Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chair and CEO Janno Lieber appeared live today on FOX 5's Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Bianca Peters to discuss the MTA's rapid recovery from the Friday-Saturday historic storm and other transportation-related topics.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Rosanna Scotto: So, record rainfall and flooding on Friday. Are you still getting over this? I mean what a colossal craziness, right? It impacted thousands of people who were trying to get on the subways, buses, commuter trains. However, MTA officials say workers were quick to respond, they were able to maintain significant operations until service was fully restored. Joining us right now, MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber, nice to have you on Good Day New York.
Janno Lieber: Great to be with you, Rosanna.
Scotto: And thank you for warning everybody on Thursday! When I saw you giving this press conference, I didn't realize how bad it was gonna be.
Lieber: Yeah, I mean, when it came to us in the afternoon, there were two fronts that had suddenly merged, and they were headed directly to the city, we knew it was going to be a massive hit. So, I got on TV, and we started putting out the alerts about 3 o'clock to all of our customers. A lot of our customers have signed up for regular alerts, and people took the message. And on top of that, it was a post-COVID Friday, light travel day. People listened, and they used the bus system. The bus system kept rolling throughout the day. We had 99% of the buses out there. Four thousand buses plus during the day, it actually worked.
Scotto: Okay, but some of the buses actually got flooded because they were trying to go through that, you know, the heavy water.
Lieber: Mostly on the FDR. That was just that one condition, which was crazy.
Lieber: About 40 buses there. But otherwise, like I said, 4,000 to 5,000 buses really worked throughout the day.
Scotto: So, about half the lines were down. Right? Did you anticipate that? Was that worse than you thought?
Lieber: Listen, you know, we pumped like, you know, close to 20 million gallons of water during the day, and obviously when you get that volume, that inundation, the problem is the city sewer system is only configured for about an inch and three quarters in an hour. And we got, in many cases, two and a half inches, so gravity is going to do its thing. The water that can't be pushed into the city sewer system is gonna go somewhere, tends to go to the subways. But then we pumped it out really quickly, and by the early evening, we had most almost all the lines back in service. The workers were heroic. I gotta say that. Not to dwell too much on it, but they got to, after the water is pumped out, they gotta go out and check off the track circuits, lubricate the switches, make sure that the switches are reset. Ton of work went into it.
Scotto: Is there a lot of damage from Friday?
Lieber: There's millions of dollars. We're still assessing it. But, you know, this system is designed, thanks to our forefathers and foremothers, the system is designed to take a lot of water, pump it out, and get going, and that's what it's doing.
Bianca Peters: You guys are pretty proactive about doing this and alerting people Thursday. What kind of letter grade would you give yourselves because it sounds like we're hearing an A.
Lieber: Listen, I give the workforce an A because they really stepped up. We are always looking for ways to be more prepared. So, we pre-position the pump trains, all these mobile pumps. We also like make sure all the drains are clear. We work with the city DEP to make sure the catch basins of the city are clear so the water doesn't end up coming down into the station. So, we're getting better and better at preparation. Unfortunately, the climate change era. That's what we need to do.
Peters: You were proactive about it on Thursday, the mayor kind of giving us an alert later Friday morning. Do you think he should have done that little bit earlier?
Lieber: You know, the mayor, we work closely with the mayor. It's mostly on the security issue. We've talked a lot about it here. I can tell you, crime was down this past month, September, 12 and a half percent versus the prior year. We’re lower than pre-COVID.
Peters: But should he have… [inaudible.]
Lieber: That's what I work with the mayor on mostly. We work with the staff on these kinds of preparations. I can't tell you what his public position ought to be. But my relationship to the City has been great on security and the stuff that is most important to our riders.
Scotto: So today, you're going to be talking about congestion pricing. How much? How much is it going to cost us?
Lieber: Listen, a couple points. One is there's this board that's been studying the issue like crazy. I think that their goal is to keep the toll as low as possible. I mean, that's–
Scotto: What's the lowest?
Lieber: People have always been talking about the $23 number. I think they’re pushing–
Scotto: Is that low?
Lieber: No, they're trying to keep it well lower than that. I think they're trying. The other point that has come across is that if you start giving out exemptions to everybody willy nilly, you know what happens? That toll for the most of the world goes up. So, they're trying to keep the special exemptions and discount for special people down. And the final point is that a lot of this money is going into resiliency to protect against what we saw last Friday. Because we have you know 400 pumping facilities. We have a system that's really old that it wants to fall apart when you put all that water and chemicals and salt in it over 100 years, you got to maintain this thing. It is the lifeblood in New York, that's part of the benefit.
Scotto: So, we're gonna have in the eight o'clock hour the head of the transit workers union, John Samuelsen he's going to be here. He says the congestion pricing is a money grab for you guys. He says the MTA is not increasing service. There's been no major service enhancements, which he compared to London. He said London, when they enacted congestion pricing, people already saw the improvements on the subway.
Lieber: Yeah, well, respectfully, I disagree. Where people talk about is London and you know, did 300 bus lines that was about 3% of their bus system. The difference here in New York is we got a lot of capacity right here, right now after COVID. And, actually, we have been adding subway capacities. You've heard about it, Rosanna and Bianca, you've heard about us adding frequency on the and the and the , and we are adding capacity, and I'm all for that. You know, Samuelsen represents the transit workforce. We are thrilled because of the governor's intervention in the budget last year, we didn't cut any service. We didn't have to cut any people. And we're actually increasing the frequency of service. So, we are ready to take on the extra folks who might come. Remember, it's only expected to add like, I think we have 140,000 people who drive to the CBD every day. Congestion pricing is only expected to add 10 to 20% of those people to transit. We got plenty of room. We got two million extra slots in transit.
Peters: Question, when you are, though, increasing you’re, you know, charging people a bit more to ride the subway. Are we going to stop seeing you know pictures of what we saw? Like I mean, I saw just mountains of water coming through cracks in the subway system. I mean, that obviously has to go towards fixing it.
Lieber: Yeah, you know, gravity's gonna do its thing. When there's water covering, you know, the whole asphalt system and obviously, we don't absorb it all into the ground. We have asphalt everywhere. It's going to find the low point. We are working with the city to try to close-up those cracks in the system and so on, but it's not a hermetically sealed system. There's no way that you're going to get that, and the system is designed to pump a lot of water and keep on ticking. So, it's really only when the water comes over the third rail because electricity and water don't mix, as any rational person knows, that you really start to impact service, but we pump ten million gallons of water a day on a dry day. So, we're ready to keep the system going. But I do have to invest in all those pump rooms, all of those facilities that allow us to deal with climate change. That's one of the reasons that the congestion pricing money I think is going to be well spent.
Scotto: So, New Yorkers. We already notice those tolls going up. Those big white stanchions all over and everybody's like, wow, the MTA doesn't move that fast to like fix anything, but they got the toll booths, ready to take our license plate numbers.
Lieber: Listen, you know, one of the great things about being in the era of cashless tolling is, yeah, there's a little infrastructure, but we don't have the old day of toll booths. We had to slow down and stand in line. It's gonna be, you know, really transparent and invisible.
Scotto: But, it’s up already!
Lieber: Yeah, that's, that's good planning. I think everybody wants it, right?
Lieber: Listen, I'm gonna meet you at Fresco, and we're gonna have, and we're gonna see how—
Scotto: And I’m gonna pay you $23 to get there.
Lieber: Or $15, whatever it is. I'm excited because, you know, New York has gotten ahead of what's happening in the rest of the country. The post-COVID ridership drop is creating financial crises where they're cutting service, they're raising fares by huge numbers. New York, Governor Hochul, we got ahead of that, and we have a great transit system that as we saw on Friday is ready to do a lot.
Scotto: Well, listen, thank you for warning us on Thursday. We appreciate it. Good luck, keep those congestion fee numbers down. The head of the MTA, Janno Lieber here.
Peters: He already said 15, so, holding you to it.
Lieber: Listen, I'd be happy to come back and debate this with you guys as time goes on. But thank you for what you did to let New Yorkers know about what's going on in transit.
Scotto: Thank you for Thursday.