As subway riders brave the rails despite recent derailments, track fires and frequent delays, the three hot-headed men shaping the future of the MTA are at war. In fact, the blame game playing out among Gov. Andrew Cuomo, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and Mayor Bill de Blasio is an all-too-familiar reminder that politics can trump real concern for the public.
The entire subway system – from the No. 7 to the E train – is on life support. Record ridership, years of delayed maintenance and erratic funding have pushed the subway grid to the brink and threatened the city’s economic clout. Frequent delays and lost worker time have taken a toll on the city’s productivity as some straphangers flee the five boroughs altogether and others plan to telecommute from nearby states.
There is complete agreement among the Big Three that the Big Fix is needed to restore reliable subway service throughout the city. But the gloves come off when the question of who pays follows.
Lhota, whom Cuomo recently named to chair the MTA, proposed an $800 million rescue plan this week to significantly overhaul the failing system within one year by tackling signage, track and power problems. He said these problem spots account for 54 percent of subway delays. Lhota, who lost to de Blasio in the 2014 mayoral race, has cranked up pressure on the mayor to foot the bill for half the emergency repairs ordered by the MTA.
Cuomo, who has repeatedly accused the city of paying less than its fair share to underwrite the subways, praised Lhota’s initiatives and said he accepted a 50/50 splitting of funds with the city for the sweeping plan. Not so the mayor, who still contends the subways are the state’s responsibility — financially and operationally.
De Blasio said he was encouraged by Lhota’s plan, but not prepared to expand funding beyond City Hall’s $2.5 billion contribution until the state prioritizes the most critical MTA programs.
The mayor took his case directly to the straphangers Sunday, when he held a press conference during a rare subway ride to accuse the MTA of mismanaging its resources and priorities.
Gentlemen: It’s time to hold your fire and do your negotiating behind closed doors. Forget the photo ops and snarky public statements.
Reversing decades of neglect requires a joint effort to give long-suffering riders the service they were promised and deserve.
Straphangers want the subways restored now regardless of who is at fault. But let the infighting drag on and the riders will decide whom to blame when they enter the voting booth this fall.