New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is dealing with record-low ridership on subways and buses, is trying to shed some light on its coronavirus problem.
According to the New York Daily News, the agency will begin using powerful ultraviolet light as part of its beefed-up sanitization program on subways and buses. The effort is part of a partnership with Columbia University, which theorizes that UV light can be used to kill diseases on the transit system.
Starting May 11th, UV lamps will be placed inside subway cars and buses at two rail yards and bus depots. The lamps emit rays called “UVC,” a relatively obscure part of the spectrum that consists of a shorter, more energetic wavelength of light that can be harmful to humans if exposed directly.
UVC is particularly good at killing organic material — whether in humans or viral particles — but the jury is still out on whether it can be effective in destroying the novel coronavirus. UVC lamps and robots are commonly used to sanitize water, objects such as laboratory equipment, and spaces such as buses and airplanes. If the MTA results are good, transit officials said they will expand it to include more trains and buses.
“At this critical and unprecedented time, the MTA is exploring every solution scientists and the market have to offer in our effort to ensure the transportation system is safe for our customers and employees,” said Mark Dowd, MTA chief innovation officer, in a statement. “The pilot project involving this proven UV technology is another example of that as we look for alternative ways to effectively reduce risk on train cars and buses. We thank Columbia University for its partnership and are hopeful this new technology in transit provides a more effective and efficient option than our current disinfecting efforts.”
President Donald Trump infamously touted ultraviolet light and disinfectant as potential treatments for people who are sick with COVID-19, despite both being very harmful to humans. The president later claimed that he was being sarcastic.
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the extraordinary step of shutting down subway service from 1AM to 5AM every evening starting on May 6th for extensive disinfecting.
The MTA has reported a 90 percent drop in ridership since the start of the pandemic, with the agency curtailing some train and bus service to address the drop in demand. Many essential workers still count on transit to get to and from work every day. So far, over 80 MTA employees have died from the virus.
Update May 5th, 9:57am ET: Updated with a statement from MTA’s chief innovation officer.