Dispelling technology fears as New York City move towards automation

While leaders and tech industry professionals push for digitization, the MTA seeks to rebuild credibility.

MTA CEO Janno Lieber speaks at City & State’s Government Modernization Summit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage Thursday

MTA CEO Janno Lieber speaks at City & State’s Government Modernization Summit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage Thursday Rita Thompson

City leaders, tech advocates and policymakers gathered at City & State’s Government Modernization Summit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage to discuss the future of digitization in New York City. Keynote speaker Denise Clay, chief efficiency officer with the New York City First Deputy Mayor’s Office, kicked off the conference, emphasizing a shift in the city’s mindset – treating constituents as customers, as the driving force behind lasting improvements.  

“The focus then was a mindset change for city employees. To think about the people we serve the residents, visitors, business owners, workers, and commuters as customers. The goal was to determine how to eliminate at best or minimally reduce the impact or incidence of bad service,” Clay told attendees.

By leveraging the “trifecta of data, process and technology” through data analytics, streamlining practices, reducing inefficiencies and effective policy changes, The First Deputy Mayor’s Office aims to improve the delivery of city services and overall customer service. 

Clay also spoke of the city’s use of Lean Six Sigma tools, “to make processes work better for customers and employees.” By identifying inefficiencies across sectors, Lean Six Sigma tools tools will help “redesign processes to remove the mundane mindless process tasks to improve output, increase accuracy, eliminate redundancy and reduce customer wait,” said Clay. 

In order to develop a workable nexus between speed and convenience, Clay also emphasized the importance of using Data analytics and data mining tools:

“Data Analytics gives us the ability to understand at a detail level where we have inefficiencies. Localized data helps us to understand and address problems, and data mining tools give us a detailed understanding of complex processes, so that we can readily identify what to automate and realize the impact of our efforts in meaningful ways,” said Clay. 

But while proponents of government modernization readily welcome these automated changes, many struggle to convince both constituents and federal workers. Panelists addressed this resistance or fear of automation, emphasizing that these tools will supplement existing practices. 

“The best way to deal with fear is knowledge. A lot of people are worried about job displacement. But if you actually read the research, the open AI at the University of Pennsylvania, that's actually not what it says. What it says is that their tool can actually assist in a lot of the tasks that you do in a lot of white-collar jobs. What it says is that it can augment you, so that you can refocus your job on higher level activities,” stated Tina Kim, deputy comptroller for state government accountability in the state Comptroller's office. Cybersecurity concerns, namely the higher incidence of fraud also underlined the need for digitization in government. 

Regarding modernization at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, chair and CEO Janno Lieber, spoke of efforts to rebuild credibility as the agency gains better footing following Gov. Kathy Hochul’s increased funding in the last approved state budget. Among initiatives to increase ridership include better safety, system expansions and improved service. 

Lieber relayed details of the MTA’s 20-year needs assessment, stating, “What we did is we literally inventoried the condition of 6 million different assets and components of the system, using our enterprise asset management system, where we monitor condition and also criticality to service. That analysis and the conditions is going to guide the next capital program.”

Lieber emphasized the repurposing of decrepit MTA power stations and lines to improve ridership using existing infrastructure, projecting a 20% increase in service.

“You don't always have to build a new subway, we can take the infrastructure we have – we can re-signal the subway system and get 20% more service out of it. We can take freight lines, we can take in-track lines and turn them into commuter rail lines. We can do a lot without having to build new,” he said in his remarks. “But I always come back to saying as a precondition of expansion, we have to maintain the existing system. None of this is going to come cheap. We have to be willing to invest in this asset that is essential to our way of life.” 

The MTA leader also defended the city’s controversial congestion pricing plan, insisting that the move will lead to better air quality, and greater efficiency for businesses and emergency services: 

“Yes, they’ll pay a little more but does anyone notice what parking costs in Manhattan's central business district – do we seriously believe that there are a lot of low-income people who are driving to work and paying for parking? No. It's not true. It's a tiny population, it is not an issue of low-income, but of people driving Mercedes and paying 60 bucks a day to park.”

Lieber insisted that these increased costs will fall exclusively on affluent New York visitors, many from New Jersey, which has sued to fight the toll pricing plan. 

“This opposition to congestion pricing is so frustrating because it's usually portrayed as some populist rebellion on behalf of people who don't have – it is actually the opposite. We're using the revenue from a small number of mostly affluent people to make sure that we can build a transit system that supports everybody,” said Lieber. 

As leaders pushed for widespread digitization in government, Jeff Garte, president of Northeast Boldyn Networks, highlighted future opportunities made available through modernization. 

“[Although] There’s a lot of discussion about fear of loss of jobs, these projects create jobs – we are creating jobs with locals one-on-one, as we use them to construct, build these projects and then also maintain them going forward,” he said. “We're very excited about what we've done, what we're doing and what we have the ability to help modernize New York and derive a better experience for all New Yorkers.”