New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg appeared live today on PIX11 Morning News with Dan Mannarino and Betty Nguyen to discuss the Hometown Heroes parade, subway safety and riders returning to the transit system.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Dan Mannarino: New York City has the largest transit system across the country. Pretty soon the MTA will have not one, but two new people running it.
Betty Nguyen: Absolutely. And one of those people is making history as the first woman to ever be nominated to serve as the MTA chairperson. We're talking about Sarah Feinberg, and she joins us live in-studio to talk about this new role. Good morning.
Sarah Feinberg: Good morning. It's so nice to be here in-studio.
Nguyen: I know, good to be sitting next to you, right? We want to talk about this nomination because it is historic, but before we get to that, we've got Elsa on the rise, headed our way. How's the MTA preparing for that?
Feinberg: So we're taking all of the steps that we would normally take for any really big storm like this. We've been preparing for days, we've been prepping, you know, we're doing, you know, conference calls every 12 hours or so to make sure that we're ready. Fingers crossed, you know, it will be at least short in duration, it should move in and out pretty quickly. But you know, I'm not I'm not the weather expert, why I depend on Byron [Miranda] and others for that. But tomorrow morning's commute is probably going to be a little tough. So you know, it's a good morning to, you know, decide you're going to take a long weekend, stay home. Obviously, if you are going to be out use mass transit, but keep your eye on the weather and, hopefully, it will all be through by the afternoon.
Mannarino: Yeah, I think the beauty of the pandemic too, that we learned, that a lot people can work from home as well. That's the one thing that came out of it.
Feinberg: We want you back, but tomorrow morning is a...
Nguyen: We'll make an exception.
Feinberg: Right, exactly.
Mannarino: So congratulations, by the way on the nomination. Governor Cuomo nominated you about a month ago. So what are the next steps now for you to become the first female MTA chairperson?
Feinberg: Well obviously what an honor to be the first woman nominated. And now the New York Senate will make a determination. And I think we all trust them to, you know, consider the nomination and then to act at some point. So it's, the ball is in their court.
Nguyen: So the MTA is going to look a little bit different, right? Because we're talking about the Governor saying splitting the role. What would that look like?
Feinberg: Well, it's going to look a little bit different from the way it looks currently, but what we've done this in the past, and it's really a pretty traditional splitting of the role. So many Fortune 500 companies obviously split the roles of CEO and board chair. All of the other transit agencies in the state do that, and in fact, I think all of the other transit agencies in the country actually do that. So we're sort of unique that we don't do that currently. Look, my philosophy is, this is a really big job. Largest transit agency in the North America, two commuter railroads, bridges and tunnels, we've got a massive record breaking capital plan, we've got congestion pricing, we've got, we've got ridership issues, a financial crisis, we got to bring people back. I mean, this is a job for, you know, for as many good smart folks as we can find.
Mannarino: So then how did, what would your responsibilities be as the chairperson versus what the CEO will be? And what could possibly be Janno Lieber?
Feinberg: Absolutely. So first of all, Janno and I, close friends, great colleagues, and I think it will be a great partnership, and we're looking forward to it. Traditional separation of duties, so look, the board needs to make big decisions: fare policy decisions, really big decisions about the direction of the agency, the future, congestion pricing, where are we going, what are we doing next, how should this place be run. And Janno is going to be, you know, executing on the day to day management of the agency---which, by the way, 72,000 people, several different departments. Huge, right? And then there's a capital program on top of it. But again, these are huge responsibilities, and look, I'm excited to get started if the Senate decides that's the way to go for it.
Nguyen: So if you are approved, and what is this going to be like for you? Because you've been in the interim position. Clearly, you know, the ins and outs of that. I mean, is this something that you've always wanted to do? This has got to be pretty exciting for you.
Feinberg: It's absolutely exciting. Look, the [NYC] Transit president job is very different from the MTA board chair job, right? So right now I'm in the thick of a 52,000-person organization, you know, managing the day to day, you know, worrying about two rush hours, you know, five days a week, constantly keeping my eye on, you know, what's happening in the system. And the board chair is very different. It's bigger picture, it's messaging, it's working with Washington, it's working with our partners in Washington, it's, you know, steering this dynamic board that can really have a huge impact on the future of the agency. And so it's very different, but I'm really looking forward to it.
Mannarino: Good. So let's talk about some of the inner workings of Transit right now as people try to get back to work, right. So I don't know if we're talking to you and the role of interim president or what you hope to accomplish as chairperson.
Feinberg: How about president of Transit? Yeah, let’s do that.
Nguyen: What you are right now.
Feinberg: Right, exactly.
Mannarino: So people are going back to work, but there has been this idea that there's a staff shortage in terms of getting some trains back up and running to full schedules. What is being done to address it?
Feinberg: So we are hiring and bringing on folks and training them as quickly and efficiently as we can, obviously keeping safety in mind. We're not going to short-circuit any training or short-circuit, any training classes. So look, this is something that every transit agency goes through when they go through a hiring freeze. It's why it's the absolute last thing that you ever want to do as someone in my position is to stop hiring, because you're always going to [have attrition], you're always going to have people who are retiring going on to other things. If you don't have people to take their spots, you're going to be digging out for a really long time. We've seen this happen at other transit agencies, I don't want to sugarcoat it, I'm very transparent about this, this is a big problem. It's really tough to dig out of. We have seen it coming obviously, we knew that it was going to be hard to dig out of, so we've been taking steps for a long time to expand class size. You know, with the lifting of the COVID restrictions, the more people who get vaccines, the bigger our training classes can be. So that is all working for us, right? But any transit agency will tell you this is tough. But the reason you end up in this place is because you avoid furloughs and layoffs, which you know, obviously, we were thrilled to do and grateful that you were able to do.
Nguyen: Alright, we just have a little bit time left, I want to talk about yesterday, we saw you at the Hometown Heroes parade, on that historic subway car. It must have been great to be out there, and I want to get your view on this, because we're celebrating this comeback, but at the same time you guys lost what, 136 employees due to COVID in this pandemic. So you had to balance a little bit of that.
Feinberg: No, it was an extremely emotional day. I mean, first of all, to see the city come out and those throngs of people lining Broadway, screaming thank you, it was unbelievably emotional. I mean, you know, I did an interview yesterday and burst into tears unexpectedly. It’s just, it was incredibly emotional and our colleagues who we lost were at the forefront of our mind the whole time, and there are people lining the streets holding up names of some of the folks that we lost during pandemic so it was, it was really touching.
Mannarino: It was certainly a range of emotion. We’re just out of time here, masks moving forward, how long?
Feinberg: On the subway system?
Mannarino: On the subways.
Feinberg: On subways and buses got to keep wearing those masks. It's a closed environment. You know, enjoy your freedom outside, enjoy your freedom in other places, restaurants and places, but keep them on in the subway and bus so you protect everybody.
Nguyen: Allright. Well, congratulations again on the nomination. Great to see you here in person.
Feinberg: Great to see you, thank you, great to see you.
Mannarino: You know I always asked you about dropping that interim title. You avoided that, but now may have gotten a new position. All right, good to see you, thank you.