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MTA announces major changes coming to the subway

Taking the subway will be a lot different when we go back to work.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

This morning, the interim president of the MTA, Sarah Feinberg announced steps the agency will be taking in the coming weeks as New York City restarts under Phase 1 of the state's reopening plan.

According to her column in the New York Daily News, the MTA will be ramping up to full, regular service starting June 8; continue cleaning and disinfecting; require riders to wear face coverings; hand out hand sanitizer via dispensers; and make masks and other PPE available in vending machines in select high ridership stations on an expedited basis.

Keeping six feet between riders may not be possible and would cut down ridership (it's already seen a 90% drop), but the MTA says in a letter to the mayor that it will have messaging reminding people that subway and bus service is for essential workers and essential trips only during Phase 1; request that employers stagger shifts and continue to allow for remote work; apply floor markings and decals to help assist people social distance; and deploy platform controllers, MTA Police, and more station personnel to monitor conditions and assist with crowding.

Additionally, the MTA will provide real-time information about how crowded the approaching train or bus is, so riders can make decisions for themselves about whether they want to board, or wait for the next opportunity, Feinberg wrote.

The MTA will also deploy hundreds of volunteers from 5am to 8pm during the first week of Phase 1, and during the morning and afternoon rush hours in the weeks following, to hand out masks and sanitizer to those who don't have any.

"I view it as our responsibility to provide clear, transparent information to riders about what they can expect as they return to the system, and the reality is—certainly in New York but in any city—that social distancing in a transit system will be challenging," she said. "That’s why a multilayered approach to safety is important, including that our riders are vigilant about mask usage and take other common-sense precautions like coughing into their elbows, frequently washing hands or using hand sanitizer and staying home if they are not feeling well."

Mayor Bill de Blasio separately announced a seven-point plan during his daily press briefing on Wednesday that he suggested the MTA should implement, which includes some of the same ideas:

  • Increase Frequency of Service: Increase frequency significantly during peak hours while limiting the increase in ridership to allow for maximum social distancing. Return to regular rush hour service for Phase 1. The MTA should prepare to accommodate at least another 100,000–200,000 more riders per day.
  • Capacity Limits on Buses/Trains: Limit capacity on buses and trains to allow for social distancing. Skip stops if over capacity.
  • Limit Station/Train Overcrowding: Monitor platform crowding and temporarily close stations when needed during peak hours.
  • Social Distancing Signage/Markers: Clearly mark six feet of distance on platforms, trains and buses. Demarcate specific seats on trains and buses for riders, block off every other seat to maintain social distance.
  • Hand Sanitizing Stations: Install hand sanitizer in all stations and buses, including next to MetroCard vending machines and any other high-touch locations.
  • Face Coverings: Require face coverings for all individuals using subways, buses and trains. Provide face coverings throughout the system to ensure that all riders have them. The city will initially provide one million FREE face coverings, and the MTA and State should match that commitment.
  • Personnel: City will work with MTA to identify personnel to help promote and enforce social distancing.

"New York City is a mass transit city–it always has been, and always will be," de Blasio said in a statement. "These ideas will give New Yorkers the confidence that public transit is more than just the fastest way to get around – it’s a vital ally in our ongoing fight against COVID-19. I urge the MTA to implement them right away."

The mayor's plan is merely a recommendation to the MTA, however.  

"Like many of the mayor’s ideas — this is nice in theory but utterly unworkable," said MTA spokeswoman Abbey Collins. "The mayor’s plan would allow us to serve only a tiny percentage of our riders - likely around 8%. We look forward to hearing more from the Mayor and NYPD on their plans for enforcement and compliance with this proposal."

Already, the MTA has been putting up signs around its stations to promote social distancing and you might've already seen that the MTA has put hand sanitizer dispensers in its stations.

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