The embattled MTA is an agency in crisis, but it’s going to have a very familiar face helping it figure out how to stop the cycle.
Just hours after acting Executive Director Ronnie Hakim called for a “top to bottom” review of the entire subway system during an MTA board meeting on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped former agency head Joe Lhota as chairman.
Cuomo oversees the MTA, and he appointed Lhota to lead the agency in 2011. Lhota was the MTA CEO and chairman from November 2011 until December 2012. He stepped down to run for New York City mayor on the Republican ticket but was defeated by Democrat Bill de Blasio in the general election.
Since 2014, Lhota has been the senior vice president, vice dean and chief of staff at NYU Langone Medical Center, a role he will keep as chairman of the MTA, according to a statement from Cuomo.
“There is much hard work to be done to address the MTA’s current failures, and the level of service and daily frustrations commuters are experiencing are completely unacceptable,” Cuomo said. “I know Joe will move to address these issues immediately and ensure a reliable and effective transportation system worthy of the city it serves.”
In the statement, Lhota recognized that “this is an incredibly challenging time for the MTA” and promised to “immediately and aggressively tackle the problems the system is facing after decades of disinvestment.”
“I know the MTA can do a lot better,” he told The New York Times. “There’s a lot of basic work we have to get done.”
So what makes Joe Lhota a potential savior of the MTA?
It may come down to his past experience. Here are a few things he did during his short tenure with the MTA:
• New York City Transit’s Fastrack
Lhota implemented the subway maintenance program in 2012, which suspends train service to give workers uninterrupted access to fix tracks, signals and platforms, etc. In doing so, the agency saw reductions in delays and safety issues like track fires and saved more than $16 million.
• Service restorations
Under Lhota’s leadership, the MTA restored and expanded subway, bus and rail service on nearly 40 lines in 2012. Changes included extending service to underserved neighborhoods, such as a G train extension and adding the first new bus routes since 1999.
• Hurricane Sandy
Prior to the superstorm that devastated many parts of the East Coast in late 2012, Lhota shut down the subway system to move equipment to higher ground and took proactive measures to protect subway stations. While the MTA did not find itself unscathed by Sandy, with half of the subway system’s 14 tunnels flooded, much of the system was running within a few days.
Following de Blasio’s first subway ride since mid-April last week, the mayor said he’d rather the city handle the subway issues than the MTA if they “will not fix the problem.”
Of his former mayoral opponent returning to the MTA, de Blasio said in a statement, “The MTA is at an important crossroads in its mission to serve the millions of New Yorkers who deserve safe, reliable transportation every day. There are few public servants more capable of helping navigate this critical evolution than Joe Lhota. I commend the Governor for his choice, and I pledge my administration’s cooperation in helping the Governor, Chairman Lhota and the MTA meet the needs of New York City subway and bus riders.”
The MTA declined to comment when asked about Lhota’s appointment.