NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – In a historic move, New York City subways closed overnight for cleaning.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says there’s no telling when 24/7 service will resume.
As CBS2’s John Dias reported Wednesday, the cleaning is a direct response to how filthy the trains have become during the coronavirus pandemic, risking the health of essential workers who rely on them to get to work.
Service officially shut down between 1 and 5 a.m. at all 472 stations in order to disinfect cars and platforms and to prevent the homeless from riding overnight. Police say 1,000 officers will patrol the system during those hours.
Mayor Bill De Blasio said the first night of shutdowns brought some good news.
“Last night, 139 homeless individuals out of 252 engaged by our outreach workers and by the NYPD officers specially trained in homeless outreach, 139 individuals agreed to accept support, accept services, and come in off the streets, come in out of the subways. This number is extraordinary,” the mayor said Wednesday. “We have, more importantly, never, ever seen so much success in in a single night before. We’ve never seen this many people, this high a percentage of people who are living on the streets agree to something different.
“This number is staggering,” he added.
The city hopes to take advantage of the closure to start what it’s calling the largest and most expensive cleaning and disinfecting operation in the history of the subways – with about 700 people working overnight to get it done.
“We’re in an unprecedented moment in the history of our city,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said Tuesday night. “New York City – a city we all love – is a city that never sleeps. And we’re proud that one of the manifestations of that is that the subways always run 24/7.”
“My message to my workers is: You guys are heroes, and you’re doing the job to get people – you’re saving lives,” said TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano. “We are saving lives, because we are getting people to where they got to go.”
Some moving trains don’t mean the transit system is open. No one other than uniformed NYPD officers, those working with them and, of course, cleaners are allowed.
“You may see that trains are still moving once we close the system to customers, and that’s because we’re moving staff to key locations so that they can continue cleaning and maintaining the environment,” an MTA employee said.
“If you are not on a train at that moment heading to your destination, the system is closed and you will be asked to leave the station,” said New York City Transit Authority Interim President Sarah Feinberg.
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The MTA is upping its overnight bus fleet by 150% and adding more than 1,000 bus trips to make up for lost subway service. The transit authority is also touting its Essential Connector program that’s providing free for-hire car rides to overnight workers.
But some commuters are having a hard time signing up.
“They said that they’ll call me back once they look at the information… Not yet,” one airport worker told CBS2.
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“We’ve said all week this is not going to be wrinkle-free, this is not going to be perfect. We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Feinberg. “’Unprecedented’ now gets thrown around so much it’s losing its meaning.”
So how long is the overnight closure going to last?
“You tell me when the global pandemic is over. I’ll tell you when 24-hour service resumes,” Cuomo said.
Some trains will be cleaned and disinfected in yards. MTA officials say they’re going to use the overnight shutdown to test new ways to sanitize the system.