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MTA Chair and CEO Lieber Appears on The Brian Lehrer Show

Updated August 17, 2022 1:15 p.m.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber made a live appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss transportation issues including criminal justice, congestion pricing and the MTA’s looming fiscal cliff.   

A transcript of the interview appears below

Brian Lehrer: It’s The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.  Good morning, everyone.  Before we bring in our guest today, the head of the MTA Janno Lieber, let me just pay tribute to some of the people who work for him and tell you a story from my neighborhood.   According to news reports this morning, there was a road rage incident on 10th Avenue up here in Inwood last night, around dinner time, on a block where I just happened to be at, just a little earlier in the day.  Reportedly a guy threw some kind of object through the window of an MTA bus. The good old Bx20 which comes from the Bronx into Manhattan and goes from Manhattan back into the Bronx and injured the bus driver’s eye. 

The attacker remains at large at last report. So, looking back over some recent headlines; after that, I saw one from July on CBS: “Search for three suspects and assault onboard New York City bus in Queens.” The month before that on June 8, “MTA bus driver attacked by three men,” and that one the driver of a   train shuttle bus in Brooklyn, and you know, those shuttles that run when there's trackwork or sometimes overnight – was stabbed. “2 train shuttle bus driver in Brooklyn was stabbed.”  The month before that, May 12, on Channel 5, “MTA bus driver attacked.”  

Bus drivers have no cops riding along like subway drivers sometimes do, no doors they lock. So, a nod to the work of the bus drivers of the city and bus drivers everywhere really, as they carry us where we need to go.  

And without a prelude, we welcome the Chair and CEO of the MTA Janno Lieber, with a lot to talk about, especially the controversial new congestion pricing options for driving into the Manhattan Central Business District, detailed in an environmental review of the idea. The two breakout headlines that you've probably heard from the report are: it could cost drivers up to $23 to get into Manhattan below 60th street and hundreds more trucks a day might use the Cross Bronx Expressway driving through neighborhoods that already have the city's highest asthma rates. We'll get into both of those things.  

Plus, mass transit safety from crime, mass transit safety from COVID, budget challenges with ridership still way down from pre-pandemic times, and maybe more.  

Chairman Lieber, we always appreciate when you come on. Welcome back to WNYC.  

Janno Lieber: Good to be with you, Brian.  

Lehrer: Want to give any kind of shout out of your own to the bus drivers and their service to start?  

Lieber: So, Brian, I so appreciate your acknowledgement of our workforce. We are seeing more of these attacks against MTA workers. And it's really disheartening. It's part of a broader trend where you know, authority figures and people who are trying to enforce rules of all kinds are coming under attack. We actually did something about it in the last legislative session, towards the end.  

We got the legislature, together with our unions, to make sure that there were penalties for attacking all kinds of MTA workers. Previously, there was only a couple of titles that would be protected. Now all MTA workers are being protected because we're seeing more of this. I mean, the one that is especially alarming, that's gotten a lot of public attention, is this attack on one of our cleaners in the last few days. A guy who was trying to break up a fight and got really, really injured, serious injuries, from a multiple time offender. A guy, who I think had 40 prior arrests. And that guy is not in the hospital. So, we're having a serious problem with people attacking our workers, and we're just not going to put up with it. That is an attack on all New Yorkers because these are the folks who are making this essential service function. We need them, and on Friday, I'm going to actually go to court in the Bronx, to stick up and stand up for that MTA worker who was attacked. And you know, I want to make sure the court and the DA and everybody understands how seriously we at MTA headquarters take this. 

Lehrer: And does that mean you as Chair of the MTA, CEO of the MTA, have a position on some of the criminal justice reform debates that are going on in the state right now? Like you mentioned, the alleged attacker on the subway cleaner, having so many prior arrests, that the justice system, whether it's bail reform or other aspects, let recidivists out too much?  

Lieber: You know, when I'm asked that, and I have been, I always say I am not a criminal justice expert, and I am not going to weigh in on the complex issues that Albany has wrestled with. What I have to do is to speak for the riders and for people who depend on the mass transit system. They are saying that they feel that, you know, that there's a little out-of-control situation, and that we need the capacity to deal with it, whether people are having mental health issues, or they have a pattern of violence or criminality. You have to find some way to keep our workers safe and our riders safe and keep them out of the system. I am not weighing in on specifics of criminal justice law. 

Lehrer: And listeners, we can take some phone calls for Janno Lieber. Bus drivers you are welcome to call in. Subway workers, cleaners, riders of all kinds. And with congestion pricing front and center, we will take most of the calls on that. So, the fact that we started with crime against MTA workers, I don't want that to dominate the phone callers, the phone calls that come in. So don't be insulted if you get bumped. We're going to want a balance of issues.  Definitely, congestion pricing is in the headlines. Yes, crime. Yes, COVID. So again, we always look for a balance of topics from our callers when we have a segment like this.  

212-433-WNYC.  212-433-9692 or tweet @BrianLehrer. And remember the context, the MTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, runs the New York City buses and subways, plus Metro-North, plus the Long Island Rail Road, plus the Bridges and Tunnels within the city limits. 212-433-WNYC or tweet @BrianLehrer. All right, Chairman Lieber, congestion pricing. Would you take a step back and remind people of the basics here: what is congestion pricing and what's it supposed to accomplish? 

Lieber: Okay, so, congestion pricing, which has been adopted in a couple of European cities very successfully, is designed to deal with something that is really a danger to our economy and our region, which is this incredible congestion we have in the Central Business District. We can't get buses, emergency vehicles, ambulances, paratransit, Access-a-Ride vehicles around, not to mention our e-commerce vehicles that our economy is so dependent on. That's a danger to our economy, and it is also contributing to traffic violence. So, trying to discourage single occupancy drivers from bringing automobiles and trucks into the Central Business District is the goal. It's an air quality issue. It's a health issue. It is a congestion and economy issue. And it's also about trying to cut down on traffic violence because, as I said, when London did congestion pricing and had these tolls around its Central Business District, injuries to pedestrians from automobiles went down by half. So, for all those reasons, congestion pricing is a good idea. It was enacted by the legislature in 2019. We're just in the process of trying to move it forward through this complicated federal environmental review process and then to select a tolling scheme that will balance the need for some exemptions.  And a lot of people are arguing for exemptions with the desire to keep the toll as low as possible. So that's why, there is right now in the study so far, a range between $9 and $23 dollars in the projected toll, because it will depend on how many exemptions are given out for special circumstances. Is that responsive, Brian? 

Lehrer: Yeah, sure.  But let me ask you kind of an arc of history question. Have the goals changed over time? Like how much did the focus change from disincentivizing congestion itself? You know, such low traffic in the city from so many cars, congestion, more to conventional air pollution, and battling that and eventually to climate, and also as a way to raise money for MTA projects? 

Lieber: I think all those issues were always on the mind of the decision makers in Albany.  Congestion has obviously gotten somewhat worse. We have more than 100% of the traffic we did from before COVID right now. And we've also got all of those additional e-commerce vehicles. The whole city has become more sensitive to traffic violence; to the injuries to pedestrians that are coming as a result of this massive congestion. So you know, we're hearing from a lot of politicians about this issue. Who we're not hearing from is the families with kids with asthma, that are having the air quality impacts, absorbing the air quality impacts. We're not hearing from elderly people who can't cross the street because of congestion. We're not hearing from the people who will benefit from the fact that all this congestion pricing revenue is going to be used to improve the mass transit system. Remember 90% of the people who come to the Central Business District don’t drive. They take mass transit or walk to work or get there through some non-driving option. So, it's meant to benefit everybody in terms of reducing congestion, improving air quality and also rebuilding the transit system. 

Lehrer: You mentioned politicians weighing in. Here's just 10 seconds of one of them. Congressman from the Bronx, Ritchie Torres.  

Audio Clip Played of Congressman Ritchie Torres: “The cruel irony of congestion pricing is that it would lead to more congestion in the Bronx. And that was the opposite of what we were promised.” 

Lehrer: And he's not like some of the Staten Island and suburban members totally against congestion pricing. But that cruel irony that he points out, Cross Bronx Expressway, if the central idea of congestion pricing is supposed to be that it's good for the environment, here would be the part of the city that's probably the biggest victim of environmental justice to begin with, that would be victimized, even more, by hundreds of more trucks a day. Why is something that does that even under consideration? 

Lieber: Well, what the point is that we are actually studying what the impacts are, that's what this study is meant to be. And we identified potential for increased traffic on the Cross Bronx as a potential impact, and we have also said that it is an impact that ought to be, it needs to be mitigated. Now Congressman Torres is a friend of all of the pro-transit policies that we've been advocating for and Governor Hochul has been advocating for, so he is not like some of the congressmen in New Jersey who have been just letting us know that they're outraged even though their neighborhood doesn't have two mile an hour bus traffic, that they're not experiencing the congestion and the air quality, but they’re grabbing TV cameras to talk about that. He's not one of those. He's raising a legitimate issue, which is even though congestion will have some localized impacts, we do need to mitigate them. On this point, though, we've actually come up with some options that really minimize the impact to the Bronx and the Cross Bronx. We're scheduled to brief Congressman Torres and his staff in the next couple of days, and we hope to make sure that we're on the same page because we share his goal of minimizing and mitigating any impact to a neighborhood like the South Bronx, which has suffered environmental justice impacts unfairly historically. 

Lehrer: Were you surprised by that finding on some of those scenarios? I mean, how can so many trucks avoid Manhattan anyway, by driving in the Bronx? Are trucks today going into Manhattan below 60 Street for any reason other than to make pickups or deliveries there? It wouldn't be my chosen way to go from Long Island to Upstate, you know what I mean, but some people do, I guess. 

Lieber: Yeah, listen, I can't tell you about the psychology of individual truck drivers. But I can tell you it's not shocking that when you add a toll to the Central Business District, people are going to try to find ways to get around it. But that said, the purpose of the study was to measure what those impacts would be. We're being very transparent with everybody about what those findings are, but we're not just sitting and waiting for those impacts to take place. We have already prioritized zero emissions buses, electric buses, to go to the Bronx because we know it is historically an environmental justice impact area where air quality has been a problem for some time. We've also, and Congressman Torres has been a huge supporter of our effort to put four new Metro-North stations in the East Bronx, an area that doesn't have rail service right now, to turn that Amtrak line into a mass transit line so people from Co-Op City can get to jobs in half as much time as they are today. So, we're going to be partners with Richie Torres and other pro-transit, pro-environment leaders in figuring out how to make sure we do this in a way that does not hurt historically disadvantaged environmental justice communities. 

Lehrer: Our lines are jammed, as I’m sure you can imagine. Let's take our first call from an Uber driver. Louis in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC with the CEO of the MTA Janno Lieber. Hi, Louis. 

Caller: Hi Brian, thanks for taking my call. So, I'm an Uber driver and I hear a lot about this congestion pricing affecting individual drivers. But us being contractors, Uber has thrown all expenses onto us. Insurance, gas, parking tickets, and now we have this congestion pricing. I'm wondering how it's gonna affect us as Uber drivers. That's a big point. And, also on a side note, I don't know how this is gonna help the city in a time when people are really struggling, and they're coming into the city to work, and they're looking for any means now to come and make an affordable living, but now, I feel like this is gonna dissuade people from coming into the city to work because it's just so expensive. And thank you for taking my call. 

Lieber: Thank you, Louis, and I appreciate all the aspects of your questions. Number one, the goal is for people like you who are moving people around, you're in some ways like a quasi-mass transit system because you move around a lot of people in the course of the day. We don't want you to be stuck in traffic. So, one benefit that might be to you and other for hire vehicle drivers is that there's less traffic and you can get from A to B and you can get your passengers delivered to where they're going more quickly. But also as we work this through and look at the different options, we’re very attentive to not harming the for-hire vehicle business and the for-hire vehicle drivers. It's specifically identified as one of the issues that we have to mitigate and we have to deal with as we select a strategy. I just want to assure you that it is very much on our minds that we need that industry to continue to function. One thing you should be aware of though, as we are going through this, is that 90% of the people who come into the Central Business District don't drive. And if we invest the money from congestion pricing into improving the mass transit system, that will be a benefit to the great majority of people who come to the Central Business District. It's one of the benefits, along with air quality and reducing congestion, which I hope will help you and other drivers. 

Lehrer: So, what about the people who do drive into the city? Here's Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis from Staten Island, who says they're already hit hard like going over the Verrazzano Bridge. 

Audio Clip Played of Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis: "Now hitting them over the head with another fee that could be as high as $23 to enter another borough in the city in which they live is absolutely unacceptable."

Lehrer: What do you say to Congresswoman Malliotakis and her constituents? 

Lieber: I would say that first of all, we are providing significant mass transit service. We have a Staten Island Railway, you have a free Staten Island Ferry, we run express buses, which are highly, highly subsidized. We run a ton of express buses in Staten Island, we redid that whole bus system to try to make it faster, and it is faster. So, while I completely understand that she has to represent the viewpoint of some of her constituents as does everyone, the vast majority of people coming to the Central Business District, including from Staten Island, are using mass transit, and we're making the system better. So, we're trying to benefit the majority. There are some people who drive, we're hoping that some of them will look at improving mass transit service that we're providing, and it's gonna get even better as a result of the investments to come.  

Lehrer: Well, demographically, not just geographically, who would be most affected? The tabloids make it sound like a tax on working class people who are forced to drive because they live in transit deserts. Advocates say no, it's really the wealthiest and most privileged who drive into the Central Business District to begin with. What do your numbers say?  

Lieber: I think the advocates have the better of that debate you just laid out. First of all, more than half of New Yorkers don't own an automobile. They're dependent on mass transit to get to school and to get to work, to get to any kind of opportunity, so that's the vast majority. As you look at it economically, obviously, it is the less advantaged people who are more dependent on mass transit, and the better off people who have, because the cost of owning an automobile in New York City is like 15 grand a year. So, mass transit is one of the things that makes New York affordable, and it's clearly a benefit to people lower on the economic spectrum to do this. If people are driving to the Central Business District, we're forgetting that they're probably paying 30 to 50 bucks to park. So, it is generally speaking, I don't want to universalize it, but generally speaking it's a better off group of people who are coming to New York by automobile and already paying all the costs associated with that. We want to benefit the folks, the 90% of people who depend on mass transit who are already using mass transit. That's where our priority lies honestly.  

Lehrer: We're going to take a break. We're going to continue with Janno Lieber, CEO and Chair of the MTA on the new congestion pricing environmental review and its implications, more questions from you on the phones and on Twitter on that. We will get into mass transit and COVID, mass transit and a possible financial crisis or cliff for the MTA, more on crime. As soon as we come back from the break. I'm gonna read to Chairman Lieber a question from Twitter that many of you who live in Manhattan below 60th Street might have. So stay tuned for that. Brian Lehrer on WNYC. 

Lehrer: Brian Lehrer on WNYC as we continue with MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. On congestion pricing here's a Twitter question from a Manhattan resident. It says please ask your guests to clarify why it is fair for someone that lives in New York City and owns a car to pay a congestion pricing to go home. How about a voucher or exemption if one is a resident within the fee streets.  

Lieber:  The legislature actually dealt with that or began to deal with that by specifying in the law that was passed in 2019, which created this whole congestion pricing initiative, that folks who live in the congestion district who earn less than $60,000 are entitled to a tax credit that would wash out the cost of the congestion poll. So that's been addressed for the folks in that economic category. Going beyond it will be the subject of the analysis and evaluation by the traffic mobility review board, which is the group that's going to advise the MTA on how to balance tolls and exemptions and discounts and all that so that is going to be looked at as part of this process. 

Lehrer:  Work in progress and similarly, Lisnow from Harlem writes above 60th Street and especially Harlem parking is at a premium already. What will congestion pricing do to these neighborhoods? And you know the fear there is so many people will drive from wherever and park a little above 60th Street and then take mass transit the rest of the way. 

Lieber: We're not going to reorganize the city around driving, and that's not who we are. So yes, there's definitely parking issues around the entire city. I hope that the reality that it doesn't make sense to drive and pay for parking and the complexity of all that will make people choose the mass transit option. We are doing a ton to make that more attractive. Part of it is going to be funded by the congestion pricing initiatives. So no, we're not going to get into the parking business as part of this, but obviously what we're hoping is that folks will choose mass transit as part of looking at all of these impacts in all these situations. Street parking is obviously controversial in New York. We're not getting into the parking business. We're trying to make mass transit better.  

Lehrer: Steve in Denville, out on Route 80. Maybe didn't like how nice you were policy-wise to the Uber driver who called in. Steve, you're on WNYC, hi. 

Caller: Good morning. Yeah, no one seems to be just addressing the true issue of the source of congestion. I drive in and out of the city maybe four times a month. You know, not for anything super important. But it's easy to sit there and on the street, look around you and count all the cars that have TLC license plates, it's probably eight out of 10 cars on the road anywhere at any given point in Midtown or Downtown, even the West Side now. So, I think we should start calling it out for what it is and you know, when there were yellow cabs around and that was that was the chief source of moving around in the short haul, everything was great. And yeah, you had your people that came in from the suburbs for a show or something. But they're calling the garage because you can't park anywhere anyway. But we should just call it what it is and really address the issue of these guys just cruising around parking, standing in no standing zones, and just waiting for rides.  

Lehrer:  Let me get your response. And you know, Mayor de Blasio had to start dealing with this when the Uber and Lyft era really began. Steve was right that number of taxis when it was just the yellow cabs were strictly regulated. Now there's many tens of thousands more cars on the streets for hire until they tried to put on a cap, still many tens of thousands more than there used to be, are they not the main source of congestion these days? 

Lieber: I think, Brian, you're right that the city did have to confront that issue and they elected not to regulate the number of for-hire vehicles. We're not in control of that issue. What we're trying to do is to make sure that we're not in particular harming the yellow cab industry, which has been through so much, you know, all those drivers who have had their life savings wiped out. That's a special concern. We're trying to make congestion better so people can move around. We're really not taking a position on whether the city ought to regulate Uber or Lyft or for-hire vehicles differently. We're just looking at it as a transportation issue and how to reduce congestion. The single occupancy automobile is the least efficient contributor to congestion that we've got. And that's obviously where we're hoping we're going to make some progress. 

Lehrer: By the way, what about the $23 toll headline in that scenario. Who would pay $23 to drive into the area below 60th Street and at what times of day, and I think even people who support congestion pricing might have had their eyes pop out a little bit when they saw that the toll compared to other tolls that drivers pay $23? 

Lieber: Everyone chooses the number that is more pleasing or more alarming to benefit and support their case. We see a lot of these, again, a lot of these congressmen who are yelling and screaming about double taxation, and I haven't heard from the congressman from Bergen County with an offer to give New Yorkers a discount or a credit on the Garden State Parkway you know when they pay tolls to go to New Jersey. Shouldn't, by this logic, they get a discount on the Garden State Parkway or the turnpike? 

Lehrer:  Whoever that Congressman, Congresswoman is probably would say, but they don't have to go to New Jersey to get to their jobs. 

Lieber:  Well, actually, you know, there are a lot of people who are working all over, and a lot of people are trying to get one of the advantages of where we all live on the Eastern Seaboard is there's a ton of commerce being done between these cities. New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, and so on. And they're charging us to go from New York to Washington and that we deserve a tax credit for that. You get my point, Brian, which is there's no double standard. And the bottom line is we need to make sure that New York functions economically and with the level of congestion we've got, we are having negative economic impacts. We're having negative air quality impacts. It is time to deal with climate change. The Governor was fantastic on this point, just a couple of days ago when we were out on Long Island celebrating a project that was $100 million under budget and which is going to help deliver 40% more service so people can actually use mass transit more conveniently, every day, and she was asked about congestion pricing, and she said we're not going to go backward. The last generation has an opportunity to deal with climate change. And we will be the first generation to take action. Congestion pricing is part of that vision and the act and the initiative that the governor is taking on many fronts. She's been a great supporter of mass transit, but she's also active on the climate change front. This is one of those initiatives.  

Lehrer: Well, do you have any numerical projections on how much it would affect our contribution to climate change because a commentary on Streetsblog by conservative leaning policy analyst Nicole Gelinas cites a projection that I think comes from your environmental review that suggests congestion pricing won't even reduce driving in New York City all that much, less than a 2% reduction compared to if you did nothing, both in the near term and by the 2040s. So, will you confirm that projection is that minimal reduction in total driving on the climate? 

Lieber:  I don't have that number in front of me. Nicole Gelinas is a really thoughtful commentator on transit and many other issues. Her point I think was there are lots of other things that we can do that will also help to mitigate climate change when her point was also dealing with, the epidemic of placard abuse, which is something that frankly, we at the MTA are also taking action on where government employees or even others misuse placards, so they can park for free.  Nicole's point, which is that congestion pricing itself will not solve climate change. I completely agree with her, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Just because something doesn't solve the problem all by itself is not a good excuse for not taking action where it will contribute and start us down the right road. This is one of those actions.  

Lehrer: Let me acknowledge that we're getting a number of tweets from listeners who say they are disabled and don't have subway access and need to get around via car. For those people would there be any kind of sliding scale or exemption or for that matter for people on limited incomes? Would there be any kind of sliding scale like you have a fair fares for mass transit? 

Lieber:  Those are issues that that are going to be taken up by this board that was created by state law, the Traffic Mobility Review Board that's going to make recommendations to the MTA of different discounts and exemption ideas and special treatment for folks with disabilities is definitely on the agenda. Number one, we have a massive paratransit operation, which is actually retracting riders back to it faster than buses and subways and commuter rail so it is actually providing pretty good service. We’ve got a ways to go, and it is attracting riders back. That's the Access-A-Ride system now. 70% of those disabled riders use paratransit in New York, funded by the MTA, are using for-hire vehicles. We are providing big paratransit service. There has been a proposal which is really going to be considered for disabled riders in vehicles carrying folks with disabilities to have discounts and exemptions, and that's obviously on the agenda. But the bigger goal is reducing congestion is going to benefit the people who are riding around in accessorized vans or relying on buses. Our bus system is 100% accessible, ADA accessible. And lastly, Brian, the funding that comes out of congestion pricing, which is going to go to help rebuild the subway system. One of the major investments we're going to use that money for is our commitment to make the entire subway system ADA accessible. We've been doing ADA elevators faster than ever before. And now we made a deal with the disability rights community about keeping that pace going for a long time till we get to full accessibility. Congestion pricing will be good for disabled New York. 

Lehrer: One more call. An MTA conductor. He says he is Drummond in Queens on WNYC with Chair and CEO of the MTA Janno Lieber.  

Caller: A few moments ago, Brian, you asked the Chairman if he has a position on policy, criminal justice policies, where it relates to mass transit. Chairman Lieber was appointed by Governor Hochul, so he can address the fact that according to the city and pro publica, New York has shut down a third of the state-run psychiatric facilities since 2014. He can address bail reforms. We have the mentally ill. They're jumping in front of trains. Train operators are going now with trauma every day. We're dealing with this. Two days ago, he was attacked by a recidivist, someone who Chairman Lieber alluded to was arrested forty times. There's a correlation to the lack of beds of mental health facilities and bail reform where these criminals are attacking my brothers and sisters on a daily basis and getting out of jail without bail. That's the issue.  

Lehrer: So, you want to take a clearer position on that?  

Lieber: I think, Drummond, I probably agree more than we disagree on this issue. He is talking about the assaults on MTA workers. He's talking about this epidemic of what we call track intrusions people getting on the track, sometimes to do harm to themselves, sometimes because they have mental health issues. I think that his description of the problem is spot on. Respectfully, all I am saying is it's not my position. I run a transit agency. I'm not a criminal justice expert. I'm not a bail reform expert. But what I am saying that I think is aligned with what Mr. Drummond is saying is, so the people who are experts in that area ought to find a way to get people who have chronic mental health issues out of the public space, including the transit system, get them into services, get them into treatment, and to get some of these, as you say, recidivist offenders out of the public space so they don't harm our employees and our customers. I agree with that. I'm just not ready to be prescriptive about how it ought to be accomplished. 

Lehrer: Last thing, and then we're out of time, with ridership compared to pre pandemic still down around 40%. If that's still an accurate number, I think it is. You correct me if that's wrong, and the financial implications of that for running mass transit by a few years from now. There's a lot of tabloid writing that says this is largely from fear of crime. I would say callers to this show, though, like Drummond, they don't dismiss crime as a serious issue would lean more toward fear of COVID. You know, crime is up, but COVID is rampant. There are so many more COVID cases than violent crimes in the city every day, so many more COVID deaths than murders if we want to make that comparison. How would you compare and contrast from an MTA perspective, and are you tracking COVID transmission on buses and subways during the Omicron era of such transmissibility?  

Lieber: So, Brian, you know, you're right that it's hard to disentangle the influence of different issues in people's mind. We know that a certain number of people are not taking mass transit as much because they're working from home more frequently. We know that safety is on people's minds. We know that COVID is on people's minds. The demographics or the geography of our ridership loss suggests it's more from the work from home issue. People who are in neighborhoods that maybe have more crime, but they're essential workers in the boroughs in particular in the Bronx and Brooklyn and Queens. They're arriving at a higher percentage relative to pre COVID than the folks who live in the neighborhoods that have less crime, which has been happening in more affluent neighborhoods. But in those more affluent neighborhoods there are more white-collar workers who are working from home. All of those issues are playing a role in the loss of ridership that we are undergoing. What we're saying to the legislature, to be very transparent with all of our stakeholders, all of the Albany leadership, is that mass transit, it is an essential service for New York. We cannot do what was done way back in the financial crisis of the 2010 era and start massively slashing service, cutting essential service to the neighborhoods that need it most. And we can't put that solving this problem on the backs of the riders. Those two things end up in a downward spiral. In 2011, we had 85% on time performance then we slashed the system. By 2017 it was 58%. And it was the summer of hell of train service. We all remember that. We can't do that. We need a long-term plan that assures that this essential service which is like police, fire, and sanitation to New York, like air and water as I always say to New Yorkers, it has long term financial stability. That's what we're calling on the thought leaders and the decisionmakers to join us in figuring out. 

Lehrer:  You have one of the most important jobs to the current state and future of our region. We always acknowledge that running the mass transit system in the state of New York and a little bit of Connecticut. And just as a follow up on the COVID piece of your last answer. And my last question, are you tracking COVID transmission on buses and subways in any way during this Omicron era, or don't you even try to count? 

Lieber: You know what we tried to do in the beginning, we tried to look at the science and initially everybody was concerned about mass transit because we didn't understand the science of COVID transmission. We thought it was tactile from surfaces you touch, and we came to learn it was more by air aerosol transmission. And you know what? Subway cars have better ventilation than virtually any office space, any home space, any bar, restaurant. It is actually, it's counterintuitive because sometimes it's a crowded space is actually not as dangerous a space from the standpoint of COVID transmission. We have very imperfect mask compliance right now. But it is, broadly speaking a pretty safe space relative to other public spaces and we're counting on folks to continue to get comfortable and coming back to the system because we want our riders back. 

Lehrer: Janno Lieber Chairman and CEO of the MTA. We always appreciate when you come on and that you take calls from listeners and tweets from listeners all over the area. Thank you very much.