“END OF THE LINE”

Encore: May 05, 2022

If there’s one thing just about every New Yorker can agree on, it’s that the subway is a mess. A new documentary titled, “End of the Line,” which recently premiered at the DOC NYC film festival, explores how years of underinvestment and a lack of political leadership have caused the New York City subway system to crumble. The film, which features interviews from multiple MTA officials, including former MTA president Andy Byford, also examines how maintenance can impact local communities, the effect COVID has had on plans to modernize the transit system, and the complicated role that former governor Andrew Cuomo has played in fixing, or not fixing, the subway. Tonight, “End of the Line” director Emmett Adler joins us to discuss his new documentary and the state of the subway system.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

IF THERE'S ONE THING ABOUT EVERY NEW YORKER CAN AGREE ON, IT'S THAT THE SUBWAY IS A MESS.

A NEW DOCUMENTARY TITLED END OF THE LINE WHICH RECENTLY PREMIERED AT THE NYC FILM FESTIVAL EXLORS HOW YEARS OF UNDERINVESTMENT CAUSED THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY SYSTEM TO CRUMBLE.

THE FILM WHICH FEATURES INTERVIEWS WITH MULTIPLE MTA FISHES INCLUDING FORMER PRESIDENT ANDY BYEFORD WITH HOW MAINTENANCE AFFECTS COMMUNITIES AND COVID AFFECTED AMBITIOUS PLANS TO MODERNIZE THE TRANSIT SYSTEM AND THE COMPLICATED ROLE ANDREW CUOMO PLAYED IN FIXING OR NOT FIXING OF THE SUBWAY.

HERE'S A PREVIEW.

THIS IS JUST ANOTHER COMPLETE DISASTER.

NOT EMPTY SUITS.

THE CURRENT STATE OF DECLINE IS WHOLLY UNACCEPTABLE.

THE L TRAIN IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE.

THE L TRAIN ISSUE GOES TO THE HEART OF ALL THE PROBLEMS.

YOU HAVE INFRASTRUCTURE, LACK OF MAINTENANCE, THE RISING CLIMATE CHANGE AND POLITICAL TENSION.

WHO'S RESPONSIBLE FOR FIXING IT?

FOR PAYING FOR IT?

THE PROBLEMS SOLVED RIGHT NOW.

THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY SYSTEM IS AN ACHIEVEMENT BUT ITS DECLINE IS VERY MUCH A SYSTEM OF WHERE WE'VE GONE AS A SOCIETY AND A COUNTRY.

ON TRANSIT, THE U.S. SCORES A D MINUS.

THE NATION LOOKING AT AIRPORTS AND RAILROADS.

THE WEALTH ECONOMIC FORUM RUNS AMERICA 16th IN THE WORLD.

TRAVELERS STILL DON'T HAVE ONE OPTION USED TO RUN THE WORLD FOR NEARLY HALF A CENTURY.

HIGH SPEED RAIL.

AND JOINING US NOW TO DISCUSS HIS NEW DOCUMENTARY AND THE CURRENT STATE OF THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY SYSTEM IS THE DIRECTOR OF END OF THE LINE, EMMETT ADLER.

WELCOME BACK TO THE PROGRAM.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO TALK TO YOU.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE ON MY END AS WELL.

GOOD TO BE HERE.

EMMETT, YOU CAME ON THE SHOW ON JULY OF 2018 TO TALK ABOUT THIS FILM WHEN IT WAS STILL PRIMARILY ABOUT THE PLANNED 15 MONTH SHUTDOWN OF THE L TRAIN AND THE DEVASTATING EFFECT THAT WOULD HAVE ON MANY NEW YORKERS.

AT THE END OF 2018, GOVERNOR CUOMO MADE AN ANNOUNCEMENT SAYING, NEVER MIND.

WE FIGURED OUT A WAY TO FIX THE L TRAIN TUNNEL WITHOUT CLOSING THE L TRAIN.

YOU'RE THE FIRST PERSON I THOUGHT ABOUT WHEN I HEARD THAT.

I WAS WONDERING, HOW DID YOU REACT WHEN YOU HEARD THAT AND DID YOU ALREADY HAVE A PLAN B?

NO, WE DIDN'T HAVE A PLAN B.

I DIDN'T THINK IT WAS POSSIBLE THAT THE L TRAIN SITUATION WAS GOING TO BE REVERSED.

AT THAT POINT, THE MTA HAD BEEN TELLING THE PUBLIC THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN FOR THREE YEARS.

WE'VE GONE THROUGH THIS EXTENSIVE PUBLIC OUTREACH EFFORT AND YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO SAW ME FIRST.

MY PHONE BLOWING UP.

ON MY POST NEW YEAR'S VACATION AND IT WAS A MOMENT OF SHEER PANIC FOR US FILM MAKERS WHO HAD BEEN COVERING THIS SINCE 2016 AND WERE HEAVILY INVESTED, MOMENTARILY THOUGHT MAYBE WE DON'T HAVE A FILM ANYMORE.

WHAT IT BECAME WAS AN INCREDIBLE PLOT TWIST.

THAT WAS VERY INTERESTING AND YOU WORKED IT OUT REALLY WELL.

YOU ALWAYS HAD THE INTENTION OF LOOKING AT THE BIG PICTURE.

BUT, YOU KNOW, AS YOU SAY, FOR THREE YEARS, ALL WE HEARD FROM TH THEM WAS THERE WAS NO SAFE ALTERNATIVE.

SWALLOW THE BITTER PILL.

BUT CUOMO SAID I TALKED TO EXPERTS, ESPECIALLY TWO EXPERTS FROM COLUMBIA AND CORNELL AND TELL ME THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE.

SO WE'RE NOT SHUTTING IT DOWN.

NOW, WHY HASN'T THE MTA SPOKEN TO THESE EXPERTS?

OR WAS THAT JUST A SMOKE SCREEN BY THE GOVERNMENT TO COVER UP A POLITICALLY MOTIVATED MOVE?

WELL, I THINK THE MTA IN THE WORDS OF THE GOVERNOR AT THE TIME, THE MTA'S PERSPECTIVE IS REBUILD THE TUNNEL TO ITS PREVIOUS STATE.

IT'S POSSIBLE THEY WEREN'T LOOKING AT THIS PROBLEM CREATIVELY OR WEIGHING THE ECONOMIC IMPACT THAT THE TUNNEL CLOSURE WOULD HAVE ON THE COMMUNITY.

I DON'T REALLY KNOW FOR SURE.

ANOTHER THING THEY SAY IS THAT SOME OF WHAT THE GOVERNOR POSED THESE ACADEMICS BROUGHT UP WERE ACTUALLY RECENT INNOVATIONS IN KIND OF TUNNEL BUILDING TECHNOLOGY.

A LOT OF OPINIONS.

RIGHT.

YOU THINK THE MTA WOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS, BUT ANY EVENT, AS WE'VE SEEN IN YOUR FILM, ANDY BIFORD, THE THEN PRESIDENT OF THE MTA, WASN'T CONVINCED THAT THIS NEW PLAN WAS SAFE.

SO HE COMMISSIONED A STUDY TO MAKE SURE IT WAS SAFE, BUT THE BOARD ON THE MTA THAT WAS CONTROLLED BY CUOMO NIXED IT.

NEVER HAPPENED.

MY QUESTION IS, WAS THE WORK DONE ON THE L TRAIN SAFE AND IS THE L TRAIN SAFE TO RIDE NOW?

DO WE KNOW?

YOU KNOW, THE TRUTH IS, THERE ARE ENGINEERING EXPERTS, IB, WHO HAVE SIGNED OFF ON THIS.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE MORE QUALIFIED THAN ME TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION, I THINK, ANY TIME THERE'S A SUDDEN FLIP LIKE THIS, IT'S DEFINITELY QUESTIONABLE.

IT WAS A HUGE CONCERN AT THE TIME.

ESPECIALLY BECAUSE THEY WERE GOING TO BE RUNNING TRADES WHILE THEY WERE DOING CONSTRUCTION.

SO RAISE THE CONCERN THAT THE NEW YORK PUBLIC IS VERY SENSITIVE TO AFTER 9/11 AND THE EXPOSURE THAT HAPPENED THERE.

I'M NOT IN A POSITION, I FEEL LIKE TO SAY, TO THE PUBLIC ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, BUT I THINK IN SOME WAYS, IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN.

THE MTA HAS GOOD THINGS AND TIMELINES IN 50 OR 100 YEARS.

THIS HAPPENED TWO YEARS AGO NOW.

RIGHT.

THE CLASH BETWEEN CUOMO AND BIFORD OVER THE L TRAIN WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR ANDY BIFORD.

AS YOUR FILM SHOWS AFTER THIS, GOVERNOR CUOMO SYSTEMICALLY TOOK RESPONSIBILITIES AND AUTHORITIES AWAY FROM THIS.

TO THE POINT HE HAD TO QUIT IN TWO YEARS.

MY QUESTION IS, IF WE COULD MAKE THIS BRIEF, WHY WAS BIFORD THE RIGHT GUY FOR THE JOB?

WHY DID CUOMO HIRE HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE AND WHAT WAS HE ABLE TO ACHIEVE IN THE FEW YEARS WITH THE MTA?

BIFORD WAS KIND OF LIKE THE TOP TRANSIT EXPERT EXECUTIVE IN THE WESTERN WORLD.

STILL IS TODAY, REALLY.

HE HAD COME UP IN THE BEGINNING OF HIS CAREER IN LONDON IN THE LONDON TUBE.

HE HAD WORKED IN SYDNEY RUNNING THEIR SYSTEM IN AUSTRALIA AND THEN HE HAD TURNED AROUND THE SYSTEM IN TORONTO AND ACTUALLY WON THIS VERY PRESTIGIOUS AWARD THAT TRANSIT AWARD AND TURNED IT INTO ONE OF THE BEST SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD.

THIS GUY COMES FLYING HIGH AND COMES INTO NEW YORK AND SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HE DID WOULD SHORE UP THE OPERATIONS OF THE MTA.

HE HAD A THING CALLED SAFE SECONDS WHERE THEY KIND OF LIKE REVERSED UNNECESSARY SPEED LIMITS THAT HAD BEEN SET ON TRADE.

WHILE HE WAS THERE, THE PERFORMANCE WENT UP FROM 60% TO THE MID 80s.

SO THE STATS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, THE GOVERNOR WOULD SAY.

HE DID THAT AND THAT WAS KIND OF WHERE THEY BUTTED HEADS.

HE WAS IMMEDIATELY HIRED BY LONDON TO RUN THEIR SUBWAY SYSTEM AGAIN.

OBVIOUSLY, THE MAN KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING.

BUT AS WE SHOW IN THE FILM, AS WE COMPARE THE SUBWAY SYSTEM TO THE SYSTEM AND CITY ACROSS THE GLOBE, IT'S PRETTY DEPRESSING.

WHY ARE SUBWAYS AND SUCH PLACES AS HONG KONG AND LONDON SO MUCH MORE EFFICIENT THAN OURS AND HOW COULD CHINA, YOU KNOW, BUILD UP STATE-OF-THE-ART SUBWAY STATIONS IN 25 OF THEIR CITIES IN ABOUT 30 YEARS WHEN IT SEEMS LIKE WE CAN'T EVEN EXTEND ONE LINE FOR TWO STOPS IN THAT PERIOD OF TIME.

I'M EXAGGERATING, I KNOW, BUT WHAT'S THE SECRET AND WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG?

WELL, I MEAN, THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION IN MANY WAYS IS OUR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT MOVE AS FAST AS SORT OF LIKE AUTHORITARIAN COMMUNISM, SO WHEN, FOR EXAMPLE, THE GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA WANTS TO BUILD THE CALIFORNIA BULLET TRAIN FROM L.A. TO SAN FRANCISCO, HE'S GOING TO RUN IT THROUGH ALL THESE COUNTIES AND EACH OF THOSE COUNTIES, THERE'S GOING TO BE DIFFERENT POLITICS AND DIFFERENT POLITICIANS WHO WANT DIFFERENT THINGS AND THAT PROCESS SLOWS IT DOWN.

IT'S THE GIFT AND CURSE WHEN IT COMES TO BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE.

IN CHINA WHAT, THEY'LL DO IS TAKE YOUR LAND AND BUILD YOUR TRAIN AND THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.

IT'S A BALANCE OF FREEDOMS AND REALITIES.

YOU THINK THAT'S IT.

I'LL TAKE THAT BALANCE.

ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES HE DENIES IT OR THAT HE HAD THE POWER OF THE MTA THAT IT WAS POLITICALLY CONVENIENT GOVERNOR CUOMO REALLY DID HAVE THE POWER, MUCH MORE THAN BILL DEBLASIO DID TO AFFECT THE MTA.

FROM WHAT YOU KNOW OVER THESE YEARS, DID GOVERNOR CUOMO AFFECT OUR SUBWAYS MORE POSITIVELY THAN NEGATIVELY OR THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

ULTIMATELY, HE DID MORE GOOD THAN BAD.

TOUGH QUESTION.

A LOT OF OPINIONS.

I DON'T WANT TO GIVE A FULL PASS ON LIKE, IT'S JUST BECAUSE OF DEMOCRACY.

THERE'S A LOT WE COULD BE DOING BETTER, GOING BACK TO YOUR PAST QUESTION BUT LET'S MOVE ON.

WHEN YOU RUN IT, CHINA AND AMERICA, BUT ANYWAY, I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF OPINIONS.

WHAT CUOMO DID IS HE TOOK OVER AS GOVERNOR IN 2011 AND BASICALLY PRETENDED HE DIDN'T CONTROL THE SUBWAY AND ALLOWED IT TO DRIFT INTO A STATE OF DISREPAIR.

THAT WAS HORRIBLE.

OUR ON-TIME PERCENTAGE IN JANUARY OF 2018 WAS 58% WHILE LONDON WAS IN THE 90s PERCENTILES AND HONG KONG, 99%. SO TO ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN IS UNFORGIVABLE TO SOME DEGREE.

AFTER THAT, HE, WITH THE REVERSAL OF THE L TRAIN, SET IN MOTION A SERIES OF EVENTS THAT BASICALLY ALLOWED HIM TO CONSOLIDATE POWER OVER THE MTA AND DO A HUGE SPADE OF BUILDING.

NOW THAT'S WHY YOU HAVE THINGS LIKE THE EAST SIDE ACCESS UNDER WAY, REVITALIZATION.

I THINK THAT CUOMO, IF HE HAD BEEN ABLE TO STAY IN POWER, WE WOULD HAVE SEEN A MASSIVE BUILDING.

THAT IS SORT OF WHAT HE'S DOING.

A COUPLE MINUTES LEFT.

I'VE GOT TO TALK ABOUT COVID.

IN 2020, YOU WERE FOUR YEARS INTO THIS FILM.

COVID HIT.

I'M GUESSING THAT WAS A MOMENT WHERE YOU HAD TO RECONFIGURE AGAIN YOUR THINKING ABOUT YOUR FILM, BUT IN ANY EVENT, WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF COVID ON OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM?

IT WAS BLEEDING, IT WAS HEMORRHAGING BILLIONS DURING WHEN THE CITY WAS CLOSED DOWN.

IS IT STILL HEMORRHAGING BILLIONS?

AND THE $50 BILLION PLUS, ANDY BIFORD, CAPITAL PROJECT STILL IN THE WORKS.

WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THAT IF YOU CO COULD.

THE ANSWER IS IMMEDIATELY DEVASTATION BEYOND ANYONE COULD HAVE EVER PREDICTED.

RIDERSHIP DROPPED COMPLETELY.

THEY WERE LOSING HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS EVERY DAY.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CAME TO THE RESCUE IN MANY WAYS BUT I THINK THEY'RE STILL GOING TO BE RECOVERING FROM IT FAR OR A LON TIME.

WITH THE PASSAGE OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE BILL, HOPEFULLY THEY'LL FIND A WAY TO SHORE UP THEIR FINANCES AND REBUILD RIDERSHIP.

I'M SORRY, CAN YOU GIVE THE BACK END OF THAT QUESTION ONE MORE TIME?

NO, YOU ANSWERED IT.

WHAT WAS THE EFFECT OF COVID.

WELL, THE BACK END WAS THE $50 BILLION CAPITAL PROJECT.

SO THAT'S A GOOD ONE, AND ONE THING THE SITUATION DID.

ONE OF THE MAIN FUNDING MECHANISMS OF THE --

GOT ABOUT 30 SECONDS.

CONGESTION PRICING, DON'T FORGET ABOUT IT.

NEW YORKERS.

PANDEMIC CREATED CONFUSING LANDSCAPE WHERE THAT COULD ALL BE WASHED AWAY AND IF YOU CARE ABOUT TRANSIT, HOPE IT WON'T BE.

QUICKLY, WE HAVE ABOUT 10 SECONDS LEFT.

YES OR NO.

DO YOU THINK WE WILL SOONER RATHER THAN LATER SEE THE SUBWAY SYSTEM NOT JUST SURVIVE BUT THRIVE?

10 SECONDS.

IN THE WORDS OF A MIRACLE MESS, YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE.

WE'LL END ON THAT.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.

©2022 WNET. All Rights Reserved. 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019

WNET is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax ID: 26-2810489