The MTA admits it has a problem. But it doesn’t have a solution.
Ronnie Hakim, the agency’s acting executive director, apologized for the “increasingly frustrating” level of service and promised a “top-to-bottom review” of the response to and handling of subway delays.
“We understand that everybody is frustrated with this. They have the right to be,” said Hakim, speaking to the riding public at a MTA board meeting on Wednesday. “You have heard us describe the old aging subway system that is not going to be fixed overnight, but how we respond to events can certainly be improved.”
Her admission came after a signal problem hobbled service along at least seven lines during the height of Tuesday’s rush hour. Hakim assured that the agency was “attacking this with an all-hands-on-deck” approach and stressed the need to accelerate the updating of the signal system. Tuesday’s delays were caused by the failure of signal equipment at the 34th Street-Herald Square station that dated back to the 1930s, according to the MTA.
“Our signal system is one of the primary causes of subway delays,” Hakim said. “Because it’s old, it’s also prone to breakdowns, which lead to delays not only for the train that’s in the incident, the train affected, but for every train behind it. And because the New York City Transit subway system is one of the most interconnected … in the world, it often leads to delays on many other lines as well.”
It was not immediately clear when the review would be completed; if it would be shared publicly; or how the MTA would address signal upgrades. Fernando Ferrer, the MTA’s acting chairman, said all ideas were on the table, including long-term service shutdowns of subway lines in order to speed up equipment replacement.
Polly Trottenberg, the city’s commissioner of the Department of Transportation and MTA board member, said she supported the review, but added that she “would love more details” on what exactly it would entail and how the public could be involved.
Others looking for concrete answers were exasperated. The promised review follows Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “genius” contest to tap ideas from international experts on how to improve subway service as well as an improvement plan that aims to enhance subway reliability.
“We don’t need a ‘genius’ to fix our subway system,” said Veronica Vanterpool, an MTA board member and executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “We know what the solutions are. We know there is staff at hand, ready to provide solutions. We just need the attention and the concerted effort and the funding to move these projects.”
After the board meeting concluded, one reporter asked Hakim, “What more do you have to learn with this review?”
“How to make it better,” she said, referring to subway service as she quickly left the room.