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NYC will halt subway service overnight to disinfect trains

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An unprecedented step to clean the city’s vital transit system

Coronavirus In New York City Photo by Erin Lefevre/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The New York City subway, a 24/7 behemoth that rarely shuts down, is shutting down — but just at night.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will suspend subway service for four hours every evening to disinfect trains and deal with an uptick in homelessness, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

New York City’s reputation as a “city that never sleeps” is mostly thanks to its 24-hour subway service. But with COVID-19 continuing to ravage the city, Cuomo said the step was necessary to protect transit workers who have been especially hard hit by the virus.

“This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings the MTA has done,” Cuomo said.

The governor said the MTA will stop train service every night from 1AM to 5AM, starting May 6th — though he wouldn’t commit to an end date. “One to five are the slow hours,” Cuomo said, noting that about 10,000 people ride the system during that period of time.

He said the city and state will provide alternative travel for essential employees who need to get to and from work during those hours. During the time when service is suspended, there will be “buses, dollar vans” and, if necessary, “for-hire vehicles at no cost to the essential worker during those hours.”

A spokesperson for Uber wouldn’t confirm whether Cuomo’s office or the MTA had reached out about subsidizing ride-hail trips for essential workers. “We are ready to temporarily help move essential workers during this moment of need for the City. Like all New Yorkers, we rely on a robust public transit system and are glad to play a small role during this crisis to help keep it operating safely,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Public transportation in New York City has been ravaged by COVID-19, with the MTA has reported a 90 percent drop in ridership since the start of the pandemic. The agency has curtailed some train and bus service to address the drop in riders, but many essential workers still count on transit to get to and from work every day. Over 80 MTA employees have died from the virus.

A rise in homelessness on the subways has become a focal point for the city’s tabloid newspapers, posting lurid photos and videos, and describing some of the trains as looking like “shantytowns.”

Outbreaks of COVID-19 in shelters have driven many homeless New Yorkers into the subway system to avoid catching the virus. In response, de Blasio has ordered an additional number of police officers and outreach workers into subway stations at night. But advocates say more needs to be done to protect these vulnerable populations.