Facing worker shortages, nation's biggest transit system cuts service

A public transport train is pictured in New York City.

A train in local public transport in New York City AP Photo



NEW YORK – The country’s largest mass transit system dramatically reduces service levels as the number of drivers drops due to the corona virus and labor shortages lead to service delays.

More than 800 trains were delayed due to lack of crew Monday alone, according to Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the MTA’s New York City Transit Division, which operates the city’s buses and subways.


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Fifty-two of the 70,000 MTA employees tested positive for Covid-19. The agency was unable to say how many others are in quarantine, how many are just calling sick, and how many are sick but have not yet been tested.

“Apparently, there are more than 52,” said Pat Foye, chairman and CEO of MTA, during a press conference on Tuesday.

“It’s a struggle, but we offer the service New York needs right now,” said Tony Utano, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the MTA’s largest union. “Some of our members tested positive, others reported sick, and some were precautionary quarantined by the MTA because they may have come into contact with someone who has the virus.”

From March 25, 75 percent of the New York subways will run on scheduled services. Some lines do not operate Monday through Friday, including lines B, W and Z. Some express lines operate locally. As of March 26, the New York bus system will reach 75 percent of its regular service level. There will also be service cuts on the MTA railways.

“Our primary goal is to maintain service for the heroes on the front lines of the crisis, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Mario Péloquin, MTA’s chief operating officer.

New York follows instead of other American cities, none of which are as heavily dependent on local transport as New York. In the last days, Metro transit in Minneapolis reduced service by 40 percent. The The Bay Area Rapid Transit system reduces night and weekend service. The Washington Metro has also discontinued the service. It is also closed two Stations near the tidal pool to keep cherry blossom lovers from crowding the system.

Reducing service during a pandemic is a delicate balancing act. If you severely restrict service, officials risk pushing drivers into a subway car at a time when social distance is key to stopping the pandemic from spreading. Do too much service, and officials risk alienating their employees. The service cuts are expected to have only a nominal impact on the MTA’s bottom line.

But a The latest report suggested that the increase in delays led to occasionally unhealthy crowds, something that the MTA immediately rejected.

Foye noted: “The number of drivers has dropped to unprecedented lows,” with the number of subway drivers falling 87 percent alone.

“I think we offer an excellent level of service to 13 percent of our customers,” said Foye.

The number of bus drivers has dropped by more than 70 percent. The number of railroaders on Metro North serving New Rochelle has decreased by 94 percent and on Long Island Rail Road by more than 70 percent.

Proponents of Transit greeted Tuesday’s news with mixed reactions.

Lisa Daglian, who heads the MTA’s Permanent Advisory Board, said it was only a matter of time.

“Given the growing labor shortage and shrinking passenger numbers, we appreciate that the MTA will maintain a good level of service to get front-line workers to where they are needed, while reducing the crowd and maintaining social distance for everyone will, “she said.

Danny Pearlstein, director of politics and communication at the Riders Alliance, was less impressed.

“Many of the New Yorkers who currently use buses and subways are important workers,” he said. “The majority of all healthcare, childcare and grocery workers depend on transit. Without them in action, our crisis response will fail. The MTA should make every effort to maintain the service. The federal government has to deliver a billion dollar rescue for drivers. “

CORRECTION: Due to incorrect information from the MTA, this report has been updated to reflect the fact that 800 trains were delayed on Monday.

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