As riders trickle back to the New York City subway system as Phase One of reopening gets underway and regular service resumes, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Metropolitan Transit Authority have said that face coverings are required on public transit. But whether New Yorkers will comply, especially heading into a hot summer, remains an open question.
At Atlantic Terminal, there were MTA staffers distributing free masks and free hand sanitizer bottled by state prison inmates.
While many were seen wearing masks across a span of two hours, dozens of riders were seen entering the station without a mask. Several wore the masks incorrectly, either failing to cover their noses or mouths.
Scorecard from a subway car on a Bronx-bound No. 2 train with 13 riders:
Try Again: 3
That’s the one: 7
No mask: 0
— Jose Martinez (@JMartinezNYC) June 8, 2020
Interim President of New York City Transit Sarah Feinberg reported seeing, “nearly 100% compliance on wearing masks,” on the L, F and Q lines.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye, speaking on WCBS said the agency conducted a survey last week and found out of 50,000 customers, 92 percent wore masks.
“That’s an incredibly high level,” he said. “We want to get it even higher. It is a requirement of state law. Compliance by our employees I think it’s fair to say is 100 percent.”
Aside from relying on mask-wearing and social distancing measures, the MTA has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on extensive cleaning during the day and during overnight shutdowns (the exact figure has yet to be released).
“The tiles, the floor, and even when you go in the train system itself you can smell the complete difference,” Chad Brown, 23, an electrician from East Flatbush, said.
Brown, who was returning to work in Midtown for the first time since the pandemic began, added that he was happy with the cleanliness and the number of people wearing masks, although during the early morning there were relatively few riders.
“I really wonder how we’re going to work it out when we’re on the train and it’s rush hour and there’s a lot of people. That’s my biggest concern,” Brown said.
Platforms at several major hubs were empty Monday morning, allowing most riders to have plenty of room, with only a couple of people standing. At Union Square and Fulton, there were social distancing decals, mostly of a sneaker footprint with an MTA tread, but also others variations, including paws, horseshoes, heels, and even prosthetic limbs.
The MTA has admitted that the ideal, 6-feet of distance between people may be impossible on subway cars during rush hour.
Clancy Winchester, 36, a plumber who lives in East New York, also returned to work for the first time Monday. He said he didn’t really want to come back, having enjoyed his time with his family and getting things done around the house. “I don’t really want to go back, but we got to, got work to do,” he said, as he boarded a train at Atlantic Terminal for Times Square. “City’s gotta get built, man.”
With about 15 percent of normal ridership levels expected Monday, the MTA expects to see a nearly $8 billion deficit this year. Still, a recent report from the Tristate Transportation Campaign finds that 92 percent of those surveyed plan to return to transit.
Overnight subway service is still suspended from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., and Governor Cuomo suggested Monday that he doesn’t see an end to that.
To tout the return of the city’s “mojo” the Governor himself broke his more than three year streak of not riding the subway, by taking a symbolic ride on the 7 train from Queens to his office in Midtown.
Scott Lynch contributed reporting to this story.