MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber made a live television appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe with host Willie Geist and contributors Michael Barnicle and Jonathan Lemire to discuss subway safety.
A transcript of interview appears below.
MSNBC Anchor Willie Geist: Joining us now, the man you saw standing just over the Governor’s shoulder there, the Chair and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Janno Lieber. Mr. Lieber thanks for being here.
MTA Chair & CEO Janno Lieber: Appreciate it. Good to be with you.
Geist: So let's start with a little news this morning. There's been a lot of talk that the camera was down at the 36th Street Station in Brooklyn. You say this morning, you've got video of this man.
Lieber: Yeah, we have 600 cameras on that line. Just in Brooklyn, over 10,000 in the system, way, way up from where it was a couple of years ago. So we have a lot of video. The cops have been, the NYPD obviously has great investigators and are really doing a great job combing through that overnight. We have video now of three angles of this fellow who is the person of interest, entering the system, obviously with a lot of material, which the cops have reported on. So a lot of video, a lot of evidence of where he came in and what he looks like, what he was carrying.
Geist: Do you have any sense from that video of how he got away? Obviously, there was chaos, which explains a lot of it. Do you see him escaping?
Lieber: No, no. And again, as I said, 600 cameras just in Brooklyn on those two lines. So we're on that platform. A lot of evidence to sift through. But I think amazing work by the NYPD. They know who this fellow is. He has a ton of priors; they know his social media. You know, they are, they're very much on the job to find this guy and bring him to justice.
Geist: We all were talking in the break. We all at this table rode the subway yesterday. And last night, it was shoulder-to-shoulder, it was packed. There was a sense of kind of looking out for each other, helping each other. The spirit of New York was on display in that moment as well as people, civilians, snapped into action.
Lieber: I thank you so much for mentioning it Willie. I mean, obviously this was a terrible, horrific day for the people who were on that platform and for New Yorkers in general. But we also saw in that moment of emergency, the way New Yorkers respond. You saw people helping people who are wounded. You saw people standing over people to try to make sure they had the best chance of recovery and looking after each other. That, you know, coincidentally I was on 4th Avenue on 9-11. I saw people walking back from Manhattan, when subways were down on 9-11, covered in the ashes of the Twin Towers. And New Yorkers are stepping out to give them water, to offer them rides, to offer them comfort. That same spirit was on display yesterday. It's what we count on to make New York work, because even though we're not always perceived as super friendly, in crises, people really step up.
Mike Barnicle: You know Mr. Lieber, you know more than most people know that the subway system in New York City is the beating heart of the city. And it's also an incredibly egalitarian system. You can see like millionaires well-dressed, sitting next to someone, you know, with a canary on his shoulder.
Lieber: It's all true.
MSNBC Journalist Jonathan Lemire: But that was Willie on the train.
Barnicle: But the larger issue is…
Barnicle: is now the fact that this alleged perpetrator, he had quite a backpack when he got on that system yesterday morning. He had guns, smoke bombs, a hatchet. Is there anything that can be done to minimize carry on stuff like that?
Lieber: We're going to take a look obviously. We're looking at the forefront of technology, as the mayor talked about that a little. The bottom line is that on that platform, in addition to the backpack, and all these materials he left behind, I saw kids schoolwork, backpacks filled with kids schoolwork. So what we're not going to do is create an environment where people can't go about their business and create something that's impractical. This is our public square. This is the sacred public space in New York, as you said, it's what makes New York possible. We couldn't have the density and the access to jobs and education and culture that we have at this scale, without the subway. It's also the place where New York's diversity shows best. All of these different kinds of people, in a confined space, figuring out how to get along every day. The train runs through some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. You've got a Latino neighborhood; it is next to Brooklyn's Chinatown. It's right next to the center of Hasidic Orthodox, Jewish Brooklyn. So it's an incredible melting pot. A gorgeous mosaic as our former mayor used to call it. The subways is a special place in New York’s heart. We're never going to let it be taken over by maniacs.
Lemire: I feel like I should identify myself as an train guy compared to the two trains here. But I want to ask about two statistics. Transit crime has spiked 46% in the last year. You talk a little bit about that. But what can we do to bring that down? But also, the idea of ridership. As the city is reopened, certainly subways were fuller then it was, but it's still only at 60% of what it was in March 2020. How do you get more people back on the trains?
Lieber: Those are good questions. I mean, transit crime, the way we attack transit crime, and credit to the mayor and the governor because they made it a priority at the beginning of the year, long before this happened. One, we need to put cops on platforms and on trains, which is where people feel vulnerable and where they are vulnerable. And the mayor has started to do that. The other thing is to just enforce the basic rules of conduct. The bad guys don't pay the fare. You know, most of the time, they come in illegally, beating the fare, jumping the turnstile going through the slam gate. So they catch a lot of people just by enforcing fare evasion and by enforcing rules of conduct: no smoking, no drug use, no carrying huge shopping carts. Those are ways that we start to diminish transit crime. And also, by having cops on platforms, on trains New Yorkers will feel safer. The goal, as you point out, is to restore ridership and, you know, the functionality of New York, to where it was pre-COVID. We are getting back to normalcy, about 60%, double where we were a year ago. But we have a way to go. We're still waiting for everybody to come back to the office. It's no secret that is part of the equation, but we want New Yorkers to feel safe and to be safe. I trust in this governor and mayor to continue to make subway safety a huge priority. We're going to back them up.
Giest: But you know there’s been some pushback from the new DA, saying we're not going to prosecute turnstile jumping and all those kinds of things. What is your assessment of why things are objectively worse in terms of crime, in the subway? They're the big splashy incidents that are horrific ones. But also, they're every day on every platform they're things happening. Why is it different now than it was four or five years ago?
Lieber: There's definitely COVID. I would say there's a little erosion of public behavior and COVID, in lots of parts of the city. We see it. There is obviously some folks who are struggling with all kinds of addiction issues, in some cases mental health issues, who have found their way into the public space. We need to just reestablish that sense of order and normalcy. I think the mayor, you heard him earlier, he really is committed to that. I think that's going to go a long way to addressing some of the issues that we're having. But you know, the subway is a microcosm of New York. We also need to overcome crime in New York, and again, top priority for governor and mayor. They again started talking about it, literally the day after January 1st.
Geist: We should point out, as we praise rightly, the NYPD and the FDNY – the MTA workers, who pulled out wisely from the station, encourage people to get on the other train, which then pulled out of the station. There were some heads up work in that moment.
Lieber: Thank you. Thank you for pointing that out, Willie. I mean MTA workers are unsung heroes of COVID. Even when we didn't know how transmissible the virus was, they showed up every day and helped the city power through those difficult early days of COVID. They showed up again yesterday. Those guys, the conductor and the motorman, who are running that train on the train, scrambled to get everybody on the train and move the train out of harm's way quickly! Big heroes. And every day MTA workers are doing small heroic things. We don't want to overlook them.
Geist: Chair and CEO of the MTA. Janno Lieber with some news today that there is video now in the hands of the NYPD, of this person of interest. Thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.
Lieber: You bet. Thank you.