MTA Chairman Says He’s ‘All Ears’ for De Blasio at Unveiling of Subway Plan

The MTA chairman urged people to hold him accountable for his subway turnaround plan

A #6 train stops before midnight in the Brooklyn Bridge station of the New York City subway system in New York City. Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said he would “do everything I can to convince him,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, to agree to splitting the $845 billion cost of his subway turnaround plan to fix the city’s subway system — and said he’s “all ears” for any of his concerns.

The first phase of the plan — dubbed the NYC Subway Action Plan — will start immediately and yield upgrades within one year, while the second phase will be delineated in the coming weeks. The first phase involves signal and track maintenance, car reliability, system safety and cleanliness, customer communications and a Critical Management Group. The first phase, he said, will combat the main drivers of 79 percent of the major incidents bringing about delays on the system, including signals, track and power.

Lhota said the agency will have to invest $456 million in operating costs immediately and make a $380 million capital investment. The plan will cost  $836 million for the immediate plan and $8 billion for long-term initiatives. He wants the city and the state to split the cost of fixing the subway system.

“Look, regarding the mayor, I have tremendous respect of the mayor and his entire team,” the chairman said at a press conference this afternoon. “I will work with him closely. I will do everything I can to convince him that this is the right thing to do for the people of the city of New York.”

At the end of June, Cuomo announced that the state will contribute an additional $1 billion to the MTA capital plan, and declared a state of emergency. He also asked Lhota to form a reorganization plan for the MTA by July 31.

Over the weekend, de Blasio rode the F train at the 4th Avenue — 9th Street station and said that Cuomo is responsible for fixing the subway system. The MTA is a state-run agency, thus falling under Cuomo’s jurisdiction. This came after both Cuomo and Lhota charged the city with responsibility over the subway system. The city has recently been plagued by train derailments in Harlem and in Brooklyn.

“If there are any specific areas that he thinks we’re being inefficient, I’m all ears,” Lhota continued. “I have been known over my entire life to try to find efficiencies wherever I can and make it better. It’s what I do, it’s what I wanna continue to do and if there’s something I’m missing, I’m more than happy to listen, I’m more than happy to implement it.”

He noted that for years, monthly statistics over time on delays and fires were going “down and down and down” and then this year, they stared to see a “slight hockey puck coming up.” He said that “that’s gotta end.”

“I want it cleaner, I want it faster, I want it moving in the right direction and if there are things I left out, I’ll let the public tell me about it,” he said. “But the bottom line on this whole is I put this out there: hold me accountable.”

The first phase will include a signal repair program that will fix the most troublesome 1,300 signals, expanding overhaul capacity from 950 to 1,100 cars per year and calling on the NYPD to increase its presence at stations to ward off illegal activities such as harassment, sexually inappropriate behavior, loitering, aggressive panhandling and littering.

It also involves more than doubling the number of stations with EMTs for medical emergencies, working with FDNY EMS, revamping digital communication assets, rebuilding the management and operations organizing and uniting key decision makers to tracking incidents in real time and dispatch resources more quickly.

The second phase will focus on long-term improvements, including better subway cars, the adoption of a new signal system and modern communications technology. It will also incorporate the top innovations from the MTA Genius Transit Challenge, which is currently underway, and public dashboard to calculate key categories, including reliability, safety and customer experience.

Lhota told reporters that following a top-to-bottom audit of the current system, MTA leadership, transit experts, innovators, community representatives and top management consultants developed the plan. An advisory board will advise in the plan’s execution.

Yesterday, de Blasio outlined his expectations, including developing a program similar to the NYPD’s CompStat program that provides statistics on crimes in every precinct every month and developing some service standards.

At the R/W City Hall subway station this afternoon, the mayor said he was “encouraged” Lhota’s announcement today.

“I emphasize always: the state of New York controls the MTA and the state of New York needs to own up to its responsibilities because it controls the MTA,” de Blasio said. “But again, Chairman Lhota’s ideas today, his plan, I think a positive step and a step that can help us to address the problems people are facing.”

De Blasio said that he agrees with the plan’s recommendations for the NYPD, the FDNY and the inclusion of a CompStat-like program, and that he appreciates the fact that Lhota was “honest” about the fact that the MTA “has not been effective at spending the money it has.”

He noted that the city gave the MTA $2.5 billion in capital funding two years ago and that only about $75 million has been spent. He also said that the $456 million in extra resources is already in the state’s reserves.

“It’s quite an amazing coincidence: that is literally the amount that the state of New York has diverted from the MTA’s budget since 2011,” he continued. “So the answer is obvious: that money is available right now, it’s in the state of New York’ s reserves.”

He added that other immediate sources available to the MTA could come from Cuomo canceling the light show on the Kosciuszko Bridge and Cuomo’s recent $1 billion commitment.

Cuomo, for his part, praised the plan.

“Last week, we had a successful resolution to expand the Long Island Rail Road after 50 years of delay,” he said in a statement. “Today Chairman Lhota laid out a comprehensive plan to transform the New York City transit system. 

MTA Chairman Says He’s ‘All Ears’ for De Blasio at Unveiling of Subway Plan