Furious City Council members wondered aloud if they should end a committee hearing early on Wednesday after a representative from the MTA failed to provide answers to questions ranging from the steady decline in subway service to L train shutdown plans.
“I don’t know if we should continue the hearing,” said Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, which held the joint hearing with the finance committee to dissect the mayor’s $84.86 billion executive budget.
The MTA representative, budget director Douglas Johnson, had just told Rodriguez that the agency would “get back” to him with answers on three straight questions relating to areas underserved by mass transit and ways to work around the 15-month L train service outage in 2019.
“In my role as a budget director, I’m not really authorized or qualified to respond to that question,” Johnson said, one of several similar responses he offered throughout the hearing, which ran more than an hour and a half.
Given the soaring delays and crippling service outages affecting the system, Rodriguez was disappointed that the MTA, a state-run agency, didn’t bring a higher-up from its transit department to the hearing.
The commissioners of both the city’s Department of Transportation and Taxi and Limousine Commission had just testified.
“In these hearings, we have the commissioners for all agencies,” Rodriguez said. “When the city is making high contributions to the MTA, we should expect to have the transit director to be the one. We’re tired and frustrated.”
The city plans to tick in $1 billion toward the MTA’s $15.6 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year. Beth DeFalco, an MTA spokeswoman, reasoned that Johnson was the most logical choice to represent the authority at City Hall.
“We brought a budget director to a budget hearing,” DeFalco tweeted. “Not an unreasonable concept.”
Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, opted to continue the joint hearing, allowing lawmakers to further bludgeon the MTA over its service quality.
“I don’t think this is going to get any easier for you, because we were expecting, and continue to expect, that a budget hearing would get as much detail as possible,” she said, fuming that the agency provided “pretty close to absolutely nothing.”
The Council voiced concerns over the MTA’s recently announced 6-point plan to improve service by addressing the most common causes for delays, including car equipment failures, sick passengers and train traffic.
In response, Johnson argued that the six-point plan could have an immediate impact.
“The six-point plan is — let’s grab the low-hanging fruit: here’s the problem. We can actually make a dent right away,” said Johnson.
Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander felt the six-point plan wasn’t enough.
“That feels a little to me like fiddling while Rome burns,” Lander said.
There are 836 total track miles in the subway system, 13,000 signals and 1,600 mainline switches. DeFalco pointed to the fact that the MTA is spending $1 billion on installing modern signaling known as Communication Based Train Control.