Twenty-four-hour service has been a point of pride for the subway system since its inception over 115 years ago, a signal of its world-class exceptionalism among public transportation systems.
But these are unprecedented times that call for unprecedented action.
Beginning early this Wednesday morning, for the first time ever, we are suspending overnight subway service from 1 to 5 a.m. for the duration of this pandemic, closing the system to everyone except transit workers and police officers. This was a painstaking decision, but it’s unequivocally the right thing to do right now.
The reasoning is simple: to ensure the safety of our employees and customers.
Since the first known case of COVID-19 hit New York on March 1, we have taken strong action. Our agency’s response to COVID-19 set a national example for other public transit systems. And we have continued to monitor the situation and respond with necessary improvements in real-time, with safety remaining the top priority.
The overnight closures will allow us to more aggressively and efficiently disinfect our full fleet of rolling stock, which comprises thousands of train cars and buses, every single day. Touchpoints at all stations will continue to be cleaned twice daily. We’ll also be disinfecting crew and employee workspaces at all agencies around the clock. As Gov. Cuomo has said, it’s going to take a herculean effort.
The MTA has been scouring the market for the best products to use and methods for cleaning, from ultraviolet light to antimicrobials and electrostatic sprayers. We are determined to minimize the risk our riders and workers face due to this invisible threat.
Even as ridership has fallen off the cliff since the pandemic began — dropping more than 90% — we haven’t lost sight of the reality that the overnight closures will affect thousands of riders. We’ve been analyzing data line-by-line at all hours, and the decision to shut down for four hours overnight makes the most sense as it only affects 2% of our overall ridership.
Still, I want to be clear: for essential workers who need to travel overnight, we have your back. New York City Transit and MTA buses will continue to run overnight, fare-free. The number of buses running is skyrocketing by 150%. We’re enhancing service on 61 bus lines, adding overnight service on 13 new local routes and 11 new interborough express routes. Another 37 routes will see added overnight service.
We’re making it a priority to continue supporting essential workers by increasing bus frequency at hospitals across the city — like those on Manhattan’s East Side on the M15, St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx via the Bx15, the B44 to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and the Q46 to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens. We’re also working with leaders of other essential industries to ensure our overnight bus service supports the needs of their workers.
We expect most overnight customers to be served by this enhanced bus service. And where the ride would take more than an hour and 20 minutes or require two transfers, customers will be provided with for-hire vehicles and cabs for on-demand rides at no cost.
During this time, the MTA will also be working closely with the city and state to connect homeless New Yorkers with access to the medical care and social services they need and deserve. The crisis underground has significantly worsened in recent weeks. This isn’t good for anyone — not the homeless, who are entitled to dignity and respect, not the essential personnel who still need to commute safely, and not our heroic workforce.
We will all get through this together. The MTA is using this time to get our response right for essential workers. We want to come out on the other side better and stronger for every single New Yorker. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to do everything we can to get it done right.