MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live on 1010 WINS with Brigitte Quinn to discuss MTA employee vaccinations, ridership recovery and support for public transportation from Governor Kathy Hochul.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Brigitte Quinn: All state employees, including MTA workers, are supposed to get their first shot by Labor Day, but the word is 30% have not done so. Let's go live to the 1010 WINS Newsline, MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber is with us. Thank you so much for being here. If they're not vaccinated, what happens? They can't work on Labor Day, or beyond?
Janno Lieber: No, we actually have a very highly developed alternative, which is that MTA employees who have not been inoculated get tested on a weekly basis, and we actually have a pretty detailed plan for how to deploy that testing to the worksite. So most of our employees, to the extent that there are employees who haven't yet been vaccinated, are going to have access to testing at their place of work, so we anticipate is going to be pretty smooth. We've been running 100% of our service even though we only have roughly 50% of the subway riders back and 56% of buses, and we think we're going to be able to sustain service very effectively as people return to school and to work in the fall.
Quinn: Okay, so you think they either will get the vaccine or go ahead with the testing program. So you are not, then, expecting any cutbacks to service Labor Day and beyond?
Lieber: Look, we, we have been struggling with a little bit of the same staffing issues that have broken out nationwide and in many other industries. But even when we've had shortages because we had a hiring freeze during COVID, and obviously when you're not hiring and people are retiring and so on, that took a little toll on the size of our workforce. But we've been able to sustain service, and then on top of it, our team has done a great job of planning on how to extend work tours of duty a little bit, to do some buy back of vacation time, so that people in some of these train operator, conductor categories and bus operator categories are inclined to work a few more days as we ramp up. So we have a plan that I think is going to do a very good job making sure that we are ready when New Yorkers are ready to come back to school and go back to work, that we can run service that will support them.
Quinn: We are speaking live on 1010 WINS with the MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. Just a moment ago I believe you said ridership still only at 50%. So what really are you expecting after Labor Day, because we're hearing more and more offices are saying, hey you know what, stay home until the new year.
Lieber: We're excited about the fall, you know, obviously with the Delta variant, the trajectory of return to work may be a little slower than we'd hoped a month or two ago, but people are going to be going back to school, they're going to be coming back to work over the next few months, even maybe on a hybrid schedule. We want to make sure that the service is great, that when people return to their commute, they have a really positive experience in terms of on time performance, in terms of clean trains and buses, and we are working our tails off to make sure we're ready for that moment. It's exciting for New York. I spent 14 years rebuilding the World Trade Center. I know all about the challenges of meeting crisis moments in New York and putting New York back on its feet, and this is an exciting moment at the MTA. We're ready to support the region's recovery.
Quinn: Is there a ridership percentage that you're aiming for in the fall?
Lieber: Look, obviously it may take a few months, and even a couple of years, for ridership to get right back to where it was before the pandemic. None of us has a crystal ball, but clearly mass transit is going to help power the region's recovery and we want to be there to support it. Whatever the exact pace of that return to work and that return to previous travel levels is, we want to be there and we want to make sure that people are excited, because we can't have people coming back to work only using automobiles. That obviously doesn't work, “carmageddon” is a terrible idea in terms of air quality, in terms of traffic, and mass transit is the way to go and we want to be there for New Yorkers.
Quinn: You mentioned safety a short time ago, for anybody who is looking to go back into the office in the fall, in just a matter of weeks I should say, and looking to get on a train or bus again but feels like, “gee, I don't want to be so close to another person.” What can you say to them?
Lieber: Well look, I mean the evidence we have from around the world is that, especially when we're wearing masks, we've had really good mask compliance on mass transit. Especially when you're wearing masks, mass transit has not been a location of spreading of the virus. So we've had really good experience. That experience has shown from Asia and other places around the world that mass transit is a safe way to go. But we're encouraging everybody to wear masks, and that’s been really effective so far, and I think people are having a positive experience as they come back to work and to school.
Quinn: And we were just talking a few moments ago, we're on right now with Janno Lieber, about Kathy Hochul being the new governor. Does that have any significance for the MTA? She said that she's going to bring in a new era of cooperation, she's already met with Mayor de Blasio, does it make a difference for you folks at the MTA that she's in office now?
Lieber: I think Governor Hochul is really well positioned to be a great leader for the MTA and the region. She knows our work, she's been involved with many of the major projects that I was leading before I became the Acting Chair and CEO, on Long Island, in Westchester, in the city. And as a former Congresswoman she really knows the politics of Washington and has relationships in Washington. And obviously a lot of the MTA’s future is about, what do we get from Washington financially. We've had great leadership from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and now we have a governor who really has deep experience in Washington, and that's a great combination. We're excited to work with new Governor Hochul on MTA issues.
Quinn: Well we thank you so much for being with us live today on the 1010 WINS Newsline, MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. Thank you.
Lieber: Thank you.