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CityWatch: New York City’s subways to close nightly for cleaning and disinfecting

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In an unprecedented move, New York City’s subway system will be shuttered daily for cleaning and disinfecting from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday. 

The closures will begin in the early hours of May 6, and for the essential workers who ride the subway system during that period, alternative travel options will be supplied. An “Essential Connector” service will provide buses, dollar vans, and “if necessary we’ll provide for-hire-vehicles to transport a person — the Uber, UBER, -3.50% the Lyft, LYFT, -3.61% the Via vehicles — at no cost to the essential worker during those hours to provide transport,” Cuomo said.

Essential workers are “on those trains,” the governor said. “They deserve to be kept safe. They deserve to have a clean, safe ride to and from work and they’re going to have it and we’re going to move heaven and earth to make sure that happens.”

Since its inception in 1904, the subway has run an almost exclusively 24/7 service, according to Politico.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that overnight service will be suspended indefinitely like this,” Ben Fried, communication director at TransitCenter, a nonprofit transport organization, said in an email.

“The whole system was shut down for brief periods by catastrophes like 9/11 and superstorm Sandy, but those weren’t intentional suspensions of overnight service specifically,” Fried said.

The closure comes amid growing concerns about the conditions of the subway, which have “rapidly deteriorated,” according to the governor. 

The city has struggled to handle the influx in the number of homeless people living on the trains. On Wednesday, Cuomo called the conditions of the subway cars “filthy” and “disgusting.” The trains “are filled with homeless people,” he said. “To let homeless people stay on the trains in the middle of a global health pandemic with no masks, no protective equipment, you’re not helping the homeless.”

During the four-hour period, disinfecting operations will be intensified on the city’s thousands of subway cars, and new and innovative cleaning solutions, including UV, antimicrobials and electrostatic disinfectants, will be further tested, according to the MTA. 

However, riders need more information about how effectively the replacement services will serve them and when normal service will resume, according to Fried.

“Even with ridership down substantially, thousands of essential workers ride the subway overnight. New Yorkers need to see the governor’s plan for how nighttime bus service will pick up the slack,” Fried said.

“The governor should announce specific milestones that will trigger the resumption of overnight service,” he said. “For example, the number of days below a specific threshold of new COVID-19 infections, or the return to a specific level of systemwide transit ridership. Riders need more reassurance that this is a temporary measure.”

In New York City, 162,212 people have tested positive for coronavirus, 12,571 have died, and another 5,295 deaths are suspected to be due to the virus. 

While allowing for the unconventional task of regularly disinfecting train cars, the closure will also allow the city to address the homelessness crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. 

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“This new plan will disrupt that unacceptable reality and allow us to actually get help to people more effectively,” he said. “Because if you’re not going back and forth all night on a train, [then] you’re actually coming above ground where outreach workers are there to help you.” 

On Wednesday, the MTA announced that riders would not be permitted to remain in the station for more than an hour; that during a public health emergency declared by the state, no person can remain on a train or on the platform after an announcement that the train is being taken out of service; and that wheeled carts—including shopping and grocery carts—greater than 30 inches in length or width are banned. 

But as homeless individuals are relocated from the city’s trains, officials are also working to secure alternative housing options and increasing health care services.

More than 6,000 homeless people have been moved to hotels from shelters in New York City, de Blasio said Wednesday, and plans are in place to relocate another 1,000 this week.

Also see: New York jobless claims soar past 1.6 million

At shelters, health services will be expanded with New York City Health + Hospitals Corporation providing medical oversight at all city Department of Homeless Services sites, and coronavirus testing for all residents.

Other New York coronavirus developments Thursday:  


Masks: New York City will begin giving out free face masks in its parks starting with 100,000 this week.

Tracers: New York could need up to 17,000 tracers statewide to track the contacts of coronavirus cases.