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The MTA Finally Has a Blueprint to Fix Subways and Buses. Will Cuomo Support It?

New York City Transit President Andy Byford holds up a copy of his “Fast Forward” plan to fix the subways and buses. Photo: David Meyer

This morning, New York City Transit President Andy Byford unveiled his blueprint to repair and modernize the MTA's subway and bus systems, and it's legit [PDF].

The top goals in the plan include: upgrading the signal system in most of the subway network by 2028 instead of 2058; an overhaul of the bus network with redesigned routes, all-door boarding, modern dispatching, and consolidated bus stops; and a subway accessibility program that more than doubles the current pace of ADA improvements for stations.

"We have a choice to make," Byford told MTA board members today. "Our plan demonstrates what can be done in a vastly expedited timeframe to transform New York City Transit from a state of emergency into a network worthy of the world's greatest city."

Pulling it off will depend on Byford's ability to execute improvements much faster and more efficiently than the MTA's typical pace, as well as patience on behalf of riders who'll have to endure more nighttime and weekend disruptions while crews work on track and signals. But most of all, it depends on political support from Governor Cuomo.

With an "honest accounting" of the transit system's needs on the table, it's up to Cuomo and legislators in Albany to make change happen, advocates said after Byford's presentation.

"The plan that Andy Byford laid out is bold, it's ambitious, and it's also realistic -- if we have the money in place to make it happen," Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin told reporters. "The leadership will have to come from Governor Cuomo, and the cooperation will have to come from the state legislature, because those are the folks who have the authority to create a funding source to make this plan possible."

The exact cost of the "Fast Forward" program is unclear at the moment. The Times reported yesterday that officials have pegged it at $19 billion, but Byford and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said this morning that it's too early to estimate costs with certitude.

"The costing of Andy's plan is not complete," Lhota said. "Our experience at estimating project costs is woefully inadequate, and I also believe, makes the MTA subject to ongoing criticism, if not ongoing ridicule."

While details of the plan are still forthcoming, Byford stressed that time is of the essence. If the MTA doesn't address the deficiencies in its infrastructure and technology immediately, service will continue to deteriorate.

"Not acting now is not an option," he said. "It will only get more difficult and more expensive."

But the response from the governor's office has been tepid so far. Cuomo was briefed on the plan, Lhota said, but spokesperson Dani Lever told the Times yesterday that his office had yet to review it. She said the plan should be "expeditious and realistic."

Outside MTA headquarters, advocates urged the governor to trust Byford and his team and put political capital behind the plan.

"We have a transit leader who knows what he's talking about, who has seen transit work in places where it works much better than ours does, and who's unafraid to tell it like it is and acknowledge the MTA's shortcomings," said TransitCenter's Jon Orcutt.

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