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November 18, 2012 8:37 pm
The head of the body that runs the New York area’s main transport networks has vowed that users of its trains, buses, bridges and tunnels will bear no cost from superstorm Sandy, as the state seeks federal disaster funding.
Joseph Lhota, chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also told the Financial Times the body’s widely admired response to the storm would help it in future negotiations with funders over its often-precarious finances.
The MTA is an agency of New York state, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo, is expected to submit a request for $30bn in federal disaster aid. About $3.5bn of that is expected to be to repair damage to MTA facilities, including the New York city subway, Long Island, Metro North and Staten Island railways and several bridges and tunnels.
The storm came as the MTA was facing controversy over plans to increase fares and tolls for most services by about 11 per cent from March 1 as it struggles to meet increasing costs, including rising debt service.
Mr Lhota promised, however, that none of the extra revenues raised from the increase would go to meeting costs from the storm, which inflicted serious damage on nearly all the authority’s networks, including flooding seven of the subway’s 10 East River tunnels.
“Hurricane Sandy will have no effect on our fares and tolls increases,” Mr Lhota said. “Different federal programmes that are in place will come along and reimburse us. I feel very, very comfortable that there will be no or negligible impact.”
Mr Lhota has repeatedly stressed since the storm in October that the MTA’s services act as the greater New York area’s “circulatory system”. It shut all its networks in the run-up to the storm, moving rolling stock to locations safe from flooding and positioning pumping trains to cope with subway flooding. While a handful of severely damaged parts remained closed in mid-November, most of the subway and other networks were running again within a week of the storm.
Its handling of the storm had elevated the public perception of the agency to its highest level yet, including in the state capital, Mr Lhota said.
“There’s a new respect. I’m sure that’s going to be very, very helpful as we work with our legislators in Albany and, of course, other funding sources.”
However, Mr Lhota declined to comment before he had discussed the issue with Mr Cuomo how his organisation would rebuild networks to make them more robust in the face of increasingly frequent severe weather.
The governor said last week at the reopening of the flood-damaged Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel that the city would rebuild to higher standards.
“We’re going to learn from it and be the better for it,” he said of the storm.
Richard Barone, director of transportation programmes for the New York-based Regional Plan Association, said that, compared with other bodies in the area, the MTA had done “an excellent job”.
But it would be a “very long slog” for the organisation to secure more funding amid an uncertain outlook both for public sector funders and sources such as property sales taxes, some of which are earmarked for the MTA.
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