The subway system holds the key to economic recovery as New York City prepares for a June 8 reopening after three months of pandemic lockdown. But transit officials haven’t detailed their plan to reduce the risk to the city’s public health.
“We’re still not getting the answers we need from the MTA,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday, referring to the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls New York Transit, which operates city subways and buses. “We’ve got to make sure there’s maximum service levels; we’ve got to make sure there’s social distancing and limits on how many people can be in each subway car and in each bus.”
On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed confidence the subway system would be prepared, though he offered few details.
“They’re disinfecting trains like never before but they have another week of work to do and they will be ready,” he told reporters.
All riders must wear masks, that much is clear. “If you come into the system and you’re not wearing one you should expect to either be told to put one on, or to leave this system,” said New York Transit acting President Sarah Feinberg last week.
She did not say who would enforce the rules, and how, or whether the MTA would distribute masks to riders or force them to buy their own. What if passengers can’t pay, or supplies run out?
Agency officials won’t answer such questions yet. “We don’t want to get ahead of any announcement,” MTA spokeswoman Kayla Shults said Saturday.
Filling Empty Cars
City officials expect 200,000 and 400,000 workers to return to jobs in construction, manufacturing, wholesale and curbside retail businesses when the June 8, Phase One reopening begins. Service will be increased from the reduced runs the pandemic forced upon it: a 90% drop in ridership and 9,000 workers quarantined.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye and Cuomo, who controls the state agency, say there’s no way to restrict subway car occupancy that would avoid a return to the body-to-body contact that characterized rush-hour travel in the pre-pandemic era. There’s no talk of deploying crowd-control platform managers.
“As the governor has said a number of times now, social distance is not going to be possible on the subways,” Foye said. “If someone doesn’t have a mask, go to a different car, walk down the platform. We think those places will be rare, the NYPD and the MTA Police will be available as necessary, but we’re seeing a high degree of compliance by our customers across the system.”
City and transit officials, and some employers, say they expect and want returning workers to avoid the subway.
De Blasio said many commuters at first may lack confidence in the trains’ safety and choose to drive to work in light traffic. Foye said he’s asked company executives to consider staggering employee work hours, to avoid crowding. The issue came up last week when the New York Stock Exchange directed its employees to avoid subways and buses, and drive or take cabs to work, offering 30% discounts at a parking garage.
Nightly cleaning and disinfecting will continue on the MTA’s entire subway fleet and stations, its bus fleet, and its regional commuter railroads, Foye said.
The agency is experimenting with ultraviolet light as a Covid-19 virus-killer, a practice Foye said has been attracting attention around the world. “Actually the MTA led the way,” Foye said during a WINS radio interview. “We were really proud of that.”
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