Monday, May 13, 2013
The weekend before Sandy thundered into New Jersey, transit officials studied a map showing bright green and orange blocks. On the map, the area where most New Jersey Transit trains were being stored showed up as orange – or dry.
And it might have been a good plan. Except the numbers New Jersey Transit used to create the map were wrong.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
As expected, the head of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is recommending the agency raise the base fare for subways and buses by 25 cents, and increase the cost of a 30-day MetroCard from $104 to $112.
Joe Lhota outlined his recommendation in a memo sent to MTA board members Thursday. The board is expected to approve the fare hike at its meeting next week. It would go into effect in March 2013.
Lhota says in his memo that the increase in fares and tolls will raise an additional $450 million annually for the agency.
To learn more, read the memo below, or download a pdf of it here.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
We will be tweeting highlights -- so follow along.
Here's who's on tap to testify.
Witness Panel 1
- Honorable Charles Schumer
United States Senator, New York
- Honorable Robert Menendez
United States Senator, New Jersey
- Honorable Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator, New York
Witness Panel 2
- Mr. John Porcari
U.S. Department of Transportation
Witness Panel 3
- Mr. Joseph Boardman
National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)
- Mr. Joseph Lhota
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
- Mr. Patrick Foye
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
- Mr. James Weinstein
Monday, November 05, 2012
Listen to the conversation with WNYC's Amy Eddings below.
(New York, NY) Just one week after Hurricane Sandy turned New York City's subway tunnels into something out of Waterworld, service is back up and running on almost every line. But how?
MTA chairman Joe Lhota told WNYC the credit belonged to the agency's employees. "The workers of the Transit Authority...I will tell you I've never seen a bunch of people work so hard to get the system back up and running."
And here's how they did it: "They've been cleaning [signals] by hand, literally," he said. "First you had to pump out the water, then you had to wipe down the mud that was left down there, then you had to literally wipe down the rail, and then fix each and every one of the switches by cleaning them and making sure there was no salt to prevent the electric conductivity."
Lhota said after that process, the MTA then powered up the system and ran test trains before resuming service.
"We're making progress every day," he said, adding that the rest of the lines would be operating "soon."
"That's our intent, to be able to...get the L later in the week, get the G later in the week, getting all the other trains later in the week. We want to get the #1 train eventually down to Rector Street, we'll try to do that by the middle of the week...inch by inch, rail by rail, we're going to get there," he said on WNYC radio.
Later in the conversation Lhota told WNYC's Amy Eddings -- who relies on the G train to get to work: "You'll get the G soon. Can't tell you exactly when, but you'll get the G real soon."
What probably will take a little longer: retooling New York city's infrastructure to withstand future floods. "There are some more substantive things that need to be done," said Lhota, and "not just for the subway system...it should be a concerted effort on the part of the city and the state and taking the best minds in the architectural world and the water mitigation world and figure out what exactly can we do to prevent this from happening again?"
Any effort to prevent flooding, he said, "It's not just going to be limited to the subways. It shouldn't be."
Want to know what's running and what's not? Check our Transit Tracker.
Friday, November 02, 2012
MTA head Joe Lhota stopped by the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station in Brooklyn on Friday morning to greet passengers waiting in line for the buses over the Manhattan Bridge.
Lines are long but from this video it looks like they were moving quickly.
The buses will be in place until subway service between the two boroughs is restored.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday night that he was "declaring a transportation emergency" and authorized the MTA to waive fares on subways, buses, and rail lines through Friday.
Cuomo said that decision was prompted in part by the grueling traffic in Manhattan on Wednesday. He called the gridlock "dangerous" and said he wanted to encourage people to use transit.
But the subway system that will be up and running Thursday will not be the system New Yorkers are used to. Only 14 of the 23 lines will be operational, and even those will be running in segments. LIRR service is being slowly phased back in. Cuomo said one bright point was that roughly 50% of regular customers would have normal service on the Metro-North commuter rail line.
"Bear with us," said MTA head Joe Lhota, who was seated next to the governor at the last-minute press conference. He called the damage done by Hurricane Sandy the "most devastating event ever to happen to the MTA."
There are still subway tunnels flooded with water from "floor to ceiling," said Cuomo. Beginning Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers will begin deploying 250 "high-speed pumping devices" to aid water removal. These will be operated around the clock until the tunnels are clear.
Meanwhile, to shuttle passengers between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the MTA will put 330 buses into service to act as a bus bridge. Late Wednesday night the New York City Department of Transportation released more details about how the bus lanes will be structured. DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said the city was creating a "surface subway."
Starting at 6am tomorrow -- timed to coincide with the start of the subway -- buses will operate over Manhattan Bridge via a two-way bus lane on the lower level. These bus-only lanes will be operational 24/7 and will be enforced by the NYPD. Buses will also go over the Williamsburg Bridge. In both cases, buses will make major stops on their way uptown via the Bowery and Third Avenue along a dedicated curbside lane -- which he said will also be enforced by the NYPD.
The buses will run up to 55th Street, then turn around and head back to Brooklyn on Lexington Avenue.
For more information about transit service in New York, visit our Transit Tracker.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
UPDATE: Tuesday 4:50 PM: The MTA's Charles Seaton says not all bus routes will be running Wednesday morning, that limited routes will be running. Those will be announced later Tuesday evening.
UPDATE Tuesday 11:50 AM: The latest on MTA and NYC transpo is always at our Transit Tracker.
Some bus service will begin at 5 p.m. on a Sunday schedule.
There is no timetable yet for subway service resumption. Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said in a joint press conference Tuesday morning they hope to have full bus service restored Wednesday morning. No fares will be charged through Wednesday.
Portions of subway service will return in pieces as it is able. Buses will be used to connect fractured sections.
Flooding could keep east river crossings shut for some time. The Clark, Steinway, Rutgers and Strawberry Street tubes under the East River are all flooded. Lhota said pumps are clearing the Joralemon Street tube and will have it dry in a few hours.
No buses or trains were damaged because of effective shut down preparations. Assessment of the extent of the damage on the tracks "will take a little bit more time than we thought," Lhota said.
Lhotoa said flooding at the South Street subway station was "literally up to the ceiling."
Pumping is underway in the Battery Tunnel.
Metro-North has no power from 59th Street to Croton.
POSTED Tuesday 9:05 AM: MTA chair Joe Lhota spoke to WNYC's Soterios Johnson Monday morning about the extent of the damage to the subway system. Listen to the interview below, and read the partial transcript of his remarks.
Lhota said he knew last night there was a problem. "Last night I was downtown and it was pretty obvious...I saw the water surge coming up, realizing that the systems were going to be affected. Our electrical systems, our alarm systems, tell us when there's water down there. They basically shut off. It's an automatic system...they would only shut off if there was water down there."
Johnson asked Lhota just how bad the flooding was. "The assessment is ongoing. Dawn is just cracking right now," Lhota said, adding that the sunlight would help with the assessment process, "which is going to be ongoing. We'll report back to New Yorkers later in the day as to what we have assessed, and determine how long it's going to take to get the system back up and running. One thing I do want everyone to focus on is the fact of how dynamic and how robust the New York City subway system is." And New Yorkers need to understand: "We're going to be flexible, we're going to try to be creative. Those systems that can be up and running, those portions of the system that can be up and running -- I want them up and running as quickly as possible. Then use our bus service and our buses -- re-route them in such a way that they supplement and complement each other. And that's what I mean by creativity: if there's a portion of the system that's going to take longer to repair, that doesn't mean the whole system is down...we're New Yorkers, we adapt very very well."
Johnson asked if salt water had flooded the subways. "I can't imagine that it's fresh water, it's going to be at best brackish, but for the most part it's salt," Lhota said. "Water and electricity never mix properly, but when you add salt to it, once the water is gone, the salt leaves a film...the way electronics work on the subway system is two pieces of metal running together conducting electricity. And it there's anything in between those two pieces of metal -- like film left over from salt -- that needs to be cleaned off because the connections need to be clear and straightforward for us to manage the process of making the subway system safe."
Johnson asked Lhota what his worst-case scenario for restoration of subway service. "I literally can't answer that until later today," Lhota said. "his happened overnight, it's been ongoing, the assessment's been ongoing, and we've called...all of our workers backs." "Are we talking days or weeks?" asked Johnson. "It's unfair to me -- I'm going to try to get this up and running as quickly as I possibly can," said Lhota. "I really don't want to be tied down to answering that question the way you've asked it because it'll be something that will linger out there...it would be a scientific wild guess on my part to answer it that way and I just need to get better information and then determine it."
As to when the bridges and tunnels will be open: "I literally just sent a text message to Pat Foye, the head of the Port Authority," said Lhota. "He and I need to figure out how to open up the bridges, how to open up the tunnels. The wind has calmed down significantly...the tunnels, if they're dry, the assessment can be relatively straightforward. [But] the bridges, given the extent of the wind, we're going to need a couple hours having the engineers assess that there's no damage to any of the bridges. We experienced at the Triborough - RFK bridge wind gusts over 100 miles an hour last night. That's extraordinary. We've got to make sure that the integrity of the bridge is there. I'm confident that it is, but out of an abundance of caution we're going to need at least two hours for our engineers to go through and assess to make sure that the bridges are safe. I think they're safe -- in fact I'm almost positive they're safe -- but out of an abundance of caution, we will do the work we need to do."
Johnson asked about the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter rail lines. "First off," said Lhota, "we're trying to count the number of trees that are downed on Metro North and it's going to be in the hundreds...we're going up in a helicopter today to assess the entire system from the air to determine where we have our problems. The Long Island Rail Road experienced an enormous amount of flooding all through the South Shore, the Babylon branch all the way out to ...Montauk. We're assessing that right now and will determine how far we can go." He continued: "I am very worried about power....the power is a problem. It's an electric subway system for the most part. Some of our commuter rail system is electric as well, some it's diesel, or a combination...we need electricity to run. So this power problem in the tri-state area is significant for getting us up and running on the commuter rail front...the power on Metro North is down from 59th Street in Manhattan all the way up to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson line, all the way up to New Haven, Connecticut on the New Haven line. We have no power on the system at this time."
In terms of the actual conditions of the rails: "We're going to have to evaluate it," Lhota said. "We're going to have to walk ths system to determine the extent of it and we're also going to have to cut up all the trees that are in the way and get them out of the way."
With reporting by Alex Goldmark
Thursday, October 18, 2012
(With reporting from Pat Bradley, WAMC) Earlier this week, New York MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast made a 300 mile pilgrimage north to a place of significance to city transit riders: the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh, New York.
"My understanding is two-thirds of all the equipment that's been made here has actually shown up at either the New York City Transit Authority, or the Long Island Rail Road, or Metro-North," said Lhota.
And that trend will continue: in June, the MTA signed a $600 million contract with Bombardier to build 300 new subway cars. Those cars are in the design phase and will be delivered to NYC in 2015.
Lhota told reporters that while he toured the facility, he paid attention to the little details. "When I was on the train that's being built for NJ Transit," he said, "I was noticing they put little coat racks behind each one of the chairs, where someone could put a coat or a sweater, or put their purse -- that's a great little feature."
He also took the opportunity to point out that what's good for downstate transit is good for upstate.
"Whenever I go to Albany, and I want to talk about the MTA -- for those folks who are not from the New York metropolitan area, they're going to say 'well, why should we care about the MTA?'" Lhota recounted. "Most of what we spend on our capital program -- the billions of dollars that we spend on new cars, on rails -- most, not all of it, but a huge majority of it, is made in New York State....we need the product, we help people up here get the jobs."
Thursday, August 23, 2012
LISTEN: Get more details in this conversation as WNYC's Richard Hake speaks to MTA head Joe Lhota.
NY's MTA Chief said his agency contributes more than $7 to each Long Island Railroad passenger's ride, compared to just over a dollar per subway ride.
Joe Lhota came out swinging Thursday in defense of the payroll mobility tax struck down by a state court Wednesday. (Full ruling)
Lhota held a press conference in Grand Central Terminal to call the ruling "flawed and erroneous." He showed up armed with some figures.
Suburban rides on Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad receive a bigger subsidy per ride, than NYC subway rides.
The tax funds $1.8 billion of the MTA budget, about 15 percent. The tax is levied in 12 counties where the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates subways, buses, bridges, or commuter rail. It is a constant political football for suburban districts around New York City who feel they are paying for the city's subway.
Here are the subsidies for the average ride for each of the three rail networks operated by the MTA.
Now, there are billions of rides taken on the subway and only about 80 million on LIRR (and we're tracking down the additional figures to flush out this kind of comparison) but Lhota's point is that the subsidy isn't exactly a suburbs-to-city stream of tax money. The biggest winners are the riders of Long Island Rail Road, coincidentally, exactly the people who vote for Nassau County (aka Long Island) Executive, Ed Mangano, the man who filed the lawsuit challenging the mobility tax.
Here's a primer on the mobility tax and four other fees that could also be overturned if the court ruling stands courtesy of the MTA:
Fees and Taxes affected by the ruling according to the MTA:
- Vehicle Registration Fee – Vehicle registrants residing in the 12-county district pay an additional $50 to register a car for each 2-year period.
- Taxi Surcharge – A 50¢ surcharge on all medallion taxi (yellow cab) trips that begin within New York City and end within the 12-county MTA service territory.
- Automobile Rental Tax – Automobile rental charges within the 12-county MTA region incur an additional tax of 5%.
- Auto License Fee – $2/year for each driver's license. So most people pay an additional $16 fee at the time of their renewal.
And here's how the MTA explains the payroll tax collection:
As for the Payroll Mobility Tax itself it is paid by employers and self-employed individuals earning more than $50,000/year located within the MTA’s 12-county region at rates ranging from 0.11%, or 11¢ for every $100 paid to employees, to 0.34%.On December 12, 2011, Governor Cuomo signed legislation revising the Mobility Tax structure by exempting or reducing some categories of taxpayers who had been paying the 0.34% rate, as follows:
- Self-employed individuals earning less than $50,000 per year (Exempt)
- Businesses w/ annual payroll between $10,000 and $1.25 million (Exempt)
- Public and private elementary and secondary schools (Exempt)
- Businesses w/annual payroll = $1.25 million -$1.5 million (0.11%)
- Businesses w/annual payrolls = $1.5 million and $1.75 million (0.23%)
Monday, June 25, 2012
Fare evasion costs New York City $100 million a year. And it's worse on buses than subways.
Putting an exact number on the city's problem is difficult, officials said at Monday's New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee meeting. Thomas Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, said "I believe the number is between $50 and $75 million (annually)."
But later that morning, an MTA official said internal estimates put that number closer to $100 million a year -- with fare evasion on buses alone accounting for over $50 million a year.
MTA head Joe Lhota said he met last month with NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly. The result: police are stepping up enforcement and spot checks on buses -- and the effort involves both uniform and undercover officers.
"This new effort has just started," said Lhota, "and I think we'll see the fruit of this relatively soon."
So far this year (as of 6/24), police have made 1,228 "theft of service" arrests on city buses. That's up 72% compared to the same period last year.
Thomas Prendergast said he found some of the fare evasion numbers surprising. "We have the higher end of the rates in Staten Island," he said, "where there's a lot of school service and a lot of the fare evasion may be students."
So far this year there have been 60 arrests for fare evasion in that borough.
Prendergast said he wanted to produce a thorough report on the problem, "rather than just making anecdotal comments."
One board member asked Prendergast why fare evasion occurs more often on buses. "At the front end of my career," said Prendergast, "I drove a bus for 30 days and qualified as a bus operator in Chicago. And let me tell you, it's one of the most difficult jobs."
He then painted a stark picture of a situation drivers could find themselves in. "If you want to work midnight to eight, by yourself on a bus, and challenge somebody for a fare -- we require people to challenge once for a fare -- versus sitting in a booth and calling someone if someone doesn't pay a fare -- it's a very, very complicated issue."
And not a financially insignificant one. "Every dollar we can save from fare evasion is a dollar we can spend for other things," he said.
To give that $100 million figure some context: in 2010, the MTA cut 38 bus lines -- and reduced service on 76 more -- to save $93 million a year.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Stephen Morello has been named counselor and chairman to the CEO, at a salary of $148,100. Most recently, Morello worked as deputy director of communications for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Previously, he was press secretary to Andrew Cuomo's father, former Governor Mario Cuomo.
It's a new position for the MTA. You can read the MTA's full press release below.
Stephen J. Morello Joins MTA as Counselor to the Chairman and CEO
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota today announced that Stephen J. Morello will join the MTA as Counselor to the Chairman and CEO. In that role, Mr. Morello will direct the communications, government relations, and community affairs divisions of the MTA and its agencies.
“Steve Morello will be an invaluable asset to the MTA,” Lhota said. “He has served three governors and one mayor, and I look forward to gaining his insights and guidance as we work to make the MTA more transparent and improve our image in the eyes of all our customers and elected officials.”
A veteran of state and city government, Mr. Morello has served for the past year as deputy director of communications in the office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. His previous government assignments include serving as press secretary to Governor Mario M. Cuomo and as deputy and then press secretary to Governor Hugh L. Carey, and as director of communications for the NYC Department of Education. Mr. Morello also served as Deputy Commissioner for the NYC Department of Correction.
Mr. Morello's private sector marketing and communications management experience includes serving as Vice President for Global Communications for the Readers Digest Company and as President and CEO of the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau-now known as NYC & Company.
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
MTA chairman Joe Lhota says a proposed extension of the 7 train subway line from Manhattan to New Jersey is "not going to happen in our lifetime. It's not going to happen in anybody's lifetime."
Lhota said "the expense is beyond anything we're doing," adding that building railyards in New Jersey would be costly.
Lhota was speaking Tuesday morning at a breakfast meeting of the New York Building Congress at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
He was asked about a trans-Hudson rail connection and what might fill the gap of the ARC Tunnel, a project killed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in late 2010. Lhota said he favors Amtrak's proposed Gateway Tunnel project, which would bring Northeast Corridor trains from New Jersey through a tunnel under the river to an expanded Penn Station. "I think it's really important to support that," he said.
The impetus for a 7 train extension comes from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed the project last year.
"I've told the mayor this, I can't see that happening in our lifetime," Lhota said.
Within hours of Lhota's comments, speaking at his own press event, Mayor Bloomberg said he understood funding was an issue, but that he hoped the 7 extension "happens in somebody's lifetime."
"I have great respect for Joe Lhota and he' s a realist," the Mayor added. "I don't know, we can keep trying. It would be great if it happened. Having more tunnels over to New Jersey will help both New Jersey and New York City. If people can go back and forth and it would clean the air because there would be less traffic jams on the tunnels and bridges. Getting a ways to have people come in and out of the city with mass transit is obviously the way to go. I'm sure what Joe is referring to is its very hard to see the funding for that come right now--if someone could provide the funding, I can tell you Joe Lhota could build it.".
Lhota said that he understood the project's appeal to some riders. "Of course New Jersey would like to have it because they think they can get across the Hudson for $2.25."
But then he reiterated his assessment of a subway to Secaucus: "Not a chance."
TN MOVING STORIES: Beijing Bike Scheme, Florida Traffic Deaths Drop, Airlines Sue DOT Over Advertising Rules
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Top stories on TN:
Trying Out Staten Island's Bus Time (Link)
Montana To Parents, Kids: We Know It’s Winter — But You Can Still Walk & Bike To School (Link)
As Presidential Race Moves to South Carolina, Pothole Ads Do, Too (Link)
Amtrak: In 2012, We Want eTickets, Electric Locomotives, and Speedier Trains (Link)
Beijing will put 20,000 rental bikes on the street this year to ease congestion -- and open four new subway lines. (Xinhua)
Parts of Nigeria are under a curfew after protests against the ending of fuel subsidies grew violent. "Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled...The costs of food and transportation also doubled." (NPR)
Adding mass transit to the Tappan Zee Bridge would delay the project at least two years, says the head of the New York State DOT. (Journal News)
New MTA head Joe Lhota says he'll continue to pursue a smartcard system for NYC transit. (New York Times)
Traffic deaths in Florida dropped to a 33-year low in 2011, although the state's population doubled in that span. (AP via Miami Herald)
Some airlines are suing the DOT over its requirement that advertisements include all taxes and fees in ticket prices for flights. (The Hill)
Sales of diesel-powered cars in the U.S. rose 27.4 percent in 2011 while hybrid sales dropped 2.2 percent. (AutoBlogGreen)
DC's Metro would have to condemn many more properties than originally thought in order to build the Purple Line. (Washington Post)
Volkswagen unveils the E-Bugster -- an electric Beetle concept car -- in Detroit. (Gizmag)
TN MOVING STORIES: BART Extension To Silicon Valley Clears Hurdle, Edmonton Transit Riders to be Scanned for Explosives
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Top stories on TN:
A Whole New York City Borough Gets Real-time Bus Information (Link)
Lhota: Don’t Hate on the MTA (Link)
NY Gov Cuomo to NY Pols: I Don’t Have To Ask Your Permission To Build the Convention Center, But Let’s Work Together (Link)
Senator Dianne Feinstein Wants To Save CA High Speed Rail — As Republican Assemblywoman Tries to Kill It (Link)
The deal to extend BART to Silicon Valley is finally clearing its last major hurdle after a six-decade struggle -- and is likely to win $900 million in federal support. (San Francisco Examiner, Mercury News)
Status update: I'm driving right now! Mercedes-Benz USA is bringing Facebook to its cars. (Reuters)
Because it's become so popular, organizers have made some changes to New York's 5 Boro Bike Tour. (New York Times)
Transit riders in Edmonton will have their train tickets scanned for explosives. (Vancouver Sun)
Metro's proposed fare increase is infuriating riders. (Washington Post)
What happens when the NYC subway closes for repairs: workers work, and riders swear. (New York Times)
The new head of NY's MTA hates peeling paint. (NY Daily News)
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
When Jay Walder took office in 2009, he made no bones about his priorities: installing countdown clocks, Oyster cards, and bettering bus service. But the new CEO, Joseph Lhota, confirmed Monday by the New York Senate, seems to have a less lofty goal: getting the public not to hate on the nation’s largest transit agency.
Yes, he wants to improve efficiencies; yes he wants more and better communication with customers; yes, he’ll strenuously defend the expenditure of taxpayer funds on the transit agency. “There’s not a transit agency in the country that burdens their riders with solely paying for the system,” Lhota says, echoing remarks he made at yesterday’s hearing.
But at the end of the day, Lhota says, “I’m finding a lot of people don’t have a whole lot of respect for the MTA."
He sat down Tuesday with WNYC’s Jim O’Grady to talk about the MTA’s image problem, why there won’t be more bus service anytime soon, and why he’s encouraged by a move by the Transport Workers Union to extend the contract deadline beyond Sunday night.
[TWU President] “John Samuelsen and I have tried to do everything to create a relationship with each other. We’re open and honest with each other,” Lhota said.
A transcript of the interview follows.
O’Grady: Under your predecessor, Jay Walder, a set of his main accomplishments were innovations like the countdown clock and real time information for riders. What innovations do you have in mind?
Lhota: I think you’re going to see a continuation of more information, more communications with all of our customers, our riders. The ability to tell them how soon a train is coming or how soon a bus is coming is a very important thing. I’m going to spend an enormous amount of time on increasing the efficiency of the MTA and also changing what most people think of the MTA.
I’m finding a lot of people don’t have a whole lot of respect for the MTA. It's an organization that allows eight and a half million people to travel to and from work every day and to travel home every day and to school, to dates on Saturday night. I want people to understand how important the MTA is to their lives. At the end of the day I’d like them to feel good -- or feel better -- about the MTA.
O’Grady: Do you have any ideas in the technology realm?
Lhota: In the technology world there are an enormous amount of innovations. We started a contest for apps, so we can provide data to people who develop apps for iPhones and smartphones. The best thing to do for technology is not for a government agency determine what to do, but to harness the power of young people who seem to have a much better understanding, a much better grasp of technology.
O’Grady: What ideas do you have for funding the MTA?
Lhota: Some of the senators yesterday said they wanted to find a way to end any taxpayer funding for the MTA. And I reminded them in 1968 when the legislature back then with then Governor Rockefeller --they created the MTA with the intent that the burden of the transit system would not be solely on the rider, that it would be more broad-based, that there would be tax revenues. The concept of totally eliminating tax funding for the MTA would be inconsistent with how it was created. There’s not a transit agency in the country that burdens their riders with solely paying for the system.
O’Grady: Where’s that money going to come from?
Lhota: I don’t know where the money is going to come from but I’ll work with the state legislature and I’ll work with leaders across the state. The question of revenues right now not isolated to the MTA -- all government agencies are under pressure. The current condition of our economy is really providing the lack of revenues.
I’ll work with Albany, with City Hall and the federal government, on new and better fund sources.
O’Grady: Jay Walder said in Hong Kong that New York’s transit system was underfunded and under developed.
Lhota: I heard Jay’s comments. They were taken out of context. Jay was comparing the brand new system in Hong Kong to a hundred plus year-old system here in New York. It’s really tough to compare something that is brand new with something that has being operated for over 100 years. The comparison is not apt.
O’Grady: There was a close vote on [the MTA] board about restoring bus service. People are always clamoring for connecting underserved areas like, say, Red Hook to Williamsburg as one example. Would you consider restoring or adding bus service anywhere in New York?
Lhota : When we get the finances under control. Our budget is currently very fragile [and] we have a lot of risky assumptions in our budget. We have to constantly evaluate where should we have our routes, where should we change service, where should we increase it, where should we decrease it. We need to do that based on the demographics of what’s going on, but until we get our financial house in order we will not be seeing restorations.
O’Grady: Getting your financial house in order -- where does the consolidation play into that? Are there savings to be had from consolidation?
Lhota: There are some savings to be had -- and dealing with what people unfortunately pejoratively call the bloat -- with the MTA. Where do we have too many lawyers, where do we have too many accountants, where do we have too many paper pushers? That will provide some help but not substantially all, we need to find ways to do what we do with the resources we have.
O’Grady: Just give me your general impression of how its going with the Transport Workers Union.
Lhota: Negotiations are ongoing, they’ve been constructive, they’ve been very helpful. John Samuelsen and I have tried to do everything to create a relationship with each other. We’re open and honest with each other. We tell him things that we like. I tell him things I don’t like and there are no repercussions from it. The negotiations are ongoing but will remain behind closed doors.
O’Grady: Are you going to hit the deadline?
Lhota: We’re going to do everything we can to hit the deadline. The executive committee of the TWU has already extended the deadline by saying if they don’t have a contract by that date they’re willing to extend it out. That was a very encouraging sign by the leaders of the TWU, so the pressure we normally have on us is not there. That being said, we’re going to do everything we can to have it resolved by midnight next Sunday night.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
(New York, NY -- Andrea Bernstein and Jim O'Grady) Governor Andrew Cuomo has made his second top transit agency choice in as many days, saying he'll nominate former Giuliani aide Joseph Lhota to run the 12-county transportation agency, the nation's largest. Lhota is executive vice president of Madison Square Garden.
Lhota's appointment as head of the MTA, along with the announcement yesterday that Patrick Foye will lead the Port Authority, means that Cuomo has now chosen two individuals from outside the transportation world to lead key transportation authorities.
"I am pleased to accept the recommendation of the extraordinary search committee and nominate Joe Lhota to be the next chairman and CEO of the MTA," Governor Cuomo said in a statement. "Joe Lhota brings one-of-a-kind managerial, government, and private sector experience to the job and a lifelong commitment to public service that will benefit all straphangers. I look forward to working together as we continue to reform the MTA, reduce costs, and improve service for New Yorkers. I thank the members of the MTA Search Advisory Committee for their diligent work and thorough review."
One of the members of that committee, NYU Rudin Center director Mitchell Moss, said Lhota would be able to defend the commuter tax in Albany, which has been under attack from Republican lawmakers. "They’ll know he’s a serious guy, he’s a Republican," Moss said in a telephone interview "The whole culture of transportation will require very different leadership now." Moss said he expected fewer funds from the federal government, and managing relationships with Albany would become key to keeping the MTA funded.
Lhota served in the Giuliani administration for six years, first as budget director and then as deputy mayor of operations. He also worked as an adviser to Giuliani’s presidential campaign in 2007-2008. He was one of Giuliani's appointees to the MTA board, from 1999 to 2001. Before his work in the public sector, he was a banker at First Boston.
In a statement, Lhota said: "Millions of New Yorkers depend on the MTA every day and they deserve the most efficient and effective service. Throughout my career in both the public and private sectors, I have initiated reforms that are performance-based and that cut costs, and I look forward to bringing this same approach to the MTA. I thank Governor Cuomo for this exciting opportunity to serve the people of New York."
Reaction among transit watchers, none of whom would speak on the record to avoid alienating the next chief of the NY MTA, was part puzzlement and part wait-and-see.
“I was a little surprised that Joe Lhota rose to the top of that pool,” said an official from a previous mayoral administration. “He understands inter-governmental relations and he understands the politics but he’s more of a political operative than a manager.”
Both Cuomo and outgoing MTA chairman Jay Walder have said in the past few weeks that the next chair did not need to have a transit background. “I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit,” Walder said at the NY MTA’s September board meeting. “I don’t know that it’s an absolutely essential quality.”
Lhota fits that profile. His resume shows no transportation posts. But he did manage large governmental agencies in the Giuliani administration and ran the city when the mayor was out of town. Since then, he has navigated the executive suites of the Cablevision Systems Corporation, which owns Madison Square Garden. And Lhota has served as a board member at the City University of New York for the past ten years. Lhota was one of two board members who did not support withholding an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner last May. The vote to table the degree past last spring’s commencement was much-criticized and later reversed.
The precipice on which the NY MTA teeters consists of several difficulties: a 2012-2015 capital construction plan with a $10 billion dollar shortfall; a looming contract negotiation with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that, by all signs, will be acrimonious; a threat from a group of state legislators to cut the dedicated revenue stream that is the regional payroll mobility tax, which last year contributed $1.3 billion to authority coffers. That’s about an eighth of the authority’s operating budget.
Sources differed on Lhota’s ability to rise to those challenges. The NY MTA needs someone “who can handle the union relationships, the crisis of money, and Lhota will get it faster than most people,” said one.
But others don't expect Lhota to be a voice for transportation in the way Jay Walder was. Walder came from London Transport and is headed for a job running Hong Kong's transit system. In his tenure as MTA chief he pushed for several innovative transit measures, including countdown clocks, real time information, and better communication with customers. But his relationship with the union was toxic, and Walder presided over the MTA's deepest cuts in more than a generation.
Said Kate Slevin of the advocacy group, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, "We hope Mr. Lhota’s business acumen will help guide the agency towards more sound fiscal footing without compromising service and affordability for the system’s 8.5 million daily riders. We also hope he will continue the innovative service improvements executed by his predecessor, including subway countdown clocks, rapid bus service, and nonstop tolling."
Cuomo also appointed two women to serve in key transportation posts: Nuria Fernandez, a former Federal Transit Administration official and Chicago Aviation Commissioner, who resigned under pressure from then Mayor Richard Daily after failing to close a deal with United Airlines. Fernandez will serve as the the MTA's CEO, and Karen Rae, who worked in the Obama Administration on high speed rail, will serve in the Governor's office as Deputy Secretary of Transportation.