Op-Ed: Here’s why we’re stopping overnight subway service

Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo


New York is the city that never sleeps, and the MTA takes great pride in our role as the only 24/7 transportation system in the country. But the fact is we are living in an unprecedented time, during an unprecedented crisis.

New Yorkers who have viewed 24/7 subway service as a birthright are now pausing their normal daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why starting this Wednesday, we are suspending overnight subway service from 1 – 5 a.m., for the duration of this pandemic. This was a not a decision we came to lightly, but it’s categorically the right thing to do right now.

Everything we do is always in the interest of keeping our customers and employees safe, first and foremost. By closing the subway for four hours a night, we can best protect everyone’s health and safety by more aggressively and efficiently disinfecting our stations and fleet of subway cars and buses every single day.

To help accomplish that effort, crews will be further testing innovative new cleaning methods and solutions, including UV, antimicrobials and electrostatic disinfectants. We are all learning more about this virus day by day, but so far it’s been proven that COVID-19 can live on surfaces for extended periods of time. We are determined to minimize the risk our riders and workers face due to this invisible threat.

MTA Chairman Patrick Foye talks with media. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

It’s not lost on us that this will impact thousands of customers, but we will not be leaving them without transportation options. New York City Transit and MTA bus service will continue to run with enhancements along high ridership routes. We also established the “Essential Connector” program to provide alternatives during overnight hours. For-hire vehicles will be available for up to two trips per night at no cost to essential workers.

This is the best course of action for the time being. Aside from the additional cleaning, we’re hopeful the closure will help encourage unsheltered New Yorkers to accept social services and shelter.

No one should ever feel like living in the subways is their only option, especially during a public health crisis of this magnitude. It’s simply not safe for anyone. Our homeless outreach partnership with the NYPD will continue to help connect the most vulnerable with vital resources they need during this time.

For this to work, it will take a total commitment from us at the MTA, the City and the State. We recognize, as the Governor has said, that this is a herculean effort, but we are all committed to working together as partners to get this done.

It’s important to remember this pandemic won’t last forever. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. That means doing something we’ve never done before, and in the interim, I ask for your patience. We will all get through this together.

Pat Foye is the chairman and CEO of the MTA.

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