With summer here and New Yorkers’ collective anger at public transportation increasing, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to fix Penn Station.
Monday, Cuomo spoke at the opening of the West End Concourse of Penn Station near the Farley Post Office. The concourse is the first phase of the Penn Station-Farley Complex, which will eventually include waiting areas for the LIRR and Amtrak, new ticketing areas and retail outlets.
“If you’re a Long Island Railroad customer you never have to go into Penn again,” said Cuomo at the ceremony. “You can this entrance, and then in two and a half years we’ll have the train hall, which will be serving all of the Long Island Railroad.”
On July 10, Amtrak will shut down the three tracks the MTA-run LIRR uses for available service by 20 percent for emergency repairs. Cuomo said Monday that the LIRR should reduce fares in the meantime.
“We don’t have enough volume on the trains for everyone to take a direct train, so some people need to take diverted trains,” said Cuomo. “I think the Long Island Railroad should consider reducing the fares on those diverted trains. That’s only fair to the people who are taking those trains, and you want to make sure people do take the diverted trains. As I said, we don’t have the capacity on the direct trains. So I would ask them to consider running reduced fares for those people who take the diverted trains.”
The MTA agreed and announced this week that Long Island Rail Road ticket holders who take trains to Atlantic Terminal, Jamaica and Hunters Point Avenue would also be able to transfer to the subway for free during morning rush hours. For Atlantic Terminal riders, that means free access to the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q and R trains; for Jamaica riders, the E, J and Z trains; and for Hunters Point straphangers, the 7 train.
“Governor Cuomo has asked us to provide greater value to our customers while Amtrak conducts repairs this summer,” said MTA Interim Director Ronnie Hakim in a statement. “In response, we’re adding to the mitigation measures we’ve already announced by providing a discount that will give customers who travel to key transportation hubs an average discount of 25 percent. We believe that this move will mitigate the inconvenience that our customers may experience, and have the added benefit of drawing customers away from Penn Station while Amtrak performs repair work.”
But there’s the time between the announcement of the fix and the actual fix. This week, elected officials and business and community leaders gathered at City Hall to announce what they thought the city could do in the meantime. Advocates called for an expansion of the Citi Bike program that covers all five boroughs. Citi Bike has already made an offer to the city to push the program beyond Manhattan and Brooklyn, and elected officials such as New York City Council member and Chair of the Transportation Committee Ydanis Rodriguez want the city to accept the deal.
“This is too good a deal to pass up,” stated Rodriguez. “Improving our city’s bus and subway networks will take time and money. Citi Bike is a quick, easy way to ensure that every New York resident can get around the city easily and affordably. The Citi Bike system is safe, it is affordable, it encourages healthy living, it opens up commercial and residential corridors, and at no additional cost to taxpayers, it should be allowed to expand to all five boroughs immediately.”
While New Yorkers wait for public transportation to improve, Cuomo—who virtually controls the MTA—wants to literally control it. Tuesday, the governor issued a press release stating that his administration is advancing legislation to give the state total control of the MTA board so he can address the current crisis his way.
“The MTA Board structure assumed regional participation in the metropolitan area’s transportation systems but left no one in charge,” said Cuomo in a statement. “While New York State has six of the 14 voting seats, that is not control. There is no transformative plan that will require major change and possibly more investment that will be agreed upon by the various separate political bodies with competing needs.”
Cuomo continued, “Complex projects don’t get effectively managed by unanimous agreement of large political bureaucracies. We don’t have 10 years to do this. The state will dedicate itself to the task and assume responsibility, but the state needs the authority.”
Cuomo’s legislation would add two more state seats to the MTA Board appointed by the governor and an additional vote for the chairman. That would give the state eight appointees and nine votes on the board.
Cuomo currently controls the MTA’s budget and daily operations.