Client interview: New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Keeping New York moving: driving improvement at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is working to bring ageing infrastructure into the 21st century. However, delivering future investment requires an approach that looks beyond the physical assets to drive organisational change at an enterprise level.


Michael Salvato, Director and Program Executive for the MTA could be describing any number of organisations when he states the central challenge of his team.

“We must do more with less,” he explains. “Our mandate is to put in place a management approach that makes planning and decision-making more data-driven, transparent and, ultimately, builds a case for ongoing investment needed to meet operational requirements.” Speaking from his office in New York City, Salvato is charged with reshaping the organisational performance of one of the most highly trafficked and essential infrastructure networks on the planet.

The MTA’s transportation system underpins a US$1.66tn regional economy, the largest and most productive region per capita in the United States. It is charged with keeping this global megacity – its businesses, institutions and the instruments of global capital markets – moving.

MTA subways, buses, and railroads provide 2.73 billion trips each year – the equivalent to about one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation’s rail riders. MTA’s bridges and tunnels carry more than 297 million vehicles a year – more than any bridge and tunnel authority in the nation. The MTA operates the largest bus fleet, more rail cars than all other metro and commuter railroads combined, and is the largest tolling authority in the United States.

Managing a US$1tn asset 24/7 is costly and complex. That’s why the MTA is aggressively pursuing world-class asset management to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely.

As the lead of the MTA’s Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) programme, Salvato’s role is to deliver a long-term transformation of the way the MTA manages the assets and asset systems of this expansive network to meet future challenges, and to deliver ongoing investment.

  • US$115bn invested since 1982 to rebuild the system
  • 2.73bn subway, bus and railroad trips each year
  • US$1tn total cost of rebuilding the MTA system

The challenge

“There is a need to increase capacity to meet passenger demand,” Salvato explains, “while major investment like the Second Avenue Subway is required to expand the system, much more targeted interventions are needed to unlock system constrains and optimise throughput of the existing network.” The emphasis is on meeting the demands of the travelling public for a safe, reliable service and a pleasant customer experience: This is the fundamental obligation of us as stewards of a US$1tn public asset.”

Those demands are threefold. Firstly, there is the need to manage the reliability and performance of the existing infrastructure: from Manhattan’s 100-year-old cut-and-cover subways and climate vulnerable tunnels beneath the Hudson River, to the ageing elevated railroads to the east in Queens and the iconic Grand Central Terminal and Verrazano Bridge.

The second tier is equally challenging: meeting customer expectations about how moving through one of the world’s greatest cities should feel. “There are significant obligations to modernise from the use of digital fare technology and live information feeds to delivering a comfortable journey,” Salvato explains.

The final tier in the puzzle is dealing with the big projects: namely major capacity improvements. Over the last five years, the network has seen significant expansion, including the development of the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access that will bring the commuter Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal from 2023.

Continuous investment

“The MTA is a New York State public authority made up of five core operating agencies, for subways, buses, commuter rail, bridges and tunnels, that is financed through operating revenues and city, state and federal funding subsidies,” he explains.

“We need to provide assurances to the stakeholder community – especially our customers but also state representatives – that we are efficiently and effectively using our limited resources to deliver safe, reliable services that meet the needs of the individual and the region.”

Providing these assurances, through hard data and coordinated systems, sits at the heart of the EAM: “Our capital programme needs to be financed by local, state and federal government every five years. The goal of the EAM is to provide evidence that justifies current operations and continuous investment.”

It is a case of driving asset performance through digitally enabled planning and analysis to justify investment levels essential to maintaining the existing system and meet future stakeholder requirements.

From the top we establish the vision, but at the bottom tiers of the MTA we create demand and empower teams to develop their own tools and solutions.

Aligning objectives

Turner & Townsend, with its partner asset management business AMCL, has worked with the MTA to set up a new ‘management system’, essentially designing the business capabilities, processes, information and systems required for managing the physical assets and systems.

A key step, explains Salvato, was to establish an asset management policy ‘on a page’ – a series of objectives that underpins all internal decision-making.

The objectives cover customer and personnel priorities – from improving safety, reliability, customer experience and organisational development – to commercial objectives of delivering value for money, sustainability and resilience, and demonstrating that MTA is compliant with all applicable requirements. Salvato explains: “The policy objectives allow us to align decision-making throughout the organisation, from the c-suite to teams working on the tracks themselves.”

That alignment is achieved by establishing processes, data protocols and reporting requirements for the organisation which transcend individual decisions. “We build our matrices and performance statistics around these objectives and then embed them into our management system,” reveals Salvato. “This will enable us to use the data and evidence to inform decisions we make depending on whether they support the objectives.”

Winning hearts and minds

In this way, data analysis underpins the processes of the EAM, but that doesn’t mean that rolling out the programme can adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. “EAM is not a technical challenge,” says Salvato, “it is a people challenge. The nature of the organisation means that our programme has to be adaptive in the way it is implemented.”

Organisational performance therefore cannot simply be driven from board level, but needs to be adopted by all. “We have a joint top-down and bottom-up culture,” continues Salvato. “From the top we establish the vision, but at the bottom tiers of the MTA we create demand and empower teams to develop their own tools and solutions, provided that they follow our overall framework.”

Under this model, different parts of the organisation are able to prioritise areas specific to their roles. Divisions share the same basic software, which is managed centrally by the MTA’s IT team. The protocols and standards are set centrally, so that data can easily be shared and compared, but with flexibility for teams to use them in different ways.

In practice, this has allowed the Subways Department to develop a handheld tool to register and track over 500,000 signal relay devices. The Infrastructure Division are able to visually document and analyse the physical conditions of the network, and Station Teams can automate the processes for carrying out and capturing safety and cleanliness inspections.

The EAM programme is installing an enterprise mobile development platform and deploying over 15,000 mobile devices to support field maintenance over the next three years. A mobility first strategy helps put the right information into the right hands at the right time from the frontline to the c-suite.

Boosting organisational performance

The success of the EAM programme lies in the creation of an enterprise approach to developing business capabilities, change management, information standards, setting budgets and establishing project stage gate and technology systems without establishing overly bureaucratic restrictions and processes.

“The challenge of a federated organisation like ours is to move from silos to an integrated model, establishing enterprise-level business processes that we agree on.” By doing so, Salvato and his team are establishing the foundations for organisational change that will deliver a smarter transportation network fit to support a more sustainable and resilient future.

Technology and data