April 20, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Three Queens Council Members have called on the governor to close New York City’s mass transit system for at least a week, only to have the suggestion quickly shot down by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
Council Member Robert Holden penned a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chair Patrick Foye last Wednesday recommending a temporary closure of the system he believes is a primary contributor to the spread of the coronavirus. The letter was co-signed by Queens Council Members Eric Ulrich and Peter Koo– as well as by Bronx Council Member Mark Gjonaj.
“We believe that the New York City transit system is a primary contributor to the spread of COVID-19,” Holden wrote in the letter.
Holden said mass transit should come to a halt for at least one week for deep cleaning of trains, buses and stations. Then when it reopens, the system should be shut down daily from midnight to 5 a.m. for deep cleaning, he said.
His letter references a recent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that found a correlation between subway ridership and the spread of the virus. The study has been criticized by some who say the study wasn’t peer-reviewed or properly conducted.
The letter argues that despite recent cuts in service, subways and buses still remain crowded at times– putting people at risk.
Holden also said he has heard from members of the transit workers union (TWU Local 100) who are struggling without enough personal protective equipment and that workers are dying at an alarming rate from the virus.
“MTA workers are dying at a faster rate than any other frontline workers,” he wrote.
As of April 15, nearly 60 MTA employees have died of COVID-19, according to ABC7.
However, the MTA said shutting down mass transit would lead to even more deaths.
“What these council members don’t realize is that shutting down mass transit during this unprecedented crisis would be dangerous and could lead to even more deaths,” a spokesperson for the agency said. “Even with subway ridership down more than 90 percent, we are making it possible for doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery and pharmacy workers, and other essential personnel to get to work and save lives.”
The agency also disputed the lack of PPE for its employees.
“The MTA has led the nation in its efforts to protect its employees and customers, disinfecting its stations and rolling stock daily and even breaking away from federal guidance and providing hundreds of thousands of masks to our heroic workforce before the CDC recommended it,” the spokesperson said.
The union itself is also against closing the mass transit system.
A day before Holden penned his letter, TWU President John Samuelsen appeared on WOR radio and said that shutting down the system would be cost lives.
“Certainly shutting down the system in my estimation would have caused catastrophic results in New York,” Samuelsen said.
If it was shut from the beginning, the death toll would have been higher, he added.
“I think the system is absolutely vital to society, it’s so vital to, to New York, the fabric of New York,” Samuelsen said. “We would not have been able to get first responders to the front lines, we wouldn’t have food in some cases, we wouldn’t have food workers at work, we wouldn’t have nurses at hospitals, we wouldn’t have home aides taking care of our elderly, in houses, but not for the public transit system.”