By Laura Figueroa
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the MTA on Thursday and pledged the state would "commit an additional $1 billion" to the agency's capital plan as part of an effort to expedite improvements to New York City's embattled transit system.
Cuomo, speaking at an MTA event in midtown Manhattan, said the declaration would allow the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to speed up its slow-moving contracting process.
"Change and improvement must come, and it must come now," Cuomo told an audience of mass transit industry experts gathered for an MTA transit forum focused on modernizing the system.
The governor announced a series of orders aimed at improving service of a subway system that has grappled with widespread delays, power outages and most recently a train derailment in Harlem that injured dozens.
Cuomo said he has ordered newly appointed MTA chairman Joseph Lhota to conduct a 60-day review of the MTA's capital plan to identify repair and upgrade priorities.
"What do we need? How do we get it?" Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he would task the Public Service Commission to investigate power outages that have led to some of the subway system's most recent problems. The governor said that if Con Edison is found to be at fault for some of the outages, the utility would get fined.
Lhota, speaking at the event, said he and interim executive director Veronique Hakim have already started a "top to bottom" 30-day audit of the MTA and planned on issuing a "subway recovery and transformation plan" to the governor and public in the next 60 days.
"New Yorkers expect better and they are rightfully disappointed," Lhota said of widespread subway failures.
Lhota added: "We don't have riders. We have customers, and the customers are always right."
Earlier, Cuomo mentioned the latest round of delays on the Long Island Rail Road, caused by a third rail issue on a stretch of track owned and maintained by Amtrak.
The governor noted that 600,000 people pass through Penn Station every day, which he said is more than the daily number of people using New York's three metropolitan airports.
Yet, Cuomo said, "We have chronic problems at Penn Station." He spoke about Thursday's delays as well as the eight weeks of emergency repairs ahead this summer "where literally we have to close down the [LIRR] tracks."
Cuomo equated the situation with the trains to "a series of dominoes that falls that nearly puts the entire system into collapse" and said that although ferries, trains and buses will be used as alternative transportation during the emergency work, authorities are preparing for a "summer of hell."
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) issued a statement shortly after Cuomo's speech lauding the state of emergency.
"The Governor is right to declare a state of emergency and, unfortunately, Long Island commuters know this all too well," Kaminsky said. "Making the necessary investments in the LIRR and maintaining a high quality of service must be our state's top priority. We are paying the price for years of inattention and underinvestment, and life in the suburbs is simply not compatible with an inability to commute to and from the greater metropolitan area."
Queens State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has introduced legislation that would institute a millionaires' tax to fund the MTA, was skeptical about how far Cuomo's plans would stretch.
"Today's announcement by Governor Cuomo is an encouraging first step," Gianaris said in a statement, "but significant questions remain regarding the source of this new capital funding and the continuing budget hole of several billions dollars beyond the amount announced today."
With William Murphy and Vin Barone