Aaron On The MTA

Just a day or two after Aaron Donovan began a new assignment for New York’s MTA — media liaison in charge of Metro North and the Long Island Railroad — bridge pilings on the Harlem River caught fire.  Every media outlet in the city needed Aaron’s ear.

Last winter, a series of snowstorms snarled rail traffic in and out of New York.  Once again Aaron was the man dispensing information, handling press queries, making sure commuters got the news they needed as soon as he could.

Last Monday, Aaron — a 1994 Staples grad who honed his writing chops on Inklings, the school paper — returned from vacation.

Just in time to learn that Hurricane Irene might hit New York City.

Aaron Donovan

As the week went on, the possibility became a probability.  And as Mayor Bloomberg and MTA officials weighed the idea of shutting down the transportation system, Aaron and his colleagues were inundated with a hurricane of work.

Long before the first raindrop fell.

A normal workday for Aaron involves fielding phone calls from reporters on anything related to MTA’s rail lines and headquarters; drafting press releases, writing speeches, organizing press conferences — and managing MTA’s social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

It’s a dream job for Aaron — a Georgetown and Columbia (masters in urban planning) grad who previously wrote for the New York Times — and though he’s been working like a runaway locomotive since last week, he’s glad he and the MTA are making a difference.

Aaron’s first major task was communicating MTA’s shutdown plans, so people could arrange travel well in advance.  Otherwise, he noted, “everyone would wait, and be on the last train.”

He spent Sunday in MTA headquarters at 45th and Madison — connected to Grand Central through an underground walkway.

As soon as the winds and rain subsided, he had a bigger job:  answering questions about service restoration.

“We depend on real-time information from people in the field and on the tracks,” he says.  The press office was a whirlwind of activity.  He and 3 colleagues handle railroad-related questions; 4 others cover subways and buses.  But in the post-Irene maelstrom, Aaron says, it was all hands on deck.  Everyone pitched in, answering any question about anything.

For the 1st time, MTA made heavy use of photo sharing via social media.  The aim was to show the nature and extent of the damage that MTA crews faced.

Television and radio stations, newspapers and blogs — all needed regular updates.  And morning TV shows want it as early as 4 a.m.  “We can’t start gathering information for them then,” Aaron says.  “We have to be fully briefed already when they call.”

One of the reporters Aaron talks to most is Channel 7’s Jamie Roth.  She’s a ’95 Staples grad — and a friend of Aaron’s since high school.

Speaking of Westport, Aaron says, “I grew up in Green’s Farms — with a view of the Metro North tracks.  I was always interested in the trains going by, and of course in journalism.”

His current job melds 2 of Aaron’s passions:  transportation policy, and public communications.

He enjoys being able to serve the public, and thrives on the energy an event like this past creates.

Still, it’s nice that a hurricane — or a series of snowstorms, or bridge fire — doesn’t come down the track every day.

From MTA's Flickr stream: Grand Central Terminal is eerily empty, on a Saturday afternoon.

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