Most New Yorkers don’t know who runs the city’s subway and bus system. But the head of New York City Transit likely has more impact on the average person’s day than the mayor or police commissioner. New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco, 63, who’s retiring Friday, says the future subway system will have high-tech cars that can fit more riders and will be able to share information on a minute-by- minute basis.
Bianco talked with amNewYork about his time running the transit system, its future — and why he won’t miss riders with backpacks.
Changing transit culture to be customer and worker-focused.
Bianco, said this led to Fastrack, which closes down sections of subway lines at night to get work done more efficiently and keep workers safe. Other rider-friendly improvements include Wi-Fi at stations, Help Points, countdown clocks, and BusTime.
Biggest challenge for him:
Getting work done like maintenance and inspections in a subway system that is open 24 hours a day.
“We operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It is the city that never sleeps,” he said. “While all this is happening, we have to get out there and do our work. We have inspections to do. All of that can’t stop.”
New tech for subway cars:
The future R211 car is currently being designed for the lettered lines.
“It will be a car that will have a different type of architecture,” said Bianco. “It will have Ethernet, we’ll be able to use it for technology purposes. We’ll be able to get more information to the train and from the train, and get information to our customers on a minute by minute basis.” The MTA also wants to upgrade the signal system to run more trains.
New designs for subway cars:
The MTA is looking for a car that can last over 40 years and carry many people. “You may be able to fit more by looking at the seating arrangements — if you need to have seats down at all times,” said Bianco. “These are things on our minds as we design cars, and we see the crowds we have. What can we do to get more people on? Can we widen the doors, is that possible? Can we find a way so that people don’t stand near the doors, and people can get in and out? That’s all in design with our engineers.”
On trends in subway ridership:
Millennials are much less interested in driving than their parents.
“All signs are that we’re a society that wants less dependence on vehicles,” Bianco said. “Younger folks are much more into environmental concerns and leaving the car at home, or not even owning a car. We’re a heavily dependent society on transit.” He expects the subway to be the centerpiece of NYC’s economy.
Pet peeve about subway behavior:
Riders who wear big backpacks, rather than place them on the floor.
“I almost got knocked over three weeks ago by an individual with a very large backpack on him,” he said. “I got on the train, and I don’t know what this guy he was doing — he just turned around and whacked me. I fell into the person next to me.” He did his best to stay cool. “I just thought: patience, patience, patience.”
On future fare increases:
Bianco would like the MTA to find funding that can keep down the price of a ride.
“We realize how serious it is, and the impact it has on people,” he said. “Nobody here has a desire to raise fares. That’s not something we want to do … We’d love to be able to hold the cost.” He added that the fare is reasonable. “You can’t buy a slice of pizza for a single ride.”
What he would say to unhappy riders:
The subway system gets them where they want to go safely and reliably. “I think our safety record is second to none,” he said, noting that he regularly looks at social media feedback from straphangers and talks to riders. “There are those who know how to use social media better than others,” he said. “And I think it’s good for us to hear their voice. I welcome their voice. Without hearing both the good things and the bad things we do, we’ll never learn.”
Fulton Street. “Fulton Street is interesting to me because of the way it connects people,” said Bianco. “You have a place where so many people can connect to so many lines.”
Favorite subway movie:
“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.”On the capital plan, which funds big projects like Second Avenue Subway: Bianco says it has helped the subway come back from the dark days when trains broke down all the time. “Keeping the capital program going is really critical for us to continue,” he said. “We have an absolute need to continue to find ways to have sustainable funding for our transit system, and invest in the system.”
Why he feels he’s leaving the transit system in good hands:
Bianco says no one knows the system better than MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast. “I’m glad he’s at the helm right now,” he said.
On record subway ridership:
In 1992, when Bianco was head of system safety, average daily ridership was 3.2 million, now it hits 5.9 to 6 million. “Ridership continues to grow at an amazing rate,” he said. “I’m not sure I would have expected the growth we are experiencing.”
Best day on the job:
Watching workers react to superstorm Sandy and restoring subway service quickly. “To watch this team react to the devastation that occurred and get the city moving was incredible,” he said. “One of the proudest moments was to bring hope back to a city to some level of degree was hopeless.”
Worst day on the job:
A supervisor was killed on the job in 2010. “I’ll live with that for the rest of my life,” said Bianco. “It’s like losing a member of the family.”
What he’ll miss:
“It’s an extraordinary ride,” he said about running the subways and buses. He will miss the action of running a transit system that moves 8,000 trains and 5,000 buses a day — and needs 40 tons of trash taken out. “It’s an awesome responsibility. It’s not something I take lightly … There are days I get home when I’m stressed, but it’s cool to know what you’ve been able to accomplish, and this team does everyday. They don’t always get all the credit they deserve, they deserve a huge amount of credit.”
What he’ll get to do now:
Bianco, who hails from south Jersey and was raised in Philadelphia, will spend time with his five children and wife. His youngest child is eight.