Op-ed | The importance of subway safety

Photo by Dean Moses

Subway safety is looming large in the minds of New Yorkers these days, and it’s not hard to see why. Several high-profile attacks have dominated the news, with statistics indicating an uptick in the number of murders in the transit system to just under one per month this year. It’s scary to read about these atrocities, and it’s heartbreaking to consider the impact on the victims’ families.

Last week, I attended the wake of Tommy Bailey, a Brooklyn father of three who was fatally stabbed on the L train. Sitting with his mother and speaking with other relatives, it was clear that Mr. Bailey was the quintessential New Yorker – a son of immigrants who was a product of NYC public schools. He was a union construction worker who showed up throughout COVID and worked hard to support his family, while using the transit system to commute. That a stranger would senselessly kill him during his trip is horrific. 

I’ve said many times that mass transit is where New Yorkers all come together and prove out the world’s greatest experiment in diversity and tolerance. But the system is very fragile. People are in close quarters and there’s a social compact where you’re meant to treat fellow riders with respect and courtesy. We’re all just trying to get where we need to go. So, when that compact is violated, especially with violence, it’s a serious problem that cannot be tolerated. Millions of people rely on the MTA every day, most of whom don’t have access to a car or can’t afford a $50 Uber. Public transportation needs to be safe for them to use and it needs to feel safe. 

Fortunately, there has never been a stronger working relationship between the MTA, the State, and the City than there is right now. The NYPD is flooding the system with officers to patrol platforms and trains, the places where our riders feel most vulnerable. Transit crews will be announcing when the NYPD is on trains or nearby, so everyone knows. 

There’s obviously more work to do. We need to prevent crime before it happens, instead of reacting and the courts need to come through on guns, so firearms stay out of the transit system. It’s insanity that a ruling from the federal northern district of New York could potentially lift the existing ban because the transit system is bizarrely somehow “not a sensitive location.” Ask Tommy Bailey’s family if the subways are a sensitive location. They are. Full stop. New Yorkers need mass transit, and we can’t let them down.

Janno Lieber is Chair and CEO of the MTA.

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