Get the latest news on the Roosevelt Island Tram/OMNY debacle

Get the latest news on the Roosevelt Island Tram/OMNY debacle

An OMNY clown show spilled out of RIOC and the MTA on Friday afternoon. Each agency first blamed the other for OMNY Tram delays, but both predicted installs in mid-2023. Then, hit hard by City Council Member Julie Menin and State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, both backtracked with haste rare in bureaucratic circles. The butt-covering was standard issue, however.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

When Incompetence Meets Indifference Meets Committed Public Officials

Roosevelt Island Tram to Manhattan
Mutually incompatible dithering at the MTA and RIOC put the Roosevelt Island Tram’s future in jeopardy.

Note: The Daily thanks both Rebecca Seawright and Julie Menin for their openness to media coverage. RIOC has never shared any of the following information with Roosevelt Island residents or anyone else publicly. Thus, you would all still be in the dark on the OMNY clown show without them.

Easy enough to say you saw it coming, but when RIOC stiff armed City Council Member Julie Menin last week, delaying any meaningful response to her demand that OMNY be installed at both Tram stations, bureaucratic fog gathered. Where a simple, “We’re on it,” answer would have been fine, RIOC offered a “formal” response, this week.

The blame game was underway.

In the meantime, Seawright – who signed on in support of Menin’s letter to RIOC President/CYA Shelton J. Haynes – got busy questioning the MTA’s chairman about it in a Tuesday hearing.

She also discussed the issue with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. It turns out that Adams is a big Tram fan. As a bonus, Seawright brought him up to date on RIOC’s board and his job of appointing one member. Mayor de Blasio never took on the task during his eight years in office.

Stage is set for an OMNY clown show

Late Thursday, the MTA stirred into action.

“…we wanted to get you information about where we are in the process,” wrote Luke DePalma. He’s Director, Government & Community Relations at New York City Transit, and he addressed Menin, Seawright and Senator José Serrano.

Without the slightest hint that he knew it was hilarious, he assured them, “Engagement with RIOC around their plans to transition from Metrocard (as we phase it out) to OMNY as their new fare payment system have been ongoing since 2020.” That’s right. Two years jawing about the simple installation of seven OMNY readers while they were rolling out hundreds across the subway and bus systems.

In fact, the MTA set up OMNY within a city block of both Tram stations. How easy would it have been…

But maybe it wasn’t all MTA because RIOC is fully capable of its own incompetence. Before closing, DePalma niftily palmed it all off on RIOC, saying negotiations were between RIOC and OMNY contractor Cubic.

Then, he dropped a bombshell, suggesting “…a 2023 completion.” That’s from one to twelve months after he MetroCard system ends, leaving RIOC without any way to collect fares.

But then, RIOC threw the MTA under their bus

Almost coincidentally, eager as always to shift blame elsewhere, RIOC President/CYA Haynes offered a different scenario. In a letter to Menin, he wrote…

“As publicly reported by the MTA late last month, the OMNY project is approximately 15 months or so behind schedule. In mid-December of last year, the MTA confirmed to RIOC that the Tram was still on schedule to be integrated by July 2023. Displeased with this timeline, RIOC’s CFO had requested that the simple integration of just seven machines across two stations take place more immediately. However, the MTA denied that request, stating that the Tram is designated as an “affiliate” per their contract with the OMNY vendor and, as such, Roosevelt Island is among the last phases of integration for the new OMNY system.” (Haynes complete letter is attached at the end of this article, but we still have no idea what “more immediately” could mean. Like, last week? We don’t know.)

The New York State Put the Blame on Mame Game was in full swing, and as always, Roosevelt Islanders were stuck in the middle of the fumbling and incompetence. Fortunately, neither Menin nor Seawright accepted the nonsense.

Menin and Seawright react

On Friday, Menin wrote, “To continue to function as a critical transportation artery between Midtown Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, the tram must be integrated into the MTA’s OMNY system. I am glad that the MTA is heeding our call to integrate OMNY service, but 18 months is still too long and I strongly request that they expedite this time schedule so that Roosevelt Islanders can quickly receive the benefits of convenience and affordability that OMNY confers.”

For her part, Seawright told The Daily in a telephone call that she wasn’t putting up with the OMNY clown show either. She promised she’d look into it.

Whatever the pair did, it moved mountains, mountains of bureaucratic deflection and butt-covering, that is. Before everyone headed home for the weekend, RIOC ate crow. It appears Haynes got spanked for fingering the MTA.

The OMNY Clown Show Stumbles to a Vague but Better Resolve

Around the time on Friday evening when I was contemplating a glass of wine, the latest national news and pizza ahead, RIOC tossed this word salad into the multiverse:

“The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) offers the following clarification to its letter dated February 17, 2022, sent to local elected officials in regard to the OMNY turnstile upgrades scheduled for the Tramway. RIOC and the MTA have been actively engaging in an open and productive dialogue to resolve the current phasing schedule for installing the OMNY systems on Roosevelt Island. The MTA, recognizing the importance of OMNY being made available to Tram riders, is in the process of amending its contract with their installation vendor Cubic to allow for more flexibility in phasing of MTA affiliates such as RIOC. This will allow affiliate entities like RIOC who use MTA fare payment mediums to update to the OMNY system either before or concurrently as MTA continues to roll OMNY out to its railroads. Given these efforts, the timeline RIOC outlined in its response letter was incorrect as the MTA is working tirelessly to address the needs of Tram riders. The MTA will continue to update RIOC and area stakeholders as their board reviews the change to the contract necessary to facilitate this change in timeline.  RIOC sincerely apologizes for any confusion that our response letter may have caused and we welcome elected officials to work collaboratively and directly with RIOC and our sister agencies to address the needs of our community.” 

President/CYA Haynes name did not appear on this one. But clearly, the state agency that never makes a mistake laid a big one. And somebody in Albany picked up a phone…

“I am thrilled that the MTA and RIOC have responded to my letter about integrating OMNY with the Roosevelt Island Tram by expediting their timeline for OMNY’s tram adoption,” Menin concluded.

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