Sarah Feinberg Will Be Nominated to Run M.T.A.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will nominate Sarah Feinberg, a close ally, to oversee the largest transit system in North America.,

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Sarah Feinberg will be nominated to become the first woman to lead the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest public transit system in North America, responsible for running New York City’s subway, buses and two commuter train lines, transit officials said on Tuesday.

Ms. Feinberg, 42, a close ally of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, would take on the enormous job of steering the transit system at a time when it faces multiple challenges, from bringing back riders that fled during the pandemic to shoring up its finances and modernizing the aging subway system.

The subway has also been shaken by a spate of attacks on riders and workers in recent months that has raised fears about safety and poses another hurdle to luring back commuters.

The transit system will play a central role in New York’s recovery from the pandemic, which has killed at least 167 transit workers and sickened thousands more while decimating ridership and cratering the agency’s finances.

Ms. Feinberg, the interim subway chief since March 2020, oversaw the first overnight shutdown of the subway in its history. The move allowed for intensive cleanings, but some public transit advocates said it went on for too long and hurt essential workers who rely on the trains during off hours.

Ms. Feinberg has also urged the city to provide more policing of the subway system and more homeless outreach resources to make riders feel more confident about using the system.

But that has also led critics to accuse her of exaggerating crime in the subway and scaring off riders. Subway ridership still stands at less than half of its prepandemic level of 5.5 million daily weekday riders; even as many workers are expected to return to their offices in September, it is unclear how many of them will be full-time commuters.

“I am thrilled to be stepping into a position that allows me to continue to play a significant role in how our subway and bus systems operate, but to also have even more of an impact in shaping the future of the agency, and of transportation in this city and region,” Ms. Feinberg said in a statement.

“There should be no higher priority than ensuring we are doing all we can to bring ridership back — and as ridership comes back, so will the city’s economic recovery.”

Mr. Cuomo will nominate Ms. Feinberg to become the chairwoman of the M.T.A.’s 21-member board, which is appointed by state, city and regional officials. Her nomination would have to be confirmed by the New York State Senate.

“As with all appointees we will review the nomination and make the appropriate decision as a conference,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate.

Some transportation advocates and watchdog groups have criticized the process through which Ms. Feinberg was tapped for such an important job.

Rachael Fauss, the senior research analyst for Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group, said the chair of the transit agency should be independently nominated by its own board members rather than handpicked by the governor. That model is followed by many corporations and nonprofit organizations and was recommended by a 2008 commission on overhauling the transit agency led by a former M.T.A. leader, Richard Ravitch.

“There should be no last-minute back room deals on a major governance change for the state’s largest authority that serves millions of riders and manages a $17 billion operating budget,” Ms. Fauss said.

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for Riders Alliance, an advocacy group for transit riders, said that Ms. Feinberg has seemed at times to be more of a spokeswoman for the governor than a manager.

“At this point, riders most need her to exercise her judgment to deliver fast, frequent and reliable service,” he said.

Still, Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the M.T.A., said Ms. Feinberg’s ties to the governor could be an advantage for the transit agency and the riders that rely on it.

She added that Ms. Feinberg, as the subway chief, had already shown that she could manage the largest part of the agency — the subway and buses — during a very difficult period.

“She has the governor’s ear and the governor’s trust and that will help as our region continues to reopen and recover,” Ms. Daglian said. “As we move into our next normal, we need to figure out how to keep the agency afloat and how to pay for its day-to-day operations and capital construction so that riders have the system they need and deserve.”

Ms. Feinberg, who lives in the East Village, commutes to work on several subway lines, the L and the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6. In her current position as interim subway chief, she earns $325,000 annually. She will give up that salary to become chair of the M.T.A., which is an unpaid position.

She would replace Patrick J. Foye, the current M.T.A. chairman and chief executive, who is leaving to become interim president and chief executive of Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency.

But Ms. Feinberg would only assume part of Mr. Foye’s job.

Janno Lieber, who oversees the transit agency’s capital projects, will be appointed by Mr. Cuomo to take over for Mr. Foye as chief executive of the transit agency. He will be in charge of running day-to-day M.T.A. operations and oversee the agency’s ambitious effort to modernize the transit system.

This is not the first time these leadership roles would be held by different people, but the roles have been combined since 2009 through state legislation. M.T.A. officials said that legislation would be proposed to split the roles again.

Agency officials said they decided that it would be better to have Ms. Feinberg and Mr. Lieber work closely together in a partnership given the major challenges the M.T.A. is facing.

“The COVID crisis proved — once again — that mass transit is New York’s linchpin, in good times and bad,” Mr. Lieber said. “Now we need to keep building a system that connects people from all communities to jobs, education and opportunity. I look forward to taking on this important new role and to lead M.T.A. in support of the New York City region’s economic revival.”

Mr. Foye said he was proud of the way the transit agency had responded to the pandemic, especially the transit workers who made sure that essential workers and emergency responders were able to get to their jobs when much of the city was shut down.

“I know the strong gains we have made will continue,” Mr. Foye said.

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