NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg and New York Nico appeared live today on Fox-5's Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Lori Stokes to discuss the launch of subway and bus announcements from iconic New Yorkers encouraging mask usage, social distancing and general courtesy when traveling in the system. The announcements are part of a collaboration between the MTA and New York Nico and can be heard in all 472 subway stations, on subway cars and buses.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Lori Stokes: When you ride the subway starting today you’re going to hear some of New York’s favorite celebrities reminding you of COVID courtesies.
Jerry Seinfeld (subway announcement audio): Hi, this is Jerry Seinfeld. Please do your best to practice social distancing on the train and in the station. Staying six feet apart is not only a great way to keep our city safe, think how much you'll save not needing cologne. Thanks, New York.
Whoopi Goldberg (subway announcement audio): Hey, it's Whoopi Goldberg. Please remember to always wear a mask on the train and in the station, and remember to wear it the right way. Do your part to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our city safe. Because honey, everybody wants to go out. Okay? Thank you.
Rosanna Scotto: Said in a New York minute. Meanwhile, it's all part of a campaign the MTA created in conjunction with Instagram star, New York Nico, Nicolas Heller. He joins us along with the New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg. Nice to have you all here with us this morning.
Sarah Feinberg: Thanks good to be here.
Scotto: Sarah, how did you come up with this campaign and what is the motivation behind it?
Feinberg: Well, look, we were interested in bringing a little joy back into the system. Frankly, it's been a really difficult year, as you both know well because you've covered us so closely. So we've had a really tough year we've lost our, some of our colleagues to COVID, but it's time for the city to start coming back, it's time for New York to start coming back. We wanted to bring a little New York attitude and joy back into the system and who better to do that with, obviously, than New York Nico. So, New York City's official talent scout, so this has been a great collaboration, it's been really fun.
Scotto: You did a great job. Should I call you Nicolas, Nico? What, how do we?
New York Nico: You can call me Nico.
Scotto: Okay so Nico, did you write these little vignettes? Or did you leave it up to the people you chose?
New York Nico: We did a little bit of both. So I assembled a team. My buddy, David Hurwitz, was responsible for writing all the generic scripts that we send to everybody and then we encouraged people to just put their spin on it. So you know, people like Jerry Seinfeld obviously would take a script and, you know, add his spin to it, which was great. But yeah, that's kind of how it worked out.
Stokes: So Sarah, we heard from Jerry and Whoopi, who are some of the other celebrities?
Feinberg: Oh my gosh, it's an amazing list. Edie Falco, Debbie Mazar, Cam’ron, Jadakiss, Maliibu Miitch. I mean, these are...
New York Nico: Fran Lebowitz!
Feinberg: Fran Lebowitz. These are New Yorkers whose voices are instantly recognizable, they are authentic New York voices and just like Nic was saying, we didn't try to, you know, stuff, these big personalities into these typical sort of subway announcements. We wanted their personalities to shine through, and we wanted to bring, you know, some laughter and joy into the system. So you absolutely get to experience their personalities.
Stokes: Nico, this the first time you've done something on this scale?
New York Nico: On this scale, yeah, for sure.
Scotto: Nico, how much did it cost?
New York Nico: Zero.
Scotto: What? That fits in our budget perfectly.
Feinberg: Exactly. Now's not the time to be spending the money.
Scotto: Sarah are you hoping this is going to bring people back to riding the subway? Because, I don't know, as a as a native New Yorker I have a problem with it.
Feinberg: Well look, I think it helps, right? I mean, so there's all kinds of things that bring people back to the subway. One, we need the city to reopen, right? We’ve got dining opening now, which is exciting, people are coming back to work. What we find is people sort of dip their toe into their commute and they, you know, experience this gleaming subway system that's being cleaned and disinfected all the time, they're getting their announcements from their favorite celebrities, and they start to feel more comfortable. So I think there's all kinds of things that bring people back. But, you know, as New York comes back, as the economy comes back, I think this is going to be part of it.
Stokes: I know you all were just testifying before the City Council and one of the questions was, aside from the crime which we will probably talk about, was also just the operation of 24 hours. Those essential workers who are working on those off-times need it to be running, when will it be running again like that?
Feinberg: Yeah, so what we've said is at the end of the pandemic we'll bring back 24/7 service and I think everyone's excited about that. In the meantime, bus service is, has been added, 80% more bus service. So you know, people forget about the bus, a lot of people use it to get around, and it's running 24/7 and all night long. So in the meantime, that's a good option.
Scotto: Alright I'm wondering since we're going to talk about crime just for a second -- Nico close your ears if you want to -- you know, we're hearing about these random crimes. People being pushed, there was another incident on Wednesday, I mean, a man a woman it doesn't matter who you are you’re getting pushed, you’re getting slashed. Somebody just tweeted me right now they work for you and they say they're getting spat on. I mean, the assaults happen day in day out. What are we going to do?
Feinberg: Well, that's a longer question, and we can devote an entire show to it because we're doing so many things. So first, we've been very, you know, very transparent with the mayor that we want more uniformed police in this system. We've also got our own MTA police the system. At the height of the pandemic I also hired uniformed security guards to come into the system. You know, what I have also said is the City's got to step up here. This is not a crime problem that's specific to the subway, it's not a mental health crisis that's specific to the subway. This is something that's happening in the city, but we are this underground system, and sometimes I think the City thinks, you know, out of sight out of mind. We've got 3 million people a day who are using the transit system and they deserve a really safe and secure environment. I’ve done everything I possibly can to keep my workforce safe, to keep my customers safe. I need the City to step up and help me.
Scotto: So I know that you've been reading reports, the governor is thinking about cutting some money to the MTA budget, over $100 million. What will this mean to you at a time where, you know, you're still trying to get your act together?
Feinberg: Look, I saw that report this morning as well and here's the deal. Many, many months ago the State started telling us because of the pandemic, because of the revenue shortfalls we're going to hold back, we're going to be withholding funds from the state agencies. They actually more recently said you're going to get a lot of that back. We're going to give, you know, we were holding back 20, we're now going to give back most of that. So this is old news that frankly the State's been warning agencies about for many months, and it's been well covered.
Stokes: There is still the other issue Sarah, before we let you go, is the homelessness this year. I know you were basically begging for help with the 311 system, with other partners to help with mental health. I don't know about moving those benches if that was a part of it or not. Can you elaborate?
Feinberg: Look, the fact that so many people are experiencing homelessness is a crisis in this city and it's devastating. No one should be coming into the subway system because that's their only option to, you know, escape the elements or you know, sit down on a bench for an hour or two or take a nap. We have to do better than that as a city. But in terms of the subway system, we're moving essential workers all the time and so we cannot be the shelter of last resort. You're right, I have called on the City, I've begged for help. I've said, you know, the solution here is housing and a shelter system that works, not just, you know, letting people go into the subway system. And so, you know, I've been a broken record on this for a year and I'll continue to be.
Scotto: Well, we appreciate you both coming on. Sarah Feinberg and New York Nico. Yeah, you did a great job. Thank you for bringing a smile to our face this morning.
Stokes: And we hope it helps, we really do. Get people back in the subway.
Feinberg: Thank you.
Scotto: All the best.