MTA Will Disinfect New York City Subway and Bus System, Metro North, Long Island Railroad
MTA to Provide Alternative Transportation to Essential Workers From 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM as Part of Essential Connector Program
Governor Cuomo: "I've consulted with the elected officials on the MTA's recommendation and we all agree to accept the plan on the Essential Connector Program. The MTA is undertaking something that people would've said was virtually impossible. Trains and buses will be disinfected daily. Service will continue. The MTA will also disinfect the fleet on the Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, which is what goes out to Long Island, goes to the Northern suburbs. They can do that without any disruption in service because of the volume of ridership, et cetera."
Cuomo: "Just think about it. The entire public transportation system in downstate New York will be disinfected every 24 hours. This is a joint MTA, state, city partnership. We're doing a lot of things here that we've never done before. I am never one to shy away from a challenge. I don't believe government has that option. I'm never one to say, 'well, that's just too much, too hard, too ambitious.' We can do it. I believe we can do it. I believe we can do anything. I believe we can build bridges, I believe we can build airports, I believe we can defeat global pandemics. But this is as ambitious as anything that we've ever undertaken. It's going to require a lot of extraordinary service and effort from multiple agencies all working together."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the MTA will disinfect the New York City Transit system, including the Metro North and Long Island Railroad, daily as the State and City continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The MTA will also provide free alternative transportation options to essential workers during the cleaning hours of 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM that will include buses, dollar vans and for-hire vehicles as necessary.
AUDIO of today's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Governor Cuomo: We have that now with the New York City subway system. Daily News did a front page story, which crystallized it, but it had been happening for weeks. And no one anticipated it, but you have a virus outbreak and conditions on the New York City subway system, for a variety of reasons, have rapidly deteriorated. When you think about what happened you can put it together in the retrospective. The COVID outbreak happens. New York City's a place of density, subways, buses are a place of density. MTA employees who run that system, care for that system, get sick, call in sick as they should. They don't want to infect other people. The number of MTA employees comes down. Number of NYPD, New York Police Department, they get sick, their numbers come down. You now have fewer MTA workers, you have fewer NYPD workers on the trains and in the stations. We have now a greater need than ever to disinfect the subways, the buses, and the stations. Why? Because you're in the middle of a pandemic, this is a place of density and you have thousands and thousands of people going through these subway stations, these turnstiles and these buses, trains and ADA vehicles. Because MTA workers are sick, NYPD officers are sick you have fewer people to monitor and maintain the system. This all happens in the midst of a public health emergency.
At the same time, you have more homeless people who now are on fewer trains and you have fewer people to outreach to the homeless people. Now you put all of this together, and then at the same time we need our essential workers to go to work. I said the other day, I have two great nightmares from day one: Nightmare one, you did everything you did, closed down, et cetera and you didn't stop the rate of increase of the virus. That would have been a nightmare. Can you imagine if we did all of this and we still saw that virus going up? That would have been a real problem. Second nightmare, the essential workers say I'm not going to work. I'm not going. The transit operators, the police, the food delivery people say it's too dangerous. I'm not going. I'm staying home too.
You don't have food, you don't have power, you don't have transportation, you don't have electric, now you see society in a really difficult situation. We need those essential workers to go to work. I am pushing every day to get our essential workers to go to work even though they see a lot of their colleagues getting ill. You need those nurses, you need those doctors in very difficult circumstances. That's why I say, they are the heroes of today. All the essential workers. How do our essential workers get to work? They need the public transit system. It's true in New York City, it's true all across the state. They need the public buses, they need the trains, they need the subways to get to work. We need them, they need the buses and they need the subways.
We are as a society, me as a spokesperson for the state, I'm saying to them every day, I need you to do this. I know it's hard, but I need you to do it. Okay, we need them to do it but what is our obligation. Our obligation is to make sure we're doing everything we can do to keep them safe. That's my personal obligation and it's the collective obligation. You want them to be there to deliver the food, what's your obligation is to do everything you're doing to make sure that they are safe while they're doing it. The MTA understood where we were with this global pandemic. They stepped up operations are were cleaning trains and buses every 72 hours, which is an amazing undertaking when you think about it. To clean all those buses and trains every 72 hours. We know the virus can live for hours or even days on a surface which means if somebody positive walks on to a train this morning, that virus can be there tomorrow and the next day. That then changes the whole focus of the problem.
You want to honor the essential workers, thank you, thank you, we'll fly airplanes. We'll have public demonstrations of gratitude. Yeah, even better than that is what you do and how you act. Let's make sure that we're doing everything we can. Let's clean, disinfect those buses and trains every 24 hours. Why? Because that's the way we best protect the health of our essential workers which makes sense if you want the essential workers to continue to come to work. It makes sense if you don't want the infection rate to go up in your society. It makes sense if you don't want the essential workers to get sick and again, it is our obligation as human beings to reciprocate and make sure we're doing everything we can.
To say disinfect every train every 24 hours is just a task that nobody has every imagined before. I would wager in the history of public transportation in this nation you never had a challenge of disinfecting every train, every 24 hours. Disinfect, how do you even disinfect a train? We clean trains but how do you disinfect? This is a whole new process, these are new chemicals. This is new equipment for workers. It's new methods. Just think about it, you have to disinfect every place that a hand could touch on a subway car. Every rail, every pole, every door, wherever a hand could touch or coughing, sneezing. Wherever droplets could land. So you have to disinfect that entire interior of the car and then you have to disinfect the stations, the handrails, everything that people could be touching. It is a massive undertaking that we've never done before.
That is the right thing to do. That is, as we said we've never done tracing before, we've done disinfecting train cars before, but so what? That's what we have to do. So figure out how to do what you have to do. This is what we have to do. I challenged the MTA to come up with a plan, they came up with a plan. They can disinfect all trains and buses every night. It can best be done by stopping train service from 1 am to 5 am every night during the pandemic so they can actually perform this service.
Now, remember the context that we're in in this pandemic. Ridership is down 92 percent. One to 5 are the slow hours, 1 am to 5 am. It's the lowest ridership. Estimate is about 10,000 people ride the system overall during that period of time. So the MTA will launch what they call the essential connector program, they'll have buses, dollar vans and if necessary, will provide for-hire vehicles to transport a person. The Uber, the Lyft, the vehicles - at no cost to the essential worker during those hours to provide transport. So, people who need transportation during 1am and 5am can have it. Will have it. Even to the extent of a for-hire vehicle paid for by the MTA. Remember, 1am to 5am - we don't have bars open, we don't have restaurants open, so you don't have a lot of traffic that you would normally have. You do have essential workers who are using our trains and subways. They will have transportation during that period of time.
This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings that the MTA has done. It's going to require the MTA, the state, the city, the NYPD to all work together. It's not that easy to stop train service. You have to close down stations, you have to make sure people don't walk in, then you have to figure out how to clean all these trains and all these stations.
I've consulted with the elected officials on the MTA's recommendation and we all agree to accept the plan on the Essential Connector Program. The MTA is undertaking something that people would've said was virtually impossible. Trains and buses will be disinfected daily. Service will continue. The MTA will also disinfect the fleet on the Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, which is what goes out to Long Island, goes to the Northern suburbs. They can do that without any disruption in service because of the volume of ridership, et cetera.
So, just think about it. The entire public transportation system in downstate New York will be disinfected every 24 hours. This is a joint MTA, state, city partnership. We're doing a lot of things here that we've never done before. I am never one to shy away from a challenge. I don't believe government has that option. I'm never one to say, "well, that's just too much, too hard, too ambitious." We can do it. I believe we can do it. I believe we can do anything. I believe we can build bridges, I believe we can build airports, I believe we can defeat global pandemics. But this is as ambitious as anything that we've ever undertaken. It's going to require a lot of extraordinary service and effort from multiple agencies all working together.
The MTA has stepped up by recommending this plan. The state will do whatever it has to do. A big part of this falls to the city. I've spoken to Mayor de Blasio. It's going to require a lot of assistance from the NYPD, it's going to require a lot of assistance from different city agencies. Again, close down every station, close down the trains. We've never been here before. I guarantee another ten things come up when we go to do this that are also anticipated consequences.
So the mayor is really stepping up to the plate here and is doing something that no mayor has ever attempted to do before. We'll all do our part, we'll all work together, but it's a heck of an undertaking for the mayor. I applaud him for his ambition here in stepping up and taking this on. You know, it's always easier to just say no. It's always easier to say we can't do it because when you say we will try to do it, now you're changing things and whenever you change, there's opposition. Every time. So, it's always easier just to stay status quo. It's always easier not to risk. Not to try to raise the bar because maybe you can't do it, maybe there'll be problems. So it's easier just to say no. It's easier to say this is all we can do it's impossible. That's not what the mayor is doing here. The mayor is stepping up and he's stepping up in a big way. I want to applaud him for it.
I think we have the mayor who is on the telephone or some electronic means. There he is, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Welcome to Albany.
Mayor de Blasio: Thanks, Governor, it's a pleasure to be with you. Governor, that point you made about all of us together doing something different, doing something necessary, and being willing together to go someplace we've never been before. You and I have talked about this kind of idea a lot over the years. I think when we first met each other, the word "disruption" was considered a bad thing. In recent years, it's taken on a very positive connotation. That when we disrupt something that isn't work or has been thought about in a very narrow way and we go someplace new and better, that's a positive. I think what we're talking about today is exactly that. I commend you and everyone at the MTA.
I want to talk about why I think this plan is so important - in terms of our essential workers, our first responders, our healthcare heroes - why I think it's so important in terms of also addressing homelessness in a new and powerful way.
But I first want to express my appreciation, along with you, really appreciate - back on one of your previous topics - the contact tracing. Really appreciate that my predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, is stepping up such a big way for New York City and New York State. Contact tracing, the test and trace approach, is going to change everything. You and I are united in that, as well. The aggressive approach. In fact, Governor, New York City is hiring 1,000 contact tracers with healthcare background to super charge this effort. I think we are going to be able to show this country a model that's going to be extraordinarily effective in beating back this disease. I look forward to that partnership as well.
Right here on the issue of the MTA, we've all been thrown the biggest curveball of our lives with this pandemic. But look at the consistent heroism of the healthcare workers, the first responders, the grocery store workers, the pharmacists - everyone who came forward. And, Governor, I know you feel it too. It's probably the proudest moment we've had as public servants in this state, in this city, watching the heroism of these New Yorkers who have stepped up. Now, we owe it to them to understand their lives and the notion that they have a daily routine where they go into battle. They go toward the danger. They go to where the infection is, which so many people couldn't even imagine, but that's what these heroes are doing. We owe it to them to support them every way possible. You and I have talked many times about the PPEs and the basic protections. But we also owe it to them to be safe on the way to work. On the way back home to their families. So, I think what we're doing here in partnership is exactly the right thing. To say we're going to find a way to make our subway system cleaner than its probably ever been its history honestly and address this crisis in a whole new way. I agree with that and I commend you for it. And yeah, it took some disruption to say we're going to do something during this pandemic we've never done before, but it makes sense when it comes to protecting our heroes.
The second point, homelessness, look another issue you and I, Governor, have worked on for decades. Well, we know it's been on many ways an intractable issue because there wasn't always an impulse to disrupt. And here is an example of saying look, we now found new ways to get street homeless people off the street. I want to commend Commissioner Dermot Shea and everyone at the NYPD who's really focused on how to help the homeless. Commissioner Steve Banks, everyone at Homeless Services, Social Services, also those heroic outreach workers.
Governor, you know about this work, go out there day after day to engage homeless people on the streets, in the subways. Get their trust and get them to come into shelter and ultimately to permanent housing. This work has always been in some ways stymied by the reality of a homeless person who is struggling with everything their dealing with, a mental health challenge, a substance abuse challenge, riding the subway all night long. We're New Yorkers we know about this reality and it's been put in stark white by this crisis, like so many other challenges and disparities have. Well, it's an unacceptable reality and this new plan will disrupt that unacceptable reality and allow us to actually get help to people more effectively. Because if you're not going back and forth all night on a train and you're actually are coming above ground where outreach workers are there to help you. Where NYPD officers trained in homeless outreach are there to support homeless people and get them to a better situation.
Governor, you know for decades in this city somehow homeless encampments were actually tolerated. People thought oh it's the kind of thing, what can we do about that? I'm proud to say the last few years Homeless Services, NYPD, nonprofit organizations, we got together and said we're not allowing that anymore. We shut them down and we found it actually helped us to get the homeless to the help they need. This is another example of that, so I want to let you know that as we all talked about this idea and I commend you, your team in Albany, and obviously team at the MTA, Pat Foye, Sarah Feinberg. It's been a very productive conversation these last few days. And what I think we've come to together, is yeah we're going to do something unprecedented. We'll do something because we're in an emergency but we're also going to do something that's going to protect people and offer a new way to get people help who never got enough. So Governor, thank you. I think this is a partnership you're right it's not going to be easy. No one said it was going to be. But you have my full commitment, the commitment of the City commission, the NYPD and all of our agencies. We're going to make this work together and we're going to be able to look back and say we did something that actually changed people's lives for the better and as long as it takes we're going to stand with you and get this done.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Mayor de Blasio. Mayor made a lot of good points. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. But nobody ever said it was going to be this hard either and I think the Mayor's point is very well taken. Look, we're doing things all across the board here that had never been done before and I think there are lessons to learn and lessons we'll take with us.
Telemedicine I think is a lesson we'll take with us, tele-education, remote learning, it's a lesson we'll take with us, a new public health system is a lesson that we'll take with us and I think we're going to improve and learn from this experience with the New York City transit system because the truth is it wasn't working well or as well as it should before. We did have a problem with the homeless and Mayor de Blasio is right. I've worked on it all my life. Outreaching to homeless people is very, very hard and getting them to come in to a place that actually provide services is very, very hard. So this can actually energize the connections with outreach workers and the homeless population. And we've never had to disinfect trains like this or buses like this and they will be cleaner than ever before.