MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared on NY1's Mornings on 1 with Pat Kiernan to discuss subway ridership and safety, along with other transit issues.
A transcript of the entire interview appears below.
NY 1 Anchor Pat Kiernan: There have been at least 9 subway assaults since last Friday when the mayor and the governor and the head of the MTA introduced new details on a subway safety plan. That plan is being implemented this week initially prioritizing these subway lines the and . There will be more police officers patrolling subway corridors, making sure that those who are homeless are getting off the trains, at the end of the line, trying to deter any aggressive behavior. The mayor says already 100 homeless people were reached in the first few days of this plan. MTA Chair Janno Lieber joins me now to talk about that plan and anything else going on and city transportation. Thank you for being here this morning.
MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber: Of course Pat. Good to be with you.
Kiernan: How does this come together? You've got a variety of different jurisdictions here with the NYPD working with the MTA. What has the collaborative process been on trying to find some solutions here?
Lieber: Well, first of all, the mayor and the governor have teamed up so that's a change from what we may have seen in the past, City Hall and Albany working together. The teams that are being put together combined homeless services, social service professionals, mental health professionals and frankly cops to back them up, so that those interactions with folks, who are for whatever reason, electing to house in the subway system, that those are meaningful interactions. None of them are guaranteed to produce an immediate results. But you got 30 teams of those mixed disciplines. You've got five stations where we have full time teams: Penn, Grand Central Station, Times Square, Fulton and so on. You have teams at the end of the line where people who are riding back and forth and the trains are encountering organized groups, social service workers and so on.
But in addition to all that, Pat, and this is really important and your intro made the point; there’s a commitment on the part of the city, backed up by the governor now, to force the subway rules of conduct. Because we have to help the folks who need services, but we also have to make sure that the subway system feels safe and is safe. And we get rid of some of this disorderly activity like people smoking, people using drugs, shopping carts, all the things that are creating a sense of disorder as people come back to work. That's what we're trying to deal with. And the mayor has stepped out on that very strong.
Kiernan: Are New Yorkers correct in the perception that it doesn't feel as safe as it did even a few months ago?
Lieber: Listen, the numbers are up slightly, and there are a couple of categories, especially robberies, that were up significantly, so that prompted people to look at it. Then the thing that concerns people or all of us is two-fold: one, the number of people who have come into the system during COVID who have mental health issues, and for whatever reason, are housing themselves in the system and two, some are related, the sense of disorder that's crept into the system that makes people, who are coming back to work, feel like this isn't as safe a place as it ought to be. Those are the two issues that the mayor and the governor have come up with a plan to attack and they're starting the implementation right now. It's going to take a little while, but that commitment is so meaningful for us in the MTA.
Kiernan: Okay, that disorder in another way is the fare beating. People feeling that the fares don't apply to them. And there are programs in place to help people with fares if they can't afford to. But there are many people who are choosing not to pay, jumping the turnstiles, and significantly – according to these numbers that came out last week – just walking on the back door of the bus. The estimate was 3 out of 10 bus riders are choosing not to pay. What can you do about that?
Lieber: Well, it's a really good question. During COVID, because of the health exposure of bus drivers, we started letting people come onto the back of the bus and we didn't for a time, didn't require people to pay the fare. It's very hard. We're having, we're struggling to get the principle of, you come on the front of the bus to pay your fare, or at least, if it's an SBS bus, you pay before you got on the bus. We're having trouble getting people to go back to the system. The MTA is no secret has a financial crisis. And we need the fare revenue if we're going to be able to provide service. But equally important, there's a sense of fairness, because when people don't pay, the folks who are trying to abide by the rules get demoralized and you start to have a snowballing effect. We've got to cut that off. We've got to come together on a strategy, partly enforcement, partly education to reestablish the principle that everybody must pay their fare when they're using the system.
Kiernan: Janno, a couple things I want to get to. Something that came up – I think – three or four weeks ago, after there was a prominent shoving incident was the question of why don't we implement platform doors that would eliminate the chance that someone gets pushed off the platform? It would be prohibitively expensive to do it in the entire system. But you've been looking at that new task force to deal with what you called the track incursions.
Lieber: Yeah, good. Good point, Pat. Listen, months ago I started seeing this; the number of people getting on the tracks and in the tunnel was going up. There's been a significant increase, so I created an interagency group at the MTA to study it. It's a really complicated issue. A lot of people are doing it voluntarily. Sometimes people with mental health issues do it and they don't understand the dangers and so on. So we're going to do education. We're going to do work with the NYU Psychiatry Department at NYU Medical Center to figure out how to deter people from, God forbid, committing suicide by jumping on track. But we're also going to be piloting, and this is new, we're going to be piloting both platform doors at three stations where the engineering does work. It doesn't work in a lot of places. But it's Time Square, at [3 Avenue] on the train, and the Sutphin Boulevard stop, where the JFK AirTrain connects. Those three stations are where we are looking forward to trying a pilot. We're also going to be piloting new technologies to detect track incursion using thermal technology, using laser technology, so we can know quicker when people get on the tracks and hopefully, interdict that kind of behavior. So new pilots including three stations, the platform door pilot.
Kiernan: And when you say a pilot – they will actually see platform doors at those stations for the pilot program?
Lieber: Yeah. It’s going to take a while. We’re going to put the money together, which is a little complicated. But our goal is to try out these technologies, at different places in the system, including three stations, trying out platform doors.
Kiernan: MTA Chairman Janno Lieber. Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
Lieber: Thank you.