By Mark Hallum
Former MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota will return to his position as head of the transit agency, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced June 21, in a move approved by the state Senate later that evening. Lhota served as head of the agency until 2013 when he resigned to face Bill de Blasio in the race for mayor.
Cuomo praised Lhota’s history as a seasoned leader of the transit agency, while both men acknowledged the current challenges the city’s subways pose involving breakdowns and delays becoming commonplace, including an A train derailment near 125th Tuesday morning that injured dozens of people.
“This is an incredibly challenging time for the MTA, and we will immediately and aggressively tackle the problems the system is facing after decades of disinvestment,” Lhota said. “The hardworking women and men of the MTA are dedicated, driven and talented — they are the engine that makes our city and state run — and working together we will rebuild the system and improve service for all New Yorkers.”
Lhota headed the MTA during Superstorm Sandy, which prompted Cuomo to offer credit for the work to restore service during the historic natural disaster.
“Joe Lhota is a tested and experienced leader with the proven track record needed to address the enormous challenges facing the nation’s largest mass transportation system,” Cuomo said. “In the wake of the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Joe stepped up and delivered for New Yorkers – ensuring our region’s subways, buses and commuter rails were up and running as quickly as possible. There is much hard work to be done to address the MTA’s current failures, and the level of service and daily frustrations commuters are experiencing are completely unacceptable. I know Joe will move to address these issues immediately and ensure a reliable and effective transportation system worthy of the city it serves.”
But state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) announced he would introduce additional measures for greater investment in the MTA. A petition has been formed urging Cuomo, the state Senate and the Assembly to remain in Albany until a revenue stream is established to keep funds flowing to the agency for emergencies and repairs.
Gianaris is proposing a tax on the rich in the form of a temporary three-year surcharge for individuals living in the region who earn more than $1 million per year. This will also be applied to New York City hotels and motels.
“The MTA crisis is real and it is upon us,” Gianaris said. “ New Yorkers are suffering the consequences of years of under-funding and mismanaging of our mass transit system. It would be irresponsible for state leasers to allow this to continue without finding a solution, and that is what we should do with the urgency this crisis demands.
The initiative, known as the Better Trains, Better Cities proposal, will levy funds at a graduated rate from those earning $1 million to $5 million, $5 million to $10 million, and those earning over $10 million. Hotels and motels would charge guests an extra $5. Gianaris estimated it would raise an annual $2 billion for an emergency manager to use for upgrades and repairs at his discretion.
“Employees were late to work, patients missed doctor’s appointments and students missed graduations,” Gianaris wrote in the petition. “The situation became dangerous as individuals were forced to pry open train doors in order to escape unbearable heat after being stuck on a train which had lost power. Two commuters even exited a stalled train and attempted to walk to work on the tracks. The time to point fingers is over. Now is the time for solutions. My ‘Better Trains, Better Cities’ legislation is a proposal that would establish a dedicated funding stream for emergency maintenance and repairs. It is a simple solution to a complicated problem.”
The petition comes as the most recent derailment rocked commuters. A downtown A train approaching the 125th Street station in Harlem experienced power issues and derailed on Tuesday, causing wide-spread delays and suspensions on the A, C, B and D. Lhota blamed human error. As many as 34 may have been injured in the incident.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall