Home MTA Politics After Cuomo’s surprise, overnight subway service continues without passengers

After Cuomo’s surprise, overnight subway service continues without passengers

by Benjamin Kabak
It's 11:45 p.m. Do you know where you subway is?

It’s 11:45 p.m. Do you know where you subway is?

Four years ago, when a huge winter storm socked New York City, the MTA and then-Gov. David Paterson, in the final few days of his tenure, got unlucky. For the first time in years, two subway trains — an N train in the Sea Beach line and an A train a few hundred yards outside of Howard Beach — were stranded for hours. Snow piled up; trains couldn’t move; lawsuits were filed. It was a political nightmare with the headlines to match. Since then, the MTA has tried to address bad weather events, and they have, by and large, succeeded.

The agency’s response to this worst-case scenario was to develop plans for various amounts of snow that largely maintained subway service. Generally, in blizzard conditions, all express service is curtailed so Transit can store trains underground, and service along the train lines that operate in open trenches rather than along elevated lines is curtailed. And you know what? It worked! Trains operated throughout most of the city, and no one was stranded in snowstorms. It required employees to clear elevated platforms, but the city could operate largely as normal.

And then today rolled around. It’s right now 11:30 p.m. on Monday, and the snow accumulations aren’t as severe as earlier forecasts predicted. Still, the worst of the blizzard is expected to hit while most of us are sleeping, and when we wake up in the morning, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx could have over two feet of snow on the ground while Manhattan and Staten Island may have around 18 inches. It doesn’t even really matter how much snow we get because, for some reason, Gov. Cuomo shuttered subway service at 11 p.m., and by all accounts, the decision was a unilateral one.

The MTA didn’t see this coming. After all, the city had never in 110 years closed the subways due to snow, and in fact, early on Monday, Tom Prendergast basically said that a shutdown was unnecessary. As he noted, most of the subway network is underground, and it doesn’t snow underground. Now, we learn that the subway shutdown caught the MTA off guard. Via a report in the Brooklyn Paper that’s been corroborated by other MTA sources, the agency may continue to run empty trains because the Governor thought he knew best:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to shut off the city’s subway system overnight on Monday ahead of an anticipated blizzard came as a surprise to transit workers and runs against common sense, because the trains need to move as part of keeping the tracks clear and will be running all night anyway, according to a transit insider. The governor’s 6 pm announcement that subway and bus service would be halted completely at 11 pm came as a surprise to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Incident Command Center, where workers first heard about it on the news, said the source, who lacks authorization to speak about internal matters and asked to remain anonymous.

The halting of subway service is the first ever for a snowstorm. It is ill-considered because an actual turning-off of the entire system requires moving all the cars to far-flung facilities for storage, as the agency did during Hurricane Sandy, when flooding was a concern, and rebooting from that takes ages, the insider said. Emergency personnel will be riding the trains overnight while no one else is allowed to, per the source. The closure will strand people and put lives at risk, not because the subways can’t run, but because Cuomo wants to look good, the source said…

The lack of ground transportation options makes keeping the subway open all the more important, the transit source said. “The roads being closed is all the more reason the underground lifeline should be open,” the source said.

The problem with Cuomo’s decision is that it doesn’t make sense. It’s a noble goal to keep cars off the road so that emergency response teams and plows can move through the city unimpeded. But it ignores the reality of New York City — an often inconvenient one for Cuomo — to shutter the subway. Now, New Yorkers, from everyone building cleaning crews to service employees at bars who are on duty until 4 a.m. to nurses and hospitals on duty overnight, can’t get around the city because the Governor decided it was somehow a danger for a subway system that operates largely underground to keep running through a massive but hardly unprecedented snow storm. Cuomo doesn’t want to deal with headlines placing the blame for the next stranded subway on his shoulders so instead, the entire city is effectively shut down.

A great irony in the governor’s move is that the subway itself arose from the paralysis of the Blizzard of 1888. New Yorkers needed a way to get around in a snow storm, and the subways were the perfect antidote to surface congestion. Now, after two hurricanes during which it made sense to stop subway service due to serious flooding concerns, the governor has decided that favorable headlines trump urban life. After all these years, should we expect anything else from a governor who hasn’t recognized the role transit plays in driving New York City’s existence? Sadly, I guess not.

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John-2 January 27, 2015 - 12:19 am

If morning comes and there’s only 6-10 inches of snow on the ground, Cuomo’s reaction is going to look as over-the-top panicky as this.

Walt Gekko January 27, 2015 - 6:53 am

This to me was all about Cuomo protecting a potential Presidential bid in 2020 or 2024 (or even next year if Hillary does not run):

What I think Cuomo was afraid of was his NOT doing so here, the MTA fouled up, a train got stuck like in 2010, the MTA and Governor being sued over it and that in 2020 or ’24 when it would be long forgotten otherwise winds up being used by a rival candidate against Cuomo in the Presidential race. In the cutthroat world that politics is, almost ANYTHING is fair game now and something like that scenario would almost be certainly used against him a Presidential campaign.

anon_coward January 27, 2015 - 7:44 am

And what about what happened to bloomie a few years back?

Bolwerk January 27, 2015 - 8:52 am

What about it? That was hysterical too. Something bad happened. Bad things sometimes happen. So what?

John-2 January 27, 2015 - 10:14 am

Those things happened in the areas where there were elevated embankments and open cuts, where the snow was able to pile up. The MTA already went to a plan of not running trains where there was a risk of snow pileup, but other than the metal grates in the center median along Broadway which allow snow to come down on the IRT 2/3 express tracks, the system’s underground sections don’t have the same snow problems. There was no reason to close them.

anon_coward January 27, 2015 - 11:23 am

the point was that a few years ago Bloomie was crucified in the media for not preparing for a storm that wasn’t expected to hit NYC and changed direction at the last minute. And the idiot reporters were calling for everyone to be fired.

Ever since then the leadership knows better than to not prepare for the end of civilization

Mr. Bubble January 27, 2015 - 12:41 am

If this report is true, it is scandalous. Cuomo needs to get a grip.

Future Mrs. SAS January 27, 2015 - 12:52 am

Just took a walk w/ Ben – this is totally true. The trains are running. They are stopping. The doors are even opening … you can hear and see it. I’m all for being prepared for a natural disaster, but I am not for stranding people who may need the train when nothing else is available.

Kevin January 27, 2015 - 11:12 am

It’s easy to criticize the MTA, but when there is a crisis they are really good at muscling through. It seemed like a bad call to shut the entire system down due to snow before hand, in retrospect it looks laughable. Cuomo really needs to stop meddling in NYC transit, it seems like he hasn’t got a clue about it. Last night he was saying that people should take safer options when the subway was shut down. What is safer in a snow storm than an underground train?

adirondacker12800 January 27, 2015 - 12:50 pm

Staying where you are until it’s safe to travel?

Andrew January 27, 2015 - 7:26 pm

Aside from the handful of line segments that are vulnerable to snow buildup, how is it unsafe to travel by subway during a snowstorm?

Walt Gekko January 28, 2015 - 12:35 am


This was Cuomo overstepping out of fear not doing so would hurt him politically. The subways (underground) hae ALWAYS been safe in this as long as they are properly operated.

Cuomo PO’ed a lot of people and violated rule #1 of politics and may pay a deep price for it.

adirondacker12800 January 28, 2015 - 3:01 am

Yeah unhuh. Him and Mayor Deblasio got on the phone at :07 and listened to traffic and weather on the 8s on WCBS and did it without consulting anyone else. Like the people who have been expediting contingency plans since Sunday. Yep it’s all a plot cooked up to make him look better in 2016.

Alex January 27, 2015 - 12:57 am

The bright side (if you can call it that) is that it won’t take a day or more to get everything up and running again. Hopefully, once Cuomo decides he’s played God long enough, they can begin allowing passengers again within a short period of time.

Jason January 27, 2015 - 1:07 am

The 11PM deadline was stupid and made no freakin’ sense whatsoever. Strand your constituents for no other reason than to be an overzealous moron. Cuomo and Di Blasio need to be smacked then punched.

Chet January 27, 2015 - 6:03 am

I think de Blasio’s response to the storm was spot on. He had nothing to do with the subway shut down. Cuomo on the other hand, loves the spotlight. His total shut down of the system was stupid, but he loves to over-react. He’s doing the same thing with the public school systems.

That the storm didn’t drop 2 to 3 feet on us should be celebrated, but I see people (on social media) who are blaming the Mayor! I never knew Mr de Blasio had the power to move weather systems.

petey January 27, 2015 - 8:01 am

Agree with Chet completely.

JJJJ January 27, 2015 - 1:07 am

Why does Cuomo even have the authority to do this? The Albany bus system, sure, but the MTA?

Can they pass a bill stripping him of this power? He’s not fit to do anything related to transit.

Walt Gekko January 27, 2015 - 6:58 am

As said in another reply, this to me was all about Cuomo protecting a potential Presidential bid in 2020 or ’24 and the fear not doing so and an MTA foulup would result in a lawsuit that would be used against Cuomo if he does run for President.

That said, I can see where key donors now make it clear to Cuomo to ONLY shut down the entire system like that if we have a Sandy-like situation when flooding is a genuine threat. While some parts should be shut down in a snowstorm, it was overkill to do this and I think Cuomo could be looking at massive blowback that could include donors telling him NEVER to do that again AND EVEN possibly the state being taken to court to block him from doing it again.

Bolwerk January 27, 2015 - 8:54 am

Donors whose opinions count don’t use transit.

Subutay Musluoglu January 27, 2015 - 9:41 am

Maybe, but their workers do!

SFAW January 27, 2015 - 10:20 am

And since when has any politician of Cuomo’s ilk really cared what the workers thought? 1970? 1965?

Subutay Musluoglu January 28, 2015 - 9:30 am

Doesn’t matter – if the donors aren’t making money because their workers can’t produce, you better believe the governor will hear about it from the donors.

Upstater January 27, 2015 - 7:46 am

I don’t think Cuomo could shut down the CDTA Bus system actually.

Used to live in Albany and DC January 27, 2015 - 8:45 am

Albany is not DC. It’s its own city, equal to any other city in the state. Cuomo has no more or less power to shut down the transit system there (such as it is) than he does in Syracuse or Buffalo. The state assembly could probably pass something to prevent him from making a unilateral decision like that, but nobody’s going to stick their neck out for something that only one governor, among all the idiots we’ve had, has been stupid enough to do.

Larry Greenfield January 27, 2015 - 10:35 am

The MTA is a state agency and reports directly to the Governor.

JS January 27, 2015 - 6:12 am

I have to walk this morning 30 blocks to the hospital where I work. Thanks Cuomo!

Walt Gekko January 27, 2015 - 7:02 am

I think you can thank Cuomo being fearful of an MTA screwup resulting in a lawsuit that could be used against him in 2020 or ’24 if he runs for President for why the entire subway system was shut down. In the cutthroat world of politics, I can see where a rival candidate would actually use it against him.

Walt Gekko January 27, 2015 - 7:14 am

This to me was entirely blowback from 2010 when the MTA was ill-prepared and caught off-guard, but there were extenuating circumstances that to me caused that:

When decisions were made for that weekend into Monday, New York was only expecting “maybe 1-3 inches” from that storm. Even when the decisions would normally have been made on cold weather plans, that was still there. It was only Christmas Eve Night (and very late) that it grew to 6-10″ of snow. While by Christmas morning the threat became 15-18″, many people didn’t know about out until late Christmas night. There was a big lack of coverage leading up to that 2010 blizzard until late Christmas night because many stations that day only had 11:00 PM newscasts because of the holiday and stations did not want to have to make people come in until Christmas night (in fact, I specifically remember on NBC10 in Philadelphia Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz coming in on his own and doing special webcasts noting the weather because there were no local newscasts there or elsewhere until 11:00 that night). This is something that has NOT happened since and specifically I believe is the case as a direct result of the blizzard of late 2010. Add to that people who normally would likely have been called in but the MTA likely being reluctant to do so because of disturbing family/religious committments and it created a lot of the problems that led to what happened with that blizzard.

The lack of available media to me did play a major factor in the 2010 fiasco. If it didn’t, explain to me why in 2003 and 2006 (both storms at least equal to this one) why the MTA didn’t do this type of a shutdown and everything went just fine with no major problems. Also explain to me why that was the case in 1983 (when we got 21″ of snow) and 1996 (when NYC got a then-record snowfall or close to it) or even the snowstorm a couple of months after the 2010 fiasco in early 2011 when the MTA operated with minimal-to-no problems relatively speaking.

Cuomo could be facing some massive blowback from this that could even include potentially lawsuits from businesses that lost revenue and Wall Street if nothing else pressuring Cuomo to think long and hard before shutting the subways down again.

Phantom January 27, 2015 - 7:40 am

This has been a complete failure of leadership. Esp as regards the underground lines.

Right there with Gov Christie / NJT’s leadership failure to protect equipment during Sandy.

Walt Gekko January 27, 2015 - 7:42 am

As said in other comments, this was likely Cuomo concerned that an MTA screwup that led to a lawsuit could derail a Presidential bid in 2020 or ’24 as rival candidates could use such against Cuomo in advertising for something that otheriwse would be long forgotten by then.

Phantom January 27, 2015 - 7:54 am

But leaders are supposed to lead!

And the chances were basically zero that even a huge snowfall would have knocked out the underground lines or the major underground sections of lines.

Does this guy even know how the subway works?

This really inconvenienced many working class people who had to stay on the job yesterday.

tacony January 27, 2015 - 7:59 am

Guy at my bodega told me he slept at the store last night. Hope he realizes he’s just a gnat to Cuomo’s presidential ambitions.

Larry Littlefield January 27, 2015 - 8:51 am

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

We didn’t know yesterday at 4 pm that it would miss, and the value of maintaining service overnight at the risk to people clearing tracks is limited.

The question is, now that it has missed and I’ve shoveled, can I go to work? I’m about to try.

Yesterday service was a mess before the storm, and I was sorry I didn’t bike. But I’ll try the subway again anyway.

Walt Gekko January 27, 2015 - 8:58 am

It doesn’t matter on the total. Unless you had a 50+” storm, you should be able to run underground without a problem.

This to me was all about Cuomo fearful that if he had not completely shut down the system, the MTA screwed up, there was a repeat of 2010 somewhere and a lawsuit from that, although that lawsuit would be long settled by the time Cuomo ran for President it likely would be used against Cuomo in attack ads by a rival candidate. That to me is why Cuomo did that.

Josh January 27, 2015 - 10:36 am

We heard you the first six times.

Phantom January 27, 2015 - 9:42 am

No Larry ” damned if you do ” is totally wrong.

It was prudent to stop buses and outdoor trains.

It was stupid and I think unprecedented to stop all the underground trains due to snow.

Even a huge snowstorm would not have stopped them.

This is not prudence at all, to shut down everything when there was zero need to do it

Larry Littlefield January 27, 2015 - 10:13 am

I’m at work, and my only complaint is they didn’t get things running 1 to 1 1/2 hours earlier.

Elvis Delgado January 27, 2015 - 9:43 am

I don’t recall anyone ever accusing Andrew Cuomo of being the brightest bulb on the tree, as the saying goes. People started making fun of his “shortcomings” on SNL when his father was governor, and he doesn’t seem to have done anything in the interim to change anyone’s opinion.

He’s not a bad person, and being poorly endowed in the cerebrum isn’t necessarily a handicap unless one is in a position where one’s decisions can affect other people. Unfortunately, those chickens have just come home to roost.

Bolwerk January 27, 2015 - 10:16 am

His decisions nearly always favor cronies over citizens, the powerful over the vulnerable, his muscle car fetish over good transportation planning, anybody else at the expense of New York City, etc., etc..

What exactly prevents him from being a bad person?

mike January 27, 2015 - 9:52 am

Gov. Cuomo appears to be wearing his @$$ as a hat.

The Black Smurf January 27, 2015 - 11:00 am

In typical city fashion they close the subways, keep them running anyway and of course arrest everyone who accidentally stumbles upon the scene. Next up, garbage won’t be picked up for a week because the trucks “are on full alert for the end of life on this planet as we know it”.

This time next year the Weather Channel will be naming large clouds.

Spendmor Wastemor January 27, 2015 - 5:10 pm

U nailed it.

btw, the keep the subways running part was bc Transit planned to keep it running with passenger service, and because that keep the tracks clear. Nothing like 80 wheels rolling 10,000 pound each to keep the rails ice-free.

Probably should have strapped AndyBoy to the front of one. He’s quite the air bag.

oinonio January 27, 2015 - 4:54 pm

Much of what Cuomo does seems to be through the filter of a Presidential run. It’s disheartening. Not in a Christie/Fort Lee sort of way, but disheartening nonetheless.

mister January 27, 2015 - 7:04 pm

Excellent synopsis Ben. As others have pointed out on other websites, this is not too different from when Cuomo decided to quarantine anyone who returned from an Ebola stricken country, despite a vehement objection from the medical community at large.

Jim D January 28, 2015 - 9:10 am

I’m not defending Cuomo’s decision here (I think he jumped the gun in this storm), but if the TA decides to continue operating and the city gets slammed with two feet of snow, the subway system is going to take days to recover if trains are buried in outdoor storage yards.

Benjamin Kabak January 28, 2015 - 9:46 am

Jim, I think you’re missing a key element of the MTA’s snow plan. They’re not going to store trains in vulnerable outdoor yards. The plan calls on Transit to run all trains as locals so underground express trains can be used for storage. It has worked successfully through substantial storms over the past four years. There was nothing about this week’s forecast that should have changed those plans.


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