MTA Announces Return To ‘Regular Service’ During Open Letter War With Mayor

Yes, it's sometimes crowded, but the subway is the solution.
Yes, it's sometimes crowded, but the subway is the solution.

The MTA’s restoration of “full, regular service” on June 8 is missing one thing: the full part.

Amid a tense day when transit officials and the de Blasio administration talked past each other in the press — again — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began to give a glimpse of what service would look like when Phase I of the state’s post-COVID era begins.

“Subways and buses will return to full, regular service by day one of Phase 1” agency CEO and Chairman Pat Foye and NYCT President Sarah Feinberg said in an open letter to New York City that should have come with a huge asterisk.

It turns out that the “full, regular service” simply means that regular rush hour and off-peak service — currently running at around 80 percent — will return in full when 200,000 to 400,000 Phase I workers do on June 8. But the subway will remain shut down for cleaning between 1 and 5 a.m. until the end of the pandemic, whenever that might be. The rest of subway and bus service though.

In addition, the MTA will apply floor markings on subways and buses to promote social distancing, hand out hand sanitizers to customers whenever feasible and use “platform controllers, MTA Police, and additional station personnel” to keep an eye on crowding in subway stations. The agency also stressed that it still only wants essential workers in construction, manufacturing, wholesale and and retail industries — to ride the subway during Phase I.

Foye and Feinberg also asked Mayor de Blasio to “deploy additional NYPD immediately to the subway to ensure the safety and security of the system,” given what they called “anguish and chaos” that has gripped the city this week. Riders Alliance spokesperson Danny Pearlstein said that a massive police increase was not the right response to make riders feel safe in the wake of yet another police killing of a civilian.

“In the current climate there are many people who feel less safe when they see the NYPD,” said Pearlstein. “We don’t want to be there, but it’s where we are. Public transit is basic public space, the same way a park is, and everyone has a right to feel safe and comfortable in a public space.”

The announcement came hours after de Blasio wrote his own open letter to the MTA demanding seven “concrete, actionable recommendations” to ensure public health as the economy restarts. The list included increased service for the hundreds of thousands of returning riders, capacity limits on subways and buses to promote social distancing, and the closure of that get too crowded during peak hours.

The mayor’s office and the MTA seemed to be talking past each other at points in their letters, though an MTA spokesperson said that de Blasio’s office and the transit agency had been “speaking regularly for weeks” about reopening plans. Even so, the mayor and the MTA asked each other to provide free masks for riders while both promised to provide one million masks as a good faith effort. The mayor also asked the MTA for the social distancing markers that the agency announced in its letter sent shortly after the mayor’s recommendations went out in the first place.

It was the second time the mayor criticized the MTA only to have the MTA push back. In his WNYC appearance on Friday, May 29, the mayor seemed to call out the MTA for poor planning. “We need clarity. We’re not getting enough clarity from them,” he said. “I’m sure we can all work together, but no, we do not have the answers we need yet.”

That prompted the following tweet from Feinberg:

Beyond the feuding, Pearlstein welcomed the return to normal rush hour service, but the transit advocate said that both the mayor and the MTA had to do more for riders as they begin to return to work.

“We’re eager to see a plan for returning t0 full 24/7 service,” said Pearlstein. “Whatever ‘the end of the pandemic’ means is the kind of thing the governor can lay out even when it’s still going on.”

Pearlstein also said that the MTA should increase off-peak service to reduce crowding on trains and buses that hourly wage workers rely on, and that the mayor needs to stop telling people to improvise and actually put some bus lanes on the streets.

“The mayor’s comments last week were disheartening, and it’s apparent now more then ever that we need a real government partner for New Yorkers. Getting people to work is a basic responsibility of government, and to build a more just and equitable city in the aftermath we need a plan that prioritizes bus riders and essential workers and people of color using our streets. And part of that means dramatically improving bus service on those streets,” said Pearlstein.

A spokesperson for mayor’s office teased that something is in the works.

“Stay tuned,” said Mitch Schwartz, a de Blasio spokesperson.