The head of the MTA is launching an investigation into claims that Mayor de Blasio delayed a subway train so he could board, a controversy that comes days after City Hall apparently directed the NYPD to clear a subway station of homeless people before a visit by the mayor.
City Hall aides are vehemently denying reports that an R train filled with commuters was held at the City Hall subway station on Tuesday night so that de Blasio could get on board.
Upon hearing the news, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said it’s unacceptable that a subway train would be held for someone, even the mayor.
“No one should stop a train for a single individual to get on. This is the people’s system.” Lhota said. “I need to find out exactly what happened.”
Lhota is already in a war of words with the mayor over who should fund the MTA’s plan to fix and update the subway system. Lhota called it “befuddling” that the mayor praised the MTA’s plan but refused to fund the project 50-50 with the state. De Blasio says the city has already put forth billions of dollars and that the MTA has only used a fraction of it.
"One half of a repair plan won't make the trains run on time," Lhota said. The mayor claims, “The state is responsible for the MTA, period.”
It was rush hour Tuesday when de Blasio boarded a southbound R train after his latest subway station photo-op, in which he cautiously embraced Lhota’s plan to fix the disintegrating subway system, endlessly plagued by delays, overcrowding and outdated equipment.
Tuesday evening’s train waited longer than usual — more than three minutes — before pulling out of the station, according to high-ranking MTA sources, who told the I-Team that the engineer of the train was specifically asked by the NYPD to hold the train.
City Hall denies the train was being held for the mayor, but some riders are skeptical.
“I think it’s horrible,” said Zairia Finch “Trains are delayed as is and as a New Yorker, someone who’s supposed to be representing New Yorkers, that’s something I don’t think should have happened at all.
“Completely unethical, completely unethical,” said another straphanger.
Others were willing to cut the mayor some slack: “If it’s under five minutes, it’s reasonable and it’s understandable,” one man said.
The MTA says Tuesday’s R train was in the station for about three-and-a-half minutes, an amount of time that pales in comparison to some of the other subway delays that are now commonplace.
But City Hall’s denials come less than a week after the mayor’s aides were caught in an apparent lie. They denied police were told in a memo to sweep the homeless out of a different subway station the mayor was visiting, but The New York Post then produced that memo.
On Wednesday, de Blasio said the recent controversies are insignificant.
“I don’t care, my friend, because it does not matter. Read my lips: ‘I don’t care. It’s an irrelevancy,” the mayor said.
The NYPD is also pushing back hard against accusations the R train was held for the mayor.
The department says the train was only held for about 30 seconds at most and that de Blasio was already on board the train when it was held for security reasons because of overcrowding on the platform.