Home Asides Lhota: MTA must ‘focus on the good that it does’

Lhota: MTA must ‘focus on the good that it does’

by Benjamin Kabak

Earlier this morning, current MTA Executive Director and future Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota had the opportunity to attend his first Board meeting as leader of the much-maligned organization. Both Michael Grynbaum and Andrew Grossman were on hand to file reports from the meeting, and it sounds as though Lhota is at least prepared for the daunting challenges he faces over the next six years. “In the last two days, not a moment goes by that I don’t think about the budget,” Lhota said during the meeting. “I have to be optimistic about everything I do, because that’s how you get things done and move things forward.”

The next Chairman talked at length about both the MTA budget and its perception problems. He called the sprawling budget “a living organism” and spoke about improving the way the public views the MTA. “I do think the good that the MTA does, and all of its operating agencies, sometimes fails to get above the horizon,” he said. “Do I think it has a public-relations problem? I think it needs to focus on the good that it does and how important the MTA is to the economy of the region, because it is critical.”

Results will be more powerful for Lhota, who has already admitted the need to maintain a predictable pace for fare hikes that is tied to the overall inflation rate. As with Jay Walder and Lee Sander before him, though, the public will judge him on subway service, station cleanliness and fare policy. No amount of talk can change that reality.

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BrooklynBus November 16, 2011 - 6:10 pm

If all he cares about is the MTA’s budget and believes the MTA needs better PR, those are indeed not good signs. No amount of PR emphasizing MTA’s successful projects will change anything without improved customer service and accountability, two of the MTA’s major problems. As you said, no amount of talk will change reality.

Reminds me of a conversation I had around 1978 at a seminar where a top NYCT official attended when he publicly stated that people don’t ride the subways because the MTA does a lousy job at PR. I questioned him stating what do you want the MTA to publicize how the subways are falling apart? What stupidity to think PR was the MTA’s problem, not derailments, broken subway cars, no air conditioning, MDBF of 6,000 miles, etc. I remember saying to him, first you fix the system, then you can brag with your PR. He was furious with me. To think, at 29, I had more common sense than someone who was making the decisions.

Lhota’s comment shows he is just as out of touch with what needs to be done at the MTA.

VLM November 16, 2011 - 6:13 pm

You, sir, are insufferable and unstoppable. Do you honestly think this was Lhota’s grand pronouncement on all things MTA? Do you really think he’s going to show any of his cards before the Senate confirmation hearings? He’s talking in platitudes about obvious things that must be addressed. You’re the one rushing to judge a book based on the color of its cover and nothing more. Only one person around here is out of touch. Here’s a hint: It’s not Joe Lhota.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2011 - 10:23 pm

I am not out of touch. I have experience and foresight.

While I am not willing to condemn him yet, he does not seem to be off to a good start from his initial comments.

Time will yell.

We will see if you take every opportunity to defend him and the MTA as you have been doing or will be willing to honestly judge him.

Andrew Smith November 16, 2011 - 8:04 pm

Perhaps I’m reading too much into what’s supposed to be a soft introduction, but I worry severely about anyone who uses that introduction to express the opinion that one of the MTA’s major problems is that the public doesn’t appreciate it sufficiently. Insufficient appreciation does not rank among the MTA’s top 100 problems. To the contrary, the MTA’s problem is that it gives the public little to appreciate.

Now, granted, many of its failings stem not from in-house problems but from decisions made in Albany. I’m not talking about lack of funding here. I’m talking about all manner of rules that basically doom the MTA to failure, rules like the one Ben pointed out a few days back demanding that the MTA use 456 people to do a job that one Spanish worker could knock out after lunch one afternoon. Albany creates the rules and incentives. MTA employees, both management and rank-and-file, respond.

Thus, it is urgent that the MTA change public perceptions but not in the way Lhota seems to suggest. It would be a waste of time for him to try to convince the public that “The MTA is pretty good” or even “The MTA doesn’t suck that bad.” But it would be valuable to convince them “Albany bears a lot of the blame. If you want change, demand it from there.” But that, of course, would make problems for Lhota’s masters.

I’m curious whether he’s willing to do that, whether he sees his mission as helping riders or whether he sees his mission as helping Cuomo. Hinting at a PR campaign to make the status quo seem better than it is suggests the latter.

BrooklynBus November 16, 2011 - 10:24 pm

I agree with your assessment.

Larry Littlefield November 17, 2011 - 9:03 am

The subways are delivering record ridership, and convering a high share of their operating cost. And Select Bus has been a success. People in Westchester love Metro North, and ridership has been rising there too.

People in these areas appreciate the MTA more than ever, not matter what Gene Russianoff says.

Now with regard to Long Island, ridership is falling and the organization has been repeatedly exposed as a kleptocracy. The temptation is to pay the most attention to the biggest part of the MTA — the subway. But the rots looms in the places with the least attention.

Hey Lhota, how about doing to the LIRR what Giuliani did to lots of agencies in NYC?

Al D November 17, 2011 - 9:43 am

When station platforms are NEVER, that is NEVER cleaned, is it any wonder that the MTA has a PR problem. Look at the S/B platform at Broadway Lafayette. A renovated station that is literally disgusting.

The Cobalt Devil November 18, 2011 - 2:53 pm

+1000. If the MTA wants good PR, maybe they should concentrate on putting some H20 on the f*ing platforms once or twice a year.


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