New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg appeared live today on FOX 5 Good Day New York with Kerry Drew and Bianca Peters to discuss the Hometown Heroes parade, subway safety and riders returning to the transit system.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Kerry Drew: As Interim President of New York City Transit, Sarah Feinberg helped guide New York City's subways through its darkest days during the COVID-19 pandemic. There she is at yesterday's Hometown Heroes parade. Now she's been tapped for a new role.
Bianca Peters: That’s right. Last month, Governor Cuomo nominated Feinberg to chair the MTA board, in charge of not just the city's subways and buses, but LIRR and Metro-North. She would become the first woman to lead the nation's largest public transit agency, but her nomination still has to be confirmed by the State Senate, and right now, that seems uncertain. Joining us now live here in the studio this morning we have Sarah Feinberg. Sarah, where do things stand this morning when it comes to that nomination?
Sarah Feinberg: Oh my gosh. Well, first, it's such an honor to have my name put forward to be the first, to be nominated as the first woman chair of the MTA. And I've heard from so many women who just take so much from that and are just so personally gratified about it and so that means a lot to me, too. So look, we’ll, it's in the New York State Senate's able hands, and we'll leave it to them to make what they think is the best decision. And you know, that's why they were elected so we'll wait for them to act.
Drew: So just as soon as Governor Cuomo made the announcement that he was going to be splitting the positions of chairman and CEO into two different positions there was a lot of outcry from state lawmakers. He wants to nominate you as chair of the MTA, Janno Lieber as the MTA’s chief executive. Can one person do this role or do you think it'd be better for two people?
Feinberg: Well, exactly. Look, my personal opinion is I think it's better for two people. This is a historic moment. We have got to get ridership back, we've been in a financial crisis, we have a historic capital program, congestion pricing, you know, a pandemic, there are so many big things facing-- and by the way, largest transit system in North America, plus two commuter railroads, plus bridges and tunnels, right. So we've got a lot on our plate. Look, every other transit agency in the country splits the job, every other transit, every other major transit agency in New York splits the job, most Fortune 500 companies split the job. So you know, I think that makes a lot of sense. This is a lot for one person and I, you know, we think that we can get as many big brains on this, the more the better.
Peters: Yeah, I appreciate your honesty in saying that two heads are better than one when it comes to that, because it is a large task at hand.
Feinberg: You can't have an ego on this. This is public service. It's not about me or one person, it's about leading the place in the best way we can.
Peters: Now you talked about some of those hurdles that you had to overcome, the pandemic, the ridership, kind of bringing those things back. But, you know, crime on the subway was such a big thing that we talked about, I would say it's a major thing that we talked about maybe a month and a half ago, when you were going back and forth with [Mayor] de Blasio saying, it does happen, it didn't happen, and that was really interesting to watch. Now, where are we with things now in terms of crime in the subway? Do you feel like riders are, you know, feeling a bit more safe to come back?
Feinberg: Yeah, so look, the back and forth between the Mayor and myself got a lot of attention, but really it was always an all-of-the-above approach to fighting, you know, the uptick in crime in the system. So yes, I advocated for more police and I thought that was really important. I'm grateful to the City for injecting probably another 40% of the police force into the system, which was helpful. But it was also, let's, you know, we need to install cameras so that there's a camera on every platform in every station. We need to have the 311 system available to commuters and to those who are in our system who can report a problem that doesn't need a law enforcement response, right? Someone who's experiencing homelessness, someone who's experiencing a mental health crisis, maybe they shouldn't be in the system, maybe they're causing a disruption in the system, but we don't necessarily need a police response, really grateful to the City for working with me on that. So we're making a lot of progress across the board and we're seeing the numbers come down. Over the last six weeks, steady decrease in crime numbers that we were seeing really in a bad place in April and May. So things are, things are looking better.
Peters: Very good to know. As someone that takes public transportation everyday I've seen that increased police presence, it does make you feel...
Feinberg: You can feel it, right?
Peters: It does make you feel safe, yeah. One thing that we do want to talk about is masks on subways. It’s the one, last place we still have to wear it.
Feinberg: Keep it up, keep it up.
Peters: We’re talking about maybe a borough like Manhattan, you have almost 70% of the population that at least has one dose. We can go to a different restaurant, that is small and packed and sit next to people that are unvaccinated, vaccinated, doesn't matter, but we can’t go in the subway, we still have to wear it. Is there a timeline that we don't have to wear masks there?
Feinberg: Yeah, so a couple things. One, the federal regulation is that you have to be masked, right? So we're always going to be in compliance with federal regulations. That's a really important part of our job, right. So that's number one. Number two, look, if I’m the CDC I'm paying close attention to the Delta variant, making sure that, you know, and the other variants that keep springing up, you know, are the vaccines effective against them? We, you know, we see good things on the Delta variant, but I think they're being cautious there. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist, I'm going to leave that to them. But look, I think most people generally you're, you're in a confined space on a bus, you're in a confined space in the subway, you know, particularly a place like New York, we went through such difficulty and drama. I think that, you know, for us it just makes sense to continue to mask.
Peters: But have they given you a number, percentage like hey, once you guys get this percentage, you don't have to wear masks.
Feinberg: No, not yet, and so it's a little hard to tell when that's going to happen. Look, there are a lot of folks out there who haven't been vaccinated either because they've chosen not to, which is frustrating, I think for many of us, or because they can't because of a medical condition and we've got to make sure that we're protecting those people.
Drew: In terms of the numbers, ridership is on its way back, but it's nowhere near the typical 5.5 million riders per day. How do you bring people back? I know there was concern about crime, which we talked about, but how do we bring people back to the subways and say it's safe, and you should ride it again?
Feinberg: So it is a top priority and we've got to bring ridership back. We’re seeing steady increases, which are great, but obviously, we're nowhere close to the 5.5 million people that were carrying a day pre-pandemic, and it's going to take us a long time to get there. The most important thing we can do is run efficient, reliable, dependable service. And in order to do that, I need to hire a bunch of people. So we were in a hiring freeze throughout the pandemic, that made sense at the time, we were in a financial crisis. But right now I'm hiring as many people as I can, as quickly and efficiently as I can, making sure we're not cutting safety corners obviously. My message to folks is now is a great time to work at the MTA, and so we've got to fill those conductor positions, train operator positions, dispatch, bus operators, all those folks that make the system work. You know, they retired and went on to other things just like everyone else does in their lives. We've got now really sprint to replace those.
Drew: Well a lot of people are heading back to work and school in September, are they're going to be positions filled in time for that big rush of people heading back to the subway in a few months?
Feinberg: Yeah, look, no transit agency wants to go through a hiring freeze. Everyone knows it's really hard to dig out of those. And, but the good news is, is you do hiring freezes so you can avoid layoffs and furloughs. We were able to do that. We saw the, you know, the fact that we were going to be in a hole coming and so for the last several months, we've been planning to make sure that we can bring folks on in a really efficient way. So we're on it.
Drew: Alright. Sarah Feinberg, thank you so much for coming into the studio.
Peters: It’s nice to meet you live, especially face to face.
Feinberg: Yeah, absolutely. Good to be with you.