MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota testified yesterday at a City Council Committee on Transportation hearing, where Queens lawmakers made their views known about issues with the agency.
Lhota, who returned to the position last summer, requested more funding from the city council for the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, a $840 million project to modernize and improve both bus and train services throughout the five boroughs. Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to provide half of the plan’s cost and believed city residents already pay more than needed to the MTA.
“What better time than now to invest in our transit system? What better time to invest in a plan [with a] goal to invest in our subways?” Lhota said. “If we can’t invest more now, when can we?”
City Councilmembers, including Speaker of the Council Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), were skeptical of providing more funding without a guarantee of immediate results. In addition, they shared frustrations that constituents in their districts faced with transit.
City Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) criticized the Enhanced Station Initiative, a program launched by Governor Andrew Cuomo to redesign stations and trains, for lacking accessibility for disabled riders. Constantinides was not satisfied with Lhota’s answers on the costs of repair with the program.
“It is shameful that Chairman Lhota could not answer my question asking for a breakdown of costs between long-term structural improvements and cosmetic improvements at these stations,” he said.
Furthermore, Constantinides felt the MTA had not prioritized not only his constituents, but also others across the city when it came to infrastructure projects. He cited lack of reasonable accommodations for disabled riders as one example.
It is also embarrassing that the MTA could not provide us with a citywide plan to improve accessibility at subway stations, almost 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I will continue to demand answers from the MTA. Our community deserves better than an MTA with no accountability to its subway riders,” he said.
Lhota responded to other lawmakers concerns about issues with the transit system. He supported congestion pricing, an issue the MTA is yet to vote on, and told lawmakers will use modern technologies to replace signal systems. He expected new signal systems for the 7 line that would lead to more train trips per hour.
After the meeting, City Council Member Donovan Richards (D-Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens) explained that he is concerned about the transportation deserts in his district and that the agency should consider expanding service in those areas before discussion of more funding.
“As the city council considers capital investment for the MTA, it is imperative that details about transparency and accountability are hammered-out before a serious commitment occurs,” he said.