Category Archives: subway

East River tunnel plan: feasible or fantasy?

Think tank’s rail tunnel plan: feasible or fantasy?

It took a century to complete even a small piece of the Second Avenue subway. The ARC rail tunnel project was canceled after work began. The quest to build the Gateway tunnel has been dragging on. East Side Access, which was once expected to have connected the LIRR to Grand Central by now, is still about six years away. And the cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, after 30 years of advocacy from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, remains just a hope.

Yep. Building train tunnels around here is hard.

So what did the Regional Plan Association propose yesterday? Two new rail tunnels under the East River.

But anyone who mocks the idea as fantasy should consider the list of big RPA ideas that have been ridiculed over the last few decades only to eventually come to fruition, including the George Washington and Verrazano bridges; open space preservation (the Palisades, Governors Island Gateway National Recreation Area); the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the Second Avenue subway, East Side Access (just about) and (probably) Amtrak’s Gateway project.

Crains New York

So Why Is The Upper East Side So Popular?

A leafy haven known for its venerable museums, high-end boutiques, and close proximity to Central Park, the Upper East Side has a reputation for being one of Manhattan’s most charming—and, admittedly, staid—neighborhoods. Recently, however, the entire city seems to be heading uptown. With the opening of the first phase of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway line earlier this year, an influx of new establishments with a downtown sensibility is turning this sleepy enclave into the city’s hottest place to be.

Friday Is “Subway Day”! Start Of A Trend?

Just like some bloggers have established Thursday as “Door” Day, we are starting Friday as “Subway” day.

We’ve been over the ways modern infrastructure would help ease the crush of record ridership. But there’s no doubt, the subway system needs to expand. “Sure, it’s necessary! We have more people.”

So why does it cost 4 times per mile than in London?

Then it is not like Dubai, NY City has cables that Thomas Edison put in.

We also have high labor costs here because it’s an expensive city but also we have unions that aren’t necessarily the most efficient way to build a new subway.

And we’ve been building stations that are nice and big but more cavernous than they really need to be. On Second Avenue, the stations account for more than half the total budget.
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McDonald’s doesn’t have its own TV show. Neither does Burger King. Shake Shack doesn’t have one either. That leaves Wahlburgers as the only hamburger restaurant chain with its own TV show that you could describe as a program-length commercial for the brand. Then they own the new Wahlburgers at 85th and Second. This new location seems reasonably successful so far. Plus, it’s near the new Second Avenue subway on a portion of the avenue that has been fixed up considerably. Well played, Wahlbergs.

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Empty stores plague the streets of the Upper East Side like an epidemic. Known affectionately as the ‘Gold Coast’, this area was home to trendy store front like American Apparel, Reebok, BCBG MAXAZRIA and oldies like Filenes Basement, all of whom have since shut. in July there were 82 vacant storefronts along Madison, Lexington, Third and Second avenues between 57th and 96th streets. “That is a lot, and there’s probably 20 percent more that’s on the market,” with space that is occupied but available for lease. It was a LOOOONG Wait for the 2nd Avenue Subway!

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Council Membersare scratching their heads on funding. The hearing comes amid an increasingly testy fight between the city and state over the MTA’s recently announced $836 million rescue plan for the crisis affecting the city’s subways. MTA Chair Joe Lhota, recently appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has insisted that the city provide $456 million for the emergency upgrade plan to stabilize the system over the next year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to bear those costs, pointing to an equal amount of city-issued funds that have been diverted since 2011 by the state from their intended use in MTA operations. De Blasio on Monday proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund the MTA, but the proposal was quickly dismissed by state Senate Republicans who would have to approve it. “You guys do not know how to spend a dime, how could you spend a billion dollars?”

Even If It Gets The Subway Fixed, The MTA Is Still Broken

The state-run MTA has four new people in charge: one for “innovation and modernization,” one for day-to-day operations, one for big projects like the Second Avenue Subway and one — Chairman Joe Lhota — to keep an eye on the other three.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t charged any of them with fixing the authority’s deteriorating $15.7 billion annual budget. Instead, he simply wants the city to pay more.​ The mayor is taking the bait now, reportedly proposing a new income tax hike on the rich — a terrible idea.

Last week, the MTA tasked Pat Foye, the former Port Authority executive director, with figuring out how to upgrade signals and the like. The MTA has also put two other people — Ronnie Hakim, a longtime transit vet, and Janno Lieber, who rebuilt the World Trade Center towers under developer Larry Silverstein — into a new “Office of the Chairman.”

All seem competent — though two of them, Foye and Lieber, are better at reducing the harm done by political malfeasance rather than reducing the political malfeasance itself. Which appears to be the governor’s preferred strategy.

Foye and Lieber managed to do good things at the Port Authority and for Silverstein, respectively. Yet the PA is still a mess, trying to build way too many things at once.

Lieber, too, did a good job of managing the private-sector construction at Ground Zero. But higher-level decisions about what to build saddled New Yorkers with billions of dollars in debt, plus the $4 billion Oculus train station.

Managing the effects of bad political behavior is no substitute for fixing the behavior. Evidence of that is in the MTA’s latest budget, released just as Cuomo was making changes at the top.

The good news: The MTA has precariously balanced its budget for the next two years, plus the rest of this year. The bad news: After that, things get worse. In February, the MTA projected a $372 million annual budget gap for 2020. Now, the gap is double that.

The biggest problem is the slowing commercial property market. The MTA expects to take in nearly $800 million less in its property-related taxes. That’s not because we’re having a recession; it’s because this market was overheated.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s attempts to turn itself around are costly. It will spend $484 million in extra money over four years to increase inspections and maintenance, including $281 million at the subways and bus division.

The MTA benefits from ever-lower interest rates, which make debt cost less. But it’s not enough.

The agency will take some steps to address the deficit — but many are unwise. For example, it won’t make $59 million in contributions to its retiree health care fund, even though it already owes $18.5 billion there. And it will divert $158 million from a construction account.

One of the MTA’s assumptions demands something of the governor: $260 million in extra state money by 2020, to make up for the governor’s decision, in his first term, to reduce the MTA’s payroll tax on small businesses.

And the request is half-justified, in government world. The MTA’s payroll taxes are coming in $138 million higher than expected. But were it not for the governor’s tax cut, in the MTA’s reasoning, they’d be even higher.

A governor who regularly spends a little something on pet projects all around the state doesn’t want to give up some of those precious dollars to the MTA.

And this extra payment just delays $493 million of the deficit to 2021, when, as the authority’s budget officials mildly note, “it will need to be addressed.”

The governor’s slapdash answer: Make the bigger payment under cover of funding a huge new maintenance push at the MTA, and make the city pay, too.

Just before the bad budget news, Cuomo and the MTA asserted that the city should pay at least $236 million in extra operating costs — almost all of the extra subway and bus spending planned. But this would set a terrible precedent. City taxpayers and riders already provide the most MTA money.

Strip away all the theater, and the MTA’s biggest financial problem doesn’t come from its operational failures. Its announcements to improve service aren’t some radically improved strategy, but what it should have been doing all along. “We need short-term emergency financing now,” Lhota said on Sunday — but the fact is that the MTA’s internal incompetence created this emergency.

The MTA’s financial problem is old and predictable: Volatile tax revenues, like those related to commercial property, are indeed volatile.

If the city gives more, as Mayor Bill de Blasio seems set to propose, it’ll be saying that when the MTA can’t manage its budget in the good times, the city will bail it out.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. NY Post

Mayor de Blasio wants to tax the “1%” to fix the Subway

The mayor of New York City wants to tax the wealthiest 1 percent to fund repairs and improvements to the beleaguered subway system.

The proposal comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, continue to squabble over responsibility for paying for repairs to the nation’s largest transit system that has seen growing delays, mechanical failures, power outages and even derailments.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota recently unveiled an emergency plan to stabilize the system. The governor offered to split the cost of the plan with the city, but the mayor refused to commit money to support it.

The mayor’s tax plan is meant as a long-term solution, not a quick fix, he said. It aims to generate nearly $800 million annually with the bulk of the money going toward capital upgrades to subways and buses, and must be approved by state lawmakers. A formal announcement was expected Monday.

“Instead of searching for a quick-fix that doesn’t exist, or simply forking over more and more of our tax dollars every year, we have come up with a fair way to finance immediate and long-term transit improvement,” de Blasio said in a statement Sunday.

The tax would increase the top income tax rate from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for married couples who make more than $1 million and individuals making more than $500,000, city officials said. It would affect about 32,000 of New Yorkers filing taxes in the city, or just less than 1 percent, officials said.

“Rather than sending the bill to working families and subway and bus riders already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service, we are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra,” de Blasio said.

New Yorkers already contribute to the agency through other taxes and fees. De Blasio’s plan also includes funding to offer half-price fare cards for low-income riders.

The Rider’s Alliance said the push to help low-income riders “has never been so urgent.”

“It’s time to end a system where low-income New Yorkers have to skip meals, beg for swipes or even jump turnstiles in order to get to work or school,” executive director John Raskin said in a statement.

From the Utica OD

Do Subway Problems Go Back To Robert Moses?

New Yorkers now use a transit system in a state of emergency. The past few months have laid bare the enormity of the problems currently facing the century-old subways, from aging infrastructure to a lack of federal dollars available to help make things better.

Much has also been said about how the world’s largest public transportation system has gotten so bad—the lack of funding, of course, but also Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s penchant for prioritizing flashy projects over system maintenance, along with years of mismanagement within the MTA, an agency that’s admitted to misspent funding that doesn’t go toward maintenance.

But start looking at the decline of, and disinvestment in, New York’s rail lines—from the subway to commuter rails like the Long Island Rail Road—and you’ll find that those problems go back much, much further. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they seem to lead to one man in particular: Robert Moses.

I have said this before and even written about it:

Robert Moses – Against Mass Transit

Moses was known as the great “master builder” of 20th-century New York, whose machinations helped create the city’s highway system, as well as many of its parks, beaches, pools, and bridges. But one thing’s for certain: He had absolutely no interest in public transit. He prioritized roadways and cars at the expense of subways and buses, a move that left a detrimental impact on the transit system that continues to this day.

To understand what the so-called “Power Broker” had to do with the current system’s failings, it helps to go back to the beginning of it all. On March 24, 1900, New York Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck broke ground on the city’s first subway line, which today corresponds to the 4, 5, and 6 lines. It traveled from City Hall in Lower Manhattan to West 145th Street in Harlem, and construction took four years, six months, and 23 days—a timeline that’s inconceivable today. (The newest subway extension, the Second Avenue line, opened nearly a decade after its most recent official groundbreaking.)

Yes I know, they did tunnels differently: just cut and fill;

Though construction on subsequent rail lines would rarely move that quickly, the city had a very specific attitude toward rail development in the four decades following that groundbreaking: “To never stop building,” as Joe Raskin, author of The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System, puts it. “The idea was to allow the subway system to expand, and let the city go around it,” he says.

And so subway lines stretched quickly (by today’s standards, anyway) into undeveloped areas of Manhattan and the outer boroughs, with the assumption that housing and commercial development would follow. Despite setbacks—financial shortfalls, the clashing agendas of mayors and borough presidents, and battles with local community groups—it’s how New York City got the expansive, complex rail infrastructure that’s now seen on modern subway maps. This period of major growth lasted until the late 1940s, when annual ridership steadily increased year over year and hit its peak in 1948 with just over 2 billion passengers.

By then, Robert Moses was already exercising his power over the city. He began his foray into large-scale public works initiatives in the 1920s, and by the 1930s was able to take advantage of millions of New Deal dollars available from the federal government.

Moses’s attitude toward public transit was clear from the beginning—he didn’t care about it. To use one example, he’s heralded for building Long Island’s Jones Beach, which opened in 1929. But there’s the oft-repeated story that he intentionally built the Long Island Parkway overpasses with perilously low clearances, which ensured that buses—used by anyone who couldn’t afford a car—would never be able to go under them.

As Theodore Kheel, a retired labor mediator who battled with Moses over a 1965 proposal to double bridge and tunnel tolls and use the revenue to subsidize subway fares, told the New York Times, “[Moses] was hostile to mass transit and hostile to poor New Yorkers.”

He wasn’t unique in this, either, as the idea of “urban renewal” took hold across the country, and mostly white male planners starting demolishing and displacing low-income neighborhoods to make way for highways. According to former United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, the first 20 years of the federal interstate system displaced more than a million Americans—most of them low-income people of color in urban cores.

Another factor taking hold of the country in the mid-20th century was the embrace of the automobile. By the 1940s and ’50s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had invested in a massive cross-country highway system, and oil companies had grown more powerful. “There’s this concentrated effort to get away from mass transit,” explains Kevin Draper, a historian and director with New York Historical Tours. Subways were considered outdated technology; cars and highways were the glamorous modes of transportation of the future.

It became the American dream that you gotta have a car,” Draper says. “And Moses was all for it.”

Indeed, Moses could make strong cases for his projects—and secure funding for them—better than any mass transit advocate at the time. It didn’t hurt that the Board of Transportation, which ran the subway at the time, was plagued with deep-seated institutional problems that affected transit expansion, alongside the city’s aversion to increasing the 5-cent fare to fund that.

As the Department of Transportation dealt with its own obstacles, Moses gained enough power to charge ahead in building 13 expressways throughout the five boroughs. The impact that they had on the surrounding neighborhoods was swift, and occasionally devastating; the Cross Bronx Expressway, for example, cut off low-income and immigrant communities and devastated property values for residents in those areas.

The Second Avenue Subway was a particular thorn in Moses’s side. The city attempted to build the line twice—in 1942 and again in 1954—and both times Moses prevented funds he controlled from being allocated to the project. The money went to bridges and highways instead.

Now read an article in NY Curbed and it says mch of what I said.

Going to be a HOT Summer with Signal Problems

400,000 angry people getting off the trains each day.” Referring to the commuters from New Jersey and Long Island derailed by track problems at Penn Station and the 100,000 or more subway riders who see their commute disrupted every day by the antiquated signal system.

CHART ABOVE
Citizens Budget Commission report revealed that the three components essential to a reliable subway system—cars, power systems and signals—are all receiving far less than they need to bring the system into a state of good repair.

politicians always prefer new projects. Remember the spotlight the governor hogged at the beginning of the year, when the Second Avenue subway opened? Just wait for the fanfare when the new Tappan Zee Bridge he commissioned is completed later this year. The problems the transit system is encountering are a direct result of that attitude. Any Trump administration infrastructure plan is likely to suffer from the same flaw.

Cuomo’s attempt to put subway responsibility on city a bit of an about-face

Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried to put the responsibility for the ailing subways on the city and the mayor. It is a bit of an about-face for the governor, who was eager to take credit for the Second Avenue Subway last winter.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was riding high. After years of delays, the much-anticipated Second Avenue Subway was finally set to open on New Year’s Day.

The governor was eager to not only take credit for the success, but also to be held accountable.

“You know who runs the MTA? The governor has the majority of members. And what I said is, I’m going to step up and take responsibility,” Cuomo said at the time. “If this does not open January 1? It’s me. It’s me. I would have failed. And I accept that responsibility.”

Fast forward seven months. The subways are in a state of disrepair. Delays have worsened, and subway rider anger about the system is at an all-time high.

At an event last week, Cuomo quite literally tried to run away from his responsibility for the subways by attempting to avoid reporters’ questions. He was forced to stop and talk, and this time, he hit a very different note about who is accountable for the trains.

“By law, New York City owns the transit system. New York City is solely responsible for funding the capital plan for the New York City subway system,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has been feuding with Mayor Bill de Blasio on this and many other issues. On Sunday, the mayor rode the train and laid the responsibility for poorly functioning trains solely on his rival.

“The state of New York is responsible for making sure our subways run,” de Blasio said.

Experts back the mayor on this over the governor.

“The state exerts the most control and oversight, both through the number of board appointees that the governor has, more than any other person, including the mayor,” said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “And also from the financing. The state is the taxing entity.”

The governor’s poll numbers have started to sink, particularly over the issue of subways. Some believe that is precisely why the governor has tried to muddy the waters on this issue.

Mayor releases 5-point subway system improvement plan, Lhota fires back.

The mayor wants:
1) Immediate relief for riders, improving service and reliability.
2) The MTA should have public performance goals and standards.
3) Clear accountability for continual improvement.
4) An efficient and fair MTA budget and a reallocation of resources towards core needs.

5) A meaningful state commitment to the needs of subway riders.

“The political posturing and photo opps are getting silly,” said Joe Lhota, MTA Chairman.

To a stupid outsider like me, it sounds like kickoff of campaign for Governor.

The villains (and heroes) behind the subway mess

NY Post

You’re likely aware subway trains are breaking down partly because parts of the signal system date back to the 1930s. The succession of bad decisions that got you stuck in that tunnel goes back nearly as long — to the 1950s, at least. The list includes politicians and other leaders long dead or, at least, long off the public stage.

In 1952, Robert Wagner Jr., then borough president, protested any attempt to raise the transit fare from 10 cents, despite acknowledging that “the transit operating deficit” — about $500 million in today’s dollars — “is just about as large as the additional money we need this year for pensions for [city] employees.”

Wagner became mayor in 1954. Even as budget gaps grew, Wagner gave most city employees the right to collectively bargain (transit workers were already unionized, as the subways had started out in the private sector). He also massively increased social spending.

Mayor John Lindsay, Wagner’s successor, continued this strategy. That left less money for subways, which the state gradually took over from the city. The MTA spent much of the 1980s and 1990s making repairs and replacements that should’ve been done two decades previously.

In the early 2000s, Gov. George Pataki started piling on debt. He wanted projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access. The MTA also had to keep repairing and replacing tracks, train cars and the like. Pataki didn’t want to pay for it. In 1999, the MTA owed $12 billion. By 2006, it owed $23.9 billion. Pataki also restructured the MTA’s debt so that the bills would come due later — today.

The MTA’s biggest problem isn’t money. It’s that it can’t do construction fast enough. But debt costs now suck up $2.6 billion in annual spending. At some point soon, the crisis won’t just be on the tracks, but in the CFO’s office.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the MTA said the same thing about its workers as Mayor Michael Bloomberg said about city workers: They couldn’t get raises unless they paid for them through productivity increases or benefits givebacks.

A year later, under Gov. David Paterson’s tenure, a supposedly neutral team of arbitrators gave the workers two years’ worth of 4 percent annual raises and health care goodies, costing the MTA $300 million a year. (The MTA now has $3.2 billion in annual benefits costs.)

In spring 2009, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith cobbled together a middle-of-the-night bailout package that awarded the MTA what today amounts to $2 billion in additional annual revenue. Again, lawmakers missed an opportunity to reform labor and construction costs.

Contrary to popular belief, Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t run the MTA. An independent board does. Yes, Cuomo names six of those board members, more than any other politician. Yet they have a legal duty to act independently. Truly independent directors would’ve questioned MTA managers’ labor-cost strategy and operational failures long ago.

They also wouldn’t sign off on major projects such as East Side Access, which will bring Long Island Rail Road trains to a station underneath Grand Central, without questioning whether it’s better to focus on something else first, like subway signals.

The board at least should’ve held off on approving East Side Access until Long Island agreed to pay a greater share, perhaps through higher property tax revenues that’ll come from better transit.

New chairman Joe Lhota, who ran the MTA five years ago, can fix this by encouraging board members to collectively assert a real strategy, rather just signing off on whatever project Cuomo feels like adding, like a $2 billion third track on the LIRR — a fine idea, but one that should wait until New York has made more progress on its aged signal system. Lhota doesn’t need this job; he has a job running a hospital. He should use that independence to push back against the governor when necessary.

MTA chairpeople are supposed to serve six years, to insulate them from day-to-day politics. But Tom Prendergast, who left early this year, was the longest recent-serving chairman and executive director — and he only served four years. Now the MTA only has an interim executive director, Ronnie Hakim, and may soon see another newcomer. (Lhota isn’t taking the day-to-day reins, only chairing the board.)

Hakim and her team should’ve considered long ago what the MTA is now thinking about: closing entire subway lines to speed up signal work. To be fair, the MTA is already planning to close the L train in two years, and the hardest work involves interlockings that control several subway lines; we can’t shut them all down.

Still, whatever the MTA is doing isn’t working. The authority has been reactive, not proactive, in experimenting with new ways to deal with sick passengers and frozen signals and record crowds.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as he likes to remind us, isn’t in charge of the subways. Still, he hasn’t taken advantage of New York’s record revenue boom — the city will take in $6.6 billion more in local taxes than it did when the mayor took office — to benefit transit.

The state plans to invest nearly $3 billion in signals over the next five years. Why not work with the MTA to see if it can get this work done more quickly? The city could do its part by better managing the streets: carving out more space for bus lanes, bike lanes, real rideshare (with four or more people in a car) and other ways for New Yorkers to get around during shutdowns.

If the MTA can do signal work more efficiently, the mayor could offer some of these record revenues to do more. The city is putting up less than 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget over five years; it can do more if Cuomo does more. Bloomberg is guilty of the same sin; while he pushed congestion pricing, he never thought strategically about the MTA and how the city could use money as leverage to fix it.

The subway has its heroes, too. Richard Ravitch, who chaired the MTA in the early ’80s, convinced the business community to support the taxes it would need to make up for the neglect of the previous two decades.

Sam Schwartz, the city’s former transportation commissioner, has warned about maintenance cutbacks for years — and has proposed a congestion-pricing plan to fund at least some of this work.

Long before Twitter complaints from stuck passengers, Gene Russianoff, who founded the Straphangers Campaign in 1979, made sure newspapers were armed with data on whether the trains were working well.

And finally, there’s today’s generation of transit reporters and bloggers. Nearly all of them are too young to remember the last transit crisis. Their interest in the trains, and their willingness to think about everything from pension costs to fare structures, can help ensure that this crisis never gets as bad as that one.

Where does that leave Cuomo? It’s too early to tell if he’ll be known as a hero or a villain. He’s increased the MTA’s debt to more than $37 billion, without saying how he’ll pay for it. But his excitement over projects like the Second Avenue Subway isn’t silly. We do need more subway stations.

How he handles the current crisis of delays and crowding without forcing a future generation to pick up the bill will help determine his legacy.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

Step One Toward Fixing the Subway: Be Honest

Streetsblog NYC

Governor Cuomo won’t get far if the MTA isn’t candid about the subway’s problems and what it will take to fix them.

The New York City subway is not in good shape. High-profile breakdowns and a tangible increase in severe delays have brought widespread attention to years of decline in service levels. Train breakdowns are on the rise, and service is slowing down. After a long period of growth, subway ridership recently stalled and appears to be declining in 2017 despite the opening of the Second Avenue Subway.

The MTA has for the most part been running on autopilot. Senior management tries to avoid taking responsibility, and planners are afraid of doing or saying anything that would invite scrutiny from the media or their superiors.

This paralysis is accompanied and enabled by a lack of candor about what is going on. Some of the subway slowdowns involve slow orders on the tracks for maintenance, while others involve poor train maintenance. The MTA blames most delays on overcrowding, a claim that was uncritically parroted in the New York Times. But while crowding may be a problem, it has become a fallback excuse, cited whenever the MTA cannot identify another reason for a delay.

There are steps the agency could take to improve service relatively soon, but to make them happen, Governor Andrew Cuomo and his MTA CEO, Joe Lhota, will have to step in and put their authority at the MTA to good use. So far, however, they have done no such thing.

Cuomo wants to be perceived as taking action, so he recently declared a state of emergency, which according to one inside source at the agency has gotten MTA managers scrambling, but without any real purpose. That was preceded by his announcement of “genius” grants, judged by tech people who are mostly not in the transit field.

Lhota, for his part, was just appointed to the CEO position and has to catch up with the changes in New York’s transit situation since he left his first stint as MTA chief in 2013 to run for mayor. He’ll be getting up to speed while retaining his full-time job as an executive at NYU Langone.

What would it look like if Cuomo stopped making empty gestures and started exercising real leadership at the MTA? Here are three steps that, in the medium run, could make a difference for subway service.

First, Cuomo and Lhota should bring in outside experts for real, substantive transfers of knowledge, not the superficial stagecraft of last week’s event with the CEO of RATP, which runs the Paris Metro. Instead of one-time meetings and photo-ops, Cuomo and Lhota should hire people with experience running trains in large, complex subway systems, such as Tokyo or London, and give them space to study New York City Transit’s operations and make specific recommendations. This is likely to involve multiple people working together for a period of months before they can offer concrete suggestions for more efficient operations.

Second, they should declare speed a priority. The MTA has been too hasty to sacrifice service quality for dubious safety rationales. After two fatal crashes in the 1990s, the MTA installed signal timers to reduce train speed. But one crash had nothing to do with speed, and the other involved a train exceeding the speed limit. The MTA also has large and growing safety margins near work zones — stretches of track with slower speed limits. Some safety margins are necessary, but the MTA has gone too far, to the detriment of good service.

Third, instead of his flashy, tech-focused “genius” grants, Cuomo should have the MTA reevaluate routing and scheduling. The solution to a problem may involve a software fix, but it may just as well involve a change in where and when trains run. One option is pruning branches. New York is unique in how complex its subway branching is, and it should look into disentangling lines, even at the cost of removing some one-seat rides. Alternatively, the MTA could change the frequency guidelines to ensure trains that share tracks have the same frequency, even if one route ends up more crowded than the others, to maintain even headways. Having one line that comes every five minutes and another that comes every six minutes share tracks is a recipe for baking “ladies and gentlemen, we are being delayed because of train traffic ahead of us” into the timetable.

The thread tying these three solutions is honesty — honesty about the state of the system, about tradeoffs, and about the scale of effort required.

There is no silver bullet. But neither is the solution some grand undertaking requiring billions of dollars and a monument named after Cuomo. Everything on the above list should take months, not years.

Real tradeoffs will be necessary. It’s possible, for instance, that improving maintenance will require more extensive nighttime shutdowns than under today’s Fastrack initiative, which itself was controversial when it began in 2013. Lhota has indicated openness to this idea.

The changes may also lead to some pushback from the unions. Before he can make millions of New Yorkers less angry about the subway, Cuomo will probably have to make some people angrier. He’ll have to finally invest political capital in improving transit in New York.

Cuomo and Lhota have a choice: They can promise sexy quick fixes and cross their fingers that things will somehow work out (they won’t), or they can be honest with transit riders and get started on useful medium- and long-term solutions.