This week, New Yorkers have been in the throes of a monstrous heat wave that has turned the subways into a tube of despair, thanks to the combination of rising temperatures and seemingly never-ending delays, schedule changes, and signal malfunctions. Just this morning, another subway train derailed, this time in Brooklyn.
While all of this has been going on, the powers that be who are responsible for the subway system—Governor Andrew Cuomo and recently appointed MTA chairman Joe Lhota—have spent the past few days pointing fingers at Mayor Bill de Blasio over who, exactly, controls the subway. (Before we get into that, we’ll remind you: the state does, as the New York Times explains here.)
To briefly recap: De Blasio criticized Cuomo’s initiative to add light shows to New York’s bridges, saying (not inaccurately) that “people who ride the subways are not interested in a light show.”
Cuomo’s office pushed back, with a spokesperson for the governor saying that “New York City owns the subway and is solely responsible for funding its capital plan” and that “if [De Blasio] cares about commuters he should put his money where his mouth is.” Cuomo himself repeated this assertion to reporters later, telling them that the city owns the system, and New York state merely runs it out of “moral obligation,” as Cuomo put it.
And yesterday, Lhota held a press conference of his own to offer a history lesson about the creation of the MTA and and the laws currently governing the New York City subway. TL;DR, Lhota says the city leases the subway to the MTA, and thus should contribute more financially to the repairs needed to get it back in shape.
“Under no circumstances do I expect the state of New York to shirk its responsibility” in fixing the subway, Lhota said during the presser. “This is about the city constantly saying they have no role in the New York City Transit Authortity. They have every role.” (He also noted that “this is not about politics,” but merely about clearing up the city’s role in running the transit system.)
The Mayor’s office was none too pleased about Lhota’s assertions, with De Blasio spokesperson Austin Finian telling the New York Post that “The City’s unprecedented $2.5 billion investment in the state-run MTA capital plan is far in excess of any legal obligation. Let’s stop the diversions and obfuscation and start spending the resources the MTA has on the repairs and maintenance that will keep New Yorkers moving.”
And the reactions to the latest round of “who controls the subway” were a mixture of confusion, disbelief, and anger:
the governor is brazenly lying about the state's obligation to fund transit because the mayor was mean about his fancy light show— slackbot (@pareene) July 20, 2017
Got a preview of Cuomo's plan to fix MTA. It goes like this: Let it all fall apart and hope people blame de Blasio https://t.co/a9RN69yh9m— Streetsblog New York (@StreetsblogNYC) July 20, 2017
It is indeed fake news. This is just a terrible strategy and difficult to see why Lhota is pursuing it instead of attacking real ops crisis. https://t.co/9RyMCWeDR9— Nicole Gelinas (@nicolegelinas) July 20, 2017
This is bad by the way. Bad and dumb and very harmful to NYC and its residents and visitors.— Second Ave. Sagas (@2AvSagas) July 21, 2017
That last tweet from Second Ave. Sagas’s Ben Kabak is perhaps the most distressing; while politicians point fingers, New Yorkers and tourists are the ones who ultimately suffer as the subway system crumbles. As long as petty spats are prioritized over actually fixing the problem, city residents will continue to suffer.
And it seems that this has already led to a dip in Cuomo’s popularity among New Yorkers; according to a recent poll, the governor’s approval ratings have slipped in recent months, with many of those polled disapproving of his handling of the current MTA crisis.
So what comes next? With the subway system in a state of emergency, in theory, money will be spent on making the trains better—though how that will look is anyone’s guess. At yesterday’s presser, Lhota said that his report on the state of the subway is coming sometime next week, but for riders, that can’t come soon enough.
“What the riders care about is that they can get from home to work or home to school in an efficient and effective way,” Lhota said during the presser. That, at least, is something everyone should be able to agree on.