rebuilding program. In the midst of this budget Armageddon, should we be talking about whether Board members should be getting free EZ-Passes and MetroCards for life? Isn’t it a distraction from the crucial problems confronting the system?
I do think that the policy on free passes raises at least two important issues.
First, the composition of the MTA board is unrepresentative of the riders who use your system — whether it’s by income, gender or race. No wonder your customers and their elected officials howled when they heard that MTA Board Members were exempted from feeling the impact of fare and toll hikes for life.
Your appointing officials — the Governor, Mayor and suburban County Executives — must commit to more diversity in their nominees to the Board. And they must find ways to make sure that all Board members regularly use transit.
Second, the MTA has a credibility problem as it asks the State, the City and possibly its riders and motorists to come to its financial rescue. The public’s skepticism has been fueled by real events, from the MTA’s spending $400 million in cost overruns for its building in lower Manhattan to the on-again, off-again service enhancements.
In all fairness, the MTA has taken steps to make itself more transparent, like releasing its preliminary budget six months in advance. But this is not enough.
Now you can take the view that negative stories are inevitable, so why bother. Or you can try to take action to improve how the public views the MTA
The state legislature has been considering beefing up a public authority oversight board, designed to open up the MTA’s policies and decisions to the public. I would urge the Board to embrace the benefits of an oversite board. Another step would be creating an easy way for the public to keep track of your contracts.
The choice is yours: You can either chalk up the EZ-Pass furor as an unfair turn of the screw. Or you can act to make the MTA more diverse and accountable.
I agree with Gene’s position. As I wrote yesterday, the MTA should consider hiring your average straphanger or solid transit advocate to the board. The board clearly could use real people who understand the grind of a daily commute & what could be done to help improve it.