Feinberg Stepping Down as NYCT Head, Lieber Named Acting MTA Chair, CEO

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Sarah Feinberg

Citing that the job of running, day-to-day, MTA New York City Transit has been taking too much time from her family, Interim NYCT President Sarah Feinberg is stepping down on July 31.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s nomination of Feinberg as the first woman Board Chair of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority awaits State Senate approval. The position typically brings what many industry observers call excessive political interference and micro-managing on the part of the “overbearing” Cuomo, but in an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, she said she has had no such experiences with the Governor at NYCT, and looks forward to becoming MTA Chair.

Feinberg, 43 and with a three-year-old daughter, told local media outlets that the NYC Transit job, which she has held since February 2020, has cut severely into her time with her family. “You are not serving New Yorkers well unless you are on call 24/7, and you are owning every rush hour, owning every signal delay and paying attention to every project, and thinking constantly about how you can make sure that customers, riders and your workforce are safe,” she told ABC-7 New York. She said the MTA Chair role would allow her “to continue to serve New York … but also be able to live my life in a way that allows me to be the kind of parent and partner that I also need to be.”

In the swirling, bobbing-letter alphabet soup of MTA titles, the New York State Assembly in June approved splitting the role of MTA Board Chair and CEO. At the same time, Cuomo announced Feinberg’s nomination as MTA Chair, and MTA Construction & Development President Janno Lieber’s nomination as MTA CEO, both positions pending State Senate confirmation. Patrick Foye, who has led the MTA as President and then Chairman and CEO for the past four years, will leave the agency July 30. When Feinberg vacates her NYCT post on July 31, Lieber steps in as Acting MTA Board Chair and CEO.

“While the Senate has yet to act, the MTA nominees and leaders continue to be available for policy discussions and confirmation hearings, as they have been since the legislation was introduced nearly two months ago,” Cuomo said. Splitting the MTA leadership post into two positions has met resistance in the State Senate. Feinberg said she hopes the Senate changes state law to allow the Governor to split the jobs, so she can serve as MTA Chair while Lieber can be named CEO.

Janno Lieber. Stephen Yang/New York Post

I am excited to get to work … though I am disappointed I won’t yet be working alongside my supremely qualified friend Sarah Feinberg,” said Lieber. “We are still counting on the Senate to act on the Governor’s proposal and approve her historic nomination as the MTA’s first woman Chair.”

“The Governor, Janno and I agree that this is the best path forward to provide stability and continuity of leadership at the MTA,” said Feinberg. While I am disappointed in the Senate’s delay in taking up deliberations of our nominations, I have no doubt Janno will do a tremendous job in the acting role. I hope to join him soon in leading the MTA and region through this next chapter.”

On The Air

Feinberg spoke with WNYC Radio talk show host Brian Lehrer about her experience in the NYCT job. Following are highlights from their conversation:

Brian Lehrer. Photo by Brittainy
Newman/The New York Times

On why she thinks the MTA’s Chair and CEO jobs should be two separate roles:
“The MTA is a multi-billion-dollar agency with 72,000 employees—on its best day, we need as many hands on the wheel as we can get. And the reality is, this is not its best day. Ridership has fallen off since the pandemic, we have a huge capital program ahead of us, congestion pricing—all of that stuff on the horizon, and the theory is, we need more strong leaders running the agency.”

On her experience working with Gov. Cuomo compared to what her predecessor, Andy Byford, said he went through:
“I’ve never felt [marginalized]. I’ve made my own decisions, I’ve executed on my decisions, I felt like the Governor has been a great partner to me. Others have felt differently. I would never try to speak for Andy, but I’ve never felt that way. I’ve enjoyed working with him, we share a vision for what New York City Transit can be.”

On getting back to full-strength after NYCT’s hiring freeze:
“What was different about the hiring freeze during the pandemic was it extended to operational titles—bus operators, train operators, positions that during a previous hiring freeze we would have continued to hire. So that’s had a huge impact. This financial crisis we went through was dire; nothing in the MTA’s past has compared to it. But to be clear, we lifted the hiring freeze in February, and we’ve been hiring into those operational titles ever since. With the lifting of some of the COVID restrictions, we’ve had more flexibility in training larger class sizes. But because we have so many operators who can work an overtime shift, the impact has been less than it could have been. We also have experienced people in our rail operations control center who can ‘flex the headways,’ so when we’re experiencing a crew shortage on a particular line, they can shift the trains around a little bit so people are less impacted. But there’s no question it has had an impact.”

On continued mask enforcement:
“The number of spouses and children I have talked to on the phone who lost a member of their family who worked at New York City Transit—I think if you can imagine some of those conversations, you would understand why I’m very much in favor of vaccination and would love to see every member of our workforce … get a vaccine. It’s up to the Board, and I know there are discussions, and I’ll leave it to the Board to act on it, but personally, I would be in favor of it.”

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