Hope for the Subways

Two years ago, as New York commuters raged about the jam-packed, trash-strewn, untrustworthy subway trains, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped up and declared a state of emergency for the system.

Now things are at last edging away from that transit abyss.

In April, 79.8 percent of trains running during the week pulled into their appointed stations within five minutes of scheduled arrival, the highest rate since 2013 and nearly 22 points better than at the depth of the crisis, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Weekday subway delays were down nearly 35 percent compared to last year.

M.T.A. officials say the improvement is due to a lot of unglamorous work New Yorkers may not even be aware of.

Some changes began under the Subway Action Plan, an $800 million project the agency’s former chairman, Joseph Lhota, initiated in 2017 to stabilize the aging system. That work includes cleaning tracks and drains, strengthening power systems, overhauling train equipment and installing sturdier rails that are less prone to breaking.

Also influential has been the “Save Safe Seconds” campaign to improve basic operations, which instituted measures that raised speed limits and increased training for operators. This is part of “Fast Forward,” the five-year subway plan Andy Byford began a few months after he became New York City Transit president in January 2018. For his part, Mr. Cuomo succeeded this year in persuading the Legislature to adopt a congestion pricing plan to charge drivers a fee to enter Manhattan’s busiest areas, using the estimated $1 billion in revenue to fund subway improvements.

Even M.T.A. officials acknowledged that the subways have a long way to go.

So it’s frustrating to hear that just as riders are experiencing some relief, and have hope for more, things haven’t been going smoothly between the governor and Mr. Byford, a transit expert from England, and his boss, Patrick Foye, the M.T.A. chairman and chief executive whom Mr. Cuomo appointed a little over two months ago.

The governor denied he had problems with either man, which is good. The partnership between these three public servants is indispensable to successfully implementing billions of dollars in improvements that New Yorkers need.

Mr. Cuomo is well-suited to take on difficult negotiations with labor unions to control costs and change work rules to streamline indefensibly expensive projects. He can best ensure that the revenues from congestion pricing are effectively directed to the subways, which compared to other forms of New York transit by far need the most help.

New York’s subways are lucky to have as capable an operations manager as Mr. Byford. Mr. Cuomo needs someone like him to literally make the trains run on time.

Mr. Cuomo has indicated that he might want his appointees to the M.T.A. board to be tied more closely to him than even Mr. Foye, whom he had previously appointed as executive director of the Port Authority. The governor, however, is best served by people not only loyal to his vision, but with independent minds.

With the subways showing signs of new vitality, the governor has picked the right people and lined up the financing needed to make the system once again a wonder of New York, one that binds the city together and supports its growth. They need to get on with the job.

The transit crisis
More on New York’s push to save the subways
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