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OPINION: Post Mortem: Joe Lhota

Defeated Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota. AP Photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The mayoral election is over, and Democrat Bill de Blasio won an overwhelming victory over Republican Joe Lhota. In his concession speech, Lhota said he wouldn’t look back.

Although the voters rejected his political agenda, in one arena, Lhota has an excellent record – one that he rarely mentioned during the campaign. That’s his year-long tenure as head of the MTA. By the way, he was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

For one thing, Lhota is responsible for the Fastrack program, in which subway lines are shut down during the late-night and early-morning hours on several successive days for maintenance and repairs. The lines chosen are almost always a few blocks from other subway lines that are unaffected.

While Fastrack may inconvenience some people, it cuts down substantially on weekend shutdowns, which inconvenience a whole lot more people. I remember one weekend where about 10 lines had service interruptions because of needed repair work. Thanks to Fastrack, things are now a lot better.

In advance of Hurricane Sandy, Lhota shut down the entire MTA system early, including city subway trains, MetroNorth trains and Long Island Rail Road trains. He moved many of the trains that were being stored in the yards to higher ground. Many trains that were being stored in the Coney Island yard, for example, were almost certainly moved to other subway yards that were in less-vulnerable locations. In addition to saving rolling stock, his move also saved New Yorkers from being the nightmare of being stuck in flooded tunnels.

Yes, many of the subway tunnels were flooded. Notable among these were the R train’s Montague Street tunnel, part of the G train’s route in northern Brooklyn, and the area around the South Ferry station in lower Manhattan. But that probably couldn’t have been helped – the subways weren’t built with such a disaster in mind.

Also important for Brooklyn residents, Lhota restored several of the bus routes that had been eliminated or cut back in 2010. One of these was the B39 bus over the Williamsburg Bridge. He also made permanent what had been a temporary extension of the G train to Church Avenue.

Not only that, the MTA under his tenure introduced two new Brooklyn buses – the B32, connecting Williamsburg to Long Island City, and the B67, which connects DUMBO to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. True, the often-lamented B37 bus on Fourth Avenue is still not back in service, but that’s another story.

Of course, Joe Lhota’s record was not completely positive. Like other MTA chairs, he raised fares on subways and buses and tolls on bridges. In an interview at the time, Lhota stressed the necessity of offering discounts on seven-trip and 30-trip MetroCards but offered no such discounts to those people, mainly working-class, who buy single-trip tickets. To be fair, however, the hike itself was part of a policy of biennial fare raises that was approved in 2009, long before Lhota stepped into office.

I am not a fan of Joe Lhota’s politics. But as a subway fan, I have to give him credit for the positive developments he oversaw during his one-year period as chairman of the MTA.

November 12, 2013 - 8:30am


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