MTA’s Lieber Tells Albany Legislators that Subway Bathrooms Will Stay Closed — And Jessica Ramos is Pissed!

MTA CEO Janno Lieber says subway bathrooms will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Photo: Tdorante10
MTA CEO Janno Lieber says subway bathrooms will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Photo: Tdorante10

She’s the Queen Pee.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos accused MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber of disinterest in the face of discomfort — namely for refusing to re-open the 76 bathrooms that are scattered among the subway system’s 473 stations.

“Janno Lieber doesn’t want people to be able to pee,” Ramos (D-Queens) told Streetsblog after confronting Lieber at a state budget hearing on Tuesday — one in which Lieber had claimed he can’t re-open the loos that were closed during the Covid-pandemic for two reasons: he doesn’t have the staff and the staff is afraid.

“The bathrooms are remaining closed because we do not have enough cleaners right now,” Lieber said in a response to a question from Ramos. “We do not have enough cleaners cleaning stations, and adding another scope of cleaning, especially in a Covid-intensive cleaning environment, is just not accomplishable right now. The other thing is that our station personnel are terrified of us reopening the bathroom because their people can’t go in and clean because they’re being occupied.”

Ramos pooh-poohed that, reminding Lieber that a pleasant, comfortable experience for customers is part of the longer-term strategy of boosting ridership, which remains depressed because of dramatically altered work schedules and patterns, plus fear of crime and homelessness that are frequently inflamed by the media.

“It needs to smell nice, it needs to give us pride in riding it,” said Ramos, who rides the subway not merely for photo-ops.

Last week, the agency quietly announced that five stations did indeed have public bathrooms (see tweet below), but the website listing those five stations has now been disabled.

Elected officials and others have pushed the MTA to reopen the bathrooms since last spring, as the city came out of the worst of the pandemic, which the MTA had citied as the reason for the closures. Over the summer, then-Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg said that the agency was hoping to reopen the bathrooms, but also connected reopening the restrooms to preventing people from using drugs in bathrooms or homeless riders from living in them.

The issue reached a head last month, when Lieber, under questioning from Ramos, said that transit — and not toilets — was the singular responsibility of an agency that is certainly not flush with cash. He also said he had the same concerns as Feinberg about possible vandalism or homeless riders trying to live in bathrooms.

Following Tuesday’s rematch on the issue, Ramos said she remained unimpressed with Lieber’s answers.

“Janno Lieber doesn’t want people to be able to pee,” said Ramos.

Besides, Ramos added, MTA cleaning crews are already occasionally swabbing the poop deck when riders defecate in cars and on platforms because they are not provided with a dignified place to do their business. And she called on MTA brass to advocate more forcefully for solutions to the broader problems of homelessness and mental illness that Lieber suggested are preventing the MTA from taking the plunge to open the bathrooms.

“It’s a state and city responsibility, which Janno Lieber is a part of, and this is where interagency work takes place,” she said. “[When] Janno was so quick to call for more police officers, in the same breath he point[ed] out he’s not a criminal justice expert. But he could be speaking to clinicians at the Department of Health, he could be trying to figure out that restoring funding for things like psychiatric beds is actually something that can contribute to a better MTA.”