Home MTA Politics Andrew Cuomo hates the subway and isn’t going to save it

Andrew Cuomo hates the subway and isn’t going to save it

by Benjamin Kabak

A magic wand isn’t going to fix the subway without a chief executive willing to push through reforms and support leadership. (Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

It’s no secret that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a car guy. He loves to talk about his personal collection of muscle cars, and on Friday, he had an opportunity to host his favorite type of ribbon cutting for the opening of the second span of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. He gathered his entire family on the bridge along with the usual collection of local politicians and Hillary Clinton, and he “opened” the bridge by driving FDR’s 1932 Packard across the new span. And then the bad news arrived.

As The Times reported on Monday, the Cuomo administration essentially bribed contractors to rush the finish of the span so the Governor could host the opening before Thursday’s Democratic primary election, but the bridge couldn’t actually to open to traffic because engineers found that the old one had destabilized and is at risk of collapsing onto the new one. In a way, it’s a perfect metaphor for Cuomo who governs by press release and ribbon cuttings, trumpeting other people’s accomplishments, and it mirrors the way he treated the Second Ave. Subway. He demanded the project open by the end of 2016 even though an extensive punch list remained (and still remains). He wants his photo ops, and come hell or high water, he’ll get them.

Cuomo’s grinning appearance on the bridge on Friday was in marked contrast to his Thursday press conference in Penn Station in which he debuted a new entrance to Penn Station and some Moynihan Station-related improvements. He spoke about catacombs and the general dinginess of Penn Station in ways that clearly made talking about transit sound like a chore for him. His muscle cars and FDR’s Packard it was not.

After nearly eight years of Gov. Cuomo, it’s become abundantly obvious that his disdain of public transit (and its riders) is a feature and not a bug. By most counts, he’s taken the subway only around 2-3 times during his gubernatorial tenure, and at least one of those was a special train from the Rockaways. Thus, this piece of reporting on Politico New York from Dana Rubinstein should come as no surprise: Cuomo’s disdain for public transit runs deep and is rooted in his outdated preconceptions about transit riders. Rubinstein writes:

Would-be governor Cynthia Nixon does straphanger photo ops. Council Speaker Corey Johnson does them, too. So occasionally does avowed motorist Mayor Bill de Blasio. Across the Hudson, Gov. Phil Murphy does it, on the foundering NJ Transit. In fact, perhaps the only major local politician who doesn’t do it is the one who controls New York’s crisis-ridden subway system. That would be Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It’s not like his advisers haven’t tried to persuade him to give it a try. They’ve urged Cuomo, who is running for a third term, to ride the subway on more than one occasion, according to two knowledgeable sources. The governor has demurred. One explanation has it that the image of a “passive straphanger” doesn’t align with the governor’s can-do persona. It doesn’t enable him to don a windbreaker or grapple with machinery alongside predictably deferential transit workers.

The situation on the subways, on the other hand, is less controlled and rife with potential landmines. What if he pulls a Hillary Clinton and his swipe doesn’t work — on a Metrocard machine he’s responsible for, because he runs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway? What if the countdown clocks his MTA installed are inaccurate? What if he gets heckled? “He’s smart enough to know that if he showed up on a subway platform at this point, he’d get his ass kicked,” said one Democratic political consultant who asked for anonymity, lest he suffer a similar fate.

Cuomo, a car guy who can’t recognize the limitations of automobile travel or the fact that he has no control over traffic or other drivers, thinks that the subway he controls is beneath him because of all the things that can go wrong. Talk about a telling psychological reaction to a collapsing subway. So instead of understanding the travails of subway riders, instead of knowing what his stewardship of the subways has wrought, Cuomo feels emasculated by the trains because he’s not the one behind the wheel, zooming down the 8th Ave. line with his pedal to the metal.

After two terms of this attitude toward transit, it’s clear that no matter what his allies claim, no matter the absurd gaslighting campaign from the TWU, no matter his supposed support for some congestion pricing plan, Andrew Cuomo doesn’t care about the subways and isn’t going to be the one to save them. He’s sucked all the oxygen out of the room arguing over the legal technicalities of control over the subway and the allocation of money for his aesthetically-orientated Enhanced Station Initiative without addressing how the taxpayer base — New York City residents and workers — is the same whether the money comes out of the state budget (as it should) or from the city. He’s spent years siphoning dollars away from the MTA’s budgets, whether for state-run ski slopes losing money or road projects. He has constantly refused to sign lockbox legislation that would put stringent strings on his MTA budgetary sleight-of-hand, and he barely endorsed Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan until his lack of support was on the verge of becoming a political albatross.

Meanwhile, on his watch, as we all know, progress at the MTA has slowed to a crawl. The agency was enjoying boom times in the late 2000s as focus on investment seemed to be catching up with reality, and as service improved, ridership boomed. But on Cuomo’, delays and problems have become daily occurrences as ridership has shown year-over-year declines for the better part of his second term in office. These trends are not stopping without significant cost reform and investment, and Cuomo hasn’t embraced either yet.

Meanwhile, on the capital side, Cuomo has dragged his feet (some say to make the city look bad) so that with the opening of the rebuilt WTC Cortlandt station on Saturday, there are no big-ticket subway expansion items under active construction right now. A few years ago, we had the 7 line extension, South Ferry, Fulton St. and the Second Ave. Subway all ongoing, and today, we have the promise of Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway and nothing else. For a 21st Century city, this lack of growth and progress is a travesty that will hinder New York’s promise for decades to come.

On the edge of primary day, that leaves New Yorkers with a governor who doesn’t support transit, openly disdains it and won’t change his tune. Make no mistake about it: Governor Cuomo is in charge of the MTA and the New York City subways, and he has been a bad steward of the crown-jewel American subway system. If he earns himself the nomination on Thursday or a victory in November, I don’t expect anything to change, and neither should you. A Cuomo third term will bring more of the same: He’ll use the subways for photos ops without forging ahead on real progress, and without an aggressive primary challenger pushing him to act, do you think he’ll continue to embrace Andy Byford and his earnest push for improvement? After all, the subway, a lifeblood of New York City and the state, is too passive for the Can-Do Press-Release governor.

You may also like


David R Yale September 11, 2018 - 11:49 pm

Tired of delay on the MTA
And you want some real fixin’
Don’t vote for the man who made the mess
Vote for Governor Cynthia Nixon!

sonicboy678 September 12, 2018 - 4:16 am

I really hope I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that neither will be in office next year, and I have doubts that Molinaro will be anything more than a Trump lapdog.

John Thacker September 12, 2018 - 4:18 pm

Molinaro’s posted transit plan is surprisingly good. (He also embraces Byford in it.) Much better than I expected.

Larry Littlefield September 13, 2018 - 10:53 am

It’s not that good, and there is a reason.

It doesn’t address how much of the MTA’s “labor costs” are actually the cost of retirement benefits for his generation, and how much of its overall cost is his generation’s debts.

Lots of beneficiaries of all that live up in his area.

His only mention of doing anything about this is Tier V and VI, which means lower pay and benefits for new hires while Generation Greed gets off scott free. Same as the plan for Social Security and Medicare at the federal level.

Keeping it under Omerta.

Older and Wiser September 16, 2018 - 1:17 pm

Sometimes I get the impression, Larry, that if you had your way, your generation would one day pick up torches and pitchforks and raid the nursing homes to drag us all off to the Soylent Green factory.

Larry Littlefield September 16, 2018 - 1:41 pm

Of course not.

But what would you say about a view that if you can’t do it for everyone indefinately, then you shouldn’t be doing it for anyone now, so there is equality between generations?

For those who feel entitled, equality with those perceived to be worth less would probably seem like the Soylent Green factory.

Older and Wiser September 16, 2018 - 11:31 pm

But you can do it for everyone indefinitely; just not if you insist that federal taxes should only ever be adjusted in one direction: downward.

If Grover Norquist had been president during WWII, we never could have spiked taxes enough to win it. And now that the Koch brothers et al are running everything behind their think tanks and PACs, we’ve been brainwashed into believing we can’t afford predictable spikes in the retiree population either. It’s ideology, not affordability.

Larry Littlefield September 17, 2018 - 10:10 am

No, you can’t do it for everyone indefinitely. Not at the tax level Generation Greed was willing to pay.

They point fingers in a circle. “You didn’t put enough in.” “You took too much out.”

An entire generation didn’t put enough in, AND took too much out. And the past isn’t going away, no matter what is done now.

Older and Wiser September 17, 2018 - 1:36 pm

Well, if the past isn’t going away, besides owing reparations for generational inequity, would you say we are also on the hook for 30% of our lifetime earnings for gender inequity, plus 89% of our net worth for racial inequity?

You will never convince any Tier IV that playing the hand we were dealt (like most human beings tend to do) warrants retrospective characterization as “sociopaths”.

Larry Littlefield September 19, 2018 - 9:08 am

I’m not trying to convince them.

I’m trying to convince the victims, so they’ll perhaps be prevented from grabbing even more.

Perhaps when that mass casualty even takes place on the subway, as I expect eventually, those older will at least be satisfied that “fairness” has been achieved.

Larry Littlefield September 19, 2018 - 9:27 am

Moreover, just remember that the “screw the newbie, flee to Florida” cycle on public employee pensions is just one little piece of what has happened in the Generation Greed era, with just about everything else going in the same direction.

Life expectancy is falling for later born generations. Is that indicative of a hand well played? Fine, then at least you can’t expect rationalizations to go along with the winnings.

Older and Wiser September 19, 2018 - 2:33 pm

Larry, I don’t object to economic arguments in favor of economic reforms.

But I can’t help noticing how closely the “generation greed” argument aligns with that of frustrated right wingers who’ve been unable to overcome the basic American norm that workers at or near retirement age be held harmless, and so now have resorted to demonizing seniors.

It would be one thing if the right wing think tanks had the slightest genuine concern for generational equity. But their real priority is way too thinly veiled not to be detected, namely, to make sure taxes on the top 1% always go in only one direction: downward.

Larry Littlefield September 19, 2018 - 3:23 pm

Frustrated left wingers too.

Those who already had more (of whatever) took more still. And then covered up the losses for others with debt, until it couldn’t be covered up anymore.


Brooklynite September 13, 2018 - 1:09 pm

To be fair, it seems to mostly be a combination of Fast Forward and various RPA recommendations. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it doesn’t seem like he put much effort (or intends to, if elected) into it.

Will September 20, 2018 - 11:02 am

Yeah, under Patiki the MTA transit plans started to transition to reality

Larry Littlefield September 20, 2018 - 3:13 pm

Pataki is the Governor most responsible for the mess we are in. Pataki, Bruno, Silver, Giuliani.

t-bo September 12, 2018 - 8:57 am

The capital drought is worsened by the planned buildup along the East Side corridor above Grand Central. Despite the touted platform work paid by developers, no new trains or track improvements. More crowds squeezing in (or not).

Moofie September 12, 2018 - 9:11 am

I’m going to vote for Cynthia Nixon in the primary, at least she rides the subway, and she can’t do worse for upstate the Cuomo has, cough Buffalo Billions, cough.

AMH September 12, 2018 - 11:35 am

What if we just put him in the cab of a train? Maybe he would get behind an effort to rip out timers once he saw what a killjoy they are.

Adam Batlan Forman September 12, 2018 - 12:45 pm

Peak Cuomo…

Q: Part of New York State that surprised you most and why?
A: The sheer beauty of Adirondack State Park. Perfect for long drives.

Long *drives* not hikes. Of course.


smartone September 12, 2018 - 12:45 pm

Why isn’t Nixon proposing the City get back control of Subway ?

IT happen with School System it can happen with Subway

sonicboy678 September 12, 2018 - 5:43 pm

That’s wishful thinking, but even with more funding, the city would still only be able to put so much in without taking from elsewhere.

In all likelihood, it would also eat into whatever amount of coordination there is between the subway and other systems.

paulb September 12, 2018 - 4:08 pm

Does anyone believe NYC will ever have modern, comfortable, fast public transportation as some cities outside the USA seem to have built? I think this is a futile belief. Right now I’m skeptical we can even do better than we are doing. As for Cynthia Nixon, she wants to let public employees strike, legally. Enough said.

smotri September 13, 2018 - 9:49 am

No, NYC is stuck with the 3rd world level of mass transit for the foreseeable future. Right now, with the economy generating a lot of tax revenue, the system is failing, at least partly because of the inability of Cuomo and de Blasio to get along. The commuters are hostages to this. Since it seems that Cuomo will be re-elected, then this stalemate will continue; Byford being the head of the MTA means virtually noting in all this. Now, just imagine how things will deteriorate further once the economy takes a dive. It will not be fun, I can tell you that.

AMH September 14, 2018 - 10:35 am

Byford is not the head of the MTA; Lhota is.

smotri September 17, 2018 - 12:33 pm

Thanks for the correction. I heard on the radio this morning that for the month of August there were no delays on subways on all of one single day! Now that Cuomo has been re-elected, I’m sure this poor service will only continue for another four years. Thanks, Cuomo voters, for nothing!

Comradefrana September 15, 2018 - 2:43 pm

“As for Cynthia Nixon, she wants to let public employees strike, legally. Enough said.”

I’m pretty sure there are places with decent public transit where public employees have a right to strike.

Nycpat September 12, 2018 - 7:31 pm

He never wears a safety vest. People notice.

Larry Littlefield September 13, 2018 - 10:30 am

And Cynthia Nixon will increase funding — for schools, with nothing asked in return. She didn’t even notice the subway until the Times reported on it.


Cuomo made subway riders the victim, Nixon will do the same while benefitting her special interests, and the Republican would seek to destroy New York City in total. Those are the choices.

As long as they get their piece, the state legislature is in favor of all of the above.

paulb September 13, 2018 - 12:15 pm

Happy talk!

Larry Littlefield September 13, 2018 - 12:57 pm

Perhaps if more people had been pissed off rather than happy 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

And if they don’t get really pissed off soon, they’ll be nothing left.

Will September 20, 2018 - 12:05 pm

Succeed from NY state. Keep tax dollars In The city and toll the bridges and tunnels that come and leave the city

J Adlai September 13, 2018 - 7:00 pm

Remember when Cuomo shut down the entire subway system because of a snow storm in 2015? It was unprecedented (and unwarranted), but it was a decision that falls into lockstep with his typical attitude towards the subways.

NYCT had spent quite a bit of time refining their winter service plans after the debacle that happened back in 2015. They were gearing up to keep service operating when Cuomo (no, it was Tom Prendergast, we swear!) made the call to shut down the trains. Customers were stranded, and the city shut down for what ultimately ended up being an 8″ storm. At the end of the day, the shut down was Cuomo showing that he was taking action to protect everyone. And it set a ridiculous precedent: we’ve now had above ground portions of the system shutting down for forecasts of 8-10 inches. But it illustrates the approach he has to transit: he doesn’t really understand how it works, but if taking some action towards it furthers his agenda, he’ll do it, regardless of the impact to those who actually rely on it.

Walt Gekko September 23, 2018 - 11:53 am

Cuomo did that because he was mulling a run for President at the time. He likely was very concerned someone at the MTA would have gone rogue and ordered trains running where they should not like in 2010 and cause an incident that every opponent would have used against him (the 2010 problems were the result of a forecast that changed dramatically over Christmas Weekend, right before Cuomo officially took over when many could not get out of family commitments and/or Christmas services AND/OR did not have access to media that in many cases were shut down for the Christmas holiday (none of the local stations in Philly for example in 2010 had local news on AT ALL before 11:00 PM on Christmas Day so people could have the day off for the most part, something that changed the following year and has been that way ever since).

Kevin P September 13, 2018 - 7:23 pm

I read Marc Molinaro’s plan to fix the broken transit system and it sounds pretty decent. Nixon is probably lose today. Voting Republican is probably our only option.

sonicboy678 September 13, 2018 - 10:15 pm

I can’t help but wonder if that’s all a front to be laissez-faire about everything (as if we didn’t already have that issue with Cuomo).

The fact that Carl Paladino seems to endorse him exacerbates the issue.

Christopher September 13, 2018 - 7:38 pm

Just remember: if you voted for Cuomo in the past, you’re responsible for the lousy state of the subways today. Millions of New Yorkers need to look in the mirror before complaining about the MTA.

Adirondacker12800 September 13, 2018 - 8:36 pm

Yeah right, Carl Paldino would have done a wonderful job. There was no primary because the Rent Is Too Damn High candidate, who wanted to run on the Democratic line too, couldn’t scare up enough signatures to have one.

Larry Littlefield September 14, 2018 - 9:24 am

Yup, thanks what has happened to the Republicans, the Democrats no there is no limit to the extent to which they can exploit the serfs to benefit the special interests that keep them in office.

You see those Cuomo and Maloney commercials? What were they about? Tribalism and Trump, Trump, Trump!

Al D September 14, 2018 - 10:28 am

He hired Byford. He didn’t have to do that. He could have appointed some crony instead.

Byford is no dummy. He was either promised support or is going to do a few years here, and then move on to another job where he’ll be rightly acknowledged, recognized, and compensated. Let’s hope it’s the former.

Thomas Graves September 21, 2018 - 8:51 am

Byford will spend a few years with the MTA then go home to the UK to the job he’s always wanted: Head of London Transport. He will score a few points while in NY, but the terminal decline of NY’s subway will not be arrested.

Walt Gekko September 23, 2018 - 11:54 am

The real problem is Cuomo relies on upstate voters who have a huge disdain for NYC as a whole. His concept of the MTA on top of that is likely that the people riding it now are similar to many who rode it at its low in the ’70s and early ’80s and many of his voters still think of the subways as being from that era.

You really have to thank what happened before Cuomo with Elliot Spitzer and his actions that made everything so bad after Pataki that it led to Cuomo being elected.


Leave a Comment