Lhota opens up on fare hikes, LaGuardia accessBy
As the MTA and TWU once again sat down for negotiations toward the end of last week, the new head honco at the transportation authority let loose a few tidbits on a handful of key topics this weekend. In an interview with NBC New York’s Andrew Siff, Lhota offered up his take on everything from looming fare hikes to future subway expansion plans. It left me wanting more, but let’s jump in.
On Fare Hikes: In an attempt to bring regularity to the MTA’s fare structure, Jay Walder announced fare hikes for 2013, 2015 and every two years thereafter. Lhota voice his support for the plan as he said, “How sure is that? It’s going to happen.” The fares will go up next year, in 2015 and in 2017, but it seems as though the MTA will spend the bulk of the added revenue on paying down debt and employee obligations than on providing better service.
On Unrealized Revenue Opportunities: When I spoke with Walder back in late 2010, he discussed his desires to increase MTA revenues through better maximizing retail opportunities, and Lhota is on board with this initiative as well. “We’re trying to look for every place that we possibly can where we have foot traffic, where we can actually have retail operations,” he said. “There are thousands of people who come in here [to Grand Central] on the weekends just to go shopping.”
On Countdown Clocks: With nearly all of the A Division stations receiving countdown clocks, the MTA is eying how best to bring this technology to the rest of the system. I’ll have more on these attempts shortly, but Lhota hopes to accomplish this goal “within two years.”
On FASTRACK: As the MTA has embarked on an early-2012 pilot program created again by Walder that shutters track segments overnight during the week, riders are reportedly noting the improvements, and Lhota and the MTA have vowed to continue it. The program will inch northward next year, and Lhota noted brighter station conditions as one benefit. “Not only did we change all the light bulbs to make them brighter; we also cleaned the backs of them,” he said.
On Access to LaGuardia: Siff, who has long reported on the on-again, off-again efforts to bring the subway to LaGuardia, asked Lhota about subway access for the airport, and Lhota offered up a tiny tidbit. “We’re continuing to look at it. There are a lot of logistical problems. You can’t have an elevated train in the path of landing, so you’d have to submerge it,” he said. Of course, “logistical problems” is also code for NIMBYism, but even considering it offers a faint glimmer of hope. Maybe it’s something the MTA can explore for the capital campaigns once the Fulton St. Transit Center and 7 line extension are in service.
Ultimately, Lhota’s interviews in the early goings have given us a glimpse into his inner workings. I was initially skeptical of the appointment, but he has inherited an MTA that, while not perfect by a long shot, has been on a better path of late. He’s willing to acknowledge that and stick to the path. At some point, he’ll have to start forging his own path, but for now, he can push forward on efforts begun by his predecessor.
As he moves his agenda forward, Lhota, a train rider, seems to recognize what New Yorkers want, and I think his statement is key toward a better appreciation and support of transit by its riders. “I want it to work better, cleaner, faster and more frequent,” he said. “That’s not overly sexy, but that’s what New Yorkers want.”