Cuomo Declares State Of Emergency For MTA, Calls Transit System’s State Of Decline ‘Unacceptable’

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Just days after a subway derailment in Harlem, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that he will be signing an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Cuomo’s declaration also came the same day commuters dealt with delays at both Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal all day.

The Long Island Rail Road said 12 tracks were affected by Amtrak power problems Thursday. Service was on or close to schedule by the late night.

“Thank God I don’t have to do this every day, because I feel for those people that do,” said Nick DeFilippis of Smithtown.

Delays and cancellations bookended his day, both heading out and heading into Penn Station.

“I had a meeting this morning which I ended up missing,” DeFilippis said.

The governor has also had enough. He made his announcement Thursday at the Genius Transit Challenge Conference, an international competition with a $1 million prize to come up with solutions to improve the transit system’s reliability. He swooped into Manhattan from Albany on a helicopter for the occasion.

Cuomo said the state of emergency will allow the agency to expedite funding and repairs to what he described as a rapidly decaying and dysfunctional system.

“One of the processes we’re going to expedite is the MTA procurement process. I’ll ask the comptroller and the attorney general for a special team to expedite the process,” he said. “But it will no longer be a tortured exercise to do business with the MTA.”

While he said issues with the transit system have been going on for years, Cuomo said its “current state of decline is wholly unacceptable.”

“The delays are maddening New Yorkers,” he said. “We need ideas outside the box because, frankly, the box is broken.”

In addition, the governor said New York state will commit another $1 billion to the MTA Capital Plan “so the MTA has the resources they need to get it done.”

That is on top of the $8.3 billion that Cuomo has already poured into the MTA’s $30 billion capital plan.

Kramer asked MTA Chairman Joe Lhota what the $1 billion would mean to the MTA.

“The $1 billion, I think, is an indication of the commitment on the part of the governor to make a difference,” Lhota said. “To me, I heard it just a few minutes before you heard it, and my immediate thought was it’s a new day in New York.”

Lhota announced that he will be conducting a top-to-bottom audit to overhaul the MTA.

Meanwhile, the governor also gave the MTA 30 days to prepare an agency reorganization plan, 60 days to review its plans for buying new equipment and fixing the system, and 90 days to work with Con Edison to eliminate power outages.

“New Yorkers deserve a safe, reliable and viable subway system,” Lhota said. “That is our goal. That is our charge. That is what we must do.”

Cuomo further said he will also be tasking the Public Service Commission with investigating MTA power outages.

“If there is a power outage and if Con Ed is responsible, they are going to be fined heavily for the delays that they have been causing New Yorkers,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo also said the subway system is the most problematic component of the MTA and said the agency needs an updated fleet of subway cars, an upgraded signal system, a better communications system to inform riders and a fix for the power grid that repeatedly fails.

It seemed as if the derailment on the A Train near 125th Street that left dozens injured Tuesday, and the criticism Cuomo received for not going to the scene, spurred him into action.

The governor referenced many of the recent issues, the A train derailment among them. Officials said it appeared to have been caused by an improperly stored piece of rail and two track maintenance supervisors have now suspended without pay.

There have also been multiple breakdowns, delays and countless inconveniences for those who rely on the trains. Earlier this month, riders were left sweltering underground in a stuck F train.

In all, there have been three derailments and nine separate subway mishaps since the start of the year.

“We know the system is decaying rapidly,” Cuomo said. “I think of it as a heart attack.”

Cuomo has spent his six and a half years so far in office building bridges and redoing airports. But the A Train derailment apparently was a game changer.

“It’s the perfect metaphor for the dysfunction of the entire system,” he said.

Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio were both roundly criticized for being missing in action at the derailment. On Thursday – as Mayor de Blasio rode the No. 2 Train instead of traveling by sport-utility vehicle as he typically does – Cuomo called on the city to spend more money on mass transit just as the state is.

“Put your money where your mouth is,” Cuomo said.

But de Blasio said the subway system is in the jurisdiction of the state, not the city.

“This is the state’s responsibility,” de Blasio said. “We in the city have a host of things we are responsible for that we don’t have enough resources for.”

On Wednesday, a group of fed up commuters took their voices and their messages right to Cuomo’s doorstep.

“If you do not fix the subway, next year’s election will be a referendum on your governorship,” said subway rider Michael Sciaraffo.

On Thursday, straphangers expressed hope that the situation would improve.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said a man named Barry. “I just hope it happens soon.”

“We need a better system,” said a woman named Sharon. “We need better trains coming fast.”

“I hope they know what they’re doing,” another woman added.

John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, issued a statement saying Cuomo “is stepping up to take responsibility for fixing our crumbling subways.”

“The Governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step,” he said. “Now he needs to produce a credible plan to fix the subway, and to put together the billions of dollars we will need to make it happen.”

Even with derailment and all of the headaches riders have endured, some straphangers are optimistic.

“It’s a pity what happened but they’re doing their best,” said Harlem resident Steve Obanor.

Also Thursday, one woman who was injured during the derailment in Harlem earlier this week has announced her intention to file a $5 million lawsuit, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.

“I was being pushed. I was trampled. I passed out for a second,” said Sheena Tucker. “I was throwing up, the smoke inhalation.”

Her attorney said it is time for the talking to stop and for the MTA to make trains safe for its customers.

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