The so-called MTA Transformation Plan championed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is undergoing an overhaul of its own, THE CITY has learned.
The $4 million plan, whose consultant-crafted recommendations called for up to 2,700 positions to be eliminated by the end of last year, will now complete its consolidation of administrative posts “by the end of October,” acting MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber wrote Friday in an internal memo obtained by THE CITY.
Now the Transformation Management Office will barely outlast Cuomo, who stepped down last month following sexual harassment allegations and was replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The cost- and jobs-cutting effort at the MTA was largely derailed by the pandemic and was mocked by labor leaders and some board members — including one who called it “kind of a nothingburger.”
The mandate to eliminate thousands of jobs at the MTA by the end of 2020 was instead accomplished by a flood of retirements and a hiring freeze that have left transit officials scrambling to fill staffing shortfalls.
The lack of transit workers has caused a bump in canceled subway and bus trips that could grow with daily ridership expected to increase with this week’s start of school and the return of city workers to the office.
“It’s almost impossible to separate the workplace effects of COVID from the actual plan,” said Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst at Reinvent Albany.
Lieber’s memo cites some of the goals accomplished by the Transformation Management Office, including bridging “strategic and core support functions across the MTA” and laying “a foundation for central departments to better serve agency operations and ultimately our customers.”
“You managed to do all this during a time of significant uncertainty, given the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lieber wrote. “Thank you for a job well done.”
Pushed Train Daddy Off Track
The transformation plan also contributed to the January 2020 resignation of popular transit chief Andy Byford, who wrote in his exit letter that the centralization of projects had left agency presidents “to focus solely on the day-to-day running of service.”
Byford — who clashed repeatedly with Cuomo during his two years at the MTA even as his popularity among riders earned him the affectionate nickname “Train Daddy” — declined to comment Monday when reached by THE CITY.
Cuomo had called for the cost-cutting overhaul in 2019, ridiculing the agency that he controlled as “a disgrace” and “a governmental Frankenstein.”
But with Cuomo’s exit and Lieber taking over the transit agency in July, the much-touted makeover was left without a patron.
Larry Schwartz, an MTA board member and a longtime Cuomo confidante, said in February 2020 that the transformation plan was needed to “restore confidence and credibility with the riding public.”
“This agency has a history and has been plagued with inefficiencies, fraud, waste, abuse, delays and cost overruns,” he said, weeks before the pandemic sank the MTA’s ridership and finances. “And the premise of this thing, which was initiated by the governor and put forward, was to change the paradigm.”
Schwartz, whose future on the board is unclear now that Hochul’s governor, declined to comment Monday.
Plan Derided as a ‘Waste’
Lieber’s memo to senior agency officials says, “the focus of our transformation work is shifting to your newly consolidated organizations,” and notes Transformation Management Office staffers will be deployed across the MTA “to support you and your deputies in this effort.”
The memo does not mention Anthony McCord, the Canadian business executive hired at $325,600 a year to serve as the MTA’s chief transformation officer.
McCord and Mario Peloquin — a Canadian transit veteran who resigned in February, barely a year after being brought in by Cuomo to be the MTA’s chief operating officer — were among several senior executives hired as part of the overhaul plan.
Other hires included chiefs for technology, procurement, a “chief people officer” and a “chief innovation officer.”
“Talk about waste at the MTA,” John Samuelsen, international president of Transport Workers Union and an MTA board member, told THE CITY. “They hired so many bosses as part of this transformation.”
A source said the structure of executive leadership at the MTA will be reevaluated as part of Lieber’s push to “further professionalize” the agency’s management ranks.
The Cuomo-led transformation plan, which was laid out in a 37-page report by the AlixPartners consulting firm, received heavy criticism from labor leaders on the MTA board.
Vincent Tessitore, who represents Long Island Rail Road unions, said in September that the MTA did not need more layers of management.
“This transformation, no disrespect, but it should be complete at this point,” he said at the time.
Another source with knowledge of the overhaul called the transformation plan “a classic Cuomo maneuver to distract critics.”
Concerns Over Losing Workers
The tinkering with the transformation plan came as the MTA struggles to get more of its workforce vaccinated. THE CITY reported Sunday that the agency in June ended a $500,000 death benefit in the case of unvaccinated workers who die of COVID.
With MTA figures showing that fewer than 60% of Bridges and Tunnels, Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit employees have been vaccinated, board member Neal Zuckerman said “soft and hard power moves” will be needed to get more workers inoculated.
“I am concerned for their own safety, their families’ safety and frankly, I am concerned for our customers’ safety,” Zuckerman said.
But Tessitore warned that some workers could choose to quit rather than get their shots.
“A lot of them feel as though ‘It’s none of your business what I did,’” he said. “We can’t control that.”