800 Million Subway Rescue Plan Adds Cars and Subtracts Seats
Seat-free subway cars on crowded routes. Extra cars added to trains on the C line. Medical workers deployed at stations to quickly remove sick passengers. More countdown clocks. These were some of the pieces of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s long-anticipated, roughly $800 million emergency rescue plan for New York City’s troubled subway system, which was announced on Tuesday.C train cars, once the pride of the subway, are now, according to New York subway officials, the oldest in continuous daily operation in the world.
The authority’s chairman, Joseph J. Lhota, outlined a sweeping set of fixes that he vowed would turn around steadily deteriorating service. The plan included at least 30 separate measures to address the major problems plaguing the system, including antiquated signals and subway fires, and called for hiring 2,700 new workers.
“We’re here because the New York City subway system no doubt is in distress, and we’re here looking for solutions,” Mr. Lhota said during a news conference at the authority’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan.
Asked when subway riders might start to see an improvement, Mr. Lhota said, “relatively quickly.” And he said he wanted to be held accountable as officials enacted his plan.
Among Mr. Lhota’s more interesting ideas: Subway officials will remove the seats from a couple of train cars on certain lines to fit more people on board. He said that Boston had tried the approach, and that in New York it could add 25 more riders on each car.
The authority will start with a pilot program on the shuttle train between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan and the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan, Mr. Lhota said. Subway officials said they hoped to start the program as soon as possible, perhaps later this year.
The plan includes adding extra cars to trains on the C line, accelerating repairs to 1,300 signals that cause the most problems, installing countdown clocks more quickly and overhauling more train cars — 1,100 per year — to improve reliability. The authority will also create a public dashboard to more clearly show riders how the system is performing.
The improvements come with a steep bill — about $450 million in operating costs and $380 million in capital investment — and Mr. Lhota called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to help fund the plan. He suggested the state and the city split the costs evenly, noting that he had “tremendous respect” for the mayor and wanted to work with him.
“I will do everything I can to convince him that this is the right thing to do for the people of the City of New York,” Mr. Lhota said, adopting a softer tone than he showed last week, when he attacked Mr. de Blasio for not showing empathy for subway riders.
The subway rescue plan came amid a bitter feud that has broken into the public arena between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who controls the authority and urged the city to help him fix the subway, and Mr. de Blasio. The mayor has resisted pouring more money into the subway, since the state runs the system.
At a hastily called news conference at a City Hall subway station on Tuesday evening, Mr. de Blasio called Mr. Lhota’s plan an “important first step,” but refused to commit new city money to support it.
Mr. de Blasio, who at times could barely be heard over the din of trains and the shouts of heckling straphangers, said that it was “up to the M.T.A. to right the ship.” He called it “quite an amazing coincidence” that the operating money called for by Mr. Lhota was the same amount that City Hall has accused the state of having taken from authority.
“I’m trying to be straightforward with the people of the city and the taxpayers of the city, that we cannot put our resources in when we know the state still owes the M.T.A. money,” he added. “It’s as simple as that.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo called Mr. Lhota’s plan “substantive and realistic,” and he agreed to split the cost of the rescue plan with the city.
“Now is not the time for pointing fingers, but for moving forward — together as New Yorkers,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.
New York’s subway has long been the lifeblood of the city, but delays have increased and a series of accidents have raised concerns over safety. As the century-old system grapples with aging infrastructure and a booming ridership of nearly six million people each day, New Yorkers have grown increasingly frustrated that they cannot rely on the subway to get them where they need to be in a timely manner.
It was not the first time the authority has tried to take on the problem of subway delays — officials released a six-point plan in May focused on the Eighth Avenue line in Manhattan. But the combination of Mr. Lhota’s credibility and the growing urgency over the near-constant problems has raised the stakes.
Mr. Lhota, who ran against Mr. de Blasio for mayor in 2013, returned to lead the authority in June to help turn around the subway after an earlier stint as chairman. Asked on Tuesday whether the agency might raise fares if the city did not provide funding for the rescue plan, Mr. Lhota dismissed the idea.
The authority would continue to stick to its schedule of modest fare increases every two years, Mr. Lhota told reporters. “Raising fares is not an option,” he said.
Last month, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who might be considering a presidential run in 2020, declared a state of emergency for the subway and tasked Mr. Lhota with submitting a rescue plan within 30 days. But after Mr. Cuomo appeared to take responsibility for the crisis, the governor argued last week that the city owned the subway system and should take a primary role in fixing it.
On Tuesday, the authority assembled an advisory board to assist with the rescue plan, including former Mayor David N. Dinkins, a mentor and ally of Mr. de Blasio who sat in the front row at the news conference. In a statement, Mr. Dinkins said he saw how critical the subway was to the city during his time as mayor and urged elected leaders to work together.
Throughout the day, aides to the mayor and the governor had spent time calling interest groups and potential allies to argue their case in the dispute between Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo, according to three people with direct knowledge of the calls who were not authorized to discuss them publicly. The lobbying effort provided another example of how City Hall and Albany are jockeying for political advantage, both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, on an issue that could be potentially damaging to both leaders.
At least one member of the advisory board, Gene Russianoff, the longtime leader of the Straphangers Campaign, was skeptical of the proposal to remove seats from subway cars.
“My standard is my mom,” Mr. Russianoff said. “Would she like to stand all the way from Midtown, where she used to work, to Sheepshead Bay? The answer is a resounding no.”
The idea for subway cars without seats may have come from Boston, but they are hardly widespread there. Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs Boston’s subway, said only two cars on the Red Line had most of their seats removed back in 2008.
Eventually, about half of the seats were added back. .