M.T.A. reaps goodwill with post-hurricane performance, but ‘New Yorkers are New Yorkers’

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Lhota on Friday. (MTAPhotos via Flickr)
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M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota has made it his mission from the beginning to improve the image of his authority, in order to make it more politically difficult for officials to take away its funding and, by the same token, to make the public more aware of what it's paying for. 

In that context, the authority's reaction to Hurricane Sandy has been something of a breakthrough, as the authority has received rare, effusive praise from many quarters for its quick work getting a devastated system back online. 

I asked Lhota earlier today whether the apparent goodwill might mitigate the public's rage at the impending round of fare hikes.

"Nope," he said, unhesitatingly."I don't believe it will."

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Why not?

"New Yorkers are New Yorkers."

This evening, the M.T.A. will host the first of eight public hearings on its proposed fare hikes, which will come up for a board vote in December and go into effect March 1.

These fare hikes, like all hikes, are both unpopular and inevitable.

Lhota did say he thought the authority's performance after Hurricane Sandy was having an effect.

"I think the workers have really shown how dedicated they are, and I think it has enhanced the reputation," said Lhota. "It's the begninning of that process."

At least one transit advocate agreed.

"The bottom line is they're enjoying more public support than they have in quite a while," agreed Gene Russianoff, staff attorney at NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign. "I think people respect the job they've done and are cutting them some slack because of the extreme circumstances."

But that support does not necessarily translate into diminished opposition to the fare hikes, Russianoff said.

"I don't see it," he said. "This will be our fourth fare hike in five years, and people are tapped out."