When I took over as interim President of New York City Transit, I knew leading the largest transit agency in North America would be the challenge and honor of a lifetime. But I could not have imagined what actually lay ahead – a prolonged global pandemic, a financial and ridership crisis, and now, as I prepare to leave, a recovery effort of unparalleled proportions.
As I began my tenure at Transit, COVID-19 was just beginning to take hold in New York, and those early days were full of uncertainty. None of us knew what was coming, or how deeply this crisis would affect our workforce and operations— and our own families.
It quickly became clear the City needed its transit system more than ever to survive the crisis – so that doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, grocery and delivery workers could get to the front lines and perform their critical, life-saving jobs.
The perseverance shown by our workforce in New York’s hour of need was awe-inspiring. The term “heroes moving heroes” has been used a lot, but there’s no better way to describe the brave men and women on the front lines and our brilliant in-office staff. Thanks to their service and sacrifice, the subways and buses kept the City’s essential workers moving, and I couldn’t be prouder.
But like other large state and city agencies, MTA was severely impacted by COVID. One hundred sixty-eight employees, including 154 at New York City Transit, passed due to the virus. These losses weigh heavily on all of us, though I know their families are experiencing much worse.
When I look back on this last year, one of the things I am most proud of is the Family Liaison Program we dreamed of and then built at Transit. It was designed to help escort the families of our fallen heroes through the bureaucratic processes that can be hard to navigate while grieving: gathering paperwork, and applying for pension benefits and the MTA’s family benefits program.
I have always considered Transit to be a family – albeit one with nearly 50,000 members – so it was only natural that we were there to support our own on both an administrative and emotional level during this difficult time.
It was important to us that we honor our colleagues in a way that felt timely and sincere. We produced “Travels Far,” a moving video tribute featuring portraits of our colleagues a special poem commissioned from U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Putting it together was a rewarding experience that I hope helped New Yorkers begin to grieve our collective loss.
We have a long way to go, but I know there are better days ahead for all of us. Our system remains the best and most convenient way to get around and enjoy the City’s revival.
I hope to welcome you all back one day soon as MTA Chair, but for now I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve New York over the last year and a half, and I thank all of you for trusting NYCT to get you where you need to go.
Sarah E. Feinberg was the interim president of MTA New York City Transit. Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated her to serve as chair of the MTA; her nomination is pending state Senate approval.