Investing in key infrastructure is a core aspect of any well-run business. But not all of the infrastructure that businesses rely on is private. Most transportation infrastructure, for example, is owned and managed by government entities, something that businesses rely on for access to employees and channels for movement of goods.
That’s why earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy called on business leaders to help him convince legislators to safeguard transportation funds by establishing a lockbox. Asking the business community to participate in the transportation conversation doesn’t happen very often — especially with regard to transit — but when it does, it can have a tremendous impact.
Perhaps the most notable example came in the early 1980s when then-MTA Chair Richard Ravitch took Chase CEO David Rockefeller — who died this week — and Met Life CEO Richard Shinn on a tour of the MTA’s facilities as a way of illustrating the financial needs of the system. Afterwards, they and AT&T Chairman Bill Ellinghaus went to Albany to tell state lawmakers how the transit system was critical to the success of New York’s business community. The result was the creation of the first modern MTA Capital Program.
More recently, however, despite historically high ridership and clear needs across the board, the region’s business community has been silent on capital funding, despite the fact that four of every five rush-hour commuters to New York City’s central business district take transit. For example, as MTR highlighted two years ago with respect to MTA funding:
Wouldn’t it be nice if the heads of Related Companies, BlackRock and Google were to pay a visit to the state capitol and remind lawmakers that the company building the largest development since Rockefeller Center, the world’s largest asset manager and the world’s leading search engine can’t thrive without a reliable transit network?
And now again, there are serious questions being raised regarding the MTA’s funding in the proposed New York State budget. In addition, the Port Authority recently released a Capital Plan that did not include a blueprint for fully funding the Gateway Tunnel or a new Port Authority Bus Terminal. But New York’s business community, which relies heavily on the MTA and the Port Authority for access to employees and customers, isn’t speaking up about a lack of prioritization or long-term vision for maintaining and expanding the region’s transit network. Who better to ask questions like,
- Is $4 billion of spending per year on the MTA enough for a system valued at $1 trillion, or should the number be closer to $20 billion?
- Are the State’s pledge of 1.4 percent of its yearly budget and City’s pledge of 0.5 percent of its yearly budget sufficient commitments for a system that is so important to both?
Of course it isn’t entirely fair to focus on JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. He’s just one of many business leaders in New York. But just as he was happy to call for corporate funds repatriation that would benefit his shareholders, Dimon and other business leaders should — like the Rockefellers, Shinns and Ellinghauses before them — be also calling for transit investments that would benefit their employees and their bottom lines.