Metro interview: Joe Lhota, MTA Chief proud of NYC subway

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EMILY ANNE EPSTEIN/METRO

Get to know the man at the helm of the nation’s largest transit system and, incidentally, your daily commute: MTA Chair Joe Lhota.

What do you think will be your biggest challenge with this job?

 
I think the biggest challenge with this job is improving the reputation ofthe MTA.
 
At your confirmation, you said you thought food was banned on the subway until recently. Are you interested in banning food on the MTA?

 
No, I’m not interested in banning food on the MTA, but I am interested in starting a campaign to make sure people don’t leave food on the subway or on the subway tracks. We’d like to be able to get any leftover food taken out of subway system to avoid rat infestation.
 
Bloomberg is seriously looking at extending the 7 line to New Jersey, spending $250,000 on a study to see if it’s possible. How likely is it that the 7 will be extended there?
 
No one has formally made any presentations to me. I’ve read about it in newspapers, but the topic has never come up. I do know it would be a very complex project. Right now, we’re looking at four major projects- the Second Ave subway, the East Access project, the extension of the 7 train to the West Side and the construction of the Fulton transit hub.
 
The last transit strike paralyzed the city. You have to broker a deal with the union in your first week as chair- What will you do to prevent the union from striking?

 
The discussions between the union and management have been very constructive and I’m looking forward to be able to conclude the negotiations very positively on all sides.
 
Do you agree with Jay Walder’s statement that the MTA infrastructure is in “terrible condition”?
 
No, I do not. I think Jay’s comment was taken out of context. He was asked to compare a new Hong Kong subway system with New York’s century-old system. That kind of comparison is illogical and it’s unfortunate that the statement was made.
 
Walder’s decision to cut service in 2010 was unpopular. Would you have done the same?
 
Jay Walder was in an untenable position. Given the financial condition of the MTA at that time, he looked at all options. He looked at everything he could possibly do to balance the MTA’s budget; I would have done the same thing.
 
In 2013, there will be a fare hike, with 2 more by 2017.  Is there a price, for you, when the monthly MetroCard will be too expensive? How high do you think it should go?

 
I believe there needs to be a rational fare policy. I don’t think we should wait four or five years for an increase and get a massive increase in one shot. Small, biannual increases that track the rate of inflation are a rational strategy. I agree with that approach.
 
Some board members feel very strongly about restoring services that were cut in 2010. What cuts do you think it is possible to restore and when?

 
I spoke out against the restoration of any of the service cuts that happened in 2010. The time to do any service restorations will be sometime in the future when our budget and financial situation is deemed stable and growing.
 
After several years of crime decreasing, subway crime went up in 2011. What went wrong? What do you plan to do differently?

 
I’m old enough to remember how awful crime was in the 1970s. Crime has come down significantly since then. We’ve seen a lot of property thefts related to cell phones and there is an active campaign by the NYPD to begin the process of reducing those crimes. Commissioner Kelly has shown over and over again his ability to reduce crime. He’s put together new strategies to combat the crime, increased headcount of officers in the system and I can’t think of a better person to continue to reduce crime.
 
Why do you want to be chairman of the MTA?
 
I’m a lifelong New Yorker and straphanger. I’d like to be able to run this organization and make it more efficient and effective and make people proud of the fact that we’re an organization that takes 8 .5 million people to work, school, and to dates on Saturday night. The MTA is a great organization and I look forward to the opportunity to make it a better place.

Follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyatMetro.



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