As the full effects of Sandy hit the city late in the afternoon on Monday, there wasn’t a subway or a commuter train to be had. And that was surely a good thing.
New York officials made many good decisions in the run-up to Sandy. Mayor Bloomberg once again put evacuation plans into operation, moving the equivalent of a small city away from endangered shorelines. Other officials put emergency plans into motion with admirable crispness and an absolute lack of panic.
The best decision, however, was very likely the subway and rail shutdown. And MTA chairman Joseph Lhota, who doesn’t often get a chance to shine, proved to be an entirely calming presence in the news conferences before and during the storm. Mr. Lhota explained in calm detail why the MTA shut down operations well in advance of the storm, and why that decision was wise in both the short term and the long term.
With transit shut down, people who might have been inclined to soldier into work, or to take a ride to the Battery to watch the storm unfold, very likely were dissuaded. Mayors and governors can plead with people to get off the streets, but as they know all too well, not everybody listens. But if people can’t get there from here, well, they’re more likely to stay home. The MTA left them with little choice but to stay put and be safe.
Over the long term, the shutdown will affect the MTA’s bottom line, in a good way. As Mr. Lhota noted, the MTA’s equipment doesn’t mix well with salt water. Had the system been in operation, there’s no telling how much damage the trains and other equipment might have sustained.
Instead, the trains were exactly where they should have been: in train yards, safe from the record-high storm surge.
As the storm continued into Tuesday, the city still found itself with a mess of historic proportions. But things could have been much worse, had common sense and caution not prevailed.