After Pander to Voters for Years, Pols Point Fingers Everywhere

Cuomo Ducks, de Blasio Smacks Lhota, but Who Fixes the Subway Mess?

Updated 4 weeks ago Peter McCarthy
Has commuting got you in knots? "Subway Stripes" by Deborah Julian
Has commuting got you in knots? "Subway Stripes" by Deborah Julian
© Deborah Julian / Used with permission

“They own it, they lease it, it’s their responsibility to fund it,” MTA head Joe Lhota said of New York City and its subway system, just hours after his boss, Governor Andrew Cuomo, pulled a rabbit out of his, uh... hat, declaring that the State was not responsible for the subways after all, a change in position so extreme it sails far beyond the conventional political "flip flop."

"You've heard a lot of fiction the last few days," Mayor Bill de Blasio countered, "so I'm going to give you some facts."

So, how 'bout you boys stop bickering and fix the damned system, okay?"

Somewhere along the line after 1904, when the first subway rolled north from City Hall, the system became the political football of all time.

It's a little known fact that the first subway systems were profit-making ventures with investors eager to get in on the revolution that transformed Manhattan into a world powerhouse.

August Belmont raised $35 million for the first lines, lining up investors and made a fortune along with them. A ride cost a nickel. It would stay that way for 44 years.

By the time City government dared offend voters by raising fares in 1948, the system was already in trouble from underfunding.

Today, a $2.75 fare covers roughly half the cost of a single ride, even with service deficient and increasingly unreliable.

The reasons why fares haven't kept up and why infrastructure upgrades are decades behind can be summed up simply: too many decisions about New York City Subways are made 150 miles away in Albany.

Finger-Pointing, From Angry to Absurd

Cuomo, who nearly wrenched himself while patting himself on the back while taking responsibility for the Second Avenue Subway, an MTA project, in December, kicked off the verbal shenanigans.

“The state has put in more money than ever before in the history of the state, and it's the city's legal obligation to be funding it, even though we stepped in on a moral level,” he told reporters last week.

Then, the Governor offered wholly new interpretations of laws on the books for decades which, as everyone used to agree, pointed to the State as responsible.

Lhota chimed in.

Next up, consistent with the sort of observations that got him trounced in his mayoral run against de Blasio, Lhota opted for absurdity.

A sure cure for subway delays would be... wait for it... a ban on eating on the trains and in stations.

Forget about signals not upgraded since the 1950s and other neglected infrastructure, hungry commuters eating on the fly between jobs, school and childcare responsibilities were the culprits.

Calling a food ban "unfair," de Blasio harked back to history, "it would have in those years (1980s and 1990s, when he was a frequent rider) been inconceivable not to be able to eat on the subway, just because of life, because we're all incredibly busy in the city. Because the time on the subway is often the only time you have to eat."

City Administration Overview

Dramatizing his objections to responsibility shifting by Cuomo and Lhota, the mayor took a rare subway ride on Sunday and held an impromptu press conference.

Answering a reporter's question, de Blasio said, "He (Cuomo) needs to just take responsibility. That's the simple answer.

"What he said and what the Chairman said over the last few days just is fiction. He needs to take responsibility for the MTA. He's done it at different points. He was certainly doing it on New Year's Eve," when he opened the Second Avenue Subway in grand style.

"He should just do it again. Say look – I'll look you in the face and say I'm responsible for the NYPD, I'm responsible for the DOE, I'm responsible for the Fire Department, I'm responsible for the Sanitation Department. If something goes wrong, it's on me. If something goes right – great, I'll take credit. It's that simple.

"The Governor and Chairman Lhota simply need to get in front of everyone and say – we're fully responsible, we have to fix the problem. They have the resources. There's no doubt about it. Now give us a plan that will fix the problem."

The Mayor's statement is consistent with the consensus that existed prior to last week.

The State's position is simply uncanny.

Cuomo and Lhota need to knock it off and show some leadership. Riders are fed up and committing time and energy to shifting blame and/or responsibility is an insult to everyone who counts on the subway to keep the City functioning.

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