Home MTA Lhota resigns as MTA Chair and CEO, effective immediately

Lhota resigns as MTA Chair and CEO, effective immediately

by Benjamin Kabak

Joe Lhota has stepped down as MTA Board chair for the second time in six years.

Joe Lhota has resigned as the CEO and Chair of the MTA effectively immediately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today. Lhota had come under fire from ethics watchdogs (including Reinvent Albany) for holding multiple jobs, including a spot on the MSG board, that could conflict with his duties at the MTA, but he had stressed as recently as two weeks ago that he was not planning on stepping down, despite rumors to the contrary. Fernando Ferrer will again assume the role of interim MTA Chair, a position he held following Tom Prendergast’s 2017 departure from the MTA’s top spot.

The news broke as Mayor Bill de Blasio was on the air for his weekly spot with Brian Lehrer, and he was just as surprised as anyone else. The mayor, apparently, had not been given advanced warning of the resignation. “There are clearly a lot of other leaders at the MTA who can carry forward the work but no one is going to get the work of fixing our buses and subways done if we don’t have a permanent funding source,” he said. “They need a plan from Albany, and they need accountability.” He spoke further of a new “culture of accountability” – an argument with which I agree.

This is of course Lhota’s second premature departure from the MTA. He stepped down at the end of 2012 to run for mayor and returned to the MTA in mid-2017 after Prendergast left his post. Lhota’s current term was scheduled to run through June of 2021.

For the MTA, Lhota’s departure continues a period of tumultuous turnover atop the agency. Since Peter Kalikow served out his full term in the mid-2000s, the MTA has seen five or six permanent MTA CEO/chairs — the Dale Hemmerdinger/Lee Sander hydra, Hyperloop’s Jay Walder, Lhota the first time, Tom Prendergast and Lhota the second time — and only Prendergast served for more than two years. With a number of interim heads in between, this creates a real leadership void at the MTA and uncertain for agency heads. Oftentimes, new MTA Board chairs prefer to select their own agency heads (though hopefully Lhota’s successor opts to retain Andy Byford).

Lhota leaves amidst a tough time for the subway. The MTA has instituted a significant subway action plan that officials claim has halted an increase in delays, but the number of delays and unreliability of service remains high. No one who rides the subways believes any of problems have been solved and more loom with the L train shutdown less than six months away.

The Wall Street Journal, first to break the story this morning, had more:

In a statement, Mr. Lhota said he took the position for the “sole purpose of halting the decline of service and stabilizing the system for my fellow New Yorkers.” He touted an $800 million emergency repair package that he crafted in his first month, as well as a new executive team he put in place.

In September, the number of total train delays fell to the lowest point since February 2016, Mr. Lhota said. “There is still a long way to go to achieve the performance that New Yorkers demand and deserve,” he said.

The state official said the governor’s team and the MTA would immediately begin a search for a new chairman. The search comes at a time of turnover in Mr. Cuomo’s administration: Commissioners of three state agencies acknowledged this week that they were leaving their posts, and more departures are expected.

In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised Lhota. “Joe Lhota has dedicated decades of his life to public service culminating in two tours of duty at the helm of the MTA,” he said. “He stabilized the subway system, appointed a new leadership structure to completely overhaul the MTA, and led with a steady hand during some of the agency’s most challenging moments. In short, Joe demonstrated time and again why he was the right person for the job. I am deeply grateful for his service to the State of New York. In accordance with MTA bylaws, Vice Chair Fernando Ferrer will serve as Acting Chair while we prepare to name a permanent replacement for when the Senate returns in January.”

Off the cuff, Lhota’s departure gives Gov. Andrew Amazon Cuomo, the state official who is definitely in charge of the MTA, a chance to think outside the box. He’ll need to find a strong champion for transit at a time when the MTA job is often considered lose-lose in the industry, and he could use this opportunity to seek out diversity atop the ranks of the MTA Board, a long-overdue move for the MTA. Cuomo has also said he will make the appointment before the State Senate returns to session in January, a break with precedent as he has sat on prior MTA appointments in the past. With Byford’s Fast Forward plan in need of funding and a 2019 fare hike on the horizon, the MTA cannot afford to be without permanent leadership for too long, and the newly-empowered Democratic State Senate will have to confirm anyone Cuomo nominates for the job.

More to come.

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Cristophe C. November 9, 2018 - 11:56 am

Interesting article, but I think the bit about “appointing someone who is not a white man would be a long-overdue first for the MTA” is a really counterproductive comment. I get the author wants to virtue signal, but honestly comments like this are part of why the US is failing as a sociopolitical entity.

I fail to see how pushing a race agenda is going to help the MTA turn itself around at this stage of its existence. One would hope that whoever gets appointed to Lhota’s position actually has the experience and political finesse to get the job done.

VLM November 9, 2018 - 12:00 pm

I suggest you look at the MTA workforce and its leadership history if you don’t understand the need to have some diversity reflected within the ranks of upper management. I know you conservative snowflakes think only old white men can lead, but there’s real harm in having the same people lead the MTA year and after. And clearly, it’s not working. So your sexist, racist agenda isn’t helping anything, and comments like that definitely aren’t why the US is failing.

Cristophe C. November 9, 2018 - 6:10 pm

I did not say that the MTA needs to hire a white man – I said it needs to hire the best person for the job. For you to make this a diversity issue seems to me the racist, sexist agenda.

imogen November 9, 2018 - 1:37 pm

i’ve received the report from the lab and the testing on your comment confirmed my suspicions: this ain’t it

smotri November 9, 2018 - 1:09 pm

My own cat could run the MTA better than these people. Fortunately for him, he has better things to do with his time than become trapped in this bottomless sinkhole.

Older and Wiser November 9, 2018 - 2:48 pm

Whatever success the MTA has ever had in delivering mass transit has been accomplished in spite of the grandiose brainstorms of various regimes of upper management.

No one in the actual MTA workforce would ever have come up with an idea as lame brained as East Side Access, which by the time it is operational (if it ever is), will have a final price tag closer to $15B than the currently projected $10B.

sonicboy678 November 9, 2018 - 3:49 pm

What’s lame-brained about having a different Manhattan terminus (which would put some people in closer alignment with their workplaces, in addition to being able to take some of the other strain off of Penn Station)?

Now, if you were talking about relegating Atlantic Terminal service to a shuttle, then I’d agree.

Older and Wiser November 9, 2018 - 4:11 pm

I’m all for putting some (small number of) people in closer alignment with their workplaces, perhaps even before they reach the end of their working lives. But when allocating scarce public dollars it might be a good idea to prioritize projects that convenience a somewhat larger number of people.

Adirondacker12800 November 9, 2018 - 4:53 pm

The projected ridership for East Side Access would make it the fifth busiest commuter rail system in the US, bumping SEPTA down to sixth. It’s going to free up enough capacity in Penn Station that Metro North can start running trains to Penn Station from the New Haven line. With projected ridership that would make it the 8th largest commuter rail system in the U.S. Well..ninth when SEPTA moves down to sixth.

SEAN November 9, 2018 - 6:42 pm

In addition, by adding four more stations along the hellgate line, people in such neighborhoods as Co-Op City could reach Manhattan or Queens with ease. They even could reach Stamford a huge job center in minutes & avoid the mess that is I-95.

AMH November 9, 2018 - 5:01 pm

That’s a worthy goal, but spending billions to blast out a deep cavern terminal below an existing terminal is not.

Adirondacker12800 November 9, 2018 - 5:46 pm

The alternative is double decking the Long Island Expressway so they can all drive in. And not have any place to park once they get through the gridlock that would cause. Unless you have another one.

Older and Wiser November 10, 2018 - 11:15 am

The LIRR commuting experience has gotten steadily better and smoother and more comfortable each and every decade since the days when the trains were pulled by hand me down steam locos from the Pennsy, and all destinations west of Jamaica required a change at Jamaica.

Not so for subway straphangers, whose daily rides have careened back and forth from barely tolerable to outright crisis.

The real underlying justification for either persisting with ESA or double decking the LIE can best be described as suburban privilege.

Adirondacker12800 November 10, 2018 - 12:10 pm

They could stop working in Manhattan and stop paying city taxes.

Older and Wiser November 10, 2018 - 12:48 pm

They could but they won’t. Manhattan jobs provide the closest proximity to the optimal concentration of clients and attendant good incomes to be brought home to suburbia.

To a suburban community, having Manhattan job holders in their midst is the next best thing to having proven oil reserves.

SEAN November 10, 2018 - 6:44 pm

Or take a job in White Plains/ Stamford as many large companies such as IBM, Pepsi, Mariott International, Indeed & numerous hedge funds have a branch office or corporate HQ in the area.

AG November 15, 2018 - 11:25 pm

All of those large companies have been cutting their suburban office park numbers and either moving them to the city or out of the area (in many cases overseas). Jobs in the suburbs have been losing pace. IBM is closing suburban jobs while adding jobs in NYC through it’s Watson Artificial Intelligence division.

Adirondacker12800 November 16, 2018 - 12:40 am

If they sell off the division with suburban employees they don’t work for that company anymore. They still work in the suburbs, but for a different company.


sonicboy678 November 10, 2018 - 11:29 pm

Sure, let’s go with that.

Perhaps it’s time to stop downplaying the LIRR’s importance and start pushing for improvements to every mode.

By the way, I’m not sure if you picked up on this, but LIRR performance actually slipped recently, and with the massive pressure on the subway and buses, the last thing the MTA needs is to have more broken shit to deal with.

Older and Wiser November 11, 2018 - 2:03 am

Didn’t intend to downplay the LIRR’s importance. Nor to downplay an obviously inconvenient, and no doubt for some, arduous daily trek from Penn back over to the east side. Even if it is a chore LIRR commuters seem to have been taking in stride for generations.

My issue with ESA is simply at what cost? After all, it’s not exactly water tunnel #3.

SEAN November 11, 2018 - 12:36 pm

Agreed on the water tunnel, but you must admit that having a second rail option can do wonders for desirability for LI. Granted it maybe tempered somewhat by the need to climb out of a deep whole like a mole, but that is better than the mess that is Penn Station.

It’s also instructive to look at when many Morristown & Montclair line trains were rerouted from Hoboken to PSNY. The communities along these lines became more desirable & this could also help LI in giving riders more commuting choices.

Alon Levy November 9, 2018 - 2:07 pm

Baruch sheptaranu.

TimK November 9, 2018 - 6:08 pm


Shabbat shalom.

TimK November 9, 2018 - 6:09 pm

(Oh, for goodness’ sake, that was supposed to be a laughing emoji!)

MCA Leads Data January 12, 2023 - 3:39 pm

While I appreciate the effort put into writing such an interesting piece, I find the statement that “appointing someone who is not a white guy would be a long-overdue first for the MTA” to be extremely unproductive. I appreciate that the author is trying to make a point by virtue signalling, but statements like this are a big reason why the United States is falling apart as a social and political institution.
I don’t understand how advancing a racial agenda can help the MTA improve at this point in its history. Someone should be appointed to replace Lhota, and hopefully that person has the necessary expertise and political savvy to execute the job.
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Denny February 15, 2023 - 8:28 am

We can explore our knowledge to read your blog.


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