Cuomo Declares MTA State of Emergency as Outrage Grows

The declaration will expedite procurement and cuts red tape, the governor says

What to Know

  • Gov. Cuomo has declared an MTA state of emergency, asking the new chairman Joe Lhota to do a series of urgent reviews
  • The city's subways and commuter trains have been plagued by rising delays and unreliable service
  • MTA Chairman Lhota has been tasked with coming up with a reorganization plan in 30 days and an equipment review in 60 days.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared an MTA state of emergency amid rising delays and unreliable service across the city's subways and commuter rail lines. 

Cuomo has ordered new MTA Chairman Joe Lhota to come up with a reorganization plan in 30 days, and to assess all capital needs -- including cars, tracks, signals -- within 60 days. The state of emergency declaration will expedite procurement and cuts red tape during the series of urgent reviews.

Lhota pledged to do a top-to-bottom audit and present a detailed, long-term plan to overhaul the subway system in the next two months. 

The New York State Public Service Commission has also been ordered to assess Con Edison's supply of power to the subways, to be completed within 90 days. Power problems on the subway have wreaked havoc on the system in recent months: in one memorable incident captured on video, riders were stranded on a sweltering, powerless F train for 45 minutes. Weeks later, two riders got sick of waiting on a stalled train and leaped onto the tracks to walk to the next station.

Cuomo likened the recent transit problems to a "heart attack" that happened after years of cholesterol buildup. 

In addition to declaring the MTA state of emergency, Cuomo is adding $1 billion to the MTA capital plan for next year, he says. It marks a drastic about-face from two years ago, when he described the MTA's capital request as "bloated." 

The state of the subway system "is wholly unacceptable," said Cuomo, citing decades of underinvestment, deferred maintenance and surging ridership.

"I think of it as a heart attack - it happens all of a sudden and the temptation is to say, 'Well, something must have just caused it,'" Cuomo said. "No, a lifetime caused it. Bad habits caused it."

The problems abound: In a fleet of 6,400 subway cars, more than 700 have passed their 40-year expiration date. The oldest are 52: "They literally should be in a museum," Cuomo said.

It takes the MTA five years to get a new car.

"That is just ridiculous. I could build a car in five years," Cuomo said. "If the MTA's current vendors can't provide them in the timeframe we need, then the MTA should find new vendors. It's that simple."

Much of the signal system was installed before 1937. The MTA's current replacement timetable is seven to 10 years per line - 40 to 50 years systemwide.

"You have countries that are building entire subway systems in a matter of years," Cuomo said.

The governor's order comes less than two weeks before Amtrak is set to begin overhauling the infrastructure at Penn Station following months of especially widespread derailments and breakdowns. Cuomo has famously declared the project will result in a "summer of hell" for displaced commuters and said Thursday, "It's gonna be like that movie, 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,'" referencing the John Candy film. 

Riders across the city subways and the rails traveling through Penn Station -- the MTA's LIRR and the New Jersey Transit -- have gotten so fed up with the increasing frequency of breakdowns and delays, they've tried to launch grassroots campaigns in recent months to stop paying their monthly fares and to force the MTA to create and publicize subway evacuation plans. Rail commuters have complained about swelling crowds and rude conductors amid heightened tension over deteroriating service, and angry subway passengers rallied outside Cuomo's office Wednesday to demand a plan to fix the system, chanting "fund and fix." 

Rail riders on both the LIRR and the Metro-North were stranded for hours Thursday in separate incidents. And thousands of straphangers faced systemwide delays and suspensions Tuesday when a subway train derailed in Harlem, although the MTA blamed that on "human error." A passenger on the train has announced she's suing the MTA for $5 million, saying the MTA has been "careless," "reckless" and "negligent" in overseeing the subway.

Subway riders were skeptical Thursday of Cuomo's announcement. They wondered what an MTA state of emergency wil do for them.

"They always say that," said Carmine Victor of Harlem. "And then you get hot trains, delayed trains and everything."  

Cuomo declared the MTA state of emergency at a planned news conference on the MTA Transit Challenge, a competition that will award three $1 million "genius" awards, paid by the state, for the best ideas on how to fix the aging subway system.

The awards will be given for the best ideas on how to improve subway signals, how to rapidly deploy modernized subway cars and how to increase communications infrastructure. The phase 1 deadline is Aug. 11. 

At the Manhattan conference, the CEOs of international railroads from Paris, Toronto and Tokyo explained to the MTA audience how they've been able to expand and modernize their trains amid population and ridership growth. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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