NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg appeared live on FOX 5 Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Lori Stokes to discuss the MTA’s recent customer survey and concerns about crime and safety in the transit system.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Rosanna Scotto: So the MTA released a survey showing that many people who use it are very concerned about taking the subway.
Lori Stokes: While officials insist that crime is down, Interim President of New York City Transit, Sarah Feinberg is hiring private security to help keep riders safe, and Sarah joining us this morning. Good morning. Good to have you on.
Sarah Feinberg: Hey, good morning. Great to be with you.
Stokes: So earlier we had the story, the mayor rode yesterday, as you said, finally, and he says the MTA is discouraging ridership. You're not talking about how clean the subway is.
Feinberg: No one can, no one can accuse me of not talking about how clean the subway is. I’ve literally been talking about it for nine months. I'm so proud of how clean it is and of, you know, the thousands of men and women who work at New York City Transit who make that place sparkle every day. So no one can accuse me of not talking about how clean it is. But look, I think what the mayor was saying is he thinks that, you know, we shouldn't be talking about, you know, how people are feeling in the system and I just don't, I just don't agree with that, I just don't think that's right. We know from our most recent survey that people are worried about COVID in the system, and they're worried about crime and harassment. We're doing everything we can on both of those and we really need the City to meet us halfway on the, on the policing front.
Stokes: We’ve had you on where you have been begging the NYPD to help you at various times. So are you hiring, is this private security that you're hiring?
Feinberg: So we started hiring security contractors way back in the height of the pandemic. So back in, you know, April--March, April, May, when the when the system was really completely desolate, we had a lot of NYPD officers who were out sick with COVID, or out on quarantine. Our MTA police officers were out sick with COVID or out on quarantine. And you'll remember from those dark days, it was really just essential workers, we were down to seven, eight, nine percent ridership, and we just saw some activity in the system where we just didn't have enough eyes and ears in the system. So we brought in security contractors at that point and we've kept them because it just makes sense to have additional eyes and ears in the system at a moment like this. You know, they're not law enforcement, they're not armed, but they're in the system and they're there if people need to report an issue, report a crime and they report to police when they see things that need to be reported.
Scotto: So how many have you hired and how much does it cost?
Feinberg: So I think we have about 100 a day in the system right now. So you know, we'll have to get back to you on costs, I have to take a look at it. But again, this has been something that's been in place since about April, and they work afternoons and evenings and some overnight hours and I think we have about 100, 100 at a time in the system.
Scotto: So did you find it, like, strange, hypocritical, that the mayor was talking about that people didn't feel safe on the subway when he finally got on the subway yesterday with police patrol around him?
Feinberg: Well, look, I'm glad the mayor got on the subway, we'll take him any time. It's always, you know, a good day when the mayor rides the system. So I'm glad he did it. I hope he does it more often. I think it's important for him to do it often, right? You know, we're all riding the system day in and day out, essential workers have been doing that every day for the last year, and you know, we've got a lot of New Yorkers who are contemplating coming back. We have to have them come back to the system. In order for New York to recover and come back transit has to recover and come back. In order for that to happen riders have to come back to the system. I'm thrilled to death that we've got about 2 million riders a day, we've got a long way to go. That's only a third of our ridership. So we've got millions more you've got to bring back. They've been crystal clear with us, they're worried about safety in the system. You know, I think we know how to get there. I think the mayor can take decisive action and help us get there and together, we can bring people back to transit and bring people back to the city.
Stokes: Let's talk about the plight of the transit worker, who in our eyes have been heroes throughout this entire pandemic, also have been susceptible to things ranging from being spat upon to actually physically attacked.
Feinberg: Absolutely. Look, they are our heroes. I always say to them, you carried the city on your back, you know, you alone carried the city on your back for a year. And we're coming to the other side of it, you know, that's great. We've got vaccines going into arms, you know, the city is starting to come back, ridership starting to come back, no one should have to go through what some of these workers have gone through. As you said, they've been spat upon, they've been punched, they've been kicked, they've had drinks thrown at them -- by the way, it's not just in the subway, it's our bus operators too. I can't begin to understand the psychology of why anyone would attack an essential worker or someone who's operating a train or operating a bus, but I know that it's completely unacceptable. We track these incidents in real-time, we work with the NYPD, you know, to find the perpetrator, we ask that they be prosecuted to the fullest and we're also putting up as many cameras as we possibly can in the system. Not just obviously to protect our workers, but also to protect our customers. As soon as they come in from the vendor, they're installed into stations. I hope that helps. But look, it's completely unacceptable. We can't get to a place where it's okay for transit workers or for customers in the system to just expect some level of crime and violence. It's not right.
Stokes: How close are we to being able to open it up even overnight?
Feinberg: Well, you know, look, I know people are anxious for us to return to 24-hour service. Frankly, I think that's less about ridership and more just, that's what New York is, that's who we are as the city. I'm anxious for New York to come back to who we are and who we are as a city too, but I'm not going to do it if it means that you know, it's going to be tougher on our workforce, or if it doesn't make sense financially. So right now we're open 22 hours a day, we're closed for two hours overnight, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., we know that even in the best of times, ridership is extremely low at those hours. Right now we're at a third of ridership we know it’s extremely, extremely low. We're of course running our buses, but that two-hour window really helps us overnight. It gives us the ability to clean without people in the system. But more than anything, it gives us an orderly shutdown, and an orderly restart of service the next morning. You know, it's sort of a critical time where we can, you know, say, okay, the system is closed, let's clean, let's ask people to leave, and then restart the system at 4 a.m.
Scotto: What will you do if you don't get support from the mayor, and he doesn't give you any more police on the system?
Feinberg: Look, all I can do is continue to be the squeaky wheel, right? I mean, my number one job, my top priority is to take care of my workers and to take care of my customers and to try to bring people back. And you know, I know where they are, I know what they want, I know what they need, and they want the system to feel safer. I'm going to keep doing everything I possibly can to make the system safe. I hope that the mayor joins me. I obviously have no control over him, I can't force his hand, but, you know, I hope that he hears me when I just say I promise you this is where customers are, this is what they want, this is what they need in order to come back. And together we can really help the city return to normal and bring people back to the city, which is what we all want.
Scotto: We believe you. We totally believe you. Sarah Feinberg, when are they going to stop calling you the interim president?
Stokes: It's been like 20 years now.
Feinberg: I like that title for what it's worth. I'm good.
Stokes: That's interesting.
Scotto: Thank you so much for being on Good Day New York. We appreciate your hard work.
Feinberg: Great to be with you all.