As New York City enters its third day of Phase 1 reopening, many residents remain hesitant about using mass transit to commute amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, MTA Chairman Pat Foye told Cheddar that the agency is working hard to keep riders safe.
“The technology we’re using is innovative,” he said. “We are disinfecting, not cleaning. We’re disinfecting every subway car multiple times a day.”
Since entering Phase 1, the city's subway has only seen 15 percent of its normal ridership and up to 40 percent of normal bus ridership. As the one-time epicenter of the health crisis, many subway riders are wary of returning to mass transit, where people are often packed into close and non-ventilated quarters.
Foye said the agency will do “whatever it takes to reassure our customers and employees that it’s safe” to return to mass transit. The agency has already taken subways offline from 1 am to 5 am daily in order to fully disinfect cars.
With the system’s loss of riders due to the pandemic and its newly ritualistic disinfecting methods costing an estimated $750 million annually, there is concern that New Yorkers might be tapped to foot the bill from such a financial loss, but Foye says that won't be the case.
“We are not considering any pandemic-related fare increase,” he said.
The agency has been able to cover some financial losses with funds from the federal CARES Act, which awarded the MTA more than $3.9 billion in emergency funds. The agency has also requested an additional $3.9 billion in emergency funding as part of the federal HEROES Act to help carry it through the remainder of 2020. Meanwhile, the agency is still facing budget gaps and is trying to identify additional sources of funding.
Still, rider safety remains a priority. With the help of the NYPD, as well as MTA police, the patrolling of platforms and subway cars continues. Serious crime rates remained level within the transit system during the height of the city's health crisis despite a dramatic fall in the number of people riding.
While the MTA does its part to keep New Yorkers as safe as possible, Foye is asking people to do their part as well to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It is state law that everybody on public transit has to wear a mask,” he said.
Updated at 7:20 pm ET to clarify that federal aid has helped offset the MTA's financial losses but budget gaps still remain.