NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg appeared live on FOX 5 Good Day New York 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.
Rosanna Scotto: As union leaders from 13 unions are calling on Mayor de Blasio to make the subways and buses safer after assaults on transit workers and reports of increased crime underground.
Lori Stokes: Interim President for New York City Transit, Sarah Feinberg joining us right now. Good morning, Sarah.
Sarah Feinberg: Morning.
Stokes: So it's not just delays that are the problem this morning, it continues to be the crime that we have been talking about. The letter, that has 13 union leaders asking de Blasio for help, will it work?
Feinberg: Well I hope so. Look, I think this is a great effort by these unions, and they're really saying, look, we represent millions of workers, millions of New Yorkers, who are either riding buses and subways, or they want to come back and ride buses and subways, and we want to make sure that they're safe. But these are also some of the biggest cheerleaders for New York City's comeback, right? These are the folks who have been there with us over the last year, like you all were just talking about, we're the ones that never left. Now we’ve got to figure out how to get everybody back and that's part of what they're trying to do.
Stokes: When you've asked de Blasio in the past for help, as far as police, he has said that the MTA -- you, [Patrick] Foye -- are trying to distract them from the progresses that have been done with the subway system.
Feinberg: Yeah look, I've said, no one can ever accuse me of not going out and bragging about the cleaning and all of the work of our men and women at New York City Transit. I mean, it's all I do. So look, I, I think that perhaps the City takes it as a criticism. It's not a criticism. I'm just saying let's find some ways to work together, to make it easier for people to come back. I really think as I look at this system, the next three to six months are critical, you know, bringing the city back in the next three to six months is critical. Let's make sure that when people reenter the system they feel comfortable, they feel confident, they feel good about safety from COVID, they feel good about safety from crime and harassment. That's what's going to bring the city back.
Scotto: So the NYPD Transit Chief says the MTA is fearmongering, that the numbers have gone down in March. Is it reality or perception? What is it?
Feinberg: Look, I've been a broken record on this. I've been saying for, you know, two, two and a half years, even before I was president, when I was just on the board, you know, throwing me any statistic, any number, I can make it sound however I want. The reality is, is the NYPD is saying the crime is down. The reality is our ridership is way down, and so per capita, crime is actually up. Here's the reality, I don't want to spend all day going back and forth on the statistics, I think I'll win it at the end of the day, but it's not a useful, you know, it's not useful for me to spend my time doing that, it's not useful for the NYPD to spend their time doing that. What matters is the way our customers feel. We just came out of the field with a survey where we talked with 33,000 of our current customers and our lapsed customers, those who want to come back, and 87% of them said this is the most important thing to them. They're worried about crime and harassment. So they've sent us a very clear message. We know how to get them back. As transit comes back, the city comes back, so let's just work together and do it. You know, I saw this morning that the Mayor and City Hall are making a big push in Midtown to make businesses feel more comfortable, there's a big police surge. If we can do it in Midtown, we can do it in the subway system. It's just, there, you know, we can make everyone feel better. It's not just about businesses in Midtown.
Scotto: But I thought that the NYPD committed to giving you more police on the subway. Where is that and how many did you want, and how many are you getting?
Feinberg: Right. So they, after the horrible incidents from several weeks ago, the stabbings, they did give us additional police officers in the system. It's unclear to me how many of those officers remain in the system to this day. I think it's, you know, worth sort of understanding those numbers. We did see a surge at first, I hope that they're still there. But look, what we've said is it's not enough yet. We need some additional police presence to make sure that people feel comfortable coming back. It's not long term, it doesn't have to be permanent. Again, the next three to six months are critical. It matters how people feel as they reenter the system, it matters how we reopen the city. And if, you know if we can make an effort to make sure that people feel comfortable in Midtown, let's help our essential workers who have been spending the last year riding the subway, you know, carrying the city on their back for the last year. Let's make sure that they're safe too.
Stokes: Didn't you hire additional, like private security people as well?
Feinberg: Yeah, we've hired MTA police, and I've also hired security contractors. So I've got about more than 100 of those in the system now too. I hired them at the height of the pandemic when we really needed more eyes and ears in the system. We had MTA police were out with COVID and on quarantine, NYPD police were out on COVID and quarantine, and we just needed more eyes and ears in the system. And I found over the last year it helps to have an additional, you know, 100 folks out there wearing a uniform, a uniformed presence, makes people feel safer, and they're not law enforcement, but they coordinate with law enforcement.
Stokes: So I know the lowest point, you called it desolate when it comes to ridership, it was about 5 or 6%. What is it now, and will we ever get back to the 24/7?
Feinberg: Yeah, boy those were dark days. So we're at about 33, 34% now on subways, we're at about 50%, hovering around 50% on buses. That's great. We've got a ways to go though, and I think that we hit a tipping point at some point. I think when we're talking about, you know, 55, 60, 65% of riders back on the subway, we're going to hit a tipping point where it starts to feel like, you know, we're really back and then I think it's, you know, I think we will get back to full ridership. It's going to take some time, you know, certainly people's approaches to work in the office have changed, but look, people still need to come into the city, you know, they're going to be taking their kids to school, they're going to be visiting bars and restaurants, they're going to be going to Broadway, they're going to be, you know, enjoying the city, and they're going to be going to the office. And so we're going to get there, and we're going to get there in 24/7 service as well soon. But my priority right now is making sure that we can do what we can to bring folks back now safely.
Scotto: What is the situation with the homeless and the mentally challenged on the subway?
Feinberg: Look, it's really challenging. You know, I think in those stories you're seeing about Midtown and the surge that's happening in Midtown, you're seeing really the same thing. Folks are saying, look over the last year for understandable reasons, you know, we haven't, you know, the City has not been able to do, you know, the mental health outreach, the substance abuse outreach that they were doing pre-pandemic, it clearly hasn't been happening over the last year. And I said this over and over during the pandemic, those who have, who had nowhere to go pre-pandemic still have nowhere to go during the pandemic, right? So everything only gets worse when you're in a crisis like this and I think that's what we're seeing. We're seeing those who don't have housing, who don't trust the shelter system, and those who are experiencing a mental health crisis don't have a lot of resources right now. We've asked the City to do more, we've told them we desperately need more. You know, it's all we can do to move millions of people around this city every day, and we can't also be mental health crisis counselors, so we really need those folks to step up and help.
Scotto: And when are we going to be 24/7 again? Come on.
Feinberg: Soon girl, promise. Soon. Soon. We’re not there yet, we're getting there.
Stokes: All right. Sarah Feinberg, interim president.
Scotto: I vote to make her permanent.
Stokes: I think she likes being able to pick up and go at some point if she wants.
Feinberg: (smiles) Ding, ding, ding.