Joseph J. Lhota, the new leader of the MTA told Mid-Hudson business people on Wednesday that the transportation agency is negotiating the possibility to bring Metro-North's Hudson and New Haven branch trains to Penn Station, part of a reciprocal agreement which would allow LIRR service to Grand Central. That’s where Metro-North’s service terminates.
A lot of “complicated” details must be worked out with the Long Island Railroad, which uses Penn Station, Lhota said.
Pennsylvania Station, the largest single commuter station in the United States, is extremely crowded, Lhota acknowledged. The 21-track midtown terminal on Manhattan's West Side is already shared by Amtrak, LIRR, and NJ Transit.
“I do believe, as we move closer to East Side access, allowing folks on the LIRR to terminate in Grand Central, we must also allow people who ride Metro-North to terminate within the West Side at Penn Station,” Lhota said.
Lhota also told the business people that he knows how unpopular the payroll mobility tax is; however, fares only contribute 60 percent of Metro-North's expenses, yet the mandated regional subsidy is twice as high elsewhere in the country.
He said there's no commuter railroad in the country that can work unsubsidized. “Whatever happens, we need to find some sort of subsidy that is more transparent, more direct, more equitable than the payroll mobility tax,” he said.
Metro-North President Howard Permut noted that the payroll mobility tax is a legislative issue. “It's not an MTA decision,” he said.
“I know how important the MTA is to the entire region,” Lhota added. “It's critical that we have a good mass transit system, because we're the life blood.”
“We're always trying to see equity when it comes to taxation and the MTA, and balance that when it comes to MTA’s investment in the region,” said Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, who took Lhota on a tour of Poughkeepsie later in the day.
After his speech, Lhota toured Poughkeepsie's Metro-North train station, and surveyed the waterfront from atop the Walkway Over the Hudson, discussing next year's anticipated Walkway elevator project.