NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to shut down overnight subway service Tuesday night for the first time in 115 years, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo says there’s no way to know when the service will return.
Cleaners were disinfecting trains at the 96th Street station as the MTA embarks on a historic and multi-pronged effort to make the subways a safer way to get around the city during and after the coronavirus pandemic.READ MORE: See It: Fireworks Celebrate Essential Workers, As New York Lifts Most COVID Restrictions
It involves shutting down subway service between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. at all 472 stations, and there’s no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as to when overnight service will return, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“You tell me when the global pandemic is over, I’ll tell you when 24-hour service resumes,” Cuomo said.
To make up for the lost subway service, the MTA will use overnight bus service — 1,168 more bus runs, a 150% increase during the overnight hours.
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And since it’s also an effort to get the homeless off the trains, police officials say they will flood the system with 1,000 cops. This, as MTA officials are coping with a potentially larger problem of how to make the trains safe once the city reopens. Ridership is down over 90%.
But how will people social distance when ridership returns?
“When the subway is up and running I don’t think it would be possible to stay six feet apart. You could wear masks, you could do sanitizer,” Cuomo said.
The Transit Authority’s acting president, Sarah Feinberg, told Kramer the agency has been working night and day to figure out what the new normal will look like. It will establish new rules of the road.
“One thing that we are taking very seriously is masks,” Feinberg sad. “I think that they should be required and I think we will probably get there. We just can’t have folks riding this system during a pandemic are on the heels of a pandemic without a mask. That is just not going to work.”READ MORE: New York Relaxes Most COVID-19 Restrictions After Reaching 70% Vaccination Rate; Cuomo: 'A Momentous Day'
Typically, Faisal Shahaim heads to the subway around 3 a.m. for his job at John F. Kennedy Airport. He told CBS2’s Ali Bauman he expects the closures to add an extra hour to his commute.
“It’s gonna be really a little hard for me,” Shahaim said, “because the buses are the only thing which is running and it’s only like 20 minutes frequency at this point.”
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The MTA is also touting its Essential Connector Program, providing free for-hire car rides to overnight workers. Shahaim said he tried to sign up for that on Monday.
“They said that they’ll call me back,” he said, adding that hadn’t happened as of Tuesday evening.
Rodian Mark is an early morning security guard at Mount Sinai Medical Center. He told Bauman he wishes the MTA had done a better job getting the word out about travel alternatives to the people who need it most.
“I feel like they’re not really advertising it so much,” Mark said. “It’s kind of weird. Some neighborhoods you see it, some neighborhoods you don’t see it. I feel like the MTA, if they are putting up signs about it they should’ve put up signs before that. They shouldn’t have just waited for the night before.”
Riders are also concerned.
“I’m going to stop taking the train if it comes down to that. Rush hour, people don’t follow the rules. I am not comfortable taking the train,” said Pat Bora of the Upper East Side.
“With a lot of people on the subway, at some point masks are going to have to be mandatory,” Monique Ponsot said.
“I’ll take it today, but I’ve been very, very scared because when it comes to social distancing, they have no respect,” Linda Colon added.MORE NEWS: COVID Restrictions Lifted: Yankee Stadium Returns To Full Capacity Friday
MTA officials say they’re going to use the overnight shutdown to test new ways to clean and sanitize the system.