MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye appeared on NY1 Mornings on 1 with Pat Kiernan to discuss the MTA reaching record pandemic-era ridership as well as crime and policing on subways.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Pat Kiernan: New subway ridership numbers to report. The MTA announced that this past Thursday, May 6, they had the highest number of trips since the beginning of the pandemic. May 6, almost 2.2 million subway trips, the most since the onset of the COVID pandemic. Ridership is at about 37% of pre-pandemic levels, it was April 9, when we surpassed 2 million. So there has been a progression here. Clearly, we want to get the city back to a full reopening and that is a long process. MTA Chairman Pat Foye is with me this morning. Nice to see you this morning Pat.
Patrick Foye: Morning Pat.
Kiernan: The goal is to get back to 100% of ridership, to get the city back into action. Where does the MTA stand on its ability to move the passengers as those numbers come back?
Foye: Well, the pre-pandemic weekday average was 5.5 million, Pat. That's our goal. We have the capacity to safely carry that number, and frankly, a little bit beyond that. Right now we're running 100% of subway service. As you noted, new record on Thursday, nearly 2.2 million. There's been a steady increase on subway and bus ridership, and we expect that to continue as workers return to offices, people will take advantage of expanded hours for restaurants, bars, etcetera, and I think it's fair to say New York is on the upswing.
Kiernan: Is the MTA’s ability to provide enough service a constraint for getting those offices back in your view? People want more space, they don't want to be in a crowded train at 8 a.m. Is there anything that you can do to help that? Could you possibly add more service or are you at a limit here?
Foye: Well, as I said, we're running 100% of subway service; 98% of our customers are wearing masks. We regularly monitor that and report it, that's the single most important thing customers can do to protect themselves, fellow commuters and our employees. So continue wearing a mask, it's federal and state law as a result of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order. We're disinfecting subway cars and platforms and stations, we're going to continue doing that. Then a week from today, May 17, we're going to return 24-hour subway service to the city that never sleeps.
Kiernan: And what does that mean in terms of the 24/7 service? Are there operational changes, staffing changes to make that happen?
Foye: Yeah, there are. Sarah Feinberg and her team have been working on this for a, for a long time. We think that the transition on Monday, May 17, a week from today, will go smoothly. We're going to continue disinfecting and, you know, we expect that to be efficient and a seamless transition.
Kiernan: Pat one thing people have said that has kept them from the subways is the fear of Coronavirus, and as people are vaccinated they are starting to get over that. The other is the fear of crime on the subway. We did a NY1 poll a couple of weeks ago where we found people say that's a significant obstacle to returning to the subway. There's been back and forth, as you know, between City officials, police officials and MTA officials. You got together with the transit unions to hold a news conference last week, which you know, on one hand, it's important for you to get the message out there. I asked the question, as I saw this news conference, what's stopping you from calling the Mayor and having that discussion directly rather than having discussion through the media? Is this a productive way to engage with City officials?
Foye: Well, I've been talking to the Mayor, Sarah Feinberg has been talking to the Police Commissioner. Look, the bottom line Pat is we need on the subways more police resources, full-time uniformed police resources and mental health resources. Your poll shows the same thing that our survey of about 30,000 of our customers show, that our customers are concerned, number one concern is not COVID on the part of those riding on subways today, it's crime and harassment. Felony assaults are up significantly over the past two or three years from the period this year, January to the end of April. And our customers are concerned also about harassment, and quality of life issues, and panhandling and spitting. And then the other group that we're really concerned about is our employees. Our employees, transit workers, have reported over 1,000 assaults, attacks, threats or spitting instances over the last six months. I stood outside Jamaica Hospital with Tony Utano, who's the president of [TWU] Local 100, there was a terrible slashing event of one of our off-duty transit workers who was returning home. Fortunately, that worker is going to recover, but he's got a long recovery of ahead of him. Tony and I visited him in a hospital and we need additional police resources and frankly, mental health resources to be able to assure our existing customers and the millions that we want to return to transit into New York City, that it's safe to ride on the system. Too many of our customers have a concern about crime and harassment, the quality of life issues.
Kiernan: Pat, we've seen several reports in the last week about the number of transit workers who have been vaccinated, and you have continued the efforts to try to encourage your employees to get vaccinated. Have you considered making it mandatory for workers to get vaccinations or is it ultimately a decision that's up to them?
Foye: No, it's an individual decision. What we've done is to make it as convenient as possible for our employees to get vaccinated. So we're bringing the vaccines to them. We've been running since the, transit workers were prioritized by the Governor and the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Zucker, and that's totally appropriate because of the essential work that they're doing. And we're going to continue to do, to make it as convenient as possible for our employees to get vaccinated.
Kiernan: Looking forward to the 24/7 subway service a week from now, Pat Foye thanks for joining us this morning.
Foye: Thank you, Pat.