As city officials revealed the results of a commuter subway survey Tuesday, the MTA admitted for the first time that the major reason for current subway problems is that the agency lacks the necessary manpower and needs hundreds of skilled workers capable of fixing the outdated system.
On Tuesday, the City Council held an MTA oversight meeting to discuss issues facing the system and how to remedy them. Council members were told that there are hundreds of MTA job vacancies — maintanence jobs the MTA admits it should have filled.
Straphangers couldn't believe the news. "We need to fill those jobs so that our transit system can be better," commuter Lauren Graham, of the Bronx, said.
The transit agency acknowledged that they've hoped to improve subway service by bringing it back from drastic cuts made years ago, but they simply don't have enough well-trained staff to do the jobs of fixing tracks and signals, the ancient equipment that determines how many trains can run per hour.
"I think there are probably a few hundred [vacancies that need to be filled], and so we're in the process of filling them now," MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim told News 4.
Hakim said that if all the money was in place, they could hire 700 people by the end of this year — then commuters would notice service improvements early next year.
The cost of filling those jobs and modernizing the system is many billions of dollars. On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and the MTA argued over increasing taxes for the wealthy to help pay to fix the subways.
At the oversight hearing, Hakim pledged to hire hundreds of workers if the city pays half the cost.
"We're asking for your help to ensure that it is jointly funded between the city and the state," Hakim said.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito cautioned that increasing taxes for the subways requires council approval. But she also took aim at Gov. Cuomo, who has demanded the city pay half of all MTA budget needs.
"To make it seem that the governor is being so magnanimous and that the city is rejecting its responsibility, I'm not going to accept that," Mark-Viverito said.
Cuomo had yet to respond to her comments Tuesday evening.
Hakim faced fire from City Council members amid a summer of derailments and delays. The members vented on behalf of riders who are tired of being late to work amid broken signals and overcrowded trains.
"You guys are unreliable, unresponsive, and you don't care about anyone except for your own jobs," Councilman Chaim Deutsch said.
Councilman Jumaane Williams was frustrated that MTA Chairman Joe Lhota didn't attend the meeting.
"He's being disrespectful to this city and disrespectful to this city council," Williams said.
The MTA said Lhota had a scheduling conflict.
Hakim left City Hall saying the tone of lawmakers didn't help.
"I take exception to that, I think we can have a productive dialogue without casting personal aspersions," she said.
Meanwhile, city officials released the results of thousands of surveys filled out last week when city lawmakers and transit advocates took to the subway to get an up-close look at the state of the aging system and the problems of commuters.
The survey of 2,000 riders by the City Council found that 75 percent of riders said delays and overcrowding were the biggest issues they face. That same group of people reported being stuck on crowded platforms or crowded trains four times a week.
Officials spent 12 hours Thursday and 12 hours Friday conducting a listening tour across the city's five boroughs for the survey. The 24-hour Riders Respond Transit Tour came in the wake of delays, derailments, power outages and track fires. As advocates rode the rails across the city, they heard an array of complaints.
“They can be more on time,” Ling of Lower Manhattan said. "A lot of the time, I want to say 80 percent of the time, they’re not on time.”
Outside City Hall, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said the problems go way beyond simple inconveniences.
"These issues have real consequence," Rodriguez said. "Those who made appointments or who were late to work and school can face penalties. Some miss out on job opportunities, while others can even be fired."
Ydanis said he wants to sit down with Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to talk about the problems facing the subway, which has seen ridership soar in recent years while a significant amount of the infrastructure, including the signal system, remains outdated.
Ashley Claris, of the Bronx, was late to Manhattan yet again Tuesday.
"That's delaying my ride on the train so I can get to work," she said. "It is kind of frustrating."