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Lhota: MTA better than you think

By Sarah Trefethen

Joseph J. Lhota has yet to sign on the dotted line of the city’s required paperwork, but the former MTA chairman and chief executive made it clear at the Building Congress’ annual meeting this week that he’s hoping for votes.

“I would not have left the MTA, a job and a position that I love, it I was not going to run for mayor of New York,” Lhota said.

Lhota held the top job at the MTA from January of 2012 until he announced his resignation on Dec 31, and his talk Monday focused on the transportation agency’s response to the Hurricane Sandy, which brought the city’s network of busses, subways and trains to a halt for days this fall.

L-R: New York Building Congress Chairman (and AECOM Chairman/CEO) John M. Dionisio, Joseph J. Lhota, and New York Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson.

“I am particularly proud of the way the MTA communicated,” he said.

“Whenever anyone talks to me about being transparent in government I’m not sure what they mean, but what it means to me is communications, and good communications.”

From press releases and photos to Facebook and Twitter posts and a regularly updated map that showed which subway lines were back online, the agency used every means of communication at its disposal to keep in touch with the public.

“You had to actively avoid the media not to know what the MTA was doing,” Lhota said.

In 2012, according to the former chairman, the MTA spent less of its discretional funds than in 2011, and he questioned whether any other government agency could make that claim.

“The MTA is so much better than the reputation that it has,” he said, describing a perception of the agency as “fat, profligate and dishonest about money,” – which, he said, couldn’t be further from the truth.

The speed and efficiency the agency showed after the storm seems to have improved its reputation, Lhota said.

“It’s tragic that it took a disaster of this magnitude to get people to understand.”

He also encouraged the audience to throw their support behind the agency.

“You’re a very influential group,” he said, “We now know what happens when they MTA doesn’t function: Your offices are empty, traffic moves at 10 mph, everything comes to a halt.”

Lhota speaking at the NYBC event

From the union workers on the front lines pumping water from the tunnels, to the finance professionals who filed the MTA’s paperwork with FEMA before any other government agency affected by Sandy, Lhota praised the MTA’s employees for pulling together in the face of the storm.

But he also identified his own leadership as an element of their success. “Imagine what I can do in the future with a much more complex organization,” he said.

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