1. Home
  2. Press Releases
  3. TRANSCRIPT: MTA Chair and CEO Lieber Appears Live on Inside City Hall

TRANSCRIPT: MTA Chair and CEO Lieber Appears Live on Inside City Hall

Updated March 29, 2024 12:45 a.m.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live on NY1’s Inside City Hall with Errol Louis to discuss congestion pricing, subway safety, and Fair Fares.

A transcript of the interview appears below.

Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. Yesterday there was an overwhelming vote to approve toll rates for congestion pricing. That means that starting in June, barring any further setbacks from legal challenges, most drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street will be charged a total of $15 during peak hours. Tolls are more expensive for larger vehicles and lower for late night entries into the city. Supporters of the program say it will help fund transit improvements. Joining me now to talk about that and much more is the MTA’s chairman and CEO Janno Lieber. Welcome back to the program. Good to see you.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber: Good to be with you, Errol. 

Louis: So, there's still some legal challenges. Are you able to do the kind of planning you need to do? My understanding is that there are certain maintenance programs that are either on hold or been suspended, because the money that you were anticipating has not yet come in.

Lieber: So the infrastructure for the implementation of congestion pricing, both the physical infrastructure, the cameras, also the back office, is ready to go. I think we have 107 of 108 locations fully built out with the utilities and so on. What happened was because of the lawsuits we could not advance contracts for the construction of important improvements that are going to be funded by congestion pricing like more ADA elevators to make stations accessible, like resignaling the A train so that we can run more trains on it safely and reliably, like zero emissions buses, electric buses for cleaner air. Those projects have been put on hold because of the litigation, but we're ready to go with the congestion pricing system.

Louis: Ok, we showed some footage of you kind of rolling your eyes as yellow taxi drivers staged a protest shortly before that final vote. Why did you seem exasperated by it? 

Lieber: I hope I didn't seem exasperated. Listen there's a lot of sympathy in New York, if you're a New Yorker, old New Yorker like you and me you know that the yellow cab industry in the de Blasio era went through an incredible, difficult period. What they’re protesting what I think is actually a pretty fair outcome. The surcharge on yellow cabs is half what it is for Ubers and Lyfts. It's also, unlike what was originally proposed, it's not once a day -- the $15. It's per ride, so you make sure the customer pays, not the driver. I think everyone tried to recognize the difficulties of the yellow cab industry. And right now that's only an additional 4% on an average fare. So we don't think it's going to hurt them in the end.

Louis: Okay. And when it comes to this question of exemptions, where do we stand on that? I saw when we've reported lots of different requests for exemptions here exemptions there. Where's that settling at?

Lieber: Listen it came out where the TMRB, the separate board that was recommending a toll structure, proposed which is the fewest exemptions possible, because that enables us to have lower tolls for everybody. Once you start picking favorites, we had 120 different people saying farmers should get an exemption, parents, certain kinds of families, people who live in a certain location. In the end they tried to say fewer exemptions. With special treatment, however, of disability. All vehicles carrying people with disabilities are exempted. And there's also special treatment, a discount for folks who are at the low end of the income scale, which everybody thought was important.

Louis: Okay. On a related note, you've started or you were part of an enforcement action that was announced for people who were using fake plates, covered plates, ghost plates, covers, all kinds of illegal stuff to avoid the tolls because that’s actually a serious amount of money and a serious strain on the system. 

Lieber: Yes, in fact, listen, this is not just an MTA issue. I'm hearing that in the region as a whole, there's $150 million of lost revenue due to systematic toll evasion. That's people who are covering their plates, that are buying these devices that cover them up James Bond style when you go through a toll. They're using these plate covers. It's not fair and we've actually, the MTA, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which is part of the MTA, has instituted these enforcement actions and we got a parking lot full of Bugattis and Mercedes and Land Rovers from people who are not paying their tolls and who are also engaged in this kind of toll evasion. It's not right.

Louis: Okay, very good. Let's talk about subway safety. Have the National Guardsmen and State Police that have been added to the system, have they stopped a single violent attack as far as you know?

Lieber: You know, I don't know that specifically. What the Governor did was she put more uniform presence into the system and the net benefit is that allows the NYPD to spread out their footprint a little bit more. NYPD is the principal law enforcement agency in the subways. They always have been. It's a longstanding thing and they do a great job. So, there has been a benefit to having those additional State resources in the system. But you know, the fact that the Mayor has put 800 cops now on the fare, you know, at the turnstiles, I think is a great plus. Because that's where you stop people who are carrying weapons, folks who might do real harm in the system. And that is already having a benefit. As soon as there are more cops in the system, we see crime go down. There's really a direct exponential relationship.  

Louis: Well, I mean, we had a surge about a year and a half ago and then I think either the money for it ran out and the cops were removed, and we didn't know about it and then there was a surge. At some point we have to stop thinking of this as surges and just think of it as like the regular amount of police that need to be on patrol. 

Lieber: You’re absolutely right, Errol. And the one thing that the riders tell us is seeing a uniformed officer is the one thing that makes them really comfortable. And when we do surveys and we do hundreds of thousands of survey respondents a couple times a year. What they tell us is they want to see more cops, so I got to listen to my riders. They love seeing NYPD and I'm going to support them all the way.

Louis: I want to ask you about these so-called SCOUT teams that are supposed to pair law enforcement with clinicians to deal with certain categories of seriously mentally ill New Yorkers. You and I have talked about this. The Mayor talked about it. We've known this for years. Why is this happening now? Why wasn't it done before this?

Lieber: Listen, I can't speak to that. All I can tell you is that the MTA paired up with the City's – the medical professionals in the city and we are now doing a very specific and targeted effort, not at just any homeless person. This is about the seriously mentally ill people who are suffering with psychosis, schizophrenia in the public space, and not only are they doing harm to themselves, and they ought to get indoors and get treatment, but they're scaring the heck out of the riders. And the riders tell us that that is what's keeping them from using the system more. So it's a win-win. What we do is we take the clinicians that the City has who are really experienced in the diagnosis of severe mental illness and they're prepared to pull the trigger on involuntary commitment to say under the state mental health law, that person needs to come indoors and get treated, and it's having success so the Governor gave $20 million extra so we can seriously expand the program. I'm excited. 

Louis: One concern that I've heard raised about it is that when you send clinicians with cops, the person with a gun takes control of the scene, and they're going to make the judgment even though they have no medical training.

Lieber: Actually, I mean, we're happy – I think we've gone out with some reporters to show this. First of all, these are teams of people who get experience of working together. They're not made up every day. These are clinicians who know the cops and they support each other. The cops hang back to let the clinician do his or her work. And the clinician’s comfortable interacting with that person who may be seriously troubled, and having serious acute mental illness episodes, because they know they have backup. The cop’s job is to be a backup, so that the clinician can do his or her work. It's not cop in front.

Louis: We the riding public see these folks every day. Where are we supposed to report it? How are we supposed to convey this in a way that action will be taken?  
Lieber: Yeah, listen, that's a good point. And actually, as we're rolling this out, we're going to do some more of you see, if you ride the train, we do a lot of messaging especially we have these digital boards to give folks more information on that. The principal way to do it is 311 or to use the MTA social media accounts, which I can't repeat offhand. But we're on all of the major social media accounts. But we're going to be doing messaging to the public on the trains about how to report people who have serious mental health crises. We want to reach them.

Louis: Okay, and then finally, in our last minute. Fair fares. It's only, I mean, there always have been hundreds of thousands of people who fell within the income guidelines to actually get half price rides every day of the year. They need to sign up though, and we need for them to know that they should sign up. How do we make that happen? I understand you're doing something.

Lieber: Listen what we've done, and Errol, thank you for pointing it out. We did a Fair Fares Day of Action today to really start to jumpstart public awareness. What we want to do is make sure that every person who is low income in New York knows that they can get half fare, we want them to use the transit system more and we want them to get this benefit. 

Louis: Okay, thanks very much. We got through a lot. Thanks for coming by.