Joe Lhota’s return to MTA welcomed by transit advocates, but he has a long road ahead

Joe Lhota’s return to MTA welcomed by transit advocates, but he has a long road ahead

Lhota’s leadership during superstorm Sandy will help him this time around, experts said.

Joe Lhota will officially be the new MTA chairman, and experts say he's got a long road of repairs ahead.
Joe Lhota will officially be the new MTA chairman, and experts say he’s got a long road of repairs ahead. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Neilson Barnard

Joe Lhota’s return to the MTA brought a sigh of relief to transit advocates and elected officials as subway headaches continue to pile on.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the 62-year-old would be the new chairman Wednesday night, following a 4 1/2-year absence from the position. Cuomo said Lhota’s experience leading the system would be beneficial in addressing the delays and failures gripping the system.

Although groups like the Straphangers Campaign agreed with Cuomo’s assessment, they said Lhota will have a tough challenge ahead.

“Job No. 1 for Mr. Lhota now is to develop a rescue plan,” said Straphangers Campaign attorney Gene Russianoff. “Such a plan requires Mr. Lhota to win substantial new financial resources to fix the ailing system with the help of his boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.”

Lhota, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly told state senators Wednesday night that he too is frustrated with the subway conditions and that the agency needed to think outside the box.

He also proposed “focused, overnight shutdowns of certain lines,” according to Politico.

“We’re going to have to look at scheduled shutdowns,” he said. “I find it extremely inconvenient, but we’re going to have to do it.”

Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, cited Lhota’s leadership during superstorm Sandy — when he shut down subways and moved trains to elevated areas to avoid massive damage — as an example of his emergency management skills.

“Gov. Cuomo has once again recruited an excellent leader for one of the toughest jobs in government,” she said.

Lhota left the MTA in December 2012 to run for mayor but lost to Bill de Blasio. De Blasio said there was no bad blood between them and is awaiting to see his subway fix plans.

“There are few public servants more capable of helping navigate this critical evolution than Joe Lhota,” he said.

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, said he plans on working with Lhota, too.

“I have high expectations for his tenure and will be closely watching to see that the MTA takes positive steps to address the current crisis,” he said.

Still, some transit experts said they are remaining cautious. John Raskin, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, said there are other factors that need to be taken into account for the subway fixes, especially the state’s role in providing the MTA with the necessary resources.

“The question remains, what is the governor’s plan to fix the subway, and will he give chairman Lhota the funding he needs to get the job done?”

Ivan Pereira