New York City is famous for its 24/7 subway service—but as with so many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic is about to change that.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today, alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio, that the state and city will coordinate on an effort to halt subway service between 1 and 5 a.m. each night in an effort to disinfect every train every 24 hours. The unprecedented service change, which will shutter all 472 subway stations for four hours every night, will begin on May 6.
For essential workers who need to take the subway during the early morning hours, the state and city will provide alternate service—buses, dollar vans, and even for-hire vehicles—to get people moving, at “no cost to the essential worker,” according to the governor. Disinfecting subways and buses every day, Cuomo argues, is the “best way to protect our essential workers.”
According to Cuomo, subway ridership has dropped by about 92 percent, with approximately 11,000 people using the trains in the affected hours. (The MTA broke down the numbers: “Approximately 1,802 customers use the subway between the hours of 1-2:00 a.m., 1,386 customers between 2-3:00 a.m., 2,129 between the hours of 3-4:00 a.m., and 5,692 between 4-5:00 a.m.,” according to a press release.)
“This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings that the MTA has done,” Cuomo said during the press conference. “This is as ambitious as anything that we’ve ever undertaken, and it’s going to require a lot of extraordinary service and effort from multiple agencies all working together.”
The plan will involve coordination between the NYPD and the MTA to close each station at night, and implement cleaning protocols, including “new and innovative cleaning solutions, including UV, antimicrobials and electrostatic disinfectants,” per the MTA. The agency said in a press release that service will be restored “when customer demand returns,” though there is no timetable for when that might be at this point.
“Even during a crisis, New York is and will be a 24/7 city. Governor Cuomo’s suspension of subway service must be strictly temporary while a longer-term solution is developed and implemented,” Betsy Plum, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, said in a statement. “And, in the meantime, the governor must ensure that riders have access to safe, reliable, and frequent replacement bus service.”
The move also comes as the city and state have been criticized for their handling of homeless New Yorkers who have turned to the subway for shelter during the coronavirus pandemic. Just yesterday, the MTA announced new measures intended to deter unsheltered people from staying in subway stations overnight, including banning staying staying in stations for more than an hour, as well as banning shopping carts in stations.
Homeless New Yorkers continue to face dire circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether they are sleeping on the streets or in shelters. According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), as of April 29, 61 homeless individuals had passed away due to the novel coronavirus.
For weeks, advocates have been calling on Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo to transfer homeless individuals 30,000 of the city’s around 100,000 empty hotel rooms to keep them safe from the virus. And though some have already been transferred, DHS announced that the agency would start to move 1,000 individuals to hotel settings per week.
But now that the subways will close, homeless individuals who had been staying in stations will have nowhere to go, advocates say.
“The Mayor and Governor continue to see homeless people as nuisances to be bounced from place to place, rather than full human beings who need housing,” Craig Hughes, an advocate with the Safety Net Project, said in a statement. “Rather than provide them with masks, hand sanitizer and other protective equipment, the MTA, Governor, and Mayor are opportunistically using the COVID crisis to move forward a long term goal of ridding the subways of people with no homes.”