By ENRICO DENARD
BROOKLYN—The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), following a dismal two-year decline in ridership needs riders back into the subways. Chair and CEO Janno Lieber announced in a virtual meeting Feb. 24 that there would be no fare hike this year, thanks to Federal stimulus money, while 20 commuters spoke out for improvement of service.
No small order: the enormity of the pandemic dropped the ridership rates of the MTA by 50% through much of the pandemic. New Yorkers have avoided public transit the Omicron variant forced people to work from home and other safety conditions plagued city transit.
“By working with the city and the state, I’m convinced we can fix these conditions and welcome New Yorkers back into a system that’s safer and feels safer,” said Leiber.
Crime on subways was also a major concern proposed by residents who spoke on Thursday. They called on the board to respond to the fear felt by riders, citing the death of the late Asian-American Michele Go, 40, who was pushed into the path of an oncoming train by a homeless attacker.
Malinda Elias, a mother who spoke to the board said, “Currently I have yet to go on a bus or a subway with my 18-month-old because of safety and convenience concerns.”
Leiber said the city, state and the MTA are doing something about it. “Last Friday I stood with Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, as they unveiled a comprehensive subway safety plan that prioritizes outreach and services for homeless and others who are housing in our system and suffer from mental issues,” he said.
The MTA will also enforce a subway code of conduct in addition to services to people in need. The governor and mayor agree to bolster the code’s significance by placing a record number of police officers in underground stations.
“No more smoking, no more doing drugs, no more sleeping, no more barbecues on the subway system, and no more just doing whatever you want,” said Adams. Chief Safety Officer, Patrick Warren will oversee the commitment made to NYC riders for the MTA.
Ridership rates are expected to spike in the coming weeks of March, as Adams had urged CEOs to resettle their companies back into office spaces to help revitalize surrounding service companies.
A group of mothers attended the public forum and pushed back against a ban on open strollers on buses, scrutinizing the board at the meeting for infringing on the convenience and accessibility of certain riders.
One mother pointed out that having a child sit on a mother’s lap contradicted the rule of car seats: to have the baby strapped in. Another said it was unsafe for her to manage her energetic child with one hand while balancing a heavy stroller away from the clear path on the bus.
“Bus drivers humiliate you; they create scenes,” Danielle Avaçar said. “It’s completely unfair for parents to put up with it,”. Some who were dismayed by the difficulty of riding buses accompanied by their baby and a stroller said they stopped riding buses.
The MTA expressed no clear response to resolve this concern, however, with assistance from the governor’s and mayor’s office, riders can expect novel changes to public transportation services.
Lisa Daglian, Executive Director of Permanent Citizen Advisory to the MTA (PCAC) addressed the board, “MTA needs to use every tool in its tool kit to keep riders safe and help them feel safer, so they return. Without riders, the cliff will only become steeper, and the red ink deeper.”