Governor Andrew Cuomo has tamed muscle cars and bigotry, mastered rapids and minimum wage, and made the mayor of New York City his bitch. Yet one harrowing task has eluded him since he became the most powerful man in the state: Governor Cuomo has never ridden an MTA bus.
Two spokesmen for the governor could not provide a date for the last time the man who effectively controls North America's largest transit network rode a bus through the city like 2 million of us do every day, but it certainly has not happened since he first assumed office in 2011; likely it hasn't happened in many years. (He did get on a bus to tour the Onondaga Lake Revitalization Project, in 2014.)
Currently Governor Cuomo's most reliable method of transportation is by helicopter. According to the governor's press office, the last time he took the subway was on October 24, 2014.
"The guy was born and raised in New York, he has used public transportation through a great deal of his life, obviously he doesn't commute to and from his home," Cuomo spokesman Frank Sobrino explained. "You know public transportation's not an alien concept to a New York City born and raised person."
Last month, Governor Cuomo, who appoints every single member of the MTA's board, regularly takes money from the MTA's coffers to pay down the state's budget, and recently shut down the entire subway system by decree, told a reporter that he does not actually control the MTA.
"Getting Andrew on the bus should be a top priority for Pope Francis when he comes to New York," says Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign.
"The best way for Governor Cuomo to show he cares about two million daily bus riders is by winning funding for thousands of new buses. The current fleet is rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives."
An audit released this past spring by the Comptroller's Office showed that nearly a third of the MTA's "express" buses are late.
"If Governor Cuomo actually rode the bus like the two million New Yorkers who do it daily, he'd see how much we need improved bus service," Nick Sifuentes of the Riders Alliance said.
The travails of bus commuting aren't the governor's only foggy memories: Cuomo has yet to get on a train and travel through the ancient rail tunnels underneath the Hudson River since taking office. The tunnels are so decrepit, and the delays they produce so crippling, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said it is "almost criminal" that they have not been repaired.
According to Politico New York, in 2011, Governor Cuomo "collaborated with [Governor] Christie" to use Port Authority funding that would repair the tunnels on road improvements in New Jersey instead.
"So let's forget the connection to the common man because what we're talking about here is funding," Sobrino told us, noting that the governor released a statement calling for the federal government to pay for the Hudson River tunnels, and recently pledged more than $8 billion for the MTA's capital plan, though he has yet to explain where that money is going to come from.
The governor also slashed the MTA's capital budget by $2 billion, and is demanding that New York City contribute an unprecedented amount of funding to the agency. Cuomo, who is known for his "ruthless" political acumen, recently said that congestion pricing is all but politically impossible.
We told Sobrino that Cuomo might be more receptive to the MTA's needs if he had to use it to commute to his three jobs, instead of just purely using it for photo-ops.
"Agreed," he replied. "But how many people experience that?"