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New York’s MTA puts new plan on track

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KAI RYSSDAL: If New York City had a trillion dollars or two in the bank it might be able to tidy up its subway system real nice. The Big Apple’s a little short, though. And the subway is a little run down. So today the transit authority announced a shake-up. Marketplace’s Amy Scott — a subway rider, by the way — reports.

AMY SCOTT: The New York City transit authority surveyed subway riders earlier this year. Passengers gave the number 7 Flushing line a C-minus. Standing on the platform today, commuter Miguel Dominguez pretty much summed it up.

MIGUEL DOMINGUEZ: It’s too crowded, it’s too expensive, it’s too dirty, and it’s unreliable.

Today the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced an overhaul it hopes will placate riders like Dominguez. Starting Monday, a new general manager will take over the Number 7 line. Eventually, each of the city’s 24 lines could have its own manager. They’d be in charge of everything along that line, from train maintenance to station cleaning. MTA President Howard Roberts says it’s a bit like the old days, when three competing companies ran the subway system. He wants smaller more responsive bureaucracies. He’s hoping to avoid problems like a leaky roof he just learned of that hadn’t been fixed in years.

HOWARD ROBERTS: With a general manager structure I expect problems like that to be solved in 24 hours instead of 24 months.

Subway fans and critics alike welcomed news of the experiment. But passengers shouldn’t necessarily expect the trains to suddenly run on time. Many of the subway’s ills are systemwide. The new line managers will have limited influence on shared tracks and infrastructure. Steve Savas teaches public affairs at the City University of New York. He doubts the new mangers will have enough control over labor and budgets to really make a difference.

STEVE SAVAS: I don’t think we should expect too much from this. But if there’s some improvement, and if it’s an improvement that’s obtained without causing an increase in fares, I think that’s terrific.

He shouldn’t hold his breath. The MTA is expected to unveil its latest proposal for a new round of fare hikes early next week.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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