MTA IN CRISIS

90% DECREASE IN RIDERSHIP LEAVES BIG FINANCIAL HOLE

MTA ASKS CONGRESS FOR 2ND ROUND OF EMERGENCY FUNDING

CITY TAKES STEPS TO TACKLE HOMELESS PROBLEM IN SUBWAYS

100 MILES OF STREETS TO BE BLOCKED OFF FOR PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS

Since the coronavirus epidemic closed the city for business, subway ridership has dropped 90 percent, starving the MTA of critical revenue… and the problems go way beyond the financial. Jose Martinez, transit reporter for The City, joins us to talk about the massive challenges facing public transit in the months and years ahead.

Aired on April 30, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

THE METRO SYSTEM IS FACING AN EXIST SENL CRISIS, FIRST AND FOREMOST A FINANCIAL ONE.

BUT IN THE AGE OF THE PANDEMIC IT'S INCREASINGLY ABOUT HEALTH AND SAFETY.

AS OFFICIALS LOOK TOWARDS REOPENING THE CITY, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL DISTANCING, AND WILL WALKING AND BICYCLING PLAY A LARGER ROLE FOR NEW YORKERS.

JOINING US TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS IS JOSE MARTINEZ, TRANSPORTATION REPORTER FOR THE DIGITAL OUTLET 'THE CITY.'

THANK YOU VERY MUCH SO FOR JOINING US.

IT'S A PLEASURE TO HAVE YOU HERE.

THANK YOU FOR INVITING ME.

THE PLEASURE IS ALL MINE.

LET'S START WITH THIS, THE CALAMITOUS FINANCIAL SITUATION OF THE MTA.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT?

IT'S DARK AND IT'S UGLY AND THERE ARE GOING TO BE A LOT OF POTHOLES AHEAD, NOT TO MIX MY TRANSIT METAPHORS WITH MY DRIVING METAPHORS.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT AN AGENCY THAT IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE CITY'S ECONOMY, REALLY THE REGION'S ECONOMY.

YOU LOOK AT ITS BUDGET.

IT'S GOING TO TAKE AN' NOR MUSS HIT FROM THE LOSS OF RIDERSHIP.

AT THIS POINT IT'S MORE THAN 90% DECREASE IN FARE BOX REVENUE.

FEWER PEOPLE ARE DRIVING INTO THE CITY.

THAT MONEY IS NO LONGER THERE.

SO WHAT'S HAPPENING IS THAT THE MTA IS SEEKING A SECOND ROUND OF EMERGENCY FEDERAL FUNDING.

THIS WILL ALLOW THE MTA TO MAKE UP SOME GROUND, BUT THERE'S NO QUESTION THAT THE AGENCY IS GOING TO TAKE A TREMENDOUS HIT, IT'S GOING TO HAVE TO BORROW MORE MONEY ON TOP OF WHAT IT'S ALREADY BORROWED.

BEYOND THAT, THE FIVE-YEAR CAPITAL PROGRAM SO IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF THE MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM, THAT'S IN QUESTION NOW, TOO.

IT WAS A $51 BILLION PROGRAM THAT WAS GOING TO GIVE US THE SECOND PHASE OF THE SECOND AVENUE SUBWAY, GOING TO GIVE US NEW SIGNALS ON SIX DIFFERENT SUBWAY LINES, STRETCHES OF SIX SUBWAY LINES.

IT WAS GOING TO GIVE US THOUSANDS OF NEW SUBWAY CARS AND BUSES.

A GOOD PART OF THIS WILL STILL HAPPEN NO DOUBT.

BUT A LOT OF IT WILL HAVE TO BE RECONFIGURED.

THAT'S VERY MUCH IN QUESTION AT THIS FOINT, RAFAEL.

THAT'S THE PROBLEM.

I MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY IN 1979 WHERE THE SUBWAY WAS LITERALLY FALLING TO PIECES, AND THE REASON IT WAS FALLING TO PIECES WAS BECAUSE THE CITY AND THE STATE HAD POSTPONED MAINTENANCE FOR SO MANY YEARS.

IT WAS AWFUL.

ARE YOU SAYING WE'RE ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE THE SAME KIND OF THING?

WELL, THAT WAS A LOT OF NEGLECT OVER MANY, MANY YEARS BACK IN THE 1970s AND 1980s.

AT THAT POINT YOU HAD THE CAPITAL PROGRAM COME INTO BEING.

THAT LED THE WAY TO SOMETHING OF A RENAISSANCE WHICH WE'VE SEEN IN THE LAST FEW DECADES IN NEW YORK.

NOW THINGS REGRESSED A LITTLE BIT.

WHAT YOU DON'T WANT IS FOR THE SYSTEM TO GO BACKWARDS.

AT THIS POINT DURING THE PANDEMIC, THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN RATTLED BY A LOSS OF RIDERSHIP.

IT'S BEEN HIT WITH AN INCREASE IN CRIMES.

I WROTE A STORY ON THE CITY'S WEBSITE ABOUT THE INCREASE IN ROBBERIES, ABOUT THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF UNRULY PERSON REPORTS.

AND WE'LL GET TO ALL THAT.

I WANT TO GET TO ALL THAT.

BUT I WANT TO NAIL DOWN THIS FINANCIAL SITUATION.

YOU SAID WE'RE ABOUT TO GO -- THE CITY IS ASKING FOR A SECOND ROUND OF MONEY FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, ABOUT $4 BILLION.

THEY ALREADY GOT $4 BILLION.

IF IT GETS IT, AS MOST PEOPLE THINK IT WILL, THAT'S $8 BILLION.

THAT'S NOT SUFFICIENT TO REVIVE --

THERE WAS THAT FIRST ROUND OF FUNDING BACK IN MARCH.

IT SEEMS DOWNRIGHT QUAINT THAT THEY GOT $4 BILLION AT THE TIME.

SOME OF THE TRANSIT ADVOCATES SAID THAT'S NOT ENOUGH.

YOU'RE GOING TO NEED MORE.

THAT IS, IN FACT, WHAT HAS HAPPENED.

THE MTA HAS REQUESTED OF THE DELEGATION THAT REPRESENTS NEW YORK AND ALSO WITH TRANSIT AGENCIES FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY FOR MORE SUPPORT.

LISTEN, THE SUBWAY SYSTEM, BUS SYSTEM, TRANSIT SYSTEM HERE IS TOO IMPORTANT TO HAVE IT GO DOWN.

ANYONE LIKE YOURSELF AROUND SINCE THE 1970s AND '80s KNOWS YOU CAN'T HAVE A TRANSIT SYSTEM THAT FALLS IN DISREPAIR.

THAT'S GOING TO BE A REALLY IMPORTANT THING FOR THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP OF THIS STATE AND THE AGENCY LEADERSHIP AT THE MTA TO FOCUS ON TO SELL TO THE ELECTED OFFICIALS, THIS IS TOO IMPORTANT, YOU CAN'T HAVE IT GO ANYMORE BACKWARDS MORE THAN IT HAS IN THIS PANDEMIC.

I COMPARED IT TO WHAT THE SUBWAY SYSTEM OR PUBLIC TRANSIT SYSTEM WAS LIKE IN THE '70s, BUT SOME PEOPLE ARE SAYING IT OOELGS GOING TO BE WORK BECAUSE, OF COURSE, THIS NOT JUST A FINANCIAL PROBLEM.

IT'S ALSO A HEALTH PROBLEM.

IN FACT, AS YOU KNOW, THERE HAVE BEEN -- THERE'S BEEN AT LEAST ONE REPORT THAT SAYS IT'S THE SUBWAY SYSTEM ITSELF THAT HAS SEEDED THE CORONAVIRUS ALL ACROSS THE BOROUGH.

THAT IT IS, TO QUOTE THE PHRASE, THE FUSE THAT LIT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IN THE CITY.

FIRST OF ALL, DO YOU THINK THAT'S ACCURATE?

WELL, THAT REPORT WHICH WAS BY A DOCTOR OUT OF HARVARD, HE WAS CRITICIZED HEAVILY.

THE PAPER HAD NOT BEEN PEER REVIEWED.

HE PUSHED BACK -- THE MTA PUSHED BACK HEAVILY AND THE DOCTOR THEN PUSHED BACK AND SAID, NO, LISTEN, YOUR SUBWAY SYSTEM IN SOMEWHAT SEEDED THE SPREAD OF THIS THING.

IT'S NOT FOR ME TO SAY.

I'M NOT A DOCTOR, AND THAT'S A GOOD THING.

IT IS CERTAINLY A VALID POINT, YOU CONSIDER HOW WE WERE BEFORE THIS.

ALL THOSE PEOPLE IN TIGHT SPACES, ON PACKED SUBWAY CARS, ON SUBWAY PLATFORMS.

THEN YOU LOOK AT THE NUMBERS OF THE MTA EMPLOYEES AFFECTED BY THIS, AND IT DOES AT LEAST, AS THE DOCTOR DID, RAISE QUESTIONS.

OVER 80 MTA WORK VERSE DIED OF THE CORONAVIRUS, CORRECT?

AT THIS POINT, YES.

84.

84, AND THOUSANDS GOT SICK, THOUSANDS IN QUARANTINE.

IT'S A SERIOUS BUSINESS.

SO, AS YOU SAID EARLIER, THERE IS NO OPENING UP THE CITY WITHOUT OPENING UP THE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM, PARTICULARLY THE SUBWAY SYSTEM.

NEVERTHELESS, AS YOU ALSO SAY, WHETHER IT SEEDED THE CORONAVIRUS OR NOT, IT'S A PETRI DISH WHERE IT GROWS AND SPREADS.

GIVEN THAT, WHAT ARE THE PLANS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE SUBWAY SYSTEM IS CLEAN ENOUGH SO THAT WE CAN OPEN UP THE CITY WITH ITS USE?

WELL, THE MTA DURING THIS TIME STARTING IN EARLY MARCH ACCELERATED AND BEEFED UP ITS CLEANING OF SUBWAY CARS, OF BUSES, OF STATION, OF EMPLOYEE SPACES.

THEY'VE NOW -- THEY'RE GETTING PRESSURE FROM THE GOVERNOR TO CLEAN EVEN MORE.

I WROTE A STORY A FEW WEEKS BACK ABOUT HOW THE MTA IS COMMITTED TO SPENDING HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS MORE JUST FOR THIS YEAR AND THEN GOING INTO THE FUTURE FOR CLEANING.

YOU HAVE TO HAVE A SYSTEM WHERE PEOPLE FINAL CONFIDENT ENTERING IT, RIGHT?

WE'VE SEEN RIDERSHIP FALL SO FAR, SO DEEPLY, AND YOU WANT TO BRING BACK SOME OF THAT RIDERSHIP, BUT IT'S GOING TO TAKE A LOT TO CLEAN EVERY PART OF THE SUBWAY SYSTEM.

THIS IS SOMETHING THAT TRANSIT UNITS AROUND THE WORLD ARE GOING TO HAVE TO CONTEND WITH BECAUSE IT'S IMPORTANT TO A LOT OF CITIES, A LOT OF AREAS AROUND THE WORLD.

AND CERTAINLY IN NEW YORK, IN A PLACE WHERE MANY PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE CARS, WHERE PEOPLE RELY ON TRANSIT AS THEIR WAY AROUND, AND IT IS THE MOST POPULAR WAY TO GET AROUND, IT IS SOMETHING THAT IS GOING TO HAVE TO BE A BIG, BIG EFFORT GOING INTO THE FUTURE FOR THE MTA.

WHAT ABOUT THE PROBLEM THAT HAS BECOME EXTREMELY EVIDENT LATELY, WHICH IS THE PROBLEM OF HOMELESS PEOPLE SHELTERING FROM COVID-19 WITHIN THE SUBWAY SYSTEM BECAUSE THE SHELTERS THEMSELVES, MANY OF THEM HAVE BECOME HOT SPOTS OF THE CORONAVIRUS.

THEY HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO, SO THEY'RE GOING TO THE SUBWAYS.

BOTH THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE MTA, THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT SYSTEM AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE TRANSIT UNION HAVE ALL POINTED THE FINGER AT MAYOR DeBLASIO AND HIS ADMINISTRATION SAYING THE HOMELESS PROBLEM IN THE CITY IS THE FAULT OF THE MAYOR AND HIS ADMINISTRATION.

IS THAT FAIR, AND IS THAT RIGHT?

THIS IS SOMETHING THAT'S BEEN BREWING FOR A LONG TIME.

FOR SEVERAL YEARS NOW YOU'VE SEEN THE STATIONS AND THE TRAINS INCREASINGLY USED AS SHELTER FOR THOSE WHO DON'T WANT TO BE IN THE SHELTER SYSTEM, AND THAT'S BECAUSE -- I'VE SPOKEN WITH SEVERAL PEOPLE WHO LIVE ON BENCHES, WHO LIVE ON TRAINS ABOUT THIS.

THEY DON'T WANT TO GO THERE BECAUSE THEY DON'T FEEL SAFE THERE.

SO THAT DOES POINT TO A LACK OF RESOURCES FOR PEOPLE WHO CERTAINLY NEED THEM.

AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, THEY GO TO A PLACE WHERE THEY FEEL SOMEWHAT MORE SECURE.

THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE SUBWAY SYSTEM.

THERE ARE PEOPLE ON THE BENCHES.

OF COURSE, THAT'S NOT THE CASE NOW.

BUT THAT IS WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN THE BUILD-UP TO THIS OUTBREAK.

YOU HAD SEEN IT IN RECENT MONTHS.

I DID A STORY BACK IN SEPTEMBER ABOUT HOW THERE WERE MANY MORE SOILED CARS, AND THAT REALLY HAD TO DO WITH PEOPLE WHO WERE USING THE SUBWAY CARS AND TRAINS AS NOT ONLY PLACES TO SLEEP, BUT AS PLACES TO GO TO THE BATHROOM.

IT'S A SERIOUS PROBLEM.

IT'S SAD, BUT NOW IT'S BROKE UNDOWN INTO A LOT OF BACK-AND-FORTH BETWEEN CITY HALL, THE MTA AND THE GOVERNOR.

THE MAYOR ANNOUNCED HE'S TAKEN SOME STEPS.

WHAT ARE THOSE STEPS?

THE MAYOR INITIALLY SAID HE WANTED THE MTA, WHICH HE DOES NOT CONTROL, NOT HIS AUTHORITY, BUT HE WANTED THE MTA TO CLOSE FROM MIDNIGHT TO 5:00 A.M. TEN TERMINALS.

THOSE ARE THE END-OF-LINE STATIONS SO THE MTA COULD DO SOME HEAVY CLEANING.

NOW WHAT YOU'RE SEEING IS THE NYPD GOING INTO THE SYSTEM A BIT MORE, TRYING TO GET SOME OF THESE PEOPLE WHO ARE USING THE SYSTEM NOW A SHELTER.

WEEKS AGO -- I'M TALKING SIX WEEKS AGO, SEVEN WEEKS AGO, I HAD PEOPLE -- SOURCES AT THE MTA SAY TO ME, LOOK, THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN.

IT'S NOW GOING TO BECOME A ROLLING SHELTER, IF YOU WILL, FOR PEOPLE.

AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAS HAPPENED.

THE REPORTS OUT OF THERE ARE TROUBLING.

THEY'RE VERY SAD.

BUT CLEARLY SOMETHING MUST BE DONE TO MAKE THE SYSTEM AMENABLE FOR WHEN PEOPLE EVENTUALLY START RETURNING TO IT.

ALL RIGHT, WE HAVE ONLY ABOUT AN HOUR -- I MEAN A MINUTE LEFT.

AN HOUR?

I COULD TALK TO YOU ALL DAY.

WE COULD TALK FOR AN HOUR.

IT APPEARS THE MAYOR HAS REVERSED POSITIONS ON ANOTHER ISSUE.

AT FIRST HE SAID HE DIDN'T WANT THE STREETS OPEN FOR PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS, BICYCLISTS AS THE CITY COUNCIL WANTED, AS THE GOVERNOR WANTED.

HE'S CHANGED HIS MIND.

HE'S SAYING HE WANTS UP TO 100 -- IS IT 100 MILES OF PUBLIC STREETS OPEN.

TELL US -- THAT MAKES SENSE GIVEN THE FACT WE NEED SPACE TO DISTANCE OURSELVES AS SPRING AND SUMMER COME.

WHY WAS HE AGAINST IT IN THE BEGINNING AND WHAT IS IT GOING TO LOOK LIKE NOW?

WHAT HE SAID INITIALLY WAS THAT HE WOULDN'T WANT TO PUT POLICE RESOURCES INTO KEEPING THESE AREAS SECURE, LIMITING THE ACCESS TO THESE AREAS JUST SO THAT PEOPLE CAN GO THERE AND WALK AROUND AND DO SO IN A MANNER THAT IS SOCIALLY DISTANT.

HE TOOK A LOT OF HEAT FOR THAT.

AS A RESULT THE MAYOR THEN REVERSED COURSE.

NOW WE'RE GOING TO SEE A LOT MORE -- I BELIEVE IT IS 100 MILES OF SPACE THROUGHOUT THE CITY, GIVING PEOPLE ROOM TO GET OUTSIDE, SPREAD THEIR WINGS AND GET SOME FRESH AIR.

WE'RE GOING TO NEED THAT.

IT'S GOING TO BE MOSTLY -- WE'RE OUT OF TIME.

MOSTLY AROUND THE PARKS, CORRECT, IN FIVE SECONDS?

WE'RE OUT OF TOWN.

I'VE GOT SO MANY QUESTIONS.

JOSE, THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

WE'LL HAVE YOU BACK BECAUSE THIS STORY IS NOT GOING TO STOP.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.

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