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Andrew Cuomo

Riders Turn Up the Heat on Andrew Cuomo to Lead the MTA Out of This Subway Crisis

12:22 PM EDT on June 29, 2017

Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin and company outside Governor Cuomo’s NYC offices last night. Photo: David Meyer

Speaking in Manhattan this morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a "state of emergency" for the MTA, giving his newly-appointed agency chairman Joe Lhota 30 days to redesign the agency's organizational structure and 60 days to address shortcomings in the agency's $29 billion, five-year capital plan.

Cuomo also pledged $1 billion more for the capital plan, though he didn't spell out where the money will come from or what it will pay for.

The announcement came after transit riders rallied outside Cuomo's New York City offices on Third Avenue last night, calling on the governor to come up with a "credible plan" to "fund and fix" a transit system that seems to get less reliable by the day. In a letter to Cuomo, a coalition of transit advocates also released a five-point list of criteria to assess his MTA performance going forward, stressing the importance of restoring reliable service and upgrading the capacity of the existing system as opposed to expansion projects [PDF].

"We are folks who rely on the MTA every day -- to get to work, to get home, to get to school, to get around the city, and these days the MTA does not work for us," said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin.

"Governor Cuomo runs the MTA, Governor Cuomo funds the MTA with his budget, Governor Cuomo sets the laws that govern how the MTA does its job, and Governor Cuomo has not produced a plan for how to fix public transit," Raskin added. "Governor Cuomo has put forward no plan to fix public transit. He has proposed no new funding sources to support public transit. This is not the leadership we need to get ourselves out of today's public transit crisis."

Organizers held the "emergency rally" in response to worsening delays and a series of major breakdowns, most recently on Tuesday when an A train derailed between 135th Street and 125th Street, crashing into a tunnel wall and injuring almost 40 people.

Advocates last night stressed that the transit system's current problems are much bigger than any single incident. "What happened yesterday is actually just the most egregious example of a decline that's been going on for four or five, six or seven years," said TransitCenter Executive Director David Bragdon.

Since Governor Cuomo took office, the overall on-time performance of the subway system has dropped from 85.4 percent in 2011 to 63.2 percent so far this year, according to agency data. From May 2016 to May 2017, subway delays increased by 16.7 percent [PDF].

The technical and infrastructure solutions to these problems are largely known already. But the MTA spends too much and takes too long to deliver them, advocates point out in their letter to Cuomo. What's needed, they write, is political leadership from the governor to bring down bloated costs, speed up implementation, and pay for necessary improvements without relying on debt that causes fares to soar.

"We don't have a lack of ideas, we don't have a lack of technical solutions, we have a lack of leadership and a lack of political will," Raskin said last night, "and that's what we're asking Governor Cuomo to provide."

The governor's press event this morning was not the detailed plan of action advocates are demanding. But there was a distinctly different tone than Cuomo's recent protestations that he's not responsible for the MTA.

Now comes the hard part. It's going to take sustained attention, not just a few months of theatrics, to sort out the MTA's systemic problems. The sooner Cuomo starts taking that seriously the better.

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