MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye appeared live on 1010 WINS with Susan Richard to discuss the future of public transit and responses to customer surveys showing concern over crime and harassment.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Susan Richard: Joining us live to talk more about this, MTA Chairman Pat Foye.
Patrick Foye: Morning Susan, how are you?
Richard: Good. So tell us what is the MTA’s stance on this letter from the heads of these unions?
Foye: We are in complete lockstep with the unions who have sent the letter to the Mayor. They represent hundreds of thousands of employees in New York City. Look, we survey, we're making this request, and the unions are making a request, on behalf of our customers, millions of them, and tens of thousands of transit workers across the MTA. The good news is that the system saw more than 3 million riders on last Friday, the system carried on the subways and buses, that is continuing to increase. But we survey our customers and our customers are telling us that that most mostly concern they have is being safe from crime and harassment on the subways. And since we last surveyed our customers, there has been a dramatic decrease in their satisfaction with the sense of security with respect to crime and harassment on subways and beyond.
Richard: Right, so that was--that was the report, the survey that you guys released that said an overwhelming majority of riders said they were more concerned about crime in the subways than catching COVID and Mayor de Blasio responded really accusing the MTA of fearmongering. So here's my question about that. If the NYPD is citing crime statistics as part of their argument, but then we keep doing stories about shovings and stabbings, and then we have the survey where people are afraid. What is the disconnect? Is there a perception problem about the crime?
Foye: No, I think it's both reality and perception, Susan. So for instance, in the first quarter, the number of felony assaults increased nearly 10%. That's reality. But in addition, customer and employee perceptions are important. We surveyed 33,000 customers, about 25,000 that were active, that were riding the subways and buses, and about 8, 000 who are prior customers, and both of them are far more concerned about crime and harassment on the subways than they are about COVID. As a matter of fact, those riding the system believe that the system from a cleanliness point of view, from a disinfecting point of view, has never been cleaner. So this concern, which the union leaders this morning in their letter to the Mayor have expressed demanding additional police presence and additional mental health services, is being made on behalf of obviously the tens of thousands of transit workers, but also millions of MTA customers on subways, buses, commuter rails, etcetera.
Richard: NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg said recently she'd like to see a cop, cops on every platform. Now, is that reasonable? What would you like to see specifically?
Foye: Well look, Sarah and I both agree that we need additional police officers put in the system. It doesn't, as the union leaders say in their letter this morning, have to be a 10-year commitment. But New York City and the region is at a pivotal point where we're going to be bringing back and we have to attract office workers, you know, New York, many New York City Class A buildings have been closed since March or April. We've got to get those people back to work and we've got to get them back on transit. Making sure that they are safe from crime and harassment is a significant part of that, as well as protecting our employees. But also the perception of that is as important and the reality at a time where we're going to be attracting, working to attract, millions of customers to return to transit and to the City of New York.
Richard: Well, something like 80,000 city workers are supposed to start going back to the office, I think May 5 is the date, if I have that correctly. There are, a lot of this is playing out in the media. Have you or anyone else at the MTA had a direct conversation with either the Mayor or the Police Commissioner, recently?
Foye: The short answer is yes.
Richard: Okay, and making any headway?
Foye: Well, look, we are thankful that the, that the Mayor and the Police Commissioner added 600 police officers after that unfortunate stabbing spree on the train in February. But more needs to be done, and the letter from the union leaders this morning is making the point, which is the point that Sarah Feinberg and I have been making for some time, we need a significant increase of police presence, at least at this point in time, and a significant increase in mental health resources and workers to deal with emotionally disturbed people, not only in the streets, but in this case in the subways. That's really critical, and it's critical to protect our customers and our employees.
Richard: Yeah, talk a little bit about that. Because I will tell you the other day on the subway there was a homeless, clearly mentally ill person who was ranting in an empty subway car and all of us, as the doors opened, who went to get on was like ‘whoa’ and we all went to a different car, and it’s just, you know, it’s sad. It was just, it was scary, but it was also sad.
Foye: Well, of course, and the scary nature of that encounter, you're not the only one encountering that. And that is why we're in lockstep with the union leaders and their request for additional police presence now and additional mental health services. The emotionally disturbed need help. They don’t need to be living on city streets or in the subways, and it is critical and as we look to increase the number of commuters and buses, and commuter rails that our customers and employees not only are safe, but feel safe.
Richard: While we have you here I have one final question. Is there a timeline at this point for re-upping subway service between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., and will any of the overnight bus lines, the pandemic lines, will any of them remain in place once that happens?
Foye: So we are looking to bring 24/7 service back as quickly as we can. Obviously as a ridership continues to, ridership in the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. period is modest, but that ridership will increase. As it increases as for instance restaurants open, office buildings open as you mentioned, city workers returning in May, and we're very focused on that and looking forward to bringing that that service back. With respect to the bus service, we are running at 100% service in effect on subways and buses, and we're looking forward to increased ridership. On Friday, we carried 3 million passengers between subways and buses. That's a significant number. It makes us the largest transit system in the country, even on a pre-pandemic basis. But, you know, pre-pandemic, we carry 5.5 million customers on subways on an average weekday and approximately two [million] on buses. So while ridership has come back, we've got a long way to go and one of the key things in bringing those customers back is going to be able to convince them that the system is safe and secure from crime and harassment, and that we've got to make sure that that is their perception. Additional police resources and mental health resources will play a significant role in that.
Richard: All right, MTA Chairman Pat Foye, thank you so much.
Foye: Thank you, Susan.