MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live today on FOX 5’s Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Dan Bowens to discuss the MTA’s historic plan for expanding accessibility, the Bronx Local Bus Network Redesign and other transit-related topics.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Dan Bowens: With the surge in violent crimes in the city transit system, the MTA is installing surveillance cameras on subway cars to help track down criminals and keep riders safe. A unique program here.
Rosanna Scotto: Yes, so the MTA is also committed to making the transit system more accessible to everybody. Over the next few decades, the agency will spend billions on elevators and ramps to make subway stations fully accessible for people with disabilities. It's part of a historic settlement agreement and two class action lawsuits over the issue. Joining us right now in our studio is the MTA Chairman and CEO, Janno Lieber. Nice to have you back on Good Day New York.
MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber: Great to be with you Rosanna.
Scotto: So, everybody's talking about these cameras now that you're putting in the subway. So, they're undercover cameras, right?
Lieber: Yeah, they're undercover but we're going to be open about this. What we want everybody to know is if you prey on New Yorkers, if you do something in the subway, we will get your picture, and you will be, we'll find you, and the NYPD is going to arrest you. And we've had success with 10,000 cameras in the system elsewhere. Now we're adding it to the inside of subway cars.
Scotto: So why not in real time, which would mean, like I guess somebody at a major desk, checking everything, keeping an eye on the cameras to see if there's anything going on.
Lieber: I mean, obviously, that's a technology issue. How could you stream back 100%? We're going to look at that as well. But in the meantime, we've had incredible success using these cameras to collar the bad guys. We get great photos. You show them all the time, those Crimestoppers photos of people who did things, not just bad stuff in the subway, but people who escaped after doing things above ground. So, this is a huge crime deterrent. We want everybody to know: if you do something bad, if you attack a bus driver, if you prey on our riders, we're going to find you, the NYPD will collar you.
Bowens: It's just a pilot program at this point. I mean, it's not all throughout the system. What would it take to make this expansion so that it would be all across the system and do you have the money for it?
Lieber: This is a pilot program right now, but these cameras are pretty easy to install. That's one of the reasons that we want to do the type of cameras that we're doing so we can immediately start to capture this video. We're going to push on. I think that the pilot is going to prove this works, and then we're going to go for the rest of system. One of the things you need to know is there are cameras in almost all the buses as well. So, we're talking about real, universal coverage for the system.
Bowens: Talking about cameras – obviously when there was that shooting that happened in Brooklyn, there was a big debate about the cameras because there were no images in certain areas where this shooting actually occurred. Has there been an audit, so-to-speak, of all the system’s cameras to make sure everything is working? And what have you found?
Lieber: There was a lot of confusion around that. The one thing that you need to know – every day we literally share dozens and dozens of images and videos with the NYPD, and they have said publicly that we're one of the best sources: the caliber, the reliability and so on. On that day, we actually captured dozens of images of the assailant, Frank James, throughout the system; when he came in, when he left, when he rode a bus and so on. So that one episode of one set of cameras being out – and they were actually being worked on when the attack happened – did not affect the investigation. In fact, we were able to help the NYPD collar James.
Scotto: So why do you want people to know that you have these undercover cameras? Is it like, you know, we always assumed you had them but now I feel like you're talking about it. Is there a reason why you're talking about?
Lieber: Yeah, I think that there are two reasons: one, as I said, we want the bad guys to know, if you commit a crime in the subway system, in the bus system, in our transit system – we’re going to find you. The other is we want our riders to understand how much is being done to keep them safe. And the subway system you know, we've gotten a lot of publicity about some of these high-profile crimes, which is terribly concerning. But overall, the system has you know, all of us who grew up in New York, you and me know, this system is a lot safer than it used to be and with the mayor's focus on subway safety, I think we're really going to turn things around.
Scotto: Let's talk about, you know this one-man patrol, obviously on the subways. Now it's been modified, where you can see another officer in another car. Do you think that'll be helpful? Will that deter?
Lieber: You know, I'm not a police deployment expert. All I know is we are blessed to have a mayor who is an ex-transit cop and believes passionately in subway safety as part of our city's, you know, the basics of how our city functions and a key to our economic revival. What they've done, they've responded to, and the police commissioner was just here talking to you about it, is they have deployed cops to the areas where riders feel vulnerable. That's on platforms and on trains. That's what we were asking for. With the prior administration, we couldn't get it, Eric Adams came in, he's doing it. I'm going to leave to them the specifics of how that deployment takes place. But cops on platforms, cops on trains, that's what our riders want to see and that's what makes them feel safe.
Bowens: Making people feel safe on the system is a way to get them back in the transit system after so much trouble obviously, with the pandemic and everything. But making sure everyone can be on the transit system is a new focus for you all. It's a long and big project, but what's going on here?
Lieber: Well, listen, thanks for the question. You know, we are, we're taking on the big issues. It took 30 years for the MTA after the American Disabilities Act was passed to make 100 stations fully accessible. Now we're going at like four or five times that rate. We're doing 80 stations right now. We completed 15 stations just during the beginning of COVID. So, what we're determined to do is make the system fully accessible, not just for the disabled, but also for seniors, for parents with children who are in strollers. Making the system easy to use is key to making it, you know, a great support for everything New Yorkers want to do. My mother grew old in New York, and she loved being in New York, in part because she could rely on the subway system, and she didn't have to drive herself around. We want to make that true for every senior and for every parent with children in the city.
Scotto: Let's talk about bus lanes and service. There's some new changes coming. What's going on?
Lieber: Again, we're taking on the big issues. We have a bus system that hasn't had its routes redesigned, sometimes in 100 years. We have bus routes that go to trolley barns that closed, you know, when President McKinley was in office.
[Laughter from Bowens, Scotto and Lieber]
Lieber: We got to update the bus system. We're doing it borough-by-borough. We've done in Staten Island incredibly successful. We're actually implementing it right now in the Bronx, with some redesigned routes, some new routes and also a little bigger spacing for our bus stops, so that buses move faster. My saying is: buses have to go faster if there truly going to be mass transit. We are redesigning in Queens, we're going to redesign in Brooklyn, and we're doing it in collaboration with community. So, we're doing it with discussions with community boards and local officials and so on. We're going to do it in a collaborative way.
Scotto: All right. What do you know about congestion pricing because that's one thing you and I disagree on!
[Laughter from Bowens, Scotto and Lieber]
Bowens: Especially New Jersey.
Lieber: Rosanna, no one's ever going to get there.
Scotto: I know you’re pushing it!
Lieber: But here's the bottom line. The legislature adopted congestion pricing. We are now in the latter stages of working with the federal government to get the environmental review. This is the federal environmental review process, a little bureaucratic. Governor Hochul has been a great supporter of congestion pricing and we're going to do it. It’s the right thing to do for a couple reasons: one, we need the money to build all this stuff in the mass transit system. But Rosanna, even more important, it helps make sure that there's room in the streets which are really crowded right now, for the key vehicles, which is buses, paratransit vehicles, Access-A-Ride, emergency vehicles.
Bowens: What about all of us from Jersey?
Lieber: We love our friends from New Jersey, but the vast majority of commuters use mass transit. We're going to make the mass transit system better, so that they have better mass transit, and we're going to be greener because we don't have quite as many people driving around in single occupancy vehicles. It's good for New York, it's good for the environment, and it's good for the MTA’s ability to continue to improve the system.
Scotto: All right, I still will argue with you about that. But we're happy that you're here. Thank you. Just so we know – this is not going to happen anytime soon, right?
Lieber: No, it’s going to..
Lieber: We're expecting to begin building out the network of cameras and sensors and all that stuff in 2023. So, it's going to happen at the end of 2023, early 2024.
Lieber: But you know what, Rosanna? We're going to be here to talk about it. I bet you're going to be happier than you think.
Scotto: No, I don't think so.
Scotto: Anyway, Janno Lieber, thank you.
Lieber: Good to be here with you
Scotto: Thanks for being here.