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TRANSCRIPT: MTA Chair & CEO Lieber Appears Live on NY1’s Mornings on 1 with Pat Kiernan and Jamie Stelter

Updated April 29, 2024 9:30 a.m.
Chair Janno Lieber

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live on NY1’s Mornings On 1 with Pat Kiernan and Jamie Stelter to discuss congestion pricing and other transportation-related topics.   

A transcript appears below.

Pat Kiernan: If you think you might be eligible for one of the toll discounts under congestion pricing, it is time to get to work. The MTA has opened an application portal where you’ll find applications for low-income households and for people with disabilities. There's also a link there for companies that operate exempt vehicles, such as school buses. On Friday, the MTA set the countdown in motion for the traffic toll. June 30 will be the start date for the $15 toll, to travel through, in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. The MTA continues to fight off political opposition and lawsuits from drivers, but says it is on track to flip the switch on the toll – two months from now.

Janno Lieber (Pre-Recorded Interview from Friday): We are going up with public information campaigns, websites, all of our social media. We're going to be putting up signs pretty soon. Actually, the signs for congestion pricing are actually up, although they're covered. We're going to make sure that New Yorkers are aware that this is happening, even if they haven't been paying close attention, to every bounce of the ball.

Kiernan: And MTA Chair Janno Lieber is with us in studio.  Good morning.

Lieber: Good morning.

Kiernan: I think you were sitting in that chair a couple of months ago and you said it would be sometime in June. You've set that date now.

Lieber: Yeah.  And it’s a great thing. New York, after four years of four thousand pages of analysis and all this back and forth with the federal government, it’s time for New Yorkers to start to feel the benefits of congestion pricing: less traffic, cleaner air, safer streets and better transit. We're ready for it.

Kiernan: I feel like some politicians have left you out in front of this, and even though they may have supported this, initially, they're not eagerly pushing it out there at this point.  It's a bit of a third rail when it comes to people who live in driving-heavy neighborhoods.

Lieber: Yeah, you know, you're not wrong. I mean, we're doing this, in implementing a law of the State of New York, that was passed back in 2019. But Governor Hochul has been a great leader. She understands that this is a climate change issue. This is about the city's economy. We're wasting billions of dollars with people sitting in traffic, and that New York leads, thatevery city in the country is struggling with congestion. New York's is the worst. It's time for New York to lead.

Kiernan: I don't think we've convinced people, if they are to be convinced of that, we’ll know whether it's true or not a few months from now, but we’ve talked to delivery companies a couple of weeks ago and they said, you know, I'm gonna have to pass on a price increase because my trucks gonna have to pay $24 a day.

Jamie Stelter: Or if you read through any comment section, and the stories are endless about: What am I supposed to do? I take my kids to sports on Roosevelt Island. I take my grandmother to her doctors’ appointments. People, every New Yorker, has a story about why it’s not good for that.

Lieber: Yet Jamie, when we held the hearings, we held all these public hearings, 60% of people who showed up supported congestion pricing. A lot of them were talking about the fact that congestion is creating an unlivable environment in their neighborhood; that there's traffic imbalance. People getting hit by cars, bad air quality. So, there are lots of people, the silent majority in some ways, who feel differently. On the issue of deliveries, though, let’s be clear. What folks who are doing those deliveries aren't taking into consideration is the time that they will save, if there is less congestion. So, while they may pay a daily charge, it may be in effect, a way of reducing the wasted dollars they’re spending, sitting in that traffic.

Kiernan: Let's go through this application process here. You've got a central website set up where then you can look at the application for the disability exemption, you can look at the application for the low-income discount. What's that process going to be like for people?

Lieber: Yeah, I mean, we opened-up -- one of the reasons we chose the date a couple of weeks later than we thought originally was gonna be possible -- was we wanted to make sure people had time to go through the application process. The key discounts, exemptions, are for low-income folks and people with disabilities and those are in enacted in the system. We also have, you know, all the school buses and the buses, even privately operated buses that may qualify, and emergency vehicles and that some of that is getting the older government institutions, fire departments, and so on.

Stelter: But do you have the infrastructure to keep up with all the applications that might come in?

Lieber: I think so. I mean, listen, we have been planning for this moment. A proof positive of our good planning is that all of the cameras in the infrastructure for actually doing the tolls, enforcing the tolls, is in place in operation. We have a 5G network that can be turned on immediately, and that has all been done, complicated, Verizon, Con Ed, and so on. So, we're ready to go.

Kiernan: Okay, so it's not been quite a Santa Claus moment over the past few weeks, but there has been a little sprinkling of some MTA goodwill around. We were talking about this 10% discount program for commuter rail. It looks like there may be some money for New Jersey in terms of mitigation of traffic there. We've seen additional investments in bus service. What's the idea behind it? Is that part of the delivery ultimately of providing better transit in exchange for all this toll money?

Lieber: Some of those things came out of this state budget, and we were looking for a couple of things from the state budget. One is more discounts, especially for commuter rail riders inside the city. We have room on the commuter rails, and I've always been passionate about the idea that New York City people should get more of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. So, we're discounting the monthly tickets for folks who ride from, you know, Woodlawn, or Morris Park, or, you know, other neighborhoods in the Bronx, Jamaica, Bayside, Douglaston, so that people can use the commuter railroad system and save time. We also got more tools for fare evasion enforcement and toll evasion enforcement, which is incredibly important because we're seeing things heading in some ways in the wrong directions, especially on the tolls.

Stelter: And, so, once it's implemented, do you have a benchmark for how you will measure success? Is it ridership numbers on the subways? I'm talking about congestion pricing, or the amount of money coming in? How are you going to be able to measure that?

Lieber: I think that the ultimate goal is to reduce traffic so that the city operates better, so that ambulances can get the hospitals and fire trucks and police cars…

Kiernan: Is there a benchmark now for that?

Lieber: Yeah, we are the worst in the nation in congestion. That's a starter, but there are different ways. Travels speed for buses in the CBD are like six miles an hour. The general traffic speed is like seven miles an hour. You're talking about really bad things, bad for our economy, bad for bad for our environment. So, traffic reduction is the principal goal. Obviously, we want to make sure we hit the revenue target, so that we can invest more in mass transit. That was one of the goals of the original law, and we're shooting for enough money so that we can bond it into $15 billion in investments in the subway system, especially.

Kiernan: I think there's been a real shift in perception of subway safety in the years that have passed since the original law was passed. And we, repeatedly, when we go to people and say: Why aren't you taking the subway? Why do you insist on driving your car through this terrible traffic? Some people will respond and say: I don't feel safe on the subway.

Lieber: Well, you know, honestly, where we are right now, that the stats are actually headed in a very positive direction. Last week, literally, this is the news that we got the stats overnight, crime is down 33% versus the equivalent week last year, and, so far this year, we are significantly down even though we had a bad January. We are way lower than we were pre-COVID. So, the subway system on the stats is pretty safe. But we have to deal with this bigger issue of both the high-profile crimes and the disproportionate impact of people with mental health issues in all of our public spaces, especially the subway. And that's something that under Governor Hochul’s leadership, we are really attacking, trying to get the severely mentally ill folks into wards where they can get treatment, and out of the out of the subways where they are alarming to riders, and definitely having an impact.

Kiernan: Two months to go until congestion pricing. Thanks for coming in this morning.

Lieber: You bet.