MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live on FOX 5’s Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Bianca Peters to discuss the $6 billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Bianca Peters: Well, a $6 billion dollar grant is on its way to keep the MTA up and running. It's the largest ever awarded in the Federal Transit Administration's history.
Rosanna Scotto: Joining us right now is the MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. Nice to have you back on Good Day New York.
Janno Lieber: Good to be with you, Rosanna, Bianca.
Scotto: So what are you going to do with that $6 billion?
Lieber: You know, as everybody remembers all the way to the beginning of COVID, we ran robust service. Even when we were at 10% of ridership, we were running all the trains, all the lines, every station. That blew the hole in the MTA’s budget. This money from Washington, thanks to Senator Schumer, Governor Hochul, the New York delegation, fills the hole in the budget that was created by COVID. That was the purpose. It also means that we don't have to steal from the capital budget, which is the money that we use to improve the system; to buy new rail cars, make new ADA elevators in stations around the system. It’s a benefit for the riders that way as well. And -- not least – it helps us to avoid short term fare hikes.
Scotto: That's what I was wondering, does this mean fare hikes are off the table and does this mean we don't have to worry about congestion pricing?
Lieber: No. I know this is a subject you and I have talked about. Congestion pricing is really important for lots of reasons. It's going to fund those MTA improvements in the future. As I said, ADA stations, new signal system, all the things that make rides faster and more convenient. But we also need congestion pricing because we can't live in a city where the ambulances can't get around, buses can't get around, the deliveries we need for our economy can't get around. We’ve got to improve air quality. Congestion pricing is the right thing to do for New York, and we're going to lead the way and so, it’s going to make sense.
Peters: But Mr. Lieber, when you're getting that six billion dollars – it’s $250 million an hour. You couldn't use any of that to maybe offset some of the congestion pricing.
Lieber: No. Congestion pricing is targeted by the legislature for the capital budget – the improvements that I referred to, again, maintaining this trillion dollar asset that we have in our mass transit system and improving it in all the ways that we've talked about: new signals, ADA elevators, a ton of important stuff. The money that we're getting from Washington, right now, is just filling that hole that was created in the budget by COVID. By running full service, it’s helped save the city and bring it back to normality, even when ridership was at 10 or 20 percent. But it was supposed to be pre-COVID, so we're headed in a good direction, Bianca, but we're not going to start stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
Peters: Now, when you talk about improvements that you're making, do you think improving safety falls underneath that? Because, I think, as of yesterday at 4:30 p.m. an incident was reported on the northbound Bx39 bus at White Plains Road and Van Nest Avenue. An 18-year-old riding the bus said he was approached by a suspect who started interrogating him. So, an issue there. A lot of people still say that they've seen some things in the subway. I've encountered something, and we've seen it all along. Sometimes people feel unsafe. So, what are you guys doing on that front?
Lieber: We agree with you. Look, statistically, the subway is actually pretty safe, statistically, but there's no question that people are talking about, you know, some of these high-profile incidents that are alarming. You know, one or two, in a few cases people got pushed onto the tracks, stuff like that. We're thrilled that we've got Mayor Adams and a City Hall that really cares about subway and mass transit safety. Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams teamed up to make this a priority. I’ve spoken numerous times to the new Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell. This is something that we're going to focus in on intensely. Doesn't mean that there will never ever be another individual bad news event like the one you mentioned, but you know, we got to push it, so people feel safe. Coming back to mass transit, the numbers are right. But they have to feel safe, and that's what we're going to work on with the NYPD and City Hall.
Scotto: So $6 billion, a lot of money. A lot of people are concerned about where does this go, because the bureaucracy at the MTA is pretty bloated. We always hear about waste every year. What are you going to do? Is there any kind of like restructuring going on?
Lieber: You know, what I did when I was running the Construction and Development side of the MTA, we consolidated all the different organizations that were doing -- we were getting rid of duplication around the MTA. And, we're always looking for ways to work, as I always say: faster, better and cheaper. One of the things that we're doing that directly benefits riders is the OMNY system, the tap and go system. So, you don't have to deal with a MetroCard. You just tap and you're going to get a better deal starting in March. We're experimenting with giving people a better deal. So, if they tap and they hit 12 rides in a single week, every other ride for the rest of the week is free. So, it eliminates the question of which fare product allows to buy a weekly or individual rides, and it gives people the benefit of modernization. And we're going to continue to do that; to save money and to get better service throughout the MTA.
Scotto: Alright, so between us. We won't talk to anybody else about this. When do you think a fare hike might be back on the table? Because -- I know we got a little reprieve right here, Mr. Lieber.
Scotto: But what are we talking? Six months? A year before we're talking fare hikes again?
Lieber: Listen, in fairness, our budget is, you know, we have a legal obligation to balance our budget, and we've done that. And over time we had very small but regular fare hikes, that's kind of worked. We put that on hold, because, while we're trying to recover from COVID, get ridership back, putting people back to work, we didn't want to disincentivize it. But at the end of the day, we have to work with the legislature and the executive to decide how much of the state money could come to the MTA. That will enable us to keep putting off fare increases for a little while. So that's an issue that we're going to deal with.
Peters: So is that 2022 or 2023?
Scotto: Yeah, I feel like we’re not getting a timing on this.
Lieber: No. You know, you understand that we're starting a new legislative session. The governor is going to propose an executive budget. All those issues have to be talked about -- as part of the state government – that’s going to go on in Albany. And I'm in close touch with the governor, whose been herself, a supporter of delaying fare increases. So, we're going to work it through. I'm just being forthright with you that there's a little bit of an open question on that one. Our budget does call for a small fare increase this year, but it's a discussion that's underway.
Scotto: Wow. It's an open question. And I was going to invite you to take the subway with me and go visit Dyker Heights. We’d go see the holiday lights next year. I don't know if I should take that off the table or not?
Lieber: You know what, I’ll stand you to a ride on the subway, Rosanna.
Peters: Alright, so there you go!
Lieber: Go back to your old neighborhood, check out the amazing Christmas lights in Dyker Heights. It was a family outing for my family – for a long time. I'm always happy to go do it so.
Peters: Mr. Janno Lieber, picking up the cost. I like it.
Scotto: I like it. Next year. I gotcha. Thank you so much. MTA Acting Chair and CEO, Janno Lieber.
Lieber: You bet. Thank you Rosanna, Bianca.