The MTA is warning that it will be forced to “pull back” its emergency response “Action Plan” if it does not receive more funding from the city to repair the crumbling subway system, according to statements made by MTA board members during a committee meeting on Monday.
During a presentation on the current status of the repair work, Tim Mulligan, the MTA’s acting president, warned that without addressing the “underlying funding” of the program, the MTA would have to “pull back and look at how we prioritize or how we limit or scale down the efforts going forward, which is certainly not our priority… but is a reality forced upon us by the fiscal consequences.”
For the second time in two months, board members appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo attacked the city for its refusal to help pay for the $836 million rescue plan, which MTA Chairman Joe Lhota unveiled over the summer. While both Lhota and Cuomo insist that the cost should be split 50/50 between the state and the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to split the bill, maintaining that the city already pays its fair share to the state-run transit authority.
“After making record contributions to the MTA, City riders are sick of this charade,” City Hall Press Secretary Eric Phillips told Gothamist. “The State and MTA holding New York City trains hostage to avoid their responsibility represents a new low in government effectiveness. The Governor should return the money he siphoned from the MTA and fix the subways he runs.” (In the past six years, Cuomo has diverted $456 million of operating money specifically earmarked for MTA riders, according to the mayor’s office.)
While that back-and-forth has been going on for months now, there was at least one new development at Monday’s meeting: TWU President and board member John Samuelsen raised the possibility of riders and workers taking “legal action to force City Hall to rethink its obligations” and accused the city of “abrogating its responsibility to the MTA and the riders.” Asked how New Yorkers could plausibly sue the city over the operation of a state-run agency, Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo’s office, replied via email, “Why don’t you ask the guy who said it???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????”
Reached for comment, TWU spokesperson Pete Donahue said that “We are strongly considering legal action,” but would not elaborate.
— Dan Rivoli (@danrivoli) October 23, 2017
At this MTA board meeting there’s a lot of talk about how productive the $836m action plan has been but absolutely no evidence supporting it
— Aaron W. Gordon (@A_W_Gordon) October 23, 2017
In the wake of Monday’s threats, some transit advocates and politicians have renewed the charge that Governor Cuomo is using the transit crisis for his own political gain, effectively holding subway-reliant New Yorkers hostage.
“Governor Cuomo’s threat to scale back on necessary subway improvements is a transparent attempt to shift blame and accountability for our transit woes onto the Mayor, even though the Governor himself controls the MTA,” John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo is holding millions of transit riders hostage in his dispute with the Mayor, even after he acknowledged that the subway system is in a state of emergency and promised to fix it.
Queens-based State Senator Mike Gianaris, whose Millionaire’s Tax proposal has the support of Mayor de Blasio, echoed the Rider’s Alliance statement. “The MTA is a state agency—everybody knows that,” he told Gothamist. “What cannot be allowed to happen is for New Yorkers to continue to suffer because of the political games going on at the agency.”
The senator also said the MTA’s argument is deliberately missing the point, considering the amount of money the agency is currently spending to modernize over 30 subway stations throughout the system—an initiative aimed at making certain stations “cleaner and brighter,” according to the governor, that does little to address the subway’s underlying problems.
As part of the ongoing repairs, both the 30th Avenue and 36th Avenue N/W stations in Astoria will shutter for eight months beginning on Monday.
“At a time when we face a crisis of subway reliability and accessibility, the MTA chooses to spend hundreds of millions of precious dollars on cosmetic improvements that will do nothing to improve subway service or accessibility,” Gianaris said. “While it will be more pleasant for subway riders to stare at more beautiful stations while they wait longer and longer for delayed trains, the MTA’s inattention to the larger problem is bordering on scandalous.”