For the first time in its 115-year history, the New York City subway underwent an overnight shutdown early Wednesday. The four-hour interruption in service began at 1 a.m., lasted until 5 a.m., and provided workers a window to disinfect trains and stations. It’s a ritual that the MTA will perform nightly and indefinitely as it aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and reassure a city of 8 million that the system is safe.
“We’re in an unprecedented moment in the history of our city,” MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said Tuesday night. “The reason we’re taking this extraordinary, unprecedented action is to protect the safety and public health of our customers and our employees.”
The herculean task of cleaning thousands of trains and shuttering 472 stations required the work of roughly 700 cleaners and 1,000 police officers, who patrolled the system during the shutdown. The cleaners sprayed disinfectant on stairs, scrubbed handrails and turnstiles, and wiped down seats.
During the nightly shutdown, the MTA will begin testing a “innovative solutions,” including antimicrobial solution that can, in theory, protect surfaces for months, New York City Transit interim president Sarah Feinberg said. The ability of the disinfectant to work long term is still not clear though, officials say.
The cleaning effort began, in part, as a response to the increase of homeless New Yorkers on trains. With ridership down 92 percent, those with nowhere else to go have taken refuge on trains and in stations. Just over 250 homeless people were removed from trains for Wednesday’s early morning cleaning.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said later Wednesday “that 139 of the 252 people” engaged by our outreach workers and by the NYPD officers specially trained in homeless outreach … agreed to accept support, accept services, and come in off the streets, come in out of the subways.” He said that was a great success. “We’ve never seen this many people, this high a percentage of people who are living on the streets agree to something different.”
Some of those ousted from the subway appeared to move to buses. The MTA increased bus service in the early morning hours and eliminated bus fares at that time. An estimated 11,000 people are currently riding the subway from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., with the majority of the riders taking the train in the last hour of that window.
Despite the shutdown of the subway system, trains will continue to run between 1 a.m and 5 a.m. as they move cleaners and police officers around the system.