New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg appeared on The CATS Roundtable with John Catsimatidis on WABC Radio (770AM), WNYM Radio (970AM), WLIR Radio (107.1FM) and other radio stations from Syracuse to Florida this morning to discuss the upcoming return of 24/7 subway service and continued calls for additional police officers and mental health resources in the transit system.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
John Catsimatidis: Without any further ado, we have Sarah Feinberg, the new [Interim] President of [MTA New York City Transit], to tell us about what’s going on in the subways. How are you, Sarah?
Sarah Feinberg: I’m great, how are you doing?
Catsimatidis: I am doing good, give us an update. We had Senator Schumer on a few weeks ago, and Senator Schumer says he's provided all the money the MTA needs. How are you doing?
Feinberg: Well we're good, we're good. Obviously, we're incredibly grateful to Senator Schumer for all of the work that he did along with the rest of the New York delegation to get MTA the emergency assistance it needed after quite a tough year. So, we're obviously grateful for that, we know he worked hard for it in Washington. My more immediate concerns are getting ridership back. If we can't get ridership back to the levels where it was pre-pandemic, we're going to continue to have financial issues and obviously it would just be good for New York generally. So, my big focus at this point is getting ridership back. We’re at about 35% or so of ridership right now.
Catsimatidis: I think the one big problem that everybody talks about is, in the subways, that people have to feel safe. We’re going to open up 24 hours and people have to feel safe, and there's a lot of mentally ill that's just going in there. And I understand, I’ve seen Commissioner Shea lately, he says they're assigning a lot more police officers to the subway system starting next week.
Feinberg: Well look, I am so grateful to Commissioner Shea, I have a great relationship with him. He's always available, gets back to me really quickly, we are in pretty constant communication. I think he's doing a really good job, so I'm really grateful for all of his attention. And look, I think that he understands the situation we're in, that that crime is at a level that it shouldn't be in the system. His folks like to point out that it's lower than it was last year and that it was in previous years. All of that is true, however, our ridership is way down and so per rider, crime is up, which is, is not a good place to be. Additionally, because there's only about 30-35% ridership, the system is more empty, a little bit more desolate than it typically is. So that doesn't mean it's unsafe, but it does mean that it's not nearly as busy as it usually is. So, the place is not jam-packed with people, and we know that there's safety in numbers. There's a tipping point where, when we get ridership back to four and a half, five million people a day, we'll be in a better place. What we’ve been asking for additional policing resources between now and when we get to that tipping point. I think of it as the next three to six months when we’re really desperate to get people to come back to New York, come back to the New York economy, come back to the transit system. And in order to do that, we need to make sure that they feel safe and that crime numbers are way down, so that's really what I'm looking for. He has agreed announced, he announced today [Friday] that he's putting some additional auxiliary police officers into the transit system. That's great news, that's really helpful for us and we're grateful that he heard us and that and agrees with us that that deployment of additional officers is needed. It's not enough, we're going to continue to push for more, but it's certainly a step in the right direction, and one we’re really pleased with.
Catsimatidis: Is there a program for some of these homeless that are making the subways their home, to put them someplace permanently so they don't come back every night?
Feinberg: Yeah look, I mean it's so reflective of the crisis in the city, right? It's not just about the subway system, it’s sort of reflective of the fact that we've got a real housing shortage and a housing crisis in the city and we've also got a mental health crisis in the city. So, there's a large population of folks who are experiencing homelessness who are not in the system. Parents who are down on their luck, lost a job, lost their housing, have children, they’re in the shelter system, they're in housing. Those aren't the folks that we're talking about when we're talking about the folks who are experiencing homelessness in the subway system. Those tend to be folks who are long term homeless, the vast majority of whom are experiencing significant mental health issues. They're probably, absolutely in a significant mental health crisis. There's frequently substance abuse issues, and they've been offered services many, many, many times. So the MTA personnel, Department of Homeless Services is in the subway system. Social workers are in the subway system. Medical personnel, police officers, they all offer social services to these individuals, and what we hear from them is that they don't feel comfortable being in the shelter system because they don't feel like it's safe, or we hear some other version of a mental health issue from them. So, these are long term homeless folks who really are in crisis. And you ask if it's appropriate or not. I think what's not appropriate is this is what the answer is for these folks. That the homeless advocates, the groups that have devoted their time and their resources and their advocacy skills to helping the homeless have sort of decided that the subway is a reasonable place for folks to live, and we just can't be that country. We can't be that city, where we've said, you know, we don't have a housing solution for you, but there is an underground system so why don’t you try living there. The answer should never be that someone lives on a bench or someone lives in a tunnel. First of all, it's not safe. The transit system is not a safe place to live. It is the equivalent of-- you know, we've got trains moving at all times, so it's the equivalent of living on the median of a highway, right? We've got trains moving at all times. It's exceedingly dangerous. And it's also just: Any New Yorker and any American deserves so much better than that. Any human being deserves so much better than that. So, it boggles the mind that there are groups out there that have decided that this is an acceptable solution for these folks.
Catsimatidis: Governor Cuomo has announced that May 17 the subway system is going to go 24/7. Is everybody prepared to hit that date?
Feinberg: We are, yeah. I mean, so, look, we're excited to have people back, obviously we're a 24/7 city, and so we're eager to go back to being a 24/7 subway system. Of course, the entire time the subway system has been closed for a couple of hours a night, we've been running bus service in fact, enhanced bus service, so people have had the ability to use the transit system, they've just been using buses instead of the subway. The challenge for us is not in moving people. It's going to be making sure that we can clean and disinfect the way we have been cleaning and disinfecting even with people in the system. So that's really the challenge for us. I'm confident that we'll be able to do it, but it's certainly going to be challenging.
Catsimatidis: Sarah Feinberg, [Interim] President of [MTA New York City Transit]. Thank you so much for coming on this Sunday morning and giving everybody an update and God bless. I hope New York makes a quick comeback because we all love New York.
Feinberg: Thank you, so good to be with you.