MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye appeared live today on Bloomberg Surveillance with Tom Keene and Lisa Abramowicz to discuss the postponement of fare increases and the employee COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Tom Keene: Patrick Foye rides herd as CEO of the Metropolitan [Transportation] Authority -- over his brave, essential workers, and he joins us right now. Pat Foye, I thought it was wonderful that the young lad on his way to Regis mentioned the West End Line, the Sea Beach Line, the subway of another time for Dr. Fauci. What did he say to your employees yesterday?
Patrick J. Foye: Well, Dr. Fauci introduced himself to our employees as Tony from Brooklyn, and the most trusted person in America urged all transit workers, all MTA employees for that matter, to get vaccinated. I thought it was a powerful message coming from him. I invited him when we talked in that, in that call, he told me about his commute and the Sea Beach Line, which is a term that resonates with MTA old-timers, but his message is for all MTA employees and Tom frankly for all New Yorkers and Americans: get vaccinated. The issue now is the supply of vaccines as Governor Cuomo has made clear, a lot of reason to be optimistic with the new president in place from a vaccination point of view and frankly, optimism from a transportation point of view as well Tom.
Keene: Do you have the resources -- translated money and funds -- to get vaccinated busy essential workers still doing their jobs through the day?
Foye: The answer is yes. The only limiting factor is not money, it's not time, it's availability of doses. The new administration is going to attack that aggressively. They talked about that yesterday. It's not a question of time. It's not a question of overtime. It's not a question of money. It's a question of doses. The governor has made that clear.
Lisa Abramowicz: Meanwhile, when you talk about a question of money, the MTA did postpone a 4% fare hike that had been planned for at least four months in anticipation of getting more aid from Washington, D.C. Is this postponed or is this off the table if the MTA does receive that money?
Foye: No, Lisa, it is postponed, we've pushed it off for several months. Look, I’ll quote the president's favorite poet Seamus Heaney, when he talked about this being a moment where hope and history rhyme. I think the election of a transit-friendly, actually transit, heavy transit user president in Joe Biden, the ascension of Senator Schumer to the Senate Majority, a position first-ever from New York, the passage of the $4 billion for the MTA in December, and the administration's plan to fund public transit, including the MTA. Lots of reason to be optimistic. I've been pretty grim in my prior appearances, and to be clear the MTA still faces overwhelming challenges and we're going to need an additional $8 billion over the next three years. But the funding that we received at the end of December will cover almost all of our deficit in 2021. We're good for 2021, we won't need to reduce service 40, 50%, as we have discussed or lay off thousands of people. And I think this may be a moment where hope and history do rhyme.
Abramowicz: Well there is a financial deficit that you're hoping to address. What about the reputational deficit? The idea that there are a lot of people concerned about the transmission of the virus on packed trains, on packed buses, not so much a consideration right now because they're not that packed. What are you finding in studies about the transmission of COVID, of other diseases on public transportation?
Foye: So great question. Let me approach it from two points of view. One is, what our customers think: 75% of our customers surveyed say they've never seen subway stations or subway cars or buses as clean as they are now, disinfected multiple times a day. From a scientific point of view, if mask compliance is high -- and on subways, buses and the two commuter rails that we run mask compliance for our customers is north of 95%; single most important thing any customer can do to protect him or herself, fellow commuters and our employees. And the research indicates that transit has nowhere in the world been a vector of the virus, has not been a significant contributor. We're very focused on mask compliance. I and a lot of my colleagues are going to be handing out masks again next week. The MTA police and MTA staff have that, and I took an early Long Island Rail Road train, I ride the subway every day, people are wearing their masks on the trains and on platforms.
Keene: Patrick Foye, Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times gave a rave, rave, rave, rave review to the Moynihan Train Hall. You mentioned the LIRR right now, what did you learn in the successful construction of Moynihan?
Foye: A couple of things. First, under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, big, imaginative, bold projects like this can get done. Moynihan station is an incredible tribute, first to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and to the work of my colleagues at the MTA, Janno Lieber, Michael Evans and others at Moynihan station, Empire State Development, these projects can get done. The other thing Tom is there is a new entrance to the Long Island Rail Road on Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street, which is breathtaking. As you go up the escalator there are views of the Empire State Building, and you've got customers just pausing and taking selfies -- which is not a great thing to do on an escalator by the way -- but it's just a striking entrance directly from 33rd Street to the Long Island Rail Road area.
Abramowicz: I love that Tom by the way. Did you hear that? Patrick was talking about the beauty of it, and that yeah, you do want to take a picture but don't take a picture on the escalator, not very safe Tom.
Keene: Well he’s supposed to say that.
Abramowicz: Of course, he’s doing his job.
Keene: Patrick Foye, congratulations and as Mr. Foye mentions with the MTA get vaccinated. Greatly appreciate your attendance today.