The PCAC hosted MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota today at its March quarterly meeting. Lhota was born in the Bronx and now lives in Brooklyn. He has used the MTA services all his life. He said, “The reason I took the job is because I know how important the MTA is to the people of the New York metropolitan region and to the country. It means jobs and economic growth.” He noted that 8.5 million people ride the MTA services every day.
In opening remarks he set forth his goals for the MTA:
1. Unify the MTA. The MTA works in silos and many operations could be combined. (Note: part of this initiative was already in place when Lhota arrived. The Business Service Center (BSC), started in 2008 and came to complete fruition in January 2011, was created to handle procurements, payroll, and payables for all of the agencies.)
2. Improve communication. There is a love-hate relationsip with stakeholders. The press and elected officials are vary hard on the MTA and don’t seem to understand the issues that the MTA faces. There is definitely a perception problem that needs addressing.
3. Financial stability. This is a great concern. The fare increase projected for 2013 (7.5%) will have to be used for pension and health care costs — not service. Lhota noted that this increase will only allow us to “tread water” and this is inequitable. He cited two issues — we have a problem in Washington, DC with the bulk of the gas tax going to highways; and the MTA must find ways to cut costs and be more efficient. He emphatically stated that there would be no more service cuts.
4. Expand and modernize the system. Lhota listed the pressures that requires service to be expanded and improved: peak periods keep getting longer as people work more flexible hours; the reverse commute has grown dramatically as White Plains and Stamford have become important job centers; tourism is a big factor in ridership growth; and finally, there are parts of New York City that were never anticipated to be where people lived — old manufacturing areas are being transformed into residential and commercial centers. One subway entrance for factory workers was enough, now four are needed for residents going to and from work. Lhota was again emphatic: we need more trains, more frequently, to handle more riders.
In the question and answer period Lhota addressed: ticket refunds (should lengthen expiration period); track capacity on the LIRR (he’s for the second and third track projects); Penn Station access for MNR (he’s for it when East Side Access opens as he believes in regionalization); concern about ADA issues (definitely for improving ADA facilities across the MTA); SmartCard (definitely moving forward on this); labor relations (no talk of strike and negotiations are cordial); Business Service Center (the new head is committed to addressing problems and working with the unions).