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TRANSCRIPT: MTA Chair & CEO Lieber Appears Live on PIX11’s Morning News with Dan Mannarino and Hazel Sanchez

Updated April 30, 2024 11:15 a.m.
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Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live on PIX11 Morning News to discuss the sharp decline in subway crime, congestion pricing, and other transportation-related topics.

A transcript of the interview appears below.

Hazel Sanchez: All right, well, two months from today, the MTA is hoping to roll out congestion pricing.

Dan Mannarino: Yes, the MTA announcing the tolls will go into effect on June 30th.  So to talk more about that is MTA Chairman Janno Lieber.  So great to have you here in person this morning.

Janno Lieber: Good to be with you.

Mannarino: So we’ll get to congestion pricing in just a second, but I want to talk about the big news for today, which is this push for this 10% discount now for people taking Metro-North or the Long Island Rail Road in that toll zone, right.  And there’s a vote on that.  So how will that all work?

Lieber: Well, it’s simple.  We have a lot of stations in the city where there are people who are taking the subways to work, but they could save half an hour if they took Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road, you have a faster trip.  And we have room on the commuter railroad trains. The commuter railroads, right now, are having a golden era.  Metro-North, 99% on time performance.  Long Island Rail Road, 96%.  So this is great service and we want to make it more available to New Yorkers.  We have added stops in the city, and it’s become a game changer for a lot of people in the city.  Now, that particular discount is funded, by what they call, Albany did this, the outer-borough transportation account, which is specifically intended to help folks who live in the outer boroughs, get on mass transit.  So that’s how this one was funded.  But, important to note, monthly tickets on both commuter railroads, cheaper than before COVID. And, they’ve already been discounted all over the system.

Sanchez: What about New Jersey Transit riders? I mean, a day after congestion pricing goes into effect, they are going to have to deal with a 15% rate hike.

Lieber: Yeah.

Sanchez: What about them? Are there any possibilities they could get any discount?

Lieber: Listen, I don’t run New Jersey Transit, and it’s no secret New Jersey is suing New York.  And it’s amazing that Phil Murphy is suing Joe Biden in an election year.  Kind of amazing.  But New Jersey Transit has struggled.  There’s no question, they’ve struggled with service, and for some reason, the state of New Jersey is not solving their funding problem. Kathy Hochul, our governor, addressed the MTA’s budget deficit, coming out of COVID.  Huge steps.  She did it all last year, and the result is the MTA has a balanced budget. I hope that New Jersey will take similar steps to deal with their own population.  They’re important to the region.

Mannarino: Yeah.  So, when you look at the lawsuit, you’re mentioning that one in New Jersey, that’s not the only one. There are ones on Staten Island as well.  You have teachers involved in a lawsuit as well. So where do the lawsuits stand, overall, on the rollout of congestion pricing. You set the date for June 30th, but that’s before some of these cases are heard.

Lieber: No, actually both of the judges, both in New Jersey and in New York, have indicated they are going to take action on those lawsuits before congestion pricing.

Mannarino: But they haven’t done it yet.

Lieber: They haven’t done it yet.  Listen, these are very generic lawsuits.  You know, whenever there’s an environmental review of a project, frequently it is challenged, and usually it’s a pretty open and shut case.  What we are doing, the steps to plan and implement, so we make sure we’re ready.  What we’ve already got is the whole infrastructure: the camera system, the 5-G network, to implement congestion pricing, it’s done. It’s fully operational. We’re doing all the planning necessary to make sure that we can be ready in every way. But do not be misled by some of the press reports. You know, the population that is projected to come out of cars and onto transit is tiny.  It’s like 20-, 30,000 people.  We have that much swing in our ridership on the MTA, based on whether the forecast calls for drizzle or heavy rain, every day of the week. Easy for us to accommodate those people, if they want to come to mass transit and take advantage of a great mass transit system. 

Sanchez: Will there be any kind of a grace period then?

Lieber: I mean, right now, we haven't planned any. What we're doing right now is we're trying to get the word out. It's kind of the grace period. We have the system, you know we could take pictures and run the system right now if we had to, but we're trying to get the word out so people can plan. We chose the time which is, you know, with the fact in mind that it's right after school gets out, it's a change in people's commuting patterns as they’re headed into the summer. So it seemed like the right time to implement this big change. But guys, I am excited. Cleaner air, every single pollutant, every single toxic substance that’s in our air is projected to go down significantly region wide. Better traffic, better mass transit, safer streets, fewer people being harmed, or killed in traffic accidents.

Mannarino: That’s certainly your take. Because you talk to a Congressman Gottheimer who says well, the pollution in New Jersey is going to get a whole lot worse. That's one other issue. But I want to…

Lieber: Yeah, but that's not right because, because it's important not to let it go, Dan. The federal government took a look at the kind of stuff that Gottheimer is claiming, and what they said is no, this is not a significant impact. You are wrong, sir. So that's why Phil Murphy is suing Joe Biden is because he disagrees with the federal government.

Mannarino: And forgive me for this question, because I'm listening to talk about New Jersey Transit saying well, they kind of mismanaged their money, where folks would say congestion pricing has come along because the MTA mismanaged their money along the way, and that's why they need the congestion pricing money to kind of work some of the mismanagements, the toll, fare beaters and so on and so forth. So how do you kind of answer that question?

Lieber: Yeah, I mean, listen, the MTA right now is operating at pretty high level of efficiency. We closed that budget deficit with some more dedicated revenue from the state, but we also cut $500 million a year out of our budget without cutting service or people. So, we're doing efficiency and in fact, Dan, the MTA’s budget is down 3% in real terms versus pre-COVID. We are highly efficient. We can talk about all the projects. We talked about it yesterday at our board meeting, one project after another getting done on time and on budget. People need to start looking at today's MTA. We're getting the job done.

Sanchez: Okay, before we let you go, I mean, if this all happens, like you say it's going to happen, what about express bus service?

Lieber: Good news. There is, you know, express buses are really convenient for people in some of the boroughs especially, in Queens, and Brooklyn, Staten Island. A lot of express bus service. We do a heavy express bus service, especially to Staten Island. We have, they're not full. They're running about 40% capacity, but we're adding a little frequency in each of those systems, just so it's an extra appeal. So people might get a few more opportunities or options about riding express buses instead of taking some other mode of transit, it's a little quicker.

Mannarino: Let me ask you a question right now because obviously the whole idea is for people to take the express buses and to take subways as well. And there's this idea right now that the subways aren't safe, right? So, and some would say that congestion pricing should hold off while we deal with the safety issue. I know you're going to say the numbers are down in terms of crime, but perception still not there yet. So how do you kind of battle that and changing the perception of if the subways are safe?

Lieber: You know, listen you're not wrong, the perception issue is real. I have to be, I have to listen to riders, and we do surveys, hundreds of thousands of people are asked their opinion. There's definitely some safety concern. I have, we have to at the MTA and the leadership, the mayor and the governor who have been really strong on this issue. We all have to get the word out. Number one, statistics are headed in a very positive direction. We have lower crime than before COVID, and actually, we have lower crime than last year. There was a little moment in January where we thought crime was heading a bad direction. We're actually in a great place. We have on average for the year like five crimes a day in a population of like five or six million riders on MTA systems is pretty good. That's like the population the city of Los Angeles. Yesterday there was one felony crime in the system. So we have to keep making sure people understand the stats, but I think people love seeing more uniformed cops, and we work with the City. The governor has been really supportive to make sure there are plenty of cops in the system. People know that they're there, and they know that they have that security if anything happens.

Sanchez: Hoping to keep the National Guard down there as well?

Lieber: Yeah, I mean with National Guard their presence, anytime there's a uniform presence it's reassuring to riders, and the National Guard has allowed the police, the NYPD, to spread their footprint even further, that's a plus.

Mannarino: All right, MTA Chairman Janno Lieber, great to have you here in our studio.

Lieber: Thank you.