The freshly-minted president of MTA New York City Transit Richard Davey vowed to make safety and reliability his top priorities for the Big Apple’s subways and buses, as he spoke to riders at a Queens transit hub on his first day of work Monday, May 2.
Accompanied by a gaggle of reporters, Davey heard from straphangers about their concerns at the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station complex during the morning rush and promised to work to bring New Yorkers back to transit.
“My message to New Yorkers is: You’ve got someone — and a team at MTA Transit — who are going to be focused on these issues, so come back,” Davey told reporters during a press conference Jackson Heights. “We’re going to work to make sure it’s safe, it’s reliable.”
The former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and consultant executive with Boston Consulting Group took over the division of the state-controlled MTA in charge of the Big Apple’s vast subway and bus network, as well as Paratransit, after his appointment in March by MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber.
He is the first person to assume the permanent role since “Train Daddy” Andy Byford quit in January 2020 and the position was held on an interim basis throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by Sarah Feinberg and then Craig Cipriano.
Citing the recent mass shooting on a subway in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, some three weeks ago, Davey said that safety was at “the top of everyone’s mind,” and that he would join forces with the NYPD to keep riders safe.
“I want to see more eyes on the platforms, so not only just police presence but hopefully our own employees,” he said.
He will also focus on what MTA can more directly control, such revisiting speed restrictions on certain subway lines, filling crew shortages that have led to long wait times, and making the transit system cleaner.
“I don’t think there’s one thing that’s going to, quote, turn service around. There’s no magic wand that can be done,” he said.
“It’s going to be really getting into the details of how often are we cleaning stations, where are there signal failures, where are there speed restrictions, where do we see violations of bus enforcement in our system […] and then just tackling each one of those purposefully and moving on to the next.”
Davey said people hopping the turnstiles was a “key issue,” but that he also saw broken ticket vending machines during his morning tour.
“Fare evasion, obviously, is a key issue, but we have to make sure that people can actually pay as well and so we’ve got some homework to do ourselves,” he said.
More than 4.8 million people rode the subways and buses on Wednesday, April 27, one of the highest numbers of trips in one day since the pandemic began.
Daily ridership has plateaued at a rate of around 55-60% of pre-COVID figures on the subways and roughly 60% on buses, according to MTA’s most recent counts.
One commuter from the Queens area told Davey that crime and dirty stations were issues for him.
“There’s like posts of people that get assaulted and they’re looking for them [with posters] on the walls a lot here and robberies and stuff like that. So safety is definitely a concern at this station,” said Paulo Pinho, a doorman from East Elmhurst.
But the longtime subway rider warned against law enforcement cracking down on undocumented New Yorkers, with that working-class part of the World’s Borough having a large immigrant population.
“They are hard workers and I see them work hard, and sometimes I just see the police coming and, like, making them go away or arresting them or something like that,” said Pinho. “I know they’re not legal or not working legally, but it’s an injustice to their families and to them to arrest them and make them not be able to work.”
Davey, who started his tour around 4:45 a.m. on May 2 hopping on an E train at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown, said he would continue his first days in office being briefed by staff on issues facing the subway.