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NYC Subway Late Night Closure Throws Some Riders Off Track

Riders wait for a 6 train to leave the City Hall station during the coronavirus epidemic.
Riders wait for a 6 train to leave the City Hall station, April 20, 2020.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Tia Hickman, a food-service worker at a Harlem nursing home, isn’t sure how she will make her pre-dawn commute from Jamaica, Queens.

Jason Anthony is trying to map out the quickest way to go from his Brooklyn apartment to the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, where he catches the Staten Island Ferry to a bus to his job at Amazon’s warehouse.

Anthony Williams, who has been using subway stations for shelter, wonders where he will spend his nights.

“I don’t have no plan,” he said. “I’m very, very desperate right now.”

Starting May 6, the MTA will take the unprecedented step of shuttering the subway daily from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., so stations and trains can be disinfected during a pandemic slowdown that has left the system desolate, dangerous and filthy.

“This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings that the MTA has done,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “It’s going to require the MTA, the state, the city, the NYPD to all work together.”

The four-hour window covers a time period when approximately 11,000 people use the subway during a public health crisis that has sunk ridership by more than 90%. The subways are still running primarily to get “essential workers” — including medical staffers – to their jobs.

“They’ll have buses, dollar vans and if necessary, we’ll provide for-hire vehicles to transport a person,” Cuomo said. “The Uber, the Lyft, the Via vehicles, at no cost to the essential worker.”

Manhattan Stations Busiest

An analysis by THE CITY of MTA turnstile data found that Manhattan subway stations had the highest number of station entries and exits during the hours from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. over the last 30 days, followed by stops in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.

Manhattan stations logged an average of 60,541 station entries and exits during the four-hour turnstile record intervals, running from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., overlapping 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.. The Bronx had an average of 25,515.

As part of its “Essential Connector Program,” the MTA will now link overnight hours riders with transportation alternatives, as well as boost bus service along high-ridership routes.

But those who toil during the overnight hours say the subway shutdown has the potential to further complicate already difficult commutes.

A person sleeps on a 6 train during the coronavirus outbreak.
A person sleeps on a 6 train during the coronavirus outbreak, April 21, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I’m just trying to figure out how to maneuver now,” said Hickman, 43, who has been taking the E train into Manhattan from Jamaica on her way to her job at a nursing home. “The subway is my main mode of transportation and I can’t really bike from Queens to Manhattan at 4:30 in the morning.”

Hickman said she is looking for carpooling options among coworkers who live near her.

“I always tell my supervisor that if trains are running, I’ll be here at work,” she said. “If I’m not sick, I’m here.”

Anthony, 33, said he now needs to figure out how best to arrive on time at Amazon’s warehouse, where he works in inventory. He usually leaves his home in Downtown Brooklyn at 3:50 a.m. to catch the R train to Whitehall Street, where he connects to the Staten Island Ferry.

“The governor didn’t present us a guarantee of how this is going to work,” he said. “People, myself included, just want to get to work on time.”

Naima Selmanovic, an overnight cleaner at a Manhattan building, said she’s not sure how to handle the commute from her Staten Island home with the subway closing for four hours.

“This is very stressful,” Selmanovic said. “This situation, it’s very scary.”

Shifting of Shifts

With service already reduced in the subway due to crew shortages, some employers have tweaked schedules for workers on the late shift.

“We’ve seen many building service employers that employ our members adjust shift times to help protect the health and safety of these essential workers,” said Denis Johnston, vice president for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. “We expect that employers will continue to make adjustments to deal with the changing conditions this crisis has imposed on all of us.”

The overnight shutdown comes as the MTA, the NYPD and city social service workers struggle with the homeless population on trains and in stations.

THE CITY reported this week that there were 309 “unruly person” incidents in the subway in the first three weeks of April, including reports of riders brawling, defecating and trying to light fires on trains.

Cuomo labeled the subway chaos “disgusting,” as Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the MTA to close 10 end-of-line stations for overnight deep cleaning — something the transit agency initially rejected.

The two sides have since begun working together on removing homeless people from the subway system.

Fear for Safety

“There are so many people who are emotionally disturbed,” said Sanders Mendez, 49, who commutes by subway to his security job in Lower Manhattan. “You never know when they might strike.”

Mendez said he’s now considering cycling to work, even when he works overnight.

“In one way, closing the stations is better because they will hopefully be less dangerous,” he said.

Williams, though, declared he felt safer staying in the subways than going back to city homeless shelters where, he said, he’d been repeatedly attacked over the years.

He’s also concerned that his respiratory problems make him vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19, which has killed at least 57 shelter residents.

“I can’t afford to go inside places with other people,” Williams, 57, said.

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