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Turning Around New York City Transit Crime

Sarah E. Feinberg Interim President, New York City Transit
Tony Utano President, Transport Workers Union Local 100
Dorothy Moses Schulz emerita professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and retired MTA-Metro North Railroad Police Captain
Nicole Gelinas Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal 
Thu, Mar 11, 2021 EVENTCAST

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Turning Around New York City Transit Crime

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Forum

Turning Around New York City Transit Crime

Sarah E. Feinberg Interim President, New York City Transit
Tony Utano President, Transport Workers Union Local 100
Dorothy Moses Schulz emerita professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and retired MTA-Metro North Railroad Police Captain
Nicole Gelinas Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal  EVENTCAST 01:00pm—02:00pm
Thursday March 11
Thursday March 11 2021
PAST EVENT Thursday March 11 2021

Over the last year, New York City has seen a spike in violent transit crime and disorder, reminiscent of the city’s darker days. Despite ridership hovering at around 30% of 2019 levels, the number of murders in the subways last year was twice that of 2019, and the number of rapes more than doubled. Even with overnight closures, there were nearly 600 robberies on the subway system. Above-ground transit crime spiked too, as bus drivers were punched, spat on, and worse. The homeless and mentally ill have taken up asylum in the transit system, creating an atmosphere of danger, disorder, and filth. There was also a rash of subway pushings—six since New Year's Eve—and random violent attacks. In February, a young man with severe mental illness and a history of arrests for drugs and violence allegedly stabbed four strangers along the A train line, killing two, causing Police Commissioner Dermot Shea to order 500 more cops into the subways.

But what will it take to really turn this downward spiral around? Can it be accomplished with more cops and more attention to minor crimes? Or will a solution require a large-scale change in mental health and criminal justice policies? NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg, local transit union president Tony Utano, and other stakeholders discussed how we arrived at this precarious situation and what it will take to turn it around.
 

Event Transcript

Nicole Gelinas:

Good afternoon. Welcome to another Manhattan Institute event cast, brought to you by our new policing and public safety initiative. I'm Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the institute, and I'm delighted to be moderating today's panel, How to Turn Around New York City's Transit Crime. Before we get going, I want to quickly remind everyone to please send us your questions as they come to you, through the comment function of whatever platform you're watching. And I will do my best to get as many as I can on during the discussion.

Nicole Gelinas:

This past year has been the most difficult in New York City transit's history. As of late February, 153 transit workers had died of COVID-19. Transit ridership remains at less than a third of normal levels, with people's reluctance to ride transit likely slowly the city's overall recovery. Though it's natural to be fearful of COVID, something that hopefully will fade over time as vaccinations proceed, part of riders' reluctance stems from the alarming incidences of crime on the transit system over the past year, backed by statistical evidence that violent crime is a growing problem on transit.

Nicole Gelinas:

Over the past year, since last March, eight individuals have been murdered in the subway system, including transit worker, Garrett Goble last March. It would normally take four or five years for the transit system to experience eight murders. The risks of assaults and robberies too has risen, relative to ridership, with robberies up 4% last year, for instance, despite the lower ridership. Only 42% of riders polled felt safe from crime last October, compared to 67% the previous year in 2019. In just one mid February week this year, transit workers suffered one physical assault and 41 instances of harassment. Rarely a week goes by without a transit worker suffering a physical assault.

Nicole Gelinas:

How does the New York City Police Department, responsible for policing in the subway, as well as the MTA's New York City transit division help reduce crime and get people feeling comfortable riding trains and buses again? To discuss these questions and more, we are privileged to have a terrific panel joining us this afternoon.

Nicole Gelinas:

Sarah Feinberg is the interim president of New York City Transit. She's a former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and the former MTA board member, where she was the chair of the transit committee. And by the way, Sarah just marked her one year anniversary as interim head of New York City Transit, so happy transit anniversary, Sarah.

Nicole Gelinas:

Tony Utano is president of the Transport Workers' Union, Local 100, which represents 40,000 hourly workers, who operate, clean and maintain New York's public transit system and 6000 additional workers at Liberty Lines Transit, New York waterway, and school bus, tour bus, and private bus industries, and most recently added the New York City horse carriage drivers as union members.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Dorothy Moses Schulz is professor emerita at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She's also a retired captain with the Metro North Commuter Railroad Police Department and its predecessor, Conrail, where she was the first woman captain in either department. So welcome, everyone. Thank you very much for being with us this afternoon. Tony, start with you. Tony, we know that your union members have suffered severe stress over the past year in falling ill, worrying about falling ill, and seeing colleagues fall ill, and in too many cases, succumb to the disease.

Nicole Gelinas:

Your members also face stress from rising crime. Can you describe the crime situation facing your membership in working with the public every day on buses, trains, and in transit stations?

Tony Utano:

Sure. Thank you for having me. So the membership is very stressful. It's not safe for transit workers right now, down there or on the buses. It hasn't been safe for a long time. Every single day, our transit workers are spit on, punched, urine thrown, all kinds of crazy things happening. We not only have endured this virus, but now with the uptick in criminal activity going on in the subways and buses is really, really getting emotionally hard for our members. Not only do they get physically hurt, they also get mentally. When you get spit on, you don't know what that person has. And right away, things go in your mind that, "Wow. Does this guy have some kind of disease that I'm going to get now?"

Tony Utano:

So I mean, it's a big problem. There is some movement with police, but we're dealing with it. No workforce in the city has to deal with this. I mean, we come to work. We're just supposed to be transporting people back and forth to their jobs, to their workplaces, to their homes. Yet, we also got to put up not only with the coronavirus, we also got to put up with getting assaulted and spit on and punched, and it's a horrible situation, a big problem.

Nicole Gelinas:

Well, I'm sorry to hear that, Tony. Sarah, thank you for being with us. You have been calling for more transit police to deal with issues, including what Tony just talked about. And you've been calling for that since actually before the COVID crisis started. In addition to the 2,730 police officers the NYPD maintains, the de Blasio administration recently announced that it would redeploy 644 officers and add them to the transit system. Do you think that's enough? And do you see any difference in the system since the city added those police in the past few weeks?

Sarah Feinberg:

So thanks for having me. It's good to be with you, and I appreciate the focus on this issue, and bringing such clear focus to it. And Nicole, I appreciate how much you've reported on it over the years. Look, you're right, I've been calling for a focus on policing and better and improved security in the system since before I was the interim president, since I was on the board. And before that, I was thinking about it personally as someone who wasn't on the board, but just riding the system every day, either by myself or with young children, and sometimes late at night.

Sarah Feinberg:

So this is something I've been thinking about for a long time. To answer your question, the 644 is a really good start, and I'm grateful to Commissioner Shea and Chief O'Reilly for contributing those officers. They're both incredibly responsive. They're both great partners to us. And I think we very much are in lockstep on what we need to do. But it's just a start, and frankly, we need more. And so I've continued to call on the mayor and City Hall to please continue to add resources. And we obviously are doing everything that we can on our end to add resources too.

Sarah Feinberg:

What I talk about all the time is that I feel like it's my absolute responsibility that every person who works at New York City Transit is safe from the moment they get to work to the moment they go home, and every person who's riding the system is safe from the moment they enter our system to the moment they exit. And so those are a lot of people and a lot of places, and it requires significant resources.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Sarah, thank you for that answer. Let me just ask you a followup question. We have a large transit advocacy community in New York City. Many of the transit advocates say that we don't need more policing of the subway system. Do you think that they're wrong?

Sarah Feinberg:

I do. Yes. They're wrong. And God bless them, I hope to one day come back as a pundit because if you can stand on the outside and just criticize the decisions that are made on the inside and the folks who have to actually run the place, I think it's easier than, as I just said, feeling like you're accountable for every person who works here and every person who uses the system. So I take that responsibility really seriously. I'm going to do everything I can to keep everyone I can safe. And yeah, look, I think if you're going to be an advocate for transit, you have to be an advocate for the customers. You have to be an advocate for the workers. You have to be an advocate for the system. And if we allow crime and other quality of life issues to become out of control in the system, then you're not advocating for it.

Nicole Gelinas:

Okay. Thank you. And Dorothy, in terms of what police should be doing in the subway and bus system, last year, arrests for beating the fare, either jumping over the turnstile or walking through the exit gate, fell by 84%. Civil summonses for beating the fare, which don't involve an arrest, fell by 57%. What should police be doing inside the transit system?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

Well, first I'd like to start also by saying thank you for including me. And I'm going to throw applaud to Sarah because I've been on countless webinars involving people with the FTA and transit system, and her focus on the security of the system is truly unique, so she really deserves a pat on the back. And riders should be very happy about that because she's fighting for them to have a safer transit system or a more secure transit system.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

As to your specific question, fare enforcement has unfortunately become totally politicized in this country, to where many people are talking about transit system should be free. But whether, however enforcement of fares is conducted, one of the big important things on the transit system is visibility. Police officers should be visible, in uniform, not only at the entry points, but also on the platforms. It's an unfortunate state of affairs that many, many people in this country are frightened of public transit, even before COVID.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

And while again, we can touch upon that today many people argue that the uniform presence is more frightening than the people it's protecting against, that's really a small minority of people. People feel secure when they see somebody who is in charge and has the authority to do something if something were to occur. I think patrolling is one of the most important things that any police force can do, but particularly a transit force because of the nature of the environment and knowing that people are frightened, even before they are aware that things are happening.

Nicole Gelinas:

Thank you, Dorothy. And let me ask you a followup question as well. Three weeks ago, when two individuals on the A train were murdered, and two others were seriously wounded, the police flooded the system with cops the next day. They caught the alleged perpetrator very, very quickly. So we know that the police can solve violent crime when it happens. Should the police also be preventing violent crime on the transit system before it happens?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

Well, patrolling is one of the major preventive measures. There's a reason. It's not just to get fresh air, or in the subway system, unfortunately, not so fresh air. But the reason for patrol is preventive. Solving crimes, of course, is after the fact. But the situation in that event was really very tragic because you had people with no resources really preying upon one another. And I think that's something that Sarah has discussed, and also the union, which is the issue that the emptier the transit system becomes, the more it becomes a refuge who have nowhere else to go. And this is not true only in New York.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I just was alerted to a study done at UCLA, where 150 transit systems, which is a pittance, there are about 7000 transit systems in this country, not quite as many as there are police departments, but quite a large number. All who responded indicated that homelessness and mental illness in the system has increased. And it's been a problem everywhere, or an issue. People don't like the word problem these days. And because there are fewer people riding the system, systems, it's easier for them to become basically rolling homeless shelters. They're warm. They're well lit. They're oftentimes, most times, protected by the very police who are also asked to remove them. And it's a much, much safer environment than many of the shelters. And so as ridership has declined, the appearance, the actuality, and certainly the appearance of people who are frightening to others has increased.

Nicole Gelinas:

Thank you, Dorothy. Tony, any thoughts on what Sarah and Dorothy talked about? Do you think-

Tony Utano:

I just wanted to add that about a month ago, we met with the chief of police for patrol, O'Reilly, Chief O'Reilly. And we had a good discussion. And they said that they would put more police out there. This was before the 644. They had another academy that they were going to put them out there. They're going to be visible. They had a lot of police undercover, they said, but they're now going to put them in uniform, so they'll be more visible. They would do sweeps of the train. They will go into our locations and actually talk to our members and our employees, and give their contact information so our employees, if they see something while they're on the train or on the buses, they'll be able to contact somebody to get them to respond.

Tony Utano:

So it was a good discussion. We're going to continue these discussions. There will also ... I know we're talking about the subway here, but we're also getting lots of stuff on the buses too. People are coming on the buses, walking on the buses, spitting, throwing things. We definitely need more police. I mean, like Sarah said, it was a good move to put the police there. But I don't want to see that when things calm down a little bit, that the police disappear because they're just going to escalate again because there is a problem down there. There's a problem, a crime problem. And it does have to do a lot with the homeless and the mentally ill. And that becomes a city problem. And I mean, I've been talking about this over and over again. I have nothing against anybody [inaudible 00:16:10].

Tony Utano:

It's funny, I was just watching a Law and Order, because you can't watch anything on TV, but from 2004. And a person said in that show, "You know, you could be two steps away from being homeless." The guy had a good job. He lost his job. He couldn't pay his mortgage. He got thrown out of his house, and he was homeless. So we have to feel for them, but the city has to step up. They have to step up. They have to bring counselors. They have to boost up these shelters to have medical attention in there, because just taking a homeless person out of the subway and put them in the street, they're going to end up back in the subway, or they're going to do something in the street.

Tony Utano:

So they need help, and I think it's time that people wake up because it's not only in New York. It's everywhere in the country. And let's face it, government is pumping out trillions of dollars in stimulus money for a lot of things, which is good. But let's take care of the homeless people too. This is America, and I don't think this should happen in America. You shouldn't have people living in the street. And you certainly shouldn't have people living in the subways. I'm done.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Tony, thank you. Go on.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I just wanted to say, and I think that this is an issue that's gone on for literally decades. I mean, I can remember, I'm going to give my age away, in the '70s and '80s and Grand Central, and all the other transportation facilities, which at the time had great numbers of homeless people, again in many cases, in the terminals, the waiting room was under utilized because there were not long distance trains anymore. And whole sections were taken over. And you had the same level of the same advocacy groups with different names. But unfortunately, it always fell that it was someone else's problem, or the police problem. And now there's all this talk about using money from the police for social services. Why wasn't the money for social services there previously?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

New York City has a huge human resources administration, homeless outreach, adult services. Why wasn't the money there until it became a crisis, or until two people died, and everyone ran up to Inwood to have a memorial? There was one such thing in Grand Central once on Christmas Day, when an elderly homeless woman, who they said called Mama, nobody else called her Mama, but it made great press when she was found dead. And it was like eerily, history repeating itself. A big memorial and a big whoop de do. And the next day, where is everyone? Back to normal.

Nicole Gelinas:

Yeah. Thank you, Dorothy and Tony. And I want to ask Tony a followup question on exactly these issues. As you noted, Tony, mental illness on the subways, which overlaps quite a bit with street and subway homelessness, is a serious issue. Sometimes this also overlaps with the violent crime, sometimes not. What is it like for a transit worker to try to interact with a mentally ill individual? And I'm not talking about someone who was acting violent, someone who was clearly posing an immediate danger, but when one of your members sees an individual lying on the floor of a train car, for example, a person who maybe have his or her mind altered on drugs, or maybe suffering from psychosis. What are your members supposed to do in that type of situation?

Tony Utano:

It's real tricky these days because my members are actually afraid to go over because they don't know how a person is going to react. I mean, back in the days, they would tap them and say, "This is the last stop. You've got to get off." If they don't get off, they would call the police. Now they don't know how they're going to react. I mean, we've been instructing our people, look, you can make an attempt. An attempt, you've got to call the police. The police got to come down, and they've got to do their job. Either the police, they've got to bring social workers, whatever it is. We're transit workers. We're not social workers. We're not here to do that. We're here to move people back and forth and get them to their destinations. That's our job.

Tony Utano:

And again, these are the same people that are punching, that are spitting, that are stabbing, that are throwing urine in our face. We're going home with blood on our uniforms, and that shouldn't happen. That should never happen. We're here to move people. Now again, going back to the homeless problem, putting them in a shelter where they feel, think about this, they feel more safe in the subway system than they do in a shelter. That's a problem. That's where the problem got to be fixed. And that's the mayor's problem. And the mayor has just, he shrugs his shoulder on this stuff like it's not a concern of his. And it should be a concern of his.

Tony Utano:

These people, if you're going to take them and put them in a shelter, you should have doctors there. You should have counselors there. You should have people trying to make ... Some of them just need to take their medication, and they can't afford it. They can't get it. That's what that shelter should do. It shouldn't be that the subway system or a street corner, curled up in freezing, is better for them to be in a shelter. That is a problem. And my members right now are afraid. They're afraid to go near homeless people. Again, they could be carrying a coronavirus. They can be carrying disease. They can be carrying ... I mean, I've seen pictures on the news where the guy came in with a saw and started ... A lot of crazy things happening in the subway.

Tony Utano:

There's less ridership, and again, some of these homeless people, because of the coronavirus, might've lost their jobs, might have no money. They're out in the street. That's maybe an uptick in the homeless. I know the homeless have been around a long time, and nobody ... But this is time, this now is the time that somebody needs to step up. Somebody needs to step up and fix this problem. This is not an MTA problem. This is not our problem. This is a city problem. This is a city problem, and the city needs to fix it.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Tony, you have spearheaded, and the TWU heavily supports a new bill that would make it a misdemeanor versus a low level violation to spit on a transit worker. The five district attorneys support this. How do you see this as helping your members? And I'll ask this to both you and Sarah. Do you see a contradiction in the DAs supporting a new crime, even as they fail to prosecute existing crimes?

Tony Utano:

Are you asking me first?

Nicole Gelinas:

Yeah.

Tony Utano:

Okay. So we're spearheading this. But of course, that MTA is in support of this. So we're actually working together on this bill to get it done. We talked to the five DAs, and they're on board with us, saying that, "Yes." Because let's face it, when you get spit on, and then you get slapped with a ticket, that just allows that person to keep doing it because he's never going to pay the ticket, and he's going to keep doing it. But when you arrest them now for it, it may stop that person. Will it stop the person who has a mental problem? Maybe not, maybe not.

Tony Utano:

But that comes to the other issue about ... There's two issues here. Right? There's people and kids out there or whatever, they're just doing it just to do it. A message needs to be sent out. They need to know that if you do this to a transit worker, you're going to go to jail. And we're going to push those DAs. They were standing with us. We're going to hold them to what they said on this mics. We're going to be there making sure that when this bill gets done and signed, that when a person gets caught, that it gets prosecuted according to that law.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Sarah, do you think the prosecutors and the rest of the criminal justice system is doing its part?

Sarah Feinberg:

Not enough. I mean, look, as Tony said, we're obviously very supportive of what I refer to as the spitting bill. And we have partnered with TWU, and they've done a wonderful job helping to lead the charge on that. And I'm so glad that the DAs are supportive of it. But the reality is, you would think that my job as interim president of New York City Transit is to just run a transit system. But I spend an enormous amount of time trying to convince riders to come back, making sure that people feel safe and secure, talking to law enforcement, and talking to people like DAs and judges, trying to get them to do the things that we need them to do, so that some of these recidivist criminals can be permanently or temporarily taken out of the system, whether it's for some of the crimes that we've talked about here, or others.

Sarah Feinberg:

So I'm glad that they're supportive of the spitting stuff, but we absolutely need them to be holding the line and having an aggressive posture on all of the crimes that are committed in the system. To be clear, I have great conversations with these folks. They are aware of the recidivist legislation that passed the assembly and the Senate last year, and that was signed into law. They've been trained on it. They're up to speed on it. They claim that they're ready to use it, to execute on it when processes start to sort of come back to normal post COVID, and I think that's great.

Sarah Feinberg:

But we need them to have an aggressive posture on all of this stuff because, look, this is not just ... These are folks who are targeting public servants, or they're targeting our customers in our system. And so in my opinion, these are the kinds of crimes that should be taken quite seriously.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Sarah, in addition to the violent crime issue, both against your customers and against the transit workers, you've also suffered a spate of vandalism and property crimes over the past year. Last summer, either an individual or a group of individuals broke 104 train windows during just one week. Vandals regularly break one to 15 windows every single week. This is expensive. Smashing up the metro card and vending machines and the advertising screens is also expensive. Do you think that police have done a good job in apprehending the property crime perpetrators? And do you see a correlation between fare beating, vandalism, and the more serious crimes?

Sarah Feinberg:

So you're right, we've had a spate of vandalism and property crimes. And look, these are serious. These are not victimless crimes. I think sometimes people think that broken windows or graffiti are just victimless crimes, or someone's opportunity to show the world how talented they are with a spray can. And at risk of sounding like an old fogey, or a scolding mother, these are not victimless crimes. They cost us time and resources. When I say us, it's the MTA, but it's taxpayers. I mean, taxpayers are footing this bill, so people should be upset about this.

Sarah Feinberg:

This is whatever amount of taxpayer dollars that are going towards cleaning graffiti and fixing glass as opposed to making the system run better. And so people should be frustrated by this. Look, I think that between the NYPD, the NTA, police, and our own security forces and our own station system, we have gotten cameras really far and wide through the system. Early on, there was a focus on state-of-the-art expensive cameras that could last forever in a really challenging environment like a transit system, where it can be anywhere from 100 degrees in the summer to 15, 20 degrees in the winter.

Sarah Feinberg:

And we've kind of gotten away from that and said, "It's much better and more efficient to put less expensive cameras in as many places as we can, so that we can aid in the discovery and investigation of even these low level crimes," so certainly, the assaults on our workers and the assaults on our customers, but also, tagging trains and breaking windows. And so I'm really happy with how successful that has been. The MTA police, the NYPD, and our own folks at transit work really closely to collect and share those camera feeds as needed. And it's been quite successful.

Nicole Gelinas:

And let me ask both Sarah and Dorothy, we have a question from an audience member named Jeffrey. Is the no bail policy that the state implemented a little bit more than a year ago, is that having an impact on the increase in both property crime and violent crime? So we'll start with Sarah.

Sarah Feinberg:

I spend a lot of time on these issues, but I'm just not a law enforcement policy expert, and I'll defer to Dorothy. I will say that in many of my conversations, I hear less about the no bail policy and more about the fact that there are just so many folks with significant mental illness who may have previously, regardless of what crime took place that ended, that sort of put them into the system, and I mean the criminal justice system or the mental health system. Those safety nets no longer seem to be in place.

Sarah Feinberg:

And so what I hear a lot about is that we no longer have a system in this city that sort of captures those who most desperately need the mental health care. And that's why we continue to see some of these ongoing issues.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Dorothy, on that answer, do you see this as more of a mental illness issue than a law and order issue?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I don't see the graffiti as a mental health issue, and probably not the broken windows either. The whole concept of broken windows was literally shown to us in New York. But I certainly think that a lot of the violent crime against employees, and I'm classifying spitting or hitting as a violent crime because it is, and certainly the fear that riders have of being pushed in front of a train, or battered in some way. I think a lot of that is related to the mental illness/homeless, or homeless/mental illness.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I also think though on the other hand that it is related in part to a kind of sense that some people have that lawlessness is okay now. And so it's a question of maybe trying to push the limit. I'm not a parent. I know Sarah is. But I guess if you never say no, this situation gets worse. And part of what's happening now, whether real or imagined, is that there is never no. And the no bail, whether literally resulting in that, or figuratively sending the message that anything is okay, and that's a bad thing, obviously because we see the end result of it, is that there's more fear, more crime, more attacks on employees, more attacks on fewer patrons. That's not a way to bring ridership back.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Dorothy, what would you say to someone who said, "Let's just let the little crimes go"? How can you give someone a summons for beating the fare when maybe the person just doesn't have any money, and they're trying to get to work? What does it matter if there's a little bit of graffiti on the train, as long as you can still get on the train and get from point A to point B?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I would go back to the original theory of broken windows, which has been so dragged from where it started, which was really just that little things lead to big things, that it sends the message that no one is in control. And the graffiti may be very artistic or not. If it's artistic and somebody wants to provide a wall on his or her property, or an art gallery, that's fine. One can admire it for its beauty, or not admire it. But when it's where it doesn't belong, what it's doing, as lovely as it might be, is sending the message that no one is in charge.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

Broken windows, I mean, how much more literally could the theory be? When you enter the subway, or a bus, we're talking mostly about subways in New York, and the windows are broken, or they're cracked, or it's dirty, how secure are you going to feel? How willing are you going to be to ride that system on a regular basis? And as Tony said, the job of transit workers is to get people from point A to point B. That presumes that people want to get from point A to point B, that they're not going to rely on car services. Or now I hear they're using scooters. Well, that's fine for young kids. But people depend on transit.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

Hopefully soon there'll places that they need to go or want to go, and they're not going to depend on it if they see a system that's graffiti-ed, has broken windows, is dirty, has people who they may feel sorry for, but who on the other hand, frighten them. It's not conducive to providing the kind of service that a transit system is made for.

Sarah Feinberg:

Nicole, is it okay if I jump in for a second?

Nicole Gelinas:

Yeah.

Sarah Feinberg:

I was just going to say to Dorothy's point, which I think is excellent, if you think of the places in the world where you can put up with disorder and chaos and events, or incidents, or accidents that inject disorder and danger into a situation, a transit system is not an appropriate place for that. First of all, it's the workplace of tens of thousands of people. So this is a place where tens of thousands of people go every day to do really hard work, to move multi ton machinery, to work that requires them to be their most alert, their most on top of it, and to be carrying the safety of hundreds, if not thousands of people on their backs, so that's number one.

Sarah Feinberg:

Number two, when people are on a platform, they might as well be in a median of a highway. We've got moving trains on both sides. Right? This is not a place for chaos and disorder, and sort of anything other than a place for people to be waiting for their train and using the system for what it's built for. And so it always blows my mind when people suggest that some amount of criminal behavior, some amount of disorder and chaos is appropriate in a transportation system that's moving millions of people a day. That's the last place where we can really have a lot of flexibility there in terms of dangerous or chaotic behavior.

Sarah Feinberg:

So I always, when I'm in that kind of conversation, when someone's pushing back, I always say, "Please explain to me where you draw the line." Is it, it's okay to not pay the fare when others are? Is it okay to vandalize pieces of property that have been paid for by taxpayers? Why is that okay? Is it okay to panhandle in a way that makes people feel unsafe? That doesn't make a lot of sense. So those who are arguing against it pretty quickly lose the specifics, which is frustrating, but my guess is will continue.

Nicole Gelinas:

Yeah. Tony, I was going to ask you to weigh in on these property crime issues as well.

Tony Utano:

So graffiti brings me back to the '70s and '80s. And there's a movie if you ever want to watch it, to see what the trains looked like. It's called The Warriors. They were horrible. They had graffiti. They had gangs in the system. It was a terrible time, where your mother used to tell ... I remember my mother used to say, "Make sure you ride the car with the conductor." But back then, there were police that were patrolling the trains in uniform, and they would walk up and down the trains. I remember seeing them. I remember them being there. That's what we need to bring back.

Tony Utano:

My children, if they tell me, "Dad, I'm going to take the train into the city," sometimes I say to them, "You know what, here's money. Take an Uber or take a cab," because I'm not ... It's not a comfortable place, and it should be a comfortable place. Right? That's what it's there for. It's there to transport people and be safe. We need it to be safe. We really need the city, we need people to step up and say, "Yes, we've got to make this place ... " First of all, it's perfect for the climate because it's electric. Right? So we get cars off the road and we get people on the trains, so it works for everybody.

Tony Utano:

But our aunts, our uncles, our grandmothers, our moms, they'll all ride the trains, and we want it to be safe. It's not just about our members. That's all important. But our families also ride the trains, and we want to make sure it's safe for them. And right now, we need some help down there. We need some help. We're getting help. It's slowly coming. It can disappear. It has to be constant, and they have to be visible. Police being visible makes a big difference. People don't do a crime when they see police there. They go away. And if they keep seeing the police, they're going to go find someplace else. And right now, if the war zone is the subway system and the bus system, well, the police maybe need to look at that. The commissioner, the mayor need to look at that and try to fix things problem.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Tony, we have a question from an audience member, Gareth, directed to you because of your response to those two questions. In your conversations with the NYPD, are tactics and strategy discussed to make policing response more intelligent so that they are making the best use of the officers and policing the system?

Tony Utano:

Yeah. When we had the discussions, we had two meetings. One, we actually were live, and one was one Zoom. And we had our officers there giving the police locations and bus routes and subway routes, where we thought were hot zones. And again, we are together coming up with a plan, where the police are going to roam the system, but also are going to be in contact with the workers. So if the workers have a communication with the police where they can pick up the phone and call them and say, "Look, I just passed 125th Street and there's a guy setting fires," the cops can respond to that because we also see things. And now if we have that contact person, and they were open to that, and they were open to ideas, and they were open to sitting and discussing different things. And we want to continue that dialogue because we think it's important.

Nicole Gelinas:

And we have a question on ... I'm sorry, Dorothy. Did you want to weigh in?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

No. No, I'm listening.

Nicole Gelinas:

Yeah. We have a question on the issue of vagrancy, which I'll direct first to Dorothy and see if Tony wants to weigh in as well, and Sarah also. A group of homeless advocates has sued the MTA and Amtrak for making the Moynihan Train Hall, as well as the subway system in two separate suits, inhospitable to homeless individuals. Can you comment on those lawsuits? And how do we combat the mindset that transit is a homeless shelter? So we'll start with Dorothy.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I'm curious. I saw that. I'd like to read the case and know what they mean by inhospitable. Do they mean that you have to show a ticket? Are there ticketed waiting areas, as there is now in Penn Station and most transportation facilities? But I think that there reneging on their own responsibility. What they're really saying is that a public transportation facility should work as a homeless shelter. I would like to see them rather work the human resources administration, who although we never hear from him, used to be for years the head of the Coalition for the Homeless. And we've not heard anything from HRA about: Why should Moynihan Station be hospitable to anyone who isn't traveling or shopping there?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

I mean, I think that these are the kind of lawsuits really that beg the question. And I would throw them back and say, "Well, what are you doing to make sure that people don't have to reside in Penn Station, or Grand Central, or 125th Street, or Moynihan Station?" There's a much larger issue than whether a new facility is hospitable to people who are not using it for its primary purpose.

Nicole Gelinas:

Tony, any thoughts?

Tony Utano:

I think they're suing the wrong people. I think they should go after the city. And I don't think people should be okay with people sleeping in a subway station or in Moynihan Station. I think those people should be fighting the people to make sure that those shelters and those places where they've got to go are safe. That's the reason that they're falling where they're falling. Because why go to a place where you're going to get robbed, and raped? And God knows what else goes on in those shelters? They need to fix those shelters. They need the police protection there. They need, I don't want to keep repeating myself, but they need doctors there. They need counselors there. Sleeping in a subway station doesn't solve the problem, so I don't know what they're suing for because they're not helping the people that are in the subway. That's who needs the help. That's what they should be suing for, for help for those people, not to allow them to sleep in the subway.

Nicole Gelinas:

Thank you, Tony. And Sarah, the MTA has contracted with homeless outreach teams, the city itself, in shutting down, or in conjunction with the MTA, shutting down subway service for a few hours every night, also doing more aggressive homeless outreach. Would you like to see more joint mental health patrols with police working in conjunction with social services workers in the subway system?

Sarah Feinberg:

Sure. I mean, I'd love to see that. I would love it if every time two police officers came upon someone who needed help, if they could just call up a social worker, and they would be right there, or a nurse, or a doctor. I think that would be great. Or how about someone who's handing out hotel rooms, or can give them a ride to a shelter that they can guarantee is safe? I think all that would be great.

Sarah Feinberg:

What I always argue is please just don't put that responsibility on the folks who are managing a transit system. Please don't ask Tony's conductors to figure that out, and Tony's train operators, and my colleagues and workforce, and someone who's working in a station to figure that out. Let us move millions of people a day safely and efficiently, operate trains, drive buses, fix broken rails, clean stations. And let's let the city and the Department of Homeless Services and folks who are medical experts do that work.

Sarah Feinberg:

It blows my mind that work is somehow left to transit. We don't tell LaGuardia that in addition to planes taking off and landing and maintaining runways, that we have also asked them to be a homeless shelter. We don't tell Hudson Yards that, "Could you please be this sparkling mall? And could you also house several hundred people every night?" It doesn't make sense. It's an easy solution for those who don't spend a lot of time in the transit system, who don't depend on the transit system, who don't use it every day. It's convenient because it's out of sight, out of mind. But that doesn't mean it's fair to our workforce. And it's not fair to those who depend on the system and have to use it every day to get to and from work and school and to see their families.

Nicole Gelinas:

Thank you, Sarah. And are there things that the MTA and New York City Transit could do itself in terms of non policing measures to better secure the system, something such as designing fare gates that are much harder to jump over, or other ideas?

Sarah Feinberg:

I'm sorry. Was that question for me?

Nicole Gelinas:

Yep.

Sarah Feinberg:

Yeah. Look, if given infinite resources, I would love to have better fare arrays. There are fare arrays that can prevent people from jumping turnstiles, but and yet also allow egress in those rare occasions when we have some incident where people have to leave a station quickly. I think it's frustrating for those of us who are operators that we're always having to plan for mass emergency egress when those ... Thank God those actual incidents rarely come up. But the reality is people have to be able to get out of a subway station very quickly.

Sarah Feinberg:

And if you're going to allow for that kind of easy egress, there aren't a ton of super easy solutions. There are solutions. They cost a lot of money. But we can certainly look at them, and we have in the past. And so that's something that we're always willing to look at.

Nicole Gelinas:

Okay. And Dorothy, you've written that this is not just an issue that affects New York City, that the rising crime issue is prevalent across American transit systems. What would you say are some of the commonalities to the increase in both property crime and violent crime that transit systems across the country are seeing?

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

Well, fare evasion is a big issue everywhere, and homelessness. I just saw a piece of news video from BART, the heavy rail system out in California, Bay Area Rapid Transit. And they showed one of the stations, which has been somewhat taken over by homeless people. And my first thought is, "My God, it looks like the Penn Station passageway looked in the 1970s." Many of the light rail systems that have open fare, you show your ticket, they don't have fare gates, they're putting in fare gates now because of the issues of nonpayment, which I know a lot of people today think is not a problem. But it does result in public order instances.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

Not everyone ... There may be people who don't pay because they can't afford to. There are undoubtedly in my estimation more people don't pay because they don't want to, and they know they can get away with it. There might be systems, I think Muni, again in San Francisco, has an access pass or something for homeless people. I don't know all the details, but it's available through if you get certain homeless services or other kinds of social services. And there's solutions that can help people who can't afford to pay. That's very different from people who don't want to pay.

Dorothy Moses Schulz:

And I think that we need to separate those two things, rather than is happening now. They're being brought closer and closer together, rather than looked at as separate issues. And Los Angeles, for many years, when it started, the subway was an open system. They discovered that nobody paid, so they put in fare gates. Now I understand their CEO, who's leaving I believe at the end of the year, is advocating free transit. Well, I guess that's one way to get around the fact that nobody pays. But there are other ways that might be more beneficial to enhance revenue and public order by working out ways for those who can't afford as versus those who don't want to.

Nicole Gelinas:

Thank you, Dorothy. And I should point out for people who are correctly concerned about enforcement of fare beating against essential workers who can't pay the fare. For the past two years, New York City has had a fair fare program, where go online, you apply. If you make below a certain income, your fare is half of the normal $2.75 subway fare. So that the issue of people who cannot pay the fare, this is compared to the cost of having to buy and maintain and buy gas for a used car, which is $5000 or more a year, the cost of a half price metro card, which will run you more like $700 a year is really one of the best deals in the country for workers who make on the low end of the income scale.

Nicole Gelinas:

And I do worry that as we get out of COVID, many mass transit systems around the country, particularly systems that only rely on buses, as they start to cut back on that, more and more people will buy cars, which really sets us back environmentally. As Tony said, subway system is basically the first electric car, and it works pretty well. But Tony, I want to ask you, in many of your remarks, you point the blame or the root of the problem at the mayor and the city's social services decisions. We happen to have a mayoral election coming up. The primary is just three months and two weeks away.

Nicole Gelinas:

The TWU made an endorsement in 2013. You actually, you pioneered rank choice voting before the city. You had Bill Thompson at the top of your mayoral list, and you had Bill de Blasio at the very bottom, so maybe we need to take in your advice eight years ago.

Tony Utano:

Right.

Nicole Gelinas:

But will you be making an endorsement in this mayoral election? If so, how would you arrive at your decision? What do you hope to see from mayoral?

Tony Utano:

So first of all, I wish Thompson would've won because maybe we wouldn't have to have this cam because maybe he would've took care of the problems because it seems like Mayor de Blasio just doesn't care. And it's going to be his legacy, any way he wants to look at it. But we will be making a mayor endorsement. I'm sorry. We will be making it. And the way we're going to do it because we have lots of candidates and lots of good, good people that we supported through the years, we're going to bring them up as we did when we supported Thompson.

Tony Utano:

We brought in de Blasio, Quinn, Thompson, Liu. Our board asked all the questions they needed to ask. And then our board, which consists about 54 people, we took a vote, and Thompson won the vote. We're going to do a similar thing this time. But this time, the questions that they're going to be asked are going to be: What are you going to do about the crime? What are you going to do about the homeless, things that are affecting transit workers today? We need to hear from them, and then we will make our endorsement. We're not ready to make an endorsement yet, but we will be soon.

Nicole Gelinas:

Will you hold a public forum like you did in 2013? I remember I went to your mayoral debate in 2013.

Tony Utano:

You did?

Nicole Gelinas:

Yeah.

Tony Utano:

At the Sheraton?

Nicole Gelinas:

No. It was, I can't remember where it was, but it was not at the Sheraton. You had all the candidates up on a public dais.

Tony Utano:

I don't remember that.

Nicole Gelinas:

Will you be holding one? Will you be holding [inaudible 00:55:10]?

Tony Utano:

Well, right now, I can't answer that question.

Sarah Feinberg:

[inaudible 00:55:14] will be at the Sheraton.

Tony Utano:

Let me get to my board first because I don't remember holding that debate. Maybe was that when Samuelson was the president when we did that?

Nicole Gelinas:

Yep.

Tony Utano:

And where was that debate, at the union hall?

Nicole Gelinas:

I believe it was, yes, because it was more in office building. It wasn't a hotel.

Tony Utano:

Okay. All right. So I can't really answer that question yet, but I will definitely let you know if we decide to do that, absolutely.

Nicole Gelinas:

Okay.

Sarah Feinberg:

This year has taken such a toll on everyone. No one remembers anything. I don't remember anything.

Nicole Gelinas:

And Sarah, on a positive note, as we get into our final round of questions, how do you encourage people to return to mass transit? I mean, this is going to be a critical year, a critical spring and summer. I'm sitting in basically empty Midtown. Midtown can't go through another empty summer and fall. How do you get people to take a chance on the subway and bus system again?

Sarah Feinberg:

Well, thanks for the question. And I was going to try to bring it back on a positive note anyway. So let me just get to your question in one second. But I want to just say, look, we know that we have an issue. And we know that we have had an issue for more than a year now, but we also know what works. Right? We know that a uniformed presence in the system works, with the addition of the 640 ish additional officers over the last couple of weeks. We've seen the crime numbers come down. We've seen the arrest numbers go up. I get texts and emails as in realtime, as things are happening in the system, and just in the last few weeks, I've noticed a real difference in terms of arrests that are being made almost immediately. And so just having those extra several hundred officers in the system have made a real difference. And again, I'm just grateful for the NYPD for it.

Sarah Feinberg:

Again, I will ask the city to do more because for those of us who are in the system day in and day out, all the time, there's no question that we are in a mental health crisis and that we need more assistance. But to your point, what can we do to bring people back? There's a whole lot of stuff we can do to bring people back. And myself and my colleagues spend a ton of time on this. First of all, we talk to our customers who are using the system now and who have traditionally used the system in the last couple of years, so both the essential workers who are using the system now and the people who were using the system before, and haven't in the last year because they either are afraid to use the system because of COVID, or because their employer hasn't had them back, or they have no need to go into the city.

Sarah Feinberg:

And they all say the same thing, which is that their number one priority is to feel safe from COVID. Their number two priority is to feel safe from criminal activity. And so we are doing our best to make sure that we are showing that we're keeping people safe in every way we can. So again, I talk a lot about I want people to feel confidence when they enter the system, to feel comfortable and confident. And so if they're dipping their toe in their commute, as they're using the system for the first time to go see their mother or grandmother they haven't seen during COVID, I want them to come in and I want them to see a clean system that makes them feel confident that we take cleaning and disinfection seriously. I want them to see their fellow customers are wearing masks because they're taking care of themselves. They're taking care of their fellow customers. I want to see our workforce wearing masks, which they all are.

Sarah Feinberg:

There's hand sanitizer everywhere. There's a uniformed police presence. And so people feel like this is a system that they want to come back to. They feel comfortable coming back to it, and they feel confident coming back to it. Our customer surveys show that is overwhelmingly what people need and want in addition to their employer just having them back in the office. And so we are trying to be laser focused on those items.

Nicole Gelinas:

Well, thank you, Sarah. And since we gave Tony the first word, I think that's a good positive note to end on. So we'll leave with giving Sarah the last word. And I want to thank you all again for participating today. I know you're all very busy. And thanks to all of our audience for tuning into our event this afternoon. Before we close, I would like to invite our audience to sign up to receive updates from the policing and public safety initiative, including our new newsletter and information on our upcoming events.

Nicole Gelinas:

And on our website, you can browse the Manhattan Institute's research. If you are able, please consider also supporting the institute at the link you see in the chat. MI is a nonprofit organization, and our work depends on support from people like you. Thank you.

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