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TRANSCRIPT: MTA Chair and CEO Lieber Appears on Up Close with Bill Ritter

New York City Transit
Updated April 17, 2022 4:30 p.m.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared on WABC-7's Up Close with Bill Ritter this morning to discuss safety in the subway system.

A transcript of the interview appears below.

Bill Ritter: Good morning and welcome to Up Close. I'm Bill Ritter. It could have been any of us riding that subway during the morning rush, which is why the mass shooting this past week in Brooklyn affected so many people, New Yorkers and those who come into New York on trains to get to work. Ten people shot, that no one died is indeed amazing. As Frank James now faces charges federal and local, we want to focus this morning on the ‘it could have been any of us’ part of the story. Our guests are people who know something about safety in the subways, both of them. Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, later from him in a few moments, but first current MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber. And he joins us right now outside a subway station. Mr. Lieber, thank you for joining us on Up Close. We really appreciate you taking time. 

Janno Lieber: Of course, Bill.

Ritter: Let me take a look at the big picture before we get into the weeds of what to do. How are you, several days later, almost a week later? And what's your reaction to everything with a little perspective in terms of time? 

Lieber: Well, I'm fine and you know, thank goodness for our MTA employees. You know, the ones who were on the scene stepped up amazingly. It's no secret that the motorman on the train that was attacked, actually intervened to save lives by ushering everybody standing in the middle of this smoky platform, and ushering everybody onto the  train where they can be whisked to safety. The other MTA employees were extraordinary. So, we cannot overlook to thank those who made this possible for us to get out of this as best as we could. More people could have been injured. 

Ritter: And in fact, the Mayor honored them on Friday.

Lieber: Indeed, I was with the Mayor. The Mayor came and spoke remotely. Obviously, he's still in quarantine, but many members of his team at City Hall and we honored those MTA employees. So, we're fine. The other question is how are our riders doing? That's my focus right now in addition to as you say, prevention, Bill, is making sure our riders you know, get the feeling that action is being taken to prevent, to protect them, and that they start to feel safer than they did before this horrific accident. That’s where our heads are. 

Ritter: Listen, the numbers don't lie, and then the numbers went down after that shooting. They've been down. You've had a problem. I mean, we've all had a problem. The crime in general in New York City, I think has hurt ridership on mass transit and subway trains. And the Mayor certainly feels that unless we get people back on those trains, we can't really you know, jumpstart this economy, get it really moving and expect people to come in. What are you doing? What are the steps? Listen, I know you're a problem solver. You'd like to think of yourself as a big picture guy. So, what's the big picture here? And I have some small picture ideas, of what I want, questions that I want to ask you. But I want to get your big picture ideas. Where do you start? How do you get riders back on? How do you prevent this and try to prevent this from happening again? That's really, I think, what riders want to hear. 

Lieber: I think the Mayor has laid out a subway safety plan which makes a lot of sense and will make a difference. We have to give it a little time, but there's some key elements. One is to start dealing with what sometimes is written off as disorder, crimes or infractions of disorder in the system. But start to deal with them more aggressively. Fare evasion, when we start to crack down on fare evasion, and hopefully and we have to do it in an equitable way, not targeting one community or one group of people. But when we crack down on fare evasion, we discourage people who are armed God forbid, or want to do bad things in the system from getting on the system at all. That has shown to be effective time and again.

In addition to that, we got to deal with the violations of basic subway rules of conduct. And frankly, courtesy. People engaged in open drug use, people smoking on the system, otherwise violating the rules. Not only is just inconvenient for others, it creates an environment of disorder where a sense of anything goes. And then alarms people who think that person is breaking rules and what else might they do? So, starting to enforce the subway rules of conduct which is Mayor Adams, one of Mayor Adams’s key points. Remember in that subway safety press conference he held, he held up the rules of conduct and he said no more anything goes. 

Ritter: Okay. So, those are two things, you know, sort of subway etiquette and fare evasion. We could talk about each of those in more depth. What are the other ones?

Lieber: I think the other ones are the redeployment of the police on to the areas where our riders feel most vulnerable. Which is onto the platforms and onto the trains. You know, what we really want is for riders to see NYPD every day in places where they feel vulnerable. Which as I say is platforms and trains. That redeployment, that emphasis is happening yet again. 

Ritter: Okay, so let's look at each of those things. On Thursday, you rode the trains with our NJ Burkett. And I wanted to know what you saw on those because I looked, I couldn't see in the b-roll anyway of it, I couldn't see much of police presence there. Did you see as much as you thought that would happen? And how long will it take before the Mayor is able to get twice as many cops patrolling the subways? 

Lieber: Well, the great thing about this Mayor is he's a very determined guy. He's very clear about what he wants. So, I'm convinced that that especially in the wake of what happened this year, that the emphasis on trains and platforms that the Mayor has been talking about is going to happen. A part of this, in fairness to the NYPD, is how do they schedule people, you know, what times a day are people actually, you know, the transit police officers they have available, where they are deployed and so on. But that is happening. I believe that to the Mayor's credit, we'll see more evidence of that very, very soon.

Ritter: Didn't you already have an increased presence by the police department? I thought we, they already put, you know, several hundred new officers on the trains. 

Lieber: Yeah, I think they did that sometime before the beginning of the year. The point that the Mayor has been making is that he wants to see cops riding the trains like he did when he was a transit cop years ago. Because he knows this terrain. He knows where vulnerability, he knows where things can go wrong, and now he's pushing for just that. And I think the NYPD leadership is very receptive.

Ritter: Okay, let me talk about the cameras because there's been a lot of controversy about the cameras over, since this happened. There were three stations where the cameras were inoperable. As I understand it, your MTA workers reported the outage on Sunday, and yet it wasn't fixed post-haste. So, what's the status of that number one? And then number two, I want to dig deeper into why there aren't more surveillance video cameras on the platforms? And why don't we have video platform, video things, video cameras inside the trains themselves?

Lieber: Okay. Bill, first, the positive news of that, you know, obviously this particular issue has to be looked at broadly. We've put, we've moved from 3,000 and some cameras, to close to 10,000 cameras in a very short while. That was a huge accomplishment. It cost a lot of money, because we wanted more video surveillance. Every day, literally every half hour we are giving the police new video that they asked for because it has become such an effective tool.

In the case of the suspect, we actually had multiple visuals through this video camera, because we had 600 cameras up and down that line. We got him coming into the into the system in the morning. We got him going out of the system at another location after the attack. We got him on the bus. So, we worked very closely with the police. But that said the point that you make Bill, about the fact that the cameras in the particular station, were down for 20, for more than 24 hours. And it happened to be at the time of this attack. We need to look at our maintenance protocols yet again. It's no secret that we had a staffing shortage but we're going to look at whether we're moving quickly enough to fix cameras. 

The broader thing that I want to do and your question kind of goes to it, is, look at whether we, having a camera in every station so that we capture the video is enough, that we need to put more cameras in that we can directly monitor and frankly use with the assistance of new technology like AI, to give us some sense of patterns that might suggest vulnerabilities that we can use to prevent crimes. Not just to look at them afterwards but actually prevent them. That's where my thinking is going.

Ritter: We only have a few minutes left and I want to get to everything. You talked about bringing back, first of all let me ask about cameras in the trains. How feasible is that? How quickly could you get that done? Because that would help. 

Lieber: We're going to have them in the next generation of trains. We have them in all of our buses. It is definitely something that that all mas transit is movingtowards. So, we're going to have the next generation of trains, absolutely.

Ritter: Alright. What about other things that will make surveillance, better policing, better? You talked about having inspection of big bags, where does that stand? And what about the some sort of metal or heat detection inside the trains or on the stations? 

Lieber: On the bag checks, look, to their credit, the NYPD has been doing this since 9/11. So, they know how to do it. All I'm saying is let's take advantage of that know-how and put those bag-checks where the most people are. And also, just make sure that we’re doing it a tad more aggressively to make sure we're really catching all the risks. But as far as new technology, hey, the Mayor says there may be ideas about having a way to identify, God forbid, weapons on people's person that won't be like an airport. I'm interested in all ideas about how to make the system safer. So, we're going to get into that conversation. Right now, I'm focused on maybe the more real time stuff we can do. Which is getting cops on platforms and on trains. The NYPD is our partner, we want to accelerate that. 

Ritter: It's just not feasible to have a situation like you do at the airport with the TSA and have people backed up trying to get onto those trains. That just, it's just not going to work.

Lieber: Yeah, on three to five million subway riders a day, that's not possible. But listen, we got to get together and figure out how to improve safety. And the discussion is really getting underway.

Ritter: I got to ask you to do in 30 seconds what you could spend 30 minutes doing, but we have 30 seconds left. What's your message to passengers and to New Yorkers right now? 

Lieber: I can't imagine what people who are on the train that day went through. And obviously I feel very responsible for them. I can't imagine what all New Yorkers who ride the subway had been feeling the last few days. That sense of vulnerability. We want, we know that you don't have any choice, that you need mass transit in order to take full advantage of New York jobs, education, opportunity. We're going to make the system safer. Stay with us, we believe in New York. We never give up, we know you don’t either.

Ritter: Well, everyone is rooting for you because everyone needs to take those trains. And you know that, and they know that. We need people to get back to work and they aren’t going to do it if they don’t feel safe. Janno Lieber, head of the MTA, we appreciate you taking the time and making the case. And good luck to you, sir. 

Lieber: You bet, Bill. Thank you, Bill.