Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday declared a "state of emergency" for the MTA, and indicated that he is not entirely immune to the onslaught of frustration directed his way by weary straphangers as the aging and underfunded subway system continues to crumble.
"Riders tweet all day long, information about trains and delays, but the MTA can’t manage to communicate with the riders," Cuomo said. "They tweet nasty things about me all day, the riders."
The roughly-sketched state of emergency plan outlined Thursday includes an additional $1 billion state commitment to the 2015-2019 Capital Plan. The source of that funding was not immediately clear. As advocates and budget watchdogs have pointed out, Cuomo's $8.3 billion commitment has yet to be earmarked or released.
The governor's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the additional capital plan funding.
Cuomo said that the emergency plan will also "expedite many of the normal government processes," including procurement of subway cars and signal replacements.
"I'll ask the Comptroller and the Attorney General for a special team to expedite the process, but it will no longer be a tortured exercise to do business with the MTA," Cuomo said. "We want to do business, we need to do business, and we will do business."
"Standard practices have failed us," he added. "We need a new approach, a new culture, new methods to quickly and dramatically make progress.”
Thursday's comments came at the start of Cuomo's so-called "genius" conference at the Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street—an event organized to pool subway solutions from engineers and transit experts from around the world. An affiliated contest will reward $1 million dollars to the best signal system overhaul plan; new subway car design or overhauls to the existing stock; and communication system.
"Bottom line for you, we need new ideas," Cuomo told the crowd.
Speaking after the Governor on Thursday, newly-minted MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said that he's calling for a "top-to-bottom audit of the entire [MTA] organization" in the next 30 days, with the intention of drafting a "detailed long-term plan to modernize the entire system and change the organizational structure." A review of the current MTA capital plan and its prioritization of various car and equipment overhauls will be released in 60 days, he said.
Cuomo is also calling on the state's Public Service Commission, which regulates Con Edison, to conduct a 90-day review of the MTA's power system. "If there’s a power outage and if ConEd is responsible they are going to be fined heavily for the delays that they’ve been causing New Yorkers," Cuomo added. "And were going to do that immediately."
"As New Yorkers we can't wait," Lhota added. "Every day that comes by brings new delays, new frustrations, and it hurts our economy.... No idea is too crazy, no idea is too ambitious."
The last several weeks have been punctuated with numerous subway incidents, from the uncomfortable to the outright dangerous (a stalled F train with no air conditioning near West 4th Street, a derailed A train in Harlem). Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has denied full responsibility for the MTA, despite the fact that he has long directed its spending priorities and controlled a plurality of MTA Board votes.
Some board members have praised the Governor's recent call for subway fixes. He's a "strong leader at the front of the battle bringing the accountability and helping us resolve a real structural problem," said Cuomo appointee Scott Rechler recently.
"We've been saying this for months—that the transit system is facing a crisis—while Cuomo was debating whether he had control," said Jaqi Cohen of the Straphangers Campaign. "We were pleased to see that [today] he acknowledged what we have been saying for a very long time. But ultimately, what we've found is that there hasn't been a shortage of ideas, there's been a stall in action. Ideas ultimately mean nothing without action."
"We have to make sure that there's real action and real dollars behind any plan," cautioned Queens-based State Senator Mike Gianaris Thursday, following Cuomo's announcement. "An infusion of one billion is a good start, but it still leaves a giant hole, and I'd still like to know where that one billion is coming from, so we're sure it's going to happen."
Earlier this week, Gianaris introduced his own plan to bring in $2 billion annually through a temporary surcharge on millionaires living in the MTA region.
This story has been updated with comments from advocates and politicians.
With Maya Rajamani and Jake Offenhartz.
[Update 1:00 p.m.]: Cuomo's Office has released the full text of today's executive order detailing the so-called "state of emergency."