July 20, 2021
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everyone. A lot of different challenges facing New York City and a lot of good things happening too as New York City comes back strong. But as we recover, as there's more and more activity, you can see it, more jobs coming back, more businesses opening up, tourists starting to come back, the activity is there. But guess what? We have a problem that's now becoming bigger and bigger as we see all that activity, something we wished we had gotten rid of, but we haven't, congestion. Congestion, unfortunately, is back and it's starting to come back with a vengeance. This city needs to keep moving. That's who we are, and we need to be able to move around to recover. People need to be able to move around for their livelihoods, but what are we seeing? We're seeing congestion start to stand in the way of that. This is true, particularly in parts of Manhattan. We're seeing places where people just can't get where they need to get. Obviously, we're seeing problems in the subways as well. This is going to be, if we don't address it quickly, a hindrance to our recovery. If we don't deal with these issues, it will stand in the way of the kind of recovery we need.
Now, if you've been looking at the headlines lately, the story’s being made very, very clear. You can see the picture, New York Post headline this week, “New York City's Worst-in-the-Nation Traffic Congestion Threatens the Push to Reopen.” That's a true statement. This is something we've got to address. This new report that this article references points out that now New York City's traffic has gotten worse in many ways than Los Angeles’ traffic, which was always historically the worst. That's not acceptable. New Yorkers are spending too much time in their cars, stuck in traffic. That's not the way we want anyone to live. We got to do something about it. So, if you can't move around, if you can't get to work on time, if our recovery is being hindered, that's bad enough. But think about what it does to the air we breathe. Think about a lot of cars stuck in traffic, all that exhaust being pushed out into the environment. That's bad for all of us, that makes climate change worse, that threatens the health of our kids. Asthma. There's so many reasons why congestion is bad. So, you could say to yourself, there must be a better way, there's got to be something we can do. In fact, there is something we can do. There is something we can do, and it's staring us in the face.
It's called congestion pricing. We thought because the Legislature acted, City and State were on the same page – we thought we had it done and it would lead to $15 billion in investment in mass transit, it would allow us to reduce congestion, make the air cleaner. It would allow us to play our part in saving our planet from the climate crisis. There are so many reasons to do this, but what's happening with congestion pricing. When you look at the State of New York, when you look at the MTA, you hear the sound of crickets because nothing is happening. Look at this headline from the Daily News, ‘MTA Hasn't Met with New Jersey on Congestion Pricing,’ they're required to, they haven't even done it. They haven't had a single meeting. This is ridiculous. Right now, it is up to the State, it's up to the MTA to act. Now, if the MTA doesn't fully understand why congestion pricing is so urgent, what impact it would make on the subways, how it would save us from a lot of the gridlock we're experiencing, make our air cleaner, allow New Yorkers to get around. You know, the MTA talks all the time about their problems. I've got something for them. I've got a solution for them. How about this check for – yes, you see it – $15 billion. That's what congestion pricing means. $15 billion. I hope you see it this way, too.
It's ready to go. And it would make this kind of impact. Imagine what $15 billion could do for your daily commute on the subway. Any problem the MTA says they have could be addressed with this. If we want to fix the horrible flooding that we saw last week, if we want to make sure the signals are fixed so the trains actually can move, if you want modern stations, here it is staring us in the face. So, $15 billion. Let me tell you something, I've often said $15 billion could make your day a lot better. So, there are so many things – we want to be better to the climate, more electric buses. You can buy that with $15 billion. You could buy new subway cars. You can make subway stations accessible for disabled folks. There are so many things you could do.
You could make it possible for New Yorkers to get to their subway without having to swim their way to the platform. So, this is the difference maker right here.
Okay. What does the State have to do, what does the MTA have to do? They have to call a meeting. Imagine how difficult that is. Call a meeting, the Traffic Mobility Review Board. I've named a member, our Finance Commissioner, Sherif Soliman. The State, the MTA are not acting. They're not naming members. They're not calling the meeting. They're not moving the process. They are trying to point the finger at Washington. Well, that worked with the Trump administration. It doesn't work anymore. The Biden administration in March told them, go ahead, move congestion pricing, in fact, we'll make it easier for you, we’ll allow you to do a fast track, a fast environmental assessment so you can get moving. Everything has to happen this year so we can have congestion pricing next year. That's the bottom line. Once we have congestion pricing, we're going to help to stop the gridlock and help New York City to move around and get $15 billion coming to fix the subways once and for all.
I want you to hear from some folks who care deeply about this issue and they care about it because they represent the people who are suffering from the gridlock, from the asthma, from the inability to get around and get where they need to go. First, a long-time transportation advocate, someone who supported congestion pricing, has called for equity. He's fought for equity in many ways, including when it comes to congestion pricing. And I want to congratulate him because he's now a City Council member, but he's about to be the next borough president of my beloved Brooklyn. My pleasure to introduce Council Member Antonio Reynoso.
Thank you very, very much, Council Member. We need your strong voice, and you've always been a voice for equity. We got to really let the MTA know, let the State know there can't be equity in New York City without congestion pricing. There can't be equity if people are struggling with the effects of congestion and traffic everywhere. And there's not going to be recovery, if people can't get around. So, thank you. We're going to need your strong voice to keep this moving forward.
Council Member Antonio Reynoso: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Thank you. Now, on the State level someone who has also been a strong voice, also a proud Brooklynite, represents the community I'm proud to live in, and he has been an uncompromising voice calling for changes in the fight against climate change and ways of getting people around, addressing equity. He also understands our economy doesn't come back if our subways aren't working. He's Chair of the Subcommittee on Museums and Cultural Institutions in the Assembly. He knows how important it is for tourism, for our economy, for people get to these amazing sites. He understands the urgency. My pleasure to introduce Assembly Member Robert Carroll.
Amen. That is the right attitude, exactly. Thank you. And as a strong voice in the State Legislature, I know you're going to help us to create the groundswell that'll get done. Thank you so much, Assembly Member. Now, everyone there've been advocates who have fought for all of us, for the straphangers, for the everyday people who needed to get around and didn't have the help they needed. And for years and years, the MTA got worse and worse. There was no solution in sight. Everyone got together. Everyone found common ground on congestion pricing. A lot of the advocates fought long and hard to get done. How ironic that now when we need this money and we need this progress, the State and the MTA are sitting on their hands. So, I want you to hear from one of these advocates, an organization that's really led the way on the changes we need to make mass transit the go-to option for more and more people in the whole metropolitan area, the Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Renae Reynolds.
Thank you, Renae. And Renae, you just set it right there at the end. We passed it, why haven't we implemented it? Right. So, it's staring us in the face and Renae, I think you’d agree, we can find a lot of good things to do with this $15 billion to help straphangers, to help everyday New Yorkers. Let's get it done.
All right let me go to another topic. And this is also about billions of dollars that could change people's lives profoundly, but we have to make sure people get the money they deserve. The new Child Tax Credit. This is revolutionary. This is amazing. I give President Joe Biden tremendous credit, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer, also from our neighboring State of Connecticut, Congress Member Rosa DeLauro, who is an amazing progressive voice, has been one of the great leaders of the Congress for a long time. This was her – in effect, this was her baby, the Child Tax Credit. This was something she believed in and fought for when it wasn't easy. And thank God it is here. This means that everyday people are going to get help bringing up their kids. As a parent, I can tell you, every parent out there knows raising kids is hard. It's hard in the modern age. It's hard in New York City. You need all the help you can get. The fact that our federal government finally recognizes how important it is to support families directly and give parents a break. This is beautiful. This is powerful, but now we have to make sure people get the money that they deserve. $3 billion. That's how much could be coming into New York City if we do this right. $3 billion to the parents in New York City, to the kids in New York City, direct payments. It's up to $300 a month for the youngest kids. $250 a month for older kids. Every month. Every family. Amazing impact. What it is projected to do – this is why this is a radical, positive step forward for working families. This is projected to cut child poverty in half, and that's why it's so important to make sure the money gets to the families who need it. What are they going to do with it? For some families, it's going to be what makes them able to make ends meet, to pay the rent, to afford food and medicine, the basics. For some families, it's going to be a way to pay the mortgage. For some families, it's going to be a way to start a savings account so their child can one day go to college. It's going to make a huge difference.
But here's the deal. If you filed your taxes in either 2019 or 2020, then you automatically are signed up and you'll be getting this support, which you very much deserve. So, if you filed in 2019 or 2020, you're good. But if you didn't file in those years, then we need to make sure you get connected so that you get the resources you need. So, anyone out there with kids under 18, who did not file taxes in 2019 or 2020, and we estimate that to be as many as – this is amazing – as many as 250,000 families in New York City, this is why this is such an important announcement. 250,000 families in New York City qualify for this credit but are not going to get automatically. So, if you're out there and you're someone who qualifies, that means you just have kids and you qualify, go to irs.gov. Now they have something that needs a better name, it's the Child Tax Credit Non-Filer Sign Up Tool. They got to make that simpler. But if you go to irs.gov, you can sign up. We also want to help. So, anyone who thinks they may qualify, but didn't file taxes those years, you can call 3-1-1. We also help New Yorkers in general, with any tax issue. If you earn $68,000 or less, we help you if you need help dealing with your taxes and making sure you get all the benefits coming to you. You can go to nyc.gov/taxprep and get direct help. So, either of those ways, we want to make sure everyone gets the support coming to them. It's really, really important. We do not want to leave a huge amount of money on the table that could help New York City families. Let's make sure everyone gets the Child Tax Credit who deserves it.
Okay. Now, everyone, of course, is focused, as we always are, on the fight against COVID. We're going to be talking about that a lot in the remainder of this week. Next few days, we'll have some new things to say on new approaches to fighting COVID in this city. Right now, I'll give you the update on the vaccines. Again, every day we're seeing progress. Right now, since the beginning, 9,757,653 vaccinations. Every single day, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people are getting vaccinated. That's great. We got to build it up. We got to make it more consistent. Vaccination is the answer because if you look at the indicators, you see, we continue to do well in terms of keeping the hospitalization rate down. We're definitely watching the situation with the cases with concern, like is being seen all over the country. Thank God here we have a high level of vaccination. That's the difference maker. And we got to keep building that, but we're watching this carefully. So, here's the indicators today. Number one, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19. Today's report is 90 patients, a confirmed positivity, 24.73 percent. Hospitalization rate per 100,000, 0.38. So, it remains low, but we're watching that very carefully. Number two, new reported cases on a seven-day average, this has gone up consistently, this is an area of concern – 576 cases. And number three, percentage of people testing positive citywide for COVID-19. Today's report on a seven-day rolling average, 1.72 percent.
We're going to be talking about these indicators also this week, because this one in particular is not showing us the whole picture because fewer and fewer people are getting tested and we don't have the big testing efforts we used to have in places like the public schools. So, this one is we want to talk about what it means in this context. But what we definitely see – more cases, that's a concern, low hospitalization rate, thank God that's a very positive thing. And that's something that makes us feel very good about the overall situation. But the answer is, we've got to really push hard on vaccination in every conceivable way. Okay, a few words in Spanish, and I want to go back to the child tax credit. Again, so many families, hundreds of thousands of families who deserve this and might not get it unless they get the word –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, let's turn to our colleagues in the media and please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.
Moderator: Good morning. We will now begin our Q-and-A. As a reminder, we are joined by Department of Finance Commissioner Sherif Soliman, Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Dr. Mitch Katz, President and CEO of New York City Health + Hospitals, and Grace Louis, the Program Director of New York City Free Tax Prep at the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. Our first question for today goes to Kala Rama from PIX-11.
Question: Hi, Mayor de Blasio. Thanks for taking my question this morning, honor to be the first, always –
Mayor: You’re the lead-off batter, Kala.
Question: Thanks. With cases of the Delta variant on the rise and kids under 12 not eligible for a vaccine, we've heard of Council Member Mark Treyger calling for a remote learning option. We know that you're not offering one, but why not prepare for a remote learning option, especially after last year’s staggering – or staggered opening, and then the scramble for technology. So, why not just prepare in case we have to go back to that in two more months.
Mayor: Kala, look, very fair question. And, obviously, what we do all the time and what our health care leadership does all the time is watch the data, watch the trends, and get ready to respond if we need to. We're talking about an opening of school that's almost two months away now, so we have time. But here's the bottom line. We need our kids back in school. We need our kids back in school so they can get healing from everything they've been through, so they can get back on track educationally. We need our kids back in school, where there are trained professionals to help them with physical health, mental health, where there are social workers, counselors, where there's food, meals for them. We need all those things. Again, our health care leadership has been very, very clear. Our kids suffer when they're not in school. And we can do it safely because we proved even without vaccination that we could do it safely. So, Kala, that's the number one thing I want to say. We didn't have vaccination and we made our schools safe with a gold standard of health and safety measures. Now we have almost 10 million doses given, there'll be a lot more given by the time school starts, so we can create a safe and positive environment any way you slice it. We also have been giving out devices to kids throughout and as we announced in the budget there'll be even more. So, kids will have devices. There's always the ability in any instance, even just a single snow day, we can go remote if we need to, but that's not the goal. The goal is to have every single child back in school. Go ahead, Kala.
Question: Right. And for my colleague, James Ford, he wants to know, what would it take to at least have an indoor mask recommendation, as opposed to a mandate like Las Vegas and San Francisco are doing now.
Mayor: I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Katz. Right now, they'll go through the details, but there are places where we're requiring masks and places, we're – and for people we're recommending it right now, but we also are, all of us, united strongly in not wanting people to think, “Oh, I have a mask, so I don't need to be vaccinated.” We do not want to obscure the fact that a mask doesn't solve the problem. Vaccination does. Dr. Katz then Dr. Chokshi.
President and CEO Mitchell Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals: Mr. Mayor, you have covered the most important points. We require masks in school settings, on transportation, in all our health care facilities. And we strongly believe that people who are not vaccinated should absolutely be wearing a mask. But as you say, the right answer overall for our city is achieving full vaccination and we're absolutely committed to achieving this standard. Thank you, sir.
Mayor: Thank you, Dr. Chokshi.
Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, just to add briefly to it. I would reiterate that we do indeed have the strong recommendations for mask use as Dr. Katz has already described, particularly for people who are unvaccinated, as well as those settings where we do know it is higher risk. And so, where the mask mandate remains in effect – those are health care facilities, congregate settings, schools, public transit. And, look, I want to just make sure that we're as clear as possible, masks have been and are a vital part of our defense against the virus. And the vaccine is the closest thing that we have to a knockout punch. And so, we have to use all the tools in our armamentarium, but we have to be laser-focused on the benefits that vaccination affords both at the individual level and for our city as a whole.
Mayor: A knockout punch. I like that, Dave. You said you set it all. Next.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Vanessa from CBS.
Question: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for taking my question. This is a bit of a follow-up to Kala’s because it does relate to school and the virtual option. Yesterday you alluded to the fact that you're going to get more creative with trying to get vaccines out. So, my question regards 12 and over, and are you going to make an extra effort to get those 12 and over vaccinated prior to the school year? And if so, what do those efforts look like?
Mayor: Yeah, Vanessa, we're building that up right now. It's a great question. I think, first of all, a lot of parents are going to take it upon themselves because they know vaccination is widely available and free, to go and make sure the kids are vaccinated in advance of school. You know, as a parent, I would tell you for so many of us, the vast majority of us, the notion of getting your kids vaccinated – before even COVID, getting your kids vaccinated at the right point in life to prevent certain diseases. Parents know that reality, the vast majority of parents think that way already. So, I think you're going to see a lot of parents whose kids were not in person in school who are coming back into school in September who are going to feel very natural about saying, ‘I want to get my kid vaccinated ahead of that.’ And it's available to all kids 12 and up and widely available. We're going to also be doing a major, major campaign to alert parents, educate them, bring them in, make it easy for them. We'll have a lot more to say on that, but that's coming soon for sure. Go ahead, Vanessa. Vanessa?
Question: That's all for now. Thank you.
Mayor: Okay, great. Thank you.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Emma Fitzsimmons from the New York Times.
Question: Hi, good morning, Mayor. I wanted to ask about your mask comments. They've received quite a bit of criticism yesterday. I mean, do you want to reiterate that masks are important to stop the spread? Do you ever wear a mask now?
Mayor: Where we've talked about the requirements, Emma, if you're in a school, for example, and our kids in schools – you know, as you say, criticism comes with the territory, you know, I'm someone who believes it's absolutely right for our kids in schools to keep masks on right now. Am I going to go to a school? I'm going to wear a mask, obviously. So, any place that's one of the mandated places, any place where I feel it's a crowded situation that requires it indoor, I would. But the bottom line, and we’ll go back to Dr. Katz and Dr. Chokshi, is we all believe there are lots of situations where masks are helpful, but I don't want to see, and I fear this, I don't want to see people say, “Oh, well we're doing masks, so we don't need to deal with vaccination.” A lot of people – I fear if they're saying ‘well, we're going to wear a mask so we're not going to get vaccinated,’ that's crazy. That evades the main point. Somehow, we're having a national dialogue that has become insane. We have the solution to the thing that is killing so many people and is now threatening once again our ability for people to make a living. Why is this hard? Just go get vaccinated. This is not difficult. And there's so much just horrible rumor and falsehood and lies out there that are affecting people deeply. That is a national disease that people are listening to lies versus the doctors who actually are trying to help them. So, we're not going to buy into that. We're going back to the central point. Get vaccinated, and we're going to be more and more sharp about that and use more and more tools to get people vaccinated. Dr. Katz or Dr. Chokshi, do you want to add? Dr. Katz, you may be on mute. You may be on mute or you may not be there at all. Dr. Katz, Dr. Choksi, can you hear us?
Commissioner Chokshi: I can hear you, sir, allow me to start, in that case. Just to add to what you were saying and, you know, we can be unequivocal about the fact that masks have helped to stop the spread of the virus. And I would reiterate what we've already said. That's why masks remain a pillar of our strategy particularly in the settings that we have described and more so indoors compared to outdoors. With all of that said we – when I think back to where we were a year ago when we did not have this important tool in our arsenal that vaccination provides, we have to ensure that the focus in terms of being able to protect people from what is now avoidable suffering remains on vaccination as the key to do that. It also offers a more durable protection as we have seen, and as we've experienced over the last several months, so the Delta variant adds even more urgency to our messaging which remains that we have to stay vigilant against the coronavirus. And vaccination, particularly for, you know, people who are at higher risk is the most important part of that protection.
Mayor: Okay, great –
President Katz: And sir, I would fully agree with Dr. Chokshi and apologize for my mute button skills. But just to answer the reporter directly, I often wear a mask even though I'm fully vaccinated. There's – we fully support masks, but the – what we're all about saying though, is that we have, as Dr. Chokshi said, the knockout punch. We have the definitive answer and that's what's going to allow the full recovery to the extent that vaccinated people feel safer wearing a mask, as I do, in a crowded place. That's great. We're all – but the way out of this issue is through vaccination and that's what we're focused on.
Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Emma.
Question: Can you hear me? So, I understand that you're saying masks are not a replacement for the vaccine, but are you also concerned about the economic repercussions of requiring masks indoors or not having that as an incentive for people who are vaccinated to let them know that they can have that freedom?
Mayor: I'll offer my view, and again, as you can hear, you know, we work as an ensemble, Dr. Katz, Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Varma and I, and the whole team, we constantly are working through these issues, and we have real strong feelings on this one. I do think you're making a good point or raising a good point that we urged people to get vaccinated. Let me give you the numbers. As of today, 4.5 million New Yorkers, fully vaccinated, that's now pushing 54 percent of the entire population of the city. 4.9 million have received at least one dose, that's over 58 percent of the population of the city. I do expect a surge with kids 12 and up as we get closer to school, and then I think we're going to get, obviously, hundreds of thousands more once younger kids qualify. This is the solution. I think we said to people – you know, I know we said to people, come forward, get vaccinated, it's the right thing to do, and then that became a really positive part of it that life could go back to something better, and you could take your mask off. And, you know, I think it is a problem to say to people you did the right thing, but now you got to put your mask back on. If it came to that, if it was one of the only things, of course, we would entertain it, but the solution – the solution is vaccination and anything that obscures that solution, anything that becomes a crutch instead of actually pushing people to make the decision they need to make, because this is really getting insane at this point. We've got to be blunt about it. If you're not getting vaccinated, you're actually causing harm to other people. Dr. Katz, Dr. Chokshi, you want to add?
President Katz: I think you said it very well-served has to be vaccination. That is the only way that we can have a true enduring recovery for everyone. Thank you.
Mayor: Thank you. Dr. Chokshi.
Commissioner Chokshi: I'll just add briefly that to support people who remain unvaccinated, we have lowered barriers to accessing the vaccine. It is now the easiest time that it has ever been to access a COVID-19 vaccination in New York City. We have hundreds of points of access, including neighborhood pharmacies, family doctor's offices, pediatricians, along with the city vaccination sites. But beyond that, we have our mobile options, which are constantly roving in different neighborhoods and particularly in places that have lower vaccination rates, and finally for anyone who wants to get vaccinated in the comfort of their own home, we provide that for all eligible New Yorkers as well. So, as you've heard from us now many times, you know, we should run, not walk, toward vaccination because it is the key to turning the corner on the pandemic
Mayor: Amen, and the last point, I mean, just what Dave said, literally we will come to your door, any New Yorker, we will come to your door for free and vaccinate you in your home. I mean what more do we have to do here at this point? This is getting insane. I'm going to say it again. If you need it, we will have it for you, we'll make it so easy. But these are the doctors, the actual live doctors telling you the truth about what's going to keep you and your family safe. This is what people need to do. They need to start listening to these doctors and if they want the vaccine brought right to their doorstep, we'll do it for them.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Steve Burns from WCBS 880.
Question: Hello, Mr. Mayor, how are you?
Mayor: Hey, Steve, how you doing man?
Question: Doing all right. I wanted to kind of use the words you just spoke and ask you a variation of that question, what more can you do? I mean, I think a lot of the frustration now on vaccinations is stemming from, you know, we've made it as ultimately convenient as possible. We've done all kinds of different routes of persuasion. Yet, we still have 30 percent of adults unvaccinated in this city. So, where do we, you know, stop with the persuasion, and use some sharper tools than the words you used?
Mayor: It's a fair point. Steve, look, right now, we're looking at a range of options. We're going to have more to say this week, for sure, because we've got to really lean into this situation. That said, I don't want to take away for a moment from, you know, 4.9 million people – I mean, sorry – yes, 4.9 million people who have come forward and gotten at least one dose. I want to give a lot of credit, the vast majority are doing the right thing. I really want to be clear about that, the vast majority New Yorkers – New Yorkers have voted with their feet. We're going to be soon at 60 percent of the population, the entire population that will have come forward and gotten vaccinated. That's really, really good, and that's why our hospitalization rate is so low. And I do believe, fundamentally, Steve, there are hundreds of thousands of people that we can reach with, you know, the outreach still, the work with the houses of worship we've been talking about and the community groups. I think there's a lot more room for that. I definitely think you're going to see a surge with kids before they go back to school and parents getting their kids vaccinated. the approach of being inviting and welcoming and incentivizing, there's still definitely room to go with that, but we're looking at everything because we got to get people vaccinated. It's as simple as that. Go ahead, Steve.
Question: Thanks, and just to ask if you could expand on that, when you say you're looking at everything, I know another recommendation from Council Member Levine was talking about vaccination mandates in certain high-risk settings. Would that be on the table for you?
Mayor: Again, I don't want to preempt an announcement of any specific thing that we're working on. I want to just say we will this week be making additional announcements and - it's not a great phrase, but I'll use it, we are deadly serious about getting people vaccinated. I guess there's an irony in that sentence. No, it's just, this is literally a matter of life and death. It can be done. We could fix this problem, with the ability we have now as a city to vaccinate people, you know, in a matter of months we could vaccinate everyone. The problem is that misinformation and the fact that people buying into it. You know, at a certain point, personal responsibility actually matters. So, we've been really nice, really communicative, really respectful, and come on people, it's time to step forward and we're going to make that real clear.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Dave Colon from Streetsblog.
Question: Hey, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Hey, Dave, how you doing?
Question: Great. So, you had a lot to say about congestion pricing last couple of days - a couple of weeks, I guess – but I'm a little curious about the fact that you've talked about getting everything set up by next July, which is a pretty long ways away, even as now the MTA saying that their bridges and tunnels are seeing the same traffic that we've seen before the pandemic started. So, I'm curious why you haven't been a little bit more aggressive about fighting congestion or using powers that you have over your own streets, things that you're surface transportation expert panel talked about last year, things like really ramping up the construction of bus lanes and bike lanes, doing something like HOV lanes, the Manhattan CBD, you know, really not kind of accepting the status quo as far as these things go when they're built?
Mayor: I respect the question, Dave, but I would disagree with you on this. You know the announcements we’ve made, and we are also deadly serious about expanding bus lanes, expanding bike lanes, we've got a huge set of new initiatives underway right now. So, there's no question about that. And we're going at a rate that has not been seen before in terms of the amount we're producing, super serious about that. HOV issues, we're going to look at that, obviously, but we don't have a plan on that yet, but we'll look at it. But the thing that would be, again, it's like vaccination is going to the root cause, congestion pricing is going to the root cause. Congestion pricing would make a profound impact. And I hear you that would it happen – would it make an impact immediately? No, it will take some ramp up time, but not that much in the scheme of things. Right now, if the State and the MTA would get in gear, all the work could be done. The decisions could be made on congestion pricing. The groundwork could be laid. The contractor is already in place. You know, the environmental review could be done. You could have the shovels in the ground. You could have congestion pricing up and running next year and the faster we move it, the better off we're going to be. So yes, to bus lanes expansion, yes, to bike lane expansion, we'll look at a variety of other tools, but the thing that have the profound impact is congestion pricing and that needs to move now so that it can be a profound part of our future. Go ahead, Dave.
Question: I guess the other thing is, you know, you're just the Mayor, you're not at MTA board meetings every month. Are you talking to your board members and asking them to push the MTA on you know, say appointing Sherif to the TMRB – you know, really kind of make noise about that. To find out things that they can find out from the actual MTA staff. I mean, what are you doing in the [inaudible] of the MTA as it is?
Mayor: That's exactly what we're going to be doing. Our board members are very assertive. We don't have a majority as you know, but we have strong voices on the board and they're going to be pushing this incessantly, and it was one thing again, when the Trump administration was here, it was a valid problem. We were all in the middle of COVID. Once the Biden administration got here, I spoke to Secretary Buttigieg his first few weeks on the job, I said, help us move congestion pricing. I know a lot of other people said the same thing. They gave us the guidance in March. You know, it's become clear to us since then that the MTA and the State are not actually doing anything, and so we're going to push publicly, but we're also going to push behind the scenes. We're going to do all the above. I think again, David, it won't shock you if I said that what we've learned about the State of New York is the public pressure is the thing that moves them. That this is a logical – we have a congestion crisis, we have a climate crisis, and the MTA is falling apart. The subways are falling apart. There's no reason not to do this. So, people like you, respectfully, should be saying to the Governor, should be saying to the MTA leadership, why aren't you acting? Let's get going and let's get this thing moving.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Kevin from AM New York.
Question: Hey, Mr. Mayor, how are you doing?
Mayor: Good, Kevin, how’ve you been?
Question: Doing well, doing well. I went through to shift from congestion pricing to something that is under city control and that's fair fares. It was actually mentioned at the MTA board meeting yesterday by two MTA board members that the City or your administration should be doing more to get people enrolled in this. We’re currently at about a little less than a quarter million. Board member David Jones said we could easily add another quarter million enrollees to fair fares. What – how do you respond to that? And what is the administration doing to really get this program noticed more and more people enrolled?
Mayor: Look, I believe in fair fares. I feel very good about the work we did with Speaker Johnson and the Council to get it going, and it was gathering a head of steam and then the pandemic hit, and people stopped riding the subways. We've put a lot of money in the budget to start it up again and promote it. You know, if it becomes more and more popular, we'll make adjustments to keep ensuring that it can grow, but I definitely want an aggressive outreach effort. I think it's something that really helps people, but you know, we also need to see people coming back to the subways in the kind of numbers we use to know to really get to the full impact. Go ahead, Kevin.
Question: Then my second question goes to my all-time favorite topic about the BQE. I remember your own expert panel recommended shrinking the lanes from six to four on the highway, if I remember correctly to kind of forestall the decay of the highway. You at the time were skeptical of that proposal. You know, talking about congestion pricing today, has your thinking on that changed, would you be amenable to shrinking the BQE in its lanes to kind of both help with congestion and also, you know, keep the highway alive for longer?
Mayor: When – I appreciate every time you raise the issue, because I hope the members of the media appreciate that around here, where we're literally dealing in a given week with, you know, a hundred issues or more when someone says, hey, you guys need to give us an update on this. It does help us. It helps ensure that we're all staying focused on everything we need to stay focused on. In the last few weeks there have been a series of discussions on the BQE. I think we've found some new approaches that are exciting. That's all I'll say right now expect an announcement very soon, but I think we're going to be able to do some new and better things with the BQE to address the situation and stay tuned.
Moderator: We have time for two more questions today. Our next question goes to Paul Liotta from the Staten Island Advance.
Question: Hey, good morning, Mr. Mayor, how are you doing?
Mayor: Good, Paul, how’ve you been?
Question: I'm well, sir, thank you. Regarding congestion pricing, Assemblywoman – excuse me, Congresswoman Malliotakis has been working on legislation that would essentially provide a tax credit for Staten Islanders – a toll credit for Staten Islanders who cross the Verrazano and then cross into Lower Manhattan sort of avoiding a double toll of sorts for congestion pricing. I just want to get a sense of your position on that and whether you’d support it.
Mayor: I want to see exactly what she is looking at. Obviously, I want to make sure and for a long time I expressed real concerns as well about some of the impact of congestion pricing and ways that we could mitigate that impact. So, I want to see what that looks like before I comment on it, but I certainly share the concern that I want to make sure a Staten Islanders are treated fairly. So, I'll certainly look at her proposal. Go ahead, Paul,
Question: Thank you for that. The other thing I wanted to ask about was regarding just businesses launch into space today. You know, what you think of that particularly in the context of the conditions have been recorded at some of Amazon's locations?
Mayor: I've had a challenging experience with Mr. Bezos, and so, you know, I would just say, I hope he has a lovely trip and maybe while he's in outer space, it will help him think a little differently about how to treat working people. Maybe, maybe the oxygen level will open up his mind or something and help him think a little better.
Moderator: Our last question for today, it goes to Reuvain from Hamodia.
Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: How’ve you been?
Question: Good, good, how are you?
Mayor: Good, good.
Question: So, Ben and Jerry's yesterday announced it’s joining the BDS movement, a bunch of stores in the New York area in response to they're taking Ben and Jerry's off their shelves. As a prominent progressive anti-BDS figure. I'm just wondering what you think, if you want to comment on this and whether you'll be sticking to Häagen-Dazs?
Mayor: I can say I will not be eating any more Cherry Garcia for a while. That's sad to me. That's sad to me. I don't know them well, but I've met them over the years, and I think they're good people, literally Ben and Jerry, I think they're good people with good values, but this is a mistake. They shouldn't do this. BDS is a movement that will undermine peace in the Middle East. It's as simple as that, you cannot have peace if you undermine the economic reality and create division. I just believe that it's absolutely the wrong approach, and I don't think a Ben and Jerry's should be doing that. I think they should – they've been involved, and they've done a lot of good in the world. They should stand back from this because really what we need – and for the first time as interesting as the Israeli government is in at least is a different government and the potential for a different path forward exists now, but not if the economy doesn't work because the path to peace is going to have to involve economic justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and that won't work if the economy doesn't function. So, I think BDF is just absolutely mistaken, and I'm sorry to hear that news. Go ahead, Reuvain.
Question: Yeah. I want to ask a Dr. Chokshi. We spoke a few days ago about the City releasing – you mentioned the numbers of how many people that have gotten the virus and haven't been vaccinated, but we discussed releasing similar numbers for how many people have gotten virus after previously having the virus. I know this sort of study, you know, can’t happen overnight. I'm just wondering, just wanted to confirm that you will indeed be releasing the study and if we can get this sort of sense of timewise, how long it – you know, when you might release it. Thank you.
Mayor: Dr. Chokshi, you want to speak to that?
Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir, thank you, and thanks Reuvain for your important questions. This is about, you know, the analysis of reinfection. It is something that we continue to look at. I can't give you a specific timeline in terms of when we would be able to release anything, in part because it is challenging to differentiate repeat positives from true re-infection. Sometimes as, you know, people have repeat positive tests because they are, you know, just continue to have virus, even if it's not a true re-infection, and so it does involve some more detailed, often clinical, case review to be able to distinguish from those things. But I will emphasize, you know, what we know thus far, both from New York City and around the world is that re-infection remains quite uncommon, and the best way to protect oneself against re-infection is through vaccination.
Mayor: Once again – what was your phrase earlier, Dave? You had a great phrase, go ahead. Knockout punch. Thank you. Thank you, Angeline. Knockout punch. Dave Chokshi, who I believe has now become a certified soundbite machine, will tell you vaccination is the knockout punch. So, everyone it's time. It's time. Go out there, get vaccinated, as Dave said earlier, easier than ever, and free, and the way to protect yourself, your family, your city. Go do it. Thank you, everyone.