Watch Andrew Cuomo’s Bizarre, Rambling Take on the State of NYC Transit
From behind a lectern with a placard that said “Modernizing the MTA,” Governor Andrew Cuomo argued today that the MTA is old and outdated, so he deserves credit for even the most basic upgrades. He sounded like someone ranting to himself on a street corner, not a governor with a sound plan to improve the transit system he runs.
The occasion was a press conference announcing a new ticketing app for Metro-North and LIRR commuters. Cue to the eight-minute mark in the video to watch Cuomo ramble about how, unlike his predecessors, current MTA chief Tom Prendergast must operate the MTA while building a “new system.”
“Not rebuild the existing system, not fix the existing,” said Cuomo. “He has to build anew.”
“Why?” he continued. “Because the MTA system as we now have it was built in a different time and in a different place, and it cannot handle the volume and the scale that we are talking about today in New York. You can’t do it with Band-Aids and you can’t stretch it any more than we’ve stretched it. The system is just too small to manage this population.”
Cuomo pointed out that the population of New York City and the region has grown quite a bit since the first subway opened in 1904. (Not mentioned: The subways grew for a few more decades, and the city’s population wasn’t all that much smaller than it is today by the time the major expansions concluded.)
“You can’t make a system that was designed and constructed for that scale work for the current-day scale,” Cuomo said. “And government’s tried in fits and starts to use bailing wire and duct tape and bubble gum and all sorts of ways to make it work. It’s not going to work. You have to build a new system.”
The accompanying tweet was equally confused, grossly exaggerating the number of people who ride the LIRR every day:
Subway was built in 1904 for 3.4 million people. Today it handles 8.2M. LIRR built for 78,000. Now 7.6M use it. That system won’t work today
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 5, 2016
Cuomo is right that the subways are jam packed, service is deteriorating, and the system is showing its age. But it’s bizarre to imply that necessary improvements will somehow be separate from the current system. The MTA can run trains closer together on its existing tracks with modern signals, an undertaking that is taking the agency ages to complete. It could carry more passengers by purchasing trains with open gangways. It could build subway expansions faster if it brought construction costs closer to international norms.
The governor is the one person in a position to implement and accelerate these changes — changes that would have a much bigger impact than a ticketing app — but he has never shown that he has a grasp on what matters for transit.
Instead, today Cuomo riffed for a while about how government is “handcuffed” from building new projects because the public is “litigious” and doesn’t like change. He went on to cite airport construction and his enormous new Tappan Zee Bridge as exemplars of the “fundamentally new” transportation system he has in mind. Airports and highway bridges — Andrew Cuomo’s vision of the future.