From all accounts, it was like a true life version of a Stephen King story. Stuck with no lights and no air conditioning in a hot subway tunnel, riders on an F train were forced to wait it out for an hour, with no notifications of what was going on for half that. Some riders took their shirts and pants off when their clothes became sweaty messes. One woman disrobed under the cover of a jacket for the same reason. Some people felt faint. Anxiety and panic began to settle in for many. When their F train finally pulled into a station after an hour in darkness and sweltering temperatures, straphangers on the platform were greeted by the disturbing sight of passengers desperately trying to pull the doors apart to escape the oven their train had become.
I, like many who heard of this story through various means, was not on this train. However, this didn’t stop me from reading this story in disbelief and outrage that subway commuters, like myself, could be subjected to this.
The conditions described here a not humane. Far from it. They are inhumane conditions that should be grounds for official investigation and termination for anyone who had a direct part in, among other things, denying panicked subway commuters extremely vital information about their situation FOR 30 MINUTES.
However, for as much as it would delight me to see the person responsible for that delay fired, the anger-inducing truth is that this still wouldn’t even come close to the culprit whose actions are a directly responsible for this, and that culprit is sitting at the governor’s desk in Albany.
It’s no secret among transit nerds, transit activists, and policy wonks like me that the disfunction, delays, and service disruptions that subway riders have been forced to deal with for the past seven years rest solely on Andrew Cuomo. Because the MTA is a state agency (as much as he wants to deny it), Cuomo is solely responsible for the well-being of the agency and its services, including the well-being of the millions that use the subway system every day.
To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t be as angry as I am writing this if this was a one-off incident. It still would have been troubling, but if the system had been well-maintained and special attention given to system repairs, I would have written this off as an unfortunate accident on the part of the MTA and Cuomo with no precedent. However, to say that this wasn’t the case would be an understatement, for this is the culmination of Cuomo deciding to make transit and subway riders an afterthought.
This man has a history of dismissing the complaints of subway and transit riders out of hand as issues he shouldn’t have to worry about. Remember when bus riders complained that their bus routes, many of which are feeder routes into subway stations, were slow and unreliable? Cuomo dismissed them by saying it wasn’t an issue if bus riders in Manhattan were taking subways instead. Remember when the Riders Alliance, at the height of last month’s subway service meltdowns, staged a protest at Cuomo’s Manhattan office protesting his lack of action? A Cuomo spokesperson managed to issue a statement that was, amazingly, simultaneously dismissing and, by describing their protest as “performance art,” insulting.
His actions while in office have played a direct part in the deteriorating conditions that directly contributed to yesterday’s incident. He has made it a habit, for instance, to raid the MTA and, by extension, the subway’s operating budget to fill state budget shortfalls, turning the MTA into a budget reserve and directly imperiling subway repair efforts if he feels he needs to plug a hole in his budget.
Additionally, for someone who wants to give off the image of being a warrior for the every-man, he has seemingly gone out of his way to exasperate subway delays, malfunctions, and the patience and frustration of subway riders he claims to represent, from cutting $65 Million from the MTA’s operating budget when delays were mounting at the beginning of the year, to playing a game of political chicken with Bill de Blasio over funding for the MTA’s Capital Plan, delaying vital maintenance that would have almost certainly mitigated any issue that caused a packed train to suddenly lose power and air conditioning out of nowhere. This all gives off the image of a man who would rather use the MTA as a political tool than seriously address its problems.
As of the time of writing, Cuomo’s office has not released a statement regarding yesterday’s incident, but if it does, it better not be the canned statement about the capital plan that he always gives out whenever something related to the subways goes wrong. This time, any statement his office gives has to be specific and has to contain a specific promise to investigate and mitigate, system wide, any issue that played a part in yesterday’s commute from hell. Anything other than this will be a statement that says that Andrew Cuomo, despite a trainful of commuters becoming stuck with no lights or air conditioning for an hour under his watch, will not hear your complaints, will not take action, and will not take action if something worse than even this happens. If this isn’t a rallying cry in the city to vote him out of office, I don’t know what is.