MTA Gets New Chairman Who May or May Not Do Anything

09/11/2009 2:23 PM |

Subway train

If nothing else, you’ll probably have an idea when the heck that train is coming as you stand on the platform at two in the morning—you know, like when you’re waiting for the L, and that robot woman won’t shut up?

The state senate affirmed a new MTA chairman yesterday, Jay Walder; he was light on specific goals, but he vowed vaguely to bring in new managers, which can only be good, I guess, at the notoriously mismanaged authority. His only solid idea for now seems to be to install more electronic message boards—part of a broader but unspecified plan to make the system “more inviting.”

“We don’t have to have everyone peering down the street looking for the next bus or peering over the track to see if a light is coming,” he told the Daily News. “We can change that.”

This is also one of Mayor Bloomberg’s Big Ideas to improve the MTA, according to the mailers I get at home, even though he has no authority to do so. (Looks like the mayor will have to start campaigning on another issue—or issues in general? The mayor’s campaign website has no “issues” section!)

Walder is Paterson’s choice, replacing Spitzer’s man for the job, who was pushed out months ago, back when Paterson still had a sliver of legitimacy. The new chairman and chief executive comes most recently from the world of consulting, but before that he was in London, where he headed that city’s MTA equivalent. (Before that he worked for the MTA, in the 80s! Wild style!) London has lots of electronic message boards; a study there found commuters were three times as unhappy when they don’t know when a train is coming.

A little more psychological stability among riders will be a welcome change to the subway system, but of course Walder faces much greater challenges, not least of which is that the MTA is still facing colossal budget shortfalls in their construction and maintenance accounts; he acknowledged that that will be his biggest hurdle moving forward. During confirmation proceedings, he wouldn’t offer a concrete opinion on congestion pricing, a potential cash cow, which led to opposition from a modestly sized group of anti-congestion pricing Republican lawmakers, who voted against him to no avail. Hopefully he won’t just raise fares, his predecessors’ standby panacea for financing ills. (When I was a kid, a bus token cost a dollar! Kids today don’t even know what a token is! Unless they Google it!)

Maybe Walder will be sympathetic because he grew up in NYC—Queens to be exact, where he attended public schools. “I grew up riding the LIRR and the subway,” he told the Daily News. “The opportunity to lead the MTA is truly a homecoming for me.” Time will tell whether he gets run out of town on a rail.