MTA New York City Transit President Richard Davey appeared live on FOX 5’s Good Day New York?with Rosanna Scotto and Bianca Peters to discuss new fares, congestion pricing, and other transit-related topics.?
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Bianca Peters: Commuters are now paying more to cross over an MTA bridge or tunnel.
Rosanna Scotto: And later this month, people who ride on buses and subways, we'll be digging into their wallets a little bit more. Here to talk about these fare and toll hikes, and, of course, he also wants to talk about how safe things are on the subways and buses, New York City Transit President Richard Davey. Nice to have you back.
Richard Davey: Thank you for having me. Good morning.
Scotto: So, I got to ask you, you know, I got to talk to the people of New York, right. We got congestion pricing happening next year. Why do we need to raise fares?
Davey: Well, first, you know, I'm a huge fan of congestion pricing, right, because I run New York City Transit. So that money is going to go to investing in our transit system, right. And so, super excited about that, and you know, New Yorkers, and folks in New Jersey for that matter, use our system every day. We're adding 15 cents to our base fare. So today, it's $2.75 to ride subway or bus, it will be $2.90 in a couple of weeks. We have not had a fare increase at that base in eight years. So, you know, prices have gone up across the board. This will help us pay for more service. You know, we announced more service last month for the and . We're adding more service this month on the and . So this is about adding service and then focusing in on, you know, the three big themes we're hearing from our customers: faster service, cleaner service, and safer service.
Scotto: Okay, the other thing that people want to know about is waste. Which you know, the MTA, Transit Authority, has been notorious for. They spend it like it's not their money, okay? So, for an example, it's been making the rounds, I'm sure you saw about this bus depot in Upper Manhattan, where apparently for the last year, you've had people on overtime, spending $5 million dollars to patrol a Brooklyn bus depot.
Scotto: Because the sprinkler system has not been fixed – or can't be fixed – or why isn't it fixed? And why are you spending all this overtime which seems like a waste to the rest of us?
Davey: You are asking the same questions I asked my team: why are we doing this? What are we doing to fix it? So, we're exactly doing that. So, we have a fire watch to make sure that, you know, the building is safe – which is required by code – working with the labor union. But the reason is the building is old. And this goes back to the congestion pricing question: our facilities, I mean, in East New York is where that facility is and its decades, decades old. You know we’re fixing it.
Scotto: Yeah, but fix it.
Davey: Yeah, you know, we are, but interestingly enough, because I've been following it very closely, you know, there are leaks that continue. Once we pressurize the system, we find another leak down the way. So, totally agree with you. We shouldn't be spending the overtime, and we're probably within weeks of fixing it. But it goes back to that original point, what are we investing our dollars in? It's these old facilities that haven't been invested in – in decades.
Peters: I know you’re saying that the money raised from this will go to faster service, fixing some of the decrepit facilities. However, should the money not be used to stop fare evasion?
Peters: Because in 2022, it was $690 million dollars lost. You’re proposing that this new raise is going to raise $300 million dollars. But if you fix the fare evasion, would that not be a better business decision?
Davey: Both are better business decisions. Right, so actually, we announced last week, I was in Staten Island yesterday, about a new fare evasion program we have on our local bus system. So, we're hiring our EAGLE Team, more EAGLE Team members, which is our law enforcement, unarmed law enforcement for fare evasion on bus. We haven't done that in recent times. So, we're going to be focusing on fare evasion on buses. And as you mentioned – on subways too. I mean, it annoys the heck out of me when we see folks walking through those emergency gates. And so, we've had unarmed guards at a number of stations. Folks like to back-cock, you know, on the turnstiles, we've come up with a new design to prevent that. So, we are chasing down, you know, a number of initiatives to eliminate fare evasion. But you're exactly right. I mean, I hear from customers all the time who pay. They're saying, “hey, I'm a hard-working New Yorker. I'm paying my $2.75, this guy over here.” So, we're chasing those folks to make sure they're paying their fair share, too.
Peters: And I know the number, initially talked about was $300 million dollars raised, if we do this fare increase. Is that still the same number now, that you’re thinking, with this increase of about 4%?
Davey: So yeah, I think it's a little less than that. Certainly, different for New York City Transit. You know, as I mentioned, we haven't had a fare increase at the base in over eight years. So, I think what the MTA was trying to do several years ago was to have modest increases every couple of years.
Peters: How do you know you’re supposed to raise it at that 4% when we don’t even know what congestion pricing really is going to turn out to be? Maybe you don’t need to raise it that much?
Davey: So, two different things, right. The base fare is paying for our operating expenses, right? Congestion pricing is going to pay for the capital, right? So, it's everything from new trains that we're putting on the line, for example, Second Avenue Subway, the IBX – the Interborough Express, all the capital items. And you know, East New York, we mentioned earlier, needing to upgrade that facility. So, that's what congestion pricing is going to pay for, is our capital expenses. The 15 cents we're adding to the base fare is adding for new service, you know, and other operating expenses that are increasing. We obviously just recently gave our employees, our hard working 47,000 employees a raise, a modest raise, but we have to pay, you know pay for that, too. We buy electricity like everybody else. We're one of the largest consumers of electricity in the state, and obviously folks know their utility bills have gone up, as have ours.
Scotto: You know that there are lots of people against congestion pricing, excluding present company.
Davey: But I love present company – that’s okay.
Scotto: So, you know, New Jersey Congressman Gottheimer. And then, of course, Staten Island. And today there are people who are meeting because they’re saying we have no idea how much this is going to cost and who’s going to be excluded from paying it. And you know, where is this money going? So, for those people who are protesting and trying to get this stopped, is there a possibility of this getting stopped or like they’re wasting their time?
Davey: Well, I hope there isn’t a possibility. I mean, again, I’m totally transparent in saying I'm an unabashed fan of congestion pricing. Not only for the revenue it will raise to invest in our system, but I mean, you know, the continued weather events. I was making a joke earlier, I think meteorologists have, you know, have jobs for life, given all of the crazy weather we continue to see as a result of climate change. So, I think those are the things we're looking at. I mean, you know, Congressman Gottheimer, I chuckle a little bit. I think he came to my neighborhood – I live in Hell's Kitchen – a few months ago, for a press conference to complain about congestion pricing. He was late to his own press conference because of traffic, you know, coming through the Lincoln Tunnel. And so I see it every day in my neighborhood – all the traffic. But I also see lots of NJ TRANSIT buses coming through the tunnel and going to the Port Authority, bringing New Jerseyans into the Port Authority and into the subway system.
Peters: One last question, because I know we talked about safety issues on the subway cars that we can't get service with Wi-Fi when you're in between stops, right? That's a big issue because if something does happen in your car, you can't connect to anyone or call for help. Is there anything being done about this?
Davey: There is. So, we are actually installing Wi-Fi in our tunnel system now. So that'll take some time, but we did a deal with a company.
Scotto: How much time?
Davey: It's a few years for sure, because we're also doing signal upgrades and others. We're also installing cameras in our entire subway car network, right. So, if there is an issue that's ongoing, we can video that. And then the new cars that are coming in, so on the line, our conductors and train operators can actually look into the car, into the camera. So, if there's an issue going on, train can get stopped and help can be gotten. But I would say, I mean, I've made the joke that I think New York City Transit has more cameras in it than a Las Vegas casino. I mean though, seriously, if you do something in our system, we will get a picture of you, we will find you.
Scotto: Did you get pictures of that crazy melee on Friday on 14th Street? You got some good video there?
Davey: We got some good video, obviously helping NYPD. You know, thankfully it didn’t interrupt service. We were bypassing the Union Square station for a little while. Thankfully, nobody got hurt in our system. But yeah, it was a little bit of an odd melee. I sort of rolled my eyes and said, it’s hard to know what was going on there, but, thankfully, nobody got seriously hurt.
Scotto: Well that’s how I roll my eyes with congestion pricing, Mr. Davey.
Scotto: So there’s nothing anybody can do to stop this. The train is rolling in.
Davey: Well, what I would say is, you know, the board, the six-person board that was gubernatorial appointed, are having meetings. They're going to meet again next week, I think on the 17th, and that's where they're going to look at the pricing issue – to your point. Why do people say $23 dollars, that's the outlier of one of like nine proposals.
Peters: Yeah, but $9 bucks ain’t great either.
Scotto: And what about the weekends, when there’s considerably less people in New York City?
Davey: The board will take it up, for sure, but it’s all about trying to moderate volume.
Scotto: We have to talk to the board!
Davey: They would welcome your comments. We heard, I think we heard 70,000 comments for the process, both for and against, but again, I know change is hard, for sure. But I tell you, I’m an unabashed fan. In order to invest in what we need to do in transit, that’s what we are going to be doing – and at the same time – hopefully reducing pollution and improving air quality. Again, as someone who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, and sees the traffic coming through, I’m not unexcited about it happening – that’s for sure.
Scotto: Richard Davey, President of the [New York City] Transit Authority. Thank you so much for being on here.
Davey: Thank you for having me.
Scotto: Continued success because your success is our success.
Davey: I appreciate that.