Mayor gets cracking as NY City subway stutters

Subway passengers at Union Square in Manhattan. Dozens of people were injured after a train derailed in Manhattan last week, raising concerns over whether the subway was even safe.
Subway passengers at Union Square in Manhattan. Dozens of people were injured after a train derailed in Manhattan last week, raising concerns over whether the subway was even safe.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Day after day, subway riders in New York City have voiced a steady drumbeat of grievances as the century-old system has descended into disarray.

Trains are unreliable. Rush-hour malfunctions paralyse the city. When a train derailed in Manhattan last week, injuring dozens of people, it raised concerns over whether the subway was even safe.

Last Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the person most responsible for the subway's fate, signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency, pledged US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) for improvements and moved to make it easier for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to buy badly needed equipment.

But it remained to be seen whether his call to action would reverse the subway's decline and change the daily experience of riders. It had taken some prodding and a fusillade of criticism to bring Mr Cuomo to this point, but in his comments he seemed to acknowledge the immensity of the problem - and the potential political fallout if he did not address it quickly.

"The delays are maddening New Yorkers," Mr Cuomo said after rushing to Manhattan, from a special legislative session, for an event organised to solicit ideas to fix the system. "They are infuriated by a lack of communication, unreliability and now accidents."

Mr Cuomo ordered Mr Joseph Lhota, the returning chairman of the authority, to provide a reorganisation plan within 30 days.

  • Gripes about the New York subway

  • •Dangerously overcrowded platforms

    •Chronically delayed trains

    •Terrifying and injurious derailments

    •Tunnel strandings

    •Signal malfunctions


    •Electrical outages

    •Garbled announcements

    •Knockout odours

    •Non-rat wildlife


Mr Lhota should "design the best organisation to get the job done", the governor said, denouncing the performance of the authority.

Within two months, Mr Lhota is to present a detailed plan to address the subway's most pressing ills. Among the priorities is examining new approaches to upgrade the subway's antiquated signal system - a frequent reason for delays - and to buy new subway cars.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has quarrelled with Mr Cuomo over who should be held responsible for the subway's dismal condition.

But he praised the move to hire Mr Lhota, who helped bring the subway back after Hurricane Sandy during his previous tenure as chairman - and whom Mr de Blasio beat in the 2013 mayoral polls.

After facing criticism for choosing chauffeured rides over the subway, Mr de Blasio took the subway from Madison Square Garden to City Hall last Thursday. His spokesman posted a photo of the mayor's trip on Twitter.

Mr Cuomo's executive order would allow the authority to accelerate efforts to improve service by temporarily suspending certain laws that might "hinder or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster". The US$1 billion pledged is on top of the authority's US$32.5 billion capital improvement plan.

Mr Cuomo said the authority would need more resources to improve the system and called on state lawmakers to identify new funding sources.

Transit activists wanted to know more details about where the money would come from and how quickly riders would see improvements in their daily commutes.

"The governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step," said Mr John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group. "Now he needs to produce a credible plan to fix the subway and to put together the billions of dollars (needed) to make it happen."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Mayor gets cracking as NY City subway stutters'. Print Edition | Subscribe