What to do about the subway is one of the big questions facing New York City right now. Earlier this week, I visited the offices of the Transportation and Transportation Authority to speak to Lieber, the new head of the agency. We met in a conference room on the 20th floor overlooking the Hudson River. Lieber is a confident and energetic man who once helped direct the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. He grew up in Manhattan and now lives in Brooklyn. Lately, he’s been speaking publicly about both the subway system’s slower-than-expected recovery and the rise in reported crime numbers. At a board meeting last month, a reporter asked him to address “the line between perception and reality about subway safety.” He replied, “I don’t know if I’ll get into the Matrix with you on that.”
During our conversation, he acknowledged the issues that plagued Parsons/Archer, some of which he attributed to the station’s size. “It’s a very important part of our transportation network,” he said. “The scale of this station, for better or worse, invites unplanned activities.” Lieber told me that many of the issues at Parsons/Archer are “long-term” problems. His particular focus is now on combating fare evasion and other violations of the rules and standards of the subway system, a topic Mayor Adams has talked about a lot. Lieber considers itinerant criminals and thinks their days are numbered, because a new system of digital revolving door scanners, OMNYSoon, you’ll get MetroCards going the way of the subway token. “Ultimately, the goal is to have the ability to do all of that on the mobile device, in a way,” he said, pointing to passengers’ smartphones. “The smartphone is a part of almost every person’s life.” Last month, Lieber announced that he was forming a “blue ribbon” committee to recommend responses to fare evasion. Like other city leaders, he insists he will avoid mistakes made in the past in the name of public safety and plans for the commission say it will focus on “equity” and “education” as well as “enforcement.” I asked him what tools he thought were available other than arrests and summonses. He spoke of young people as ‘teachable’ and about changing the design of turnstiles and exit gates from the station. The Fare Evasion Commission will also look for ways to increase participation in the city’s Fair Fares program, which offers discount MetroCards to New Yorkers living below the poverty line. Only two hundred thousand of the eight hundred thousand New Yorkers currently eligible for the program use it.
My conversations with the bandages were a reminder that the city cannot always anticipate the consequences of its policies – on the subway or elsewhere. At the AirTrain station, I asked Tyreek if he knew how the beating started. Did he come back to offering MetroCards in the ’90s? he said no. It really started after a crackdown on taxi evasion in the early 2000s, when cops prioritized arresting people for jumping turnstiles. “They were locking you up like nothing,” Terek said. “They were throwing you on the floor, literally, locking you up. It feels like nothing now – I’m 34 – but we were kids at the time.” Terek said the campaign has made many fare lovers think twice, but it’s not like they suddenly can afford the fare. Swipers stepped in to meet the demand for discounted rates created by the city. It was a bespoke program for fair prices, with no paperwork and no testing of financial means. “By doing that, we learned a lot of bullshit,” Terek said. “We learned how to live.”
A few days later, I returned to Parsons/Archer to catch the end of the morning flight. I stood near where Pythia was shot, and watched people swarm through. The station was busy. That day, I saw homeless outreach workers in orange jackets walking around there. I also saw a large number of people jumping on turnstiles. At the clerk’s booth, two uniformed policemen spoke with the clerk. The revolving door hoppers ignored their absolute presence. Many people using the station were self-critical, but others benefited from a thin sparrow in a flat-edged lid. The beating set up shop in the aisle, and favorably Galant appeared escorting his customers toward the turnstiles, passing them, then guiding them with a wave of his arm. He shook hands with people and had a short conversation. “morning.” “morning.” “See you later, brother.” I watched him direct two women to a working MetroCard machine. “There, this,” he said.
I approached the beating who agreed to talk to me as long as I didn’t print his name. He said he had been working at the station for five years. For some time, he worked in a liquor store in addition to beating. Then the epidemic spread, and he lost his job in the store. He said the station got “rough” a few years ago, under the influence of some “rioters”. But he said those people are gone. He said, “They left.” While we were talking, a woman approached and asked the hitter if he had any unlimited metro tickets for sale. “Not today,” he said.
New York City has collectively stopped a number of horrific crimes in the past two years, but the Bethea murder wasn’t one of them. Police held a press conference in Parsons/Archer shortly after the shooting, but media coverage of the case was scant. Adams, who made sure to visit the crime scene during his first months in office, did not attend. The flat-covered scanner said he was at the station the day the Pythia was shot. He knew the Pythia. He saw him lying on the ground. “This has nothing to do with passing,” he said. “What happened happened.”