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TRANSCRIPT: MTA Chair and CEO Lieber Appears on The Point with Marcia Kramer

Updated September 25, 2022 4:30 p.m.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared on CBS-2’s The Point with Marcia Kramer this morning to discuss transportation issues.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Marcia Kramer: MTA head Janno Lieber has to convince multiple residents of the Tri-State area that congestion pricing is good for them. He joins me to talk about another top issue in the governor’s race. So, let's get right to it. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor, says that if he gets elected, he's going to stop congestion pricing. Can he, and is that a good idea?
Janno Lieber: I understand it’s the political season but what we're doing right now is just to implement the what the State Legislature passed back in 2019 which said that congestion pricing had to be implemented. And that we should follow this federal environmental review process which is going to take a little while. We're still evaluating all the comments that came in. That's the point, is to hear from the public, give people a chance to share their views. And also to identify this issue of who should, what categories of folks need exemptions and discounts. So, we're evaluating all that, it’s going to take a little while, probably early 2024 before anything really happens.
Kramer: Isn’t that later than you had originally suggested? Didn’t you originally suggest it was 2023?
Lieber: I think, you know, again, it could be late 2023, early 2024. I just want to be straight up that we are now in the middle of this federal environmental review process. The feds have to sign off on all of the hoops that that process requires us to jump through in terms on analyzing. Remember, all the things that people have been hearing about are just us trying to analyze what would happen in different scenarios. We're not proposing. So, what we're going to do is take all that data, analyze it with the help of some experts, and then, only then can we start to implement it, and after there’s federal approval, so it’s going to take a little while.
Kramer: You bring up the environment, one of the things that people are concerned about is the increased pollution in some areas, like the South Bronx, where’ they’re supposed to get more truck traffic. Also, in the areas like the tunnels that come into the central business district both on the Hudson River and on the East River, that there might be more pollution in those areas. And some of those areas are communities that have big asthma problems. Are you going to be able to deal with that, and rectify that before the congestion pricing goes into effect?
Lieber: It's a very good question because the whole point of this process is to identify where that might happen so that you can make sure it doesn't happen. So, for example, in the South Bronx, an area that has had its fair share of environmental impacts from prior projects, now knowing what might happen, we can actually make some adjustments. Actually us at the MTA –
Kramer: How do you ameliorate that?
Lieber: Well, we at the MTA actually came up with a new scenario that was studied that brought the number of additional trucks on the Cross Bronx almost down to zero. So, that shows where we're coming from.
Kramer: How do you do that?
Lieber: You know, what you do is?
Kramer: This is news.
Lieber: No, it's actually in the environmental assessment, it was just one of, you know, seven or eight different scenarios.
Kramer: How do you reroute all these trucks?
Lieber: Well, what you do is, what that scenario did is it reduced the toll enough for trucks so that they wouldn't be as incentivized to take the new route and to go over the Cross Bronx. It is fair that the folks in the Bronx, make sure that they don't have additional environmental impact. But broadly speaking Marica, it’s really important. This is good for the whole region including for New Jersey and Long Island in terms of air quality and for people who do have to drive, for businesses that do have to bring trucks into the central business district, less traffic, less gridlock is going to be a good thing. So, there are some benefits.
Kramer: So, you bring up New Jersey, so I have to ask you about it because, you know, the Governor of New Jersey is not thrilled about congestion pricing to say the least. I was wondering if you were to say to the governor of New Jersey, listen, we’re going to take out some of our money that we are going to raise from congestion pricing and give it to NJ Transit so we’ll improve transit in New Jersey as well. Do you think that might eliminate some of his opposition?
Lieber: You know, I don't know. New Jersey folks will benefit. Because most folks who commute from New Jersey, 80% of them do use mass transit. Folks who come in from New Jersey, most of them come out of Penn Station or one other terminal and then they get on the subway or they take a bus. So, the investments that we're going to make in MTA, in the Capital Program with the revenues from congestion pricing will benefit them as well. I think it's a good point that we should make more strongly to our New Jersey friends.
Kramer: So, you don’t think you can take New York money and give it them to improve their transit system so they buy into it?
Lieber: You know, it's an interesting idea. I hadn't really thought about it. Right now, the legislation that was passed back in 2019 says that all the revenues from congestion pricing have to fill a big hole in the Capital Program and that is going to pay for us to do all the improvements we're starting to see and we need more of in the MTA system.
Kramer: So, another New Jersey question. What if you were to say to people who have to come into the city from New Jersey, that when they take the two tunnels that go into the central business district, that they don’t pay the additional fee, they just pay the fee to take the tunnel?
Lieber: A couple of scenarios that were looked at, again, in the study, in the environmental assessments, do actually call for there to be a credit of some kind for folks taking the tunnels that do land in the central business district.
Kramer: Is that a good idea?
Lieber: So that's under review. Like I said, we're not yet ready to say what we think. In fact, we have a whole process where we have to give all the data to some outside experts, and they make some recommendations to us. The goal is to have minimal impact, negative impacts on the environment, to have maximum air quality improvement. Just remember, Marcia, this week was U.N. week which we all know is gridlock week, and yet traffic was even up relative to pre-pandemic. People are coming in, even though they can see all those signs on the expressway that say it’s a gridlock alert day.
Kramer: The traffic was terrible.
Lieber: The traffic was terrible. I just came to visit you from the south end of the central business, all the way downtown, to the upper end of the central business district. Took 16 minutes. If you had driven? Good luck. So, this is a good thing for all kinds of New Yorkers, especially people who come into town and they want to be able to get around to do business.
Kramer: So, let's talk the idea of the exemptions. Everybody in the history of life who’s involved in congestion pricing says, “I shouldn’t have to pay.” So, the argument that transit advocates make is that every time you give an exemption, the fare, the fee goes up. What’s your thought about that? And do you think that people who have city jobs who have to come into the city, and work in the central business district, police, fire, teachers, should they get an exemption? Should City Council get an exemption? Is the mayor going to have to pay a congestion fee when he goes from Gracie Mansion to City Hall? I mean–
Lieber: All fair questions but they all have to be worked out. And the first step is to get all the data, analyze it, to look at all the comments and then give it to this body of experts who are going to study it. My own view, I think is similar to yours, which is we should do everything possible to try to keep the base toll down. And if that means trying to limit the number of exemptions and discounts. It's hard if you start giving out a lot of those discounts and exemptions, to know where to stop. I hope we keep the base toll down. I think that’s what everybody wants.
Kramer: So, we have some news out of London this week that Andy Byford who made history a while back by being the popular train daddy, has resigned from his post in London and is coming back to the United States. My question to you is there any role for him at the MTA?
Lieber: I think what he said was, what I read was that Andy said he's going into the private sector, he’s ending his public service career, so I wish him luck. I had the good fortune of being able to work in the private sector for a few years and it helped me put three kids through college. So, I'm very sympathetic when someone says you know it might be time for a change of career. Andy’s a very capable guy and I know he’ll succeed in whatever he does.
Kramer: So, there's a number of other things, other issues that you're dealing with at the MTA. One is that fact that you're now going to install two cameras in every subway car. To make people feel safe. How important is that to sending a message to people that they should come back on the subways?
Lieber: You know, it's super important. I think back to when I first met Governor Hochul, a little more than a year ago. And we were dealing with Hurricane Ida and she was just coming on the job and she said we need the subways to be in top condition to get people back to work and to revive the economy, and we need them to be safe. It was the first thing that she emphasized. So, this was something we were testing out and the Governor said I'm going to find money. She did, to make sure that you can do it in the whole subway fleet. So, that's what we're going to do. Put two cameras in every subway car. And we will really, I think, have a much better handle on things, if people do bad stuff. Now important to emphasize, there are only five major crimes a day in the New York subway system, between five and six. So, the system I think is a little safer than some of the general discussion leads people to believe. We're headed in the right direction.
Kramer: So, my question is that a lot of civil rights groups, the NYCLU and others, are concerned about you know, big brother is watching you. We have too many surveillance cameras already. What do you say to them, that why these are needed?
Lieber: Listen, that ship has sailed. We have the commuter railroads, the airports, the buses, everything has cameras on the inside of it. This building that we're in has cameras on the outside. You're not entitled, I don't think anybody has any expectation of privacy in a public space, especially where the first priority is to protect riders and to deliver a safe environment.
Kramer: So, one quick question before we have to go. Six minutes subway service, six minute of bus service, is that anywhere in the realm of reality?
Lieber: You know, most of our morning and afternoon peak service is at that rate. I would love to give more service. The real issue is economics: Can we afford it? Right now, the MTA, because of the reduced ridership from COVID, has a structural deficit. After the money from Washington that Chuck Schumer helped us get, runs out in a couple of years, we have a deficit because of shortage revenue. I would love to add more service but first we got to solve the budget problem.
Kramer: Well, Janno, we’ll leave it right there for now, but my conversation with the head of the MTA doesn't end here. We’ll have your questions for the MTA immediately following the show on our streaming channel, CBS News, New York. We’ll be back in just a minute.