While meeting with Queens straphangers, City Council speaker pitches city control of subways & buses

While meeting with Queens straphangers, City Council speaker pitches city control of subways & buses
Photo by Mark Hallum
By Mark Hallum

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is not only gauging riders for their opinions on the MTA, but is aiming to create a proposal where the city takes back its subways and buses.

The announcement came at the 74th Street station on the 7 line in Jackson Heights during the Monday evening rush.

After gathering surveys from the straphangers filtering through turnstiles, Johnson said it was time for the city to manage its own transit after years of decline under state management.

NYC Transit was not always controlled by the state government; the city relinquished control while in bankruptcy during the ‘70s and ‘80s, a notoriously dangerous time for the subway riders in particular.

But Johnson thinks it is time to reclaim control.

“It’s a very detailed conversation that we have to have and I’m going to have more to say in a detailed way over the next two months,” Johnson said. “It’s similar — though not exactly the same — as the conversation around [mayoral control of] the schools … If we take over the MTA, New York City Transit, which I support, breaking out the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North from that and just taking the [NYC Transit], we would still going to state support and money. The schools still needed state support and money when we took it over. So there’s something still something analogous in that way, but it’s a conversation we’re going to have.”

Johnson, in addition to being City Council speaker, currently serves as the acting public advocate; he will occupy that office until voters choose a new public advocate in the Feb. 26 special election.

His visit to Queens was one of five stops he is making to measure straphanger woes and speak about his proposal which he will likely use as fodder to convince the state government to turn over the assets and infrastructure of the city transit system.

But the governor and MTA may not need that much convincing.

A year and a half after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a state of emergency to address the deteriorating subway system, Cuomo stated at an editorial board meeting with the New York Daily News on Jan. 7 that the MTA should be scrapped altogether.

“Blow up the MTA. Blow it up,” Cuomo was quoted as saying, meaning that the state agency should be rebuilt from the ground up in the style of Port Authority.

Cuomo claimed the governor’s office has no control over the MTA, although it appoints the majority of board members and supplies the funds, but said remodeling it like Port Authority would give him direct control.

“The MTA is so tedious to deal with that it developed a boutique industry of people who just are willing to deal with this thing called the MTA,” Cuomo said, according to the Daily News. “And the people who know how to do it normally came from the MTA and then go to the contractor and that’s why they know how to make the connection.”

Johnson said he is not the first to call for the city to retake its subways and buses, but thinks it is something that needs to be earnestly explored. He has yet to formally speak with the Cuomo or the MTA about his plan.

Newly sworn-in state Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who represents Jackson Heights, said turning over operations of NYC Transit was something she campaigned on.

“The first step in solving a problem is figuring out the depth of that problem,” Cruz said. “We don’t know how bad the MTA is. We know that the trains don’t arrive, that if the 7 breaks then the E breaks, the R breaks, everything breaks. But it’s always useful to get concrete data and everyday stories of people and how terrible the service really is.”

She said the subways and buses are “a mammoth of a system” that needs a new approach to fix and that could start with mayoral control with oversight from the state.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm and newly sworn-in State Sen. Jessica Ramos were also present at Johnson’s press conference, held in the foyer of the Jackson Heights station.

Last week, Cuomo put a pause on the scheduled 15-month Canarsie Tunnel closure that would have affected the L line, opting instead for overnight and weekend service cuts for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs.

The MTA has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@schnepsmedia.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.