11:25 am Jul. 20, 2012
Just hours after M.T.A. chief Joe Lhota unveiled $30 million worth of service improvements for subways, buses and commuter rail, and delayed next year's fare hike by two months, he told Inside City Hall host Errol Louis, "I've got to change the dial on the M.T.A."
Lhota has made improving the M.T.A.'s reputation one of his main goals as chairman.
And it's hard not to see the $30 million in service improvements announced yesterday in part as a means of softening the public-relations blow of next year's fare hikes and of winning support from suburban legislators who are generally not sympathetic to the funding needs of transit.
In fact, in recent years, legislators from Long Island and upstate have, with the cooperation of Governors Paterson and Cuomo, undermined the M.T.A.'s finances by redirecting M.T.A. funds elsewhere, and by chipping away at the payroll mobility tax, a levy on businesses that's hugely unpopular upstate and on Long Island.
Last night, Louis asked Lhota if perhaps the best way to get the financially precarious authority's finances in order might not be to get the legislature to stop raiding its coffers (rather than, presumably, raising fares).
"Believe me, that's part of my strategy as well," said Lhota. "If I can make the M.T.A. an organization where people think it's efficient, they're doing a right job, it's going in the right direction, there's no bloat, there's no fat, there are no schemes that are going on, it'll lend the right attitude. I've got to change the dial on the M.T.A. I think the M.T.A. provides an enormously great service to the entire New York metropolitan area."
He continued: "Eight and a half million people, every single day, touch the M.T.A. in one way, shape or form. And they get whereever they're going safely and securely. And I really want to make sure that everybody understands that. And so we're working with the members of the state Senate, and the Assembly, to make sure that what's happened in the past doesn't happen again."
But improving the M.T.A.'s reputation, while also raising money from riders is no easy task.
Not only will the M.T.A. raise fares next year, but Lhota said last night, it's also still considering a $1 fee for new MetroCards. (All MetroCards, including the unlimited ones, are now refillable.)
"That's still in the mix," confirmed Lhota. "In fact, it was approved last year at the December board meeting. It hasn't been implemented. We are still thinking about it, and ... I know for a fact in November when we have the fare and toll hearings, it'll be on the table again."