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MTA’s Subway Action Plan hits hiring speed bump as funding negotiations stall

MTA chairman Joe Lhota said the overtime work is being completed with the MTA’s existing workforce as they hire new people.

The MTA has slowed its hiring efforts due

The MTA has slowed its hiring efforts due to stalled "negotiations" for funding between New York City and the state. Photo Credit: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann

MTA chairman Joseph Lhota has “stretched out” his plan to save the subways as bitter funding negotiations over the strategy continue.

That stretching of the strategy, known as the Subway Action Plan, has come in the form of a slowdown in hiring new workers, Lhota told reporters after a board meeting on Thursday.

“We have stretched it out. For the most part, it’s about slowing down the hiring of workers. And we’re doing it in a reasonable way,” Lhota said. “So we’re continuing the extra overtime work that we’re doing with our existing workers as we bring on the new.”

The $836 million first phase of the plan hinges entirely on the hiring of nearly 3,000 new transit workers in order to tackle core service issues: track and signal maintenance, car reliability, subway safety and cleanliness, and customer communication. Lhota had initially asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to split the cost to help bail out the state-run subways from their soaring delays.

Cuomo has agreed to pledge half. But de Blasio has steadfastly denied Lhota’s request, arguing that the state and the MTA have been fiscally irresponsible and that the city already contributes nearly 70 percent of the MTA’s operating funds.

The mayor’s proposed budget, unveiled earlier in February, did not include any funding for the plan.

Lhota is now attempting to strike a deal over city funding through City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is leading a council response to the mayor’s budget. But the chairman declined to discuss progress on talks.

“This is part of what I would call a negotiation and I really don’t like to talk about negotiations in public. It’s not the right thing to do,” said Lhota, who has routinely slammed the mayor for not coming to the table over funding.

At the same time, board members have questioned the efficacy of Lhota’s plan, which is now in its seventh month of operation, implemented through the use of MTA reserves. The MTA had hired 300 new workers, as of September, as part of the initiative.

“Essentially, the needle hasn’t moved at all,” MTA board member Carl Weisbrod said at a Tuesday MTA meeting, regarding subway service. “Does the Subway Action Plan itself need tweaking given the fact that we’re now roughly seven months into it and, in terms of the output, there doesn’t seem to be yet any change?”

Lhota on Thursday pointed to some “signs of stabilization” on the subways that he attributed to the plan. Major incidents, classified as any issue that delays more than 50 trains, have declined 38 percent — from 81 to 50 — when comparing data from June, a month before the plan went into effect, to the most recent data from December.

“Stats might show improvement but to me the most important thing is that new yokes actually start to feel the difference,” Lhota continued, “and I won’t be happy until they start to feel the difference.”

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