As NYC prepares to reopen, questions about public transit remain

Posted On Fri, May 29, 2020 By

Posted On Fri, May 29, 2020 By In Policy, Transportation

Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit on Flickr

New York City will likely begin the reopening process early next month, with as many as 400,000 employees expected to return to work during this first phase, Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week. While the mayor on Thursday released guidelines for phase one businesses to safely reopen without a resurgence of the coronavirus, no plan has been issued from City Hall on how employees returning to the workforce will commute there safely.

“There’s not always a chance to help people all the time in terms of their transportation needs,” de Blasio said during a briefing on Friday. “People are going to have to improvise, and I believe they will.”

The city is expected to meet all seven of the state’s reopening metrics in the first or second week of June, making it the last region in the state to do so. De Blasio said on Thursday that between 200,000 and 400,000 employees may return to work during this phase. The first phase includes the reopening of all construction, manufacturing, and wholesale-retail for curbside pickup only.

But there appears to be little if any safety guidance from de Blasio or the MTA for commuters to follow when riding the subway or bus system. The MTA is currently testing the effectiveness of placing markers on the subway platforms to encourage straphangers to remain six feet from others.

In addition to new signage, mask requirements, a disinfection plan that involves an overnight shutdown of service, and virus-killing UV light devices, the MTA is also looking into a reservation system to limit crowds.

De Blasio on Friday that those who are not comfortable with taking mass transit in the coming weeks and months may take a for-hire vehicle or personal cars to work, which experts warn could clog the city’s streets. On Friday the mayor said he is “still not getting the answers” from the MTA on a solution to the expected crowds on mass transit, following a meeting between his team and the agency the day before.

“With all due respect. We have no idea what the mayor is talking about,” Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of NYC Transit, tweeted on Friday. “The MTA has briefed City Hall multiple times on reopening, including another productive meeting held just yesterday. If the Mayor has questions, he can pick up the phone and call us at any time.”

Transit advocates and public officials have called on the city to add more bus lanes to help disperse crowds as New Yorkers start returning to work. Earlier this week, four borough presidents sent a letter to de Blasio demanding he fast-track the creation of 40 miles of new bus lanes across the city, as the New York Daily News reported.

“Leaving people to ‘improvise’ will mean the wealthy insulate themselves from transit mismanagement by driving while the poor get stuck on traffic-clogged buses,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer tweeted on Friday. “We need a plan and that starts with 40 miles of bus lanes citywide.”

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