Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chair and CEO Janno Lieber made a live appearance on 1010 WINS on 92.3 FM with Brigitte Quinn to discuss subway safety and other transit topics.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Brigitte Quinn: A week after more police officers were deployed into the subway system, MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber says arrests are up. Janno Lieber joining us live on 1010 WINS Newsline. Janno, good to have you here. Tell us if you would about the increase in arrests?
Janno Lieber: Well, Brigitte, as you know, a week ago, the Mayor and the Governor announced a huge surge of NYPD and MTAPD officers into the transit system. And as a result, literally last week, arrests are up 95% from the comparable week a year ago, and fare evasion actions and enforcement actions are up almost 120%. So, we're seeing a very different law enforcement posture in the numbers. I'm also seeing, and we're all conscious of it, riders recognizing that the presence of law enforcement is dramatically larger. It's the one thing riders tell us makes them feel safer, so it makes me feel good that they’re seeing it and experiencing it.
Quinn: What were the arrests for? Do we have more information about that this afternoon?
Lieber: This is for the full range of things. You know, they don't arrest people for little quality-of-life stuff. They arrest people who have, you know, have actually committed an assault or stolen something, or God forbid, committed more serious violence. So, we're intervening. Now some arrests are when people get stopped for fare evasion or quality-of-life stuff, and as it turns out, there's a warrant out for them. But these are crimes that you know, that happened in the past and didn't necessarily, you know, get interdicted. Now, we have so many cops down there that we are actually getting-- now mind you, everybody who is criminal is starting to realize that we have so many cameras in the MTA system that if they do anything, they're going to be picked up within 24 hours. It's happening again and again and again. The cameras are really working, as well as having more law enforcement down there.
Quinn: Right. Janno, and yet, I'm sure you've heard the criticism about the cameras. Some people say they're not a deterrent, that they just capture the crimes after the fact. What do you say to that criticism?
Lieber: Well, Brigitte, the point is that the criminals are going to realize that this is not like above grade, where there might or might not be a camera. There is a camera everywhere in the system now, including, we are moving towards full camera coverage of the subway cars themselves, which we've never had before. So over time, I do think it's going to be a tremendous deterrent because there's no way to avoid arrest. And in fact, one of the areas that’s fully camera protected is Grand Central and last weekend we had a gun arrest there as a result of this additional enforcement that's taking place in the last week. I think that our riders are reassured. They're also hearing announcements every time they pull into a station that there are cops on the platform, that is an additional reassurance, and it also allows for more arrests and more crime interdiction.
Quinn: And you said at the top that you have the NYPD, the MTA police have essentially flooded the subway systems. I'm wondering, Janno, can the City sustain that? In other words, from a financial perspective, and also for the police force, can they afford to have the cops deployed in the subways instead perhaps of on the streets of the city?
Lieber: It's a good question. The investment that the State has made in this surge of uniformed officers is going to extend into the new year. We have to get some of the activity in the system that was negative under control. Stopping people at the fare gate is keeping out the bad guys, it is capturing people who have warrants out for them, who have weapons out for them. And we need to do whatever is necessary not just to suppress crime, but also to regain rider confidence in the system, because we've had a huge shortage-- we may have had some more crime, but we've also had a huge surge of ridership. When I became the MTA Chair at the beginning of this year, we were at 2.5 million subway riders a day. Now we're almost at 4 million. So people are coming back to the system. They need to be safe, and they need to feel safe. And I know that the Mayor and the Governor are going to keep doing this until that's the case.
Quinn: Okay, a couple of things about what you just said. The, so are we to believe that the surge will indeed continue into 2023? Do you know how far into the new year yet?
Lieber: I don't know how far into the new year, but it's definitely into 2023, and the Governor and the Mayor have discussed that. Listen, you know, Brigitte, you cover this every day: transit is critical to this city's life, and to getting back to normal, and to our economy, and everything that's good about New York coming back to life 100%. Broadway, all of the office jobs, the restaurants, and other businesses that depend on them. Transit, I always say, is like air and water, we have to make it feel safe and be safe. Those are the twin concerns the Mayor and the Governor are on top of and committed to.
Quinn: And you also said, Janno just a couple of moments ago, that 4 million people riding again. How does that compare with pre-pandemic numbers? In other words, what percentage of riders before the pandemic are now back riding the trains again now?
Lieber: Yeah, we're between 60 and 70%, depending on the days of the week. Obviously, ridership much stronger on Tuesday through Thursday, which have become the biggest office workdays. But we're headed to 75%, that's where we need to get. And on the weekends, we're already at 75%. Interestingly, the weekends, when people have somewhere they want to go, are actually stronger compared to pre-COVID stats than the weekdays. So, people aren't coming to work as frequently, but they are going out to ballgames and Broadway and bars and restaurants, and that's a good sign for the city and the region.
Quinn: Is that to say, though, that we're never going to get it back to the 100%? That we might stay somewhere in the 60, 70% range?
Lieber: I think our projections, again it is projections, but our projections are that we're going to slowly make our way back to where we were before. But it's going to take a few years. In the meantime, we need to make sure that the subway and the bus and the commuter rail experience is great. One thing that's happening that I don't know if everybody, all of your listeners know about, is by the end of this year we're opening a brand-new Long Island Rail Road terminal in the basement of existing Grand Central. There's a magic escalator and stairway that goes right down to the biggest railroad terminal built in the United States since the 1950s. It's going to connect people who are-- your listeners who are struggling on the Hutch to get to JFK, they will now be able to take the train into Grand Central and hop on a Long Island Rail Road train for 18 minutes to get out to JFK. So, we have some good things happening. I think those, along with many other things, are going to bring people back to transit.
Quinn: All right, so even more improvements to look forward to. But you know we in the media we love a headline right, and I thought I just heard you say that it might be a few years before we're back to normal? Is that fair to say?
Lieber: Yeah, I think like so many things in the city, we're making progress towards the pre-COVID numbers. But we're you know, I'm a New York City kid. I grew up in the 1970s, so I will never bet against New York. I spent years rebuilding the World Trade Center, downtown is better than it was before 9/11. We're going to get that; it's going to take a little while. Obviously work from home is here to stay a little bit, but boy are we are excited about what the future is going to bring in terms of mass transit and the city's revival.
Quinn: MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber, thanks so much for being with us.
Lieber: You bet. Thank you, Brigitte. And congratulations on FM 92.3.
Quinn: Oh wow, great. I think you just did a promo for us.
Lieber: Well, you know, we're here to serve.
Quinn: Alright, appreciate it.