I recently saw a little girl seated on the subway, without prompting, offer her seat to a frail older gentleman, who gratefully accepted. Sweet, right? Well, prepare to see fewer such tender moments if the MTA gets its way.
Part of the MTA’s roughly $800 million subway emergency rescue plan includes removing seats on certain lines. Yes, it would create space for more riders per car — for them to collapse in a puddle when the train is delayed on a sweltering summer day and the air conditioning goes down.
Aside from offering that dubious solution, returning MTA chairman Joe Lhota seems sincere in trying to fix the living nightmare that our subways have become.
Lhota, who quickly got the subways back up and running after the tracks were flooded during superstorm Sandy in 2012, all but admitted he had to be dragged back kicking and screaming by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the thankless position. “I had to do some soul searching,” he said.
In August 2013, Lhota made headlines after a pair of lost kittens frolicking on the subway tracks brought trains to a screeching halt for hours, delaying thousands of riders. Lhota said he wouldn’t have stopped service, leading to a New York Daily News headline screaming, “Die Kitties Die!” beside a glaring photo of Lhota.
So it’s understandable if he was a tad reluctant to return to the line of fire. Now that he has, Lhota’s immediately caught in a tug-of-war between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio over MTA funding.
The mayor’s latest idea to rescue the subway is to have wealthy New Yorkers pay for the effort, despite knowing that the Republican-controlled State Sente would almost certainly reject such a “millionaire’s tax.”
Lhota is having none of it. “Emergency train repairs can’t wait on what the State Legislature may or may not do next year,” Lhota told The New York Times.
So what is the real solution? Tolls on East River bridges would be a good start. Prioritize fixing antiquated signals that cause endless delays over a few gleaming new stations perfect for political photo-ops. Lhota seems to get this, so maybe there’s hope.
Unless that light at the end of the tunnel is just another stalled train.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.