NEW YORK - New York City will shut down its subway system each day from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to increase cleaning of trains and stations during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.
Subway trains, which had been disinfected at least once every 72 hours, will be cleaned once every 24 hours starting May 6.
The city's subway system has been partially emptied and financially devastated by stay-at-home orders, and now it is shedding overnight service to make it easier to clean the system and empty it of homeless people who have increasingly taken up residence on vacant trains.
Cuomo said the increased cleaning is a "daunting challenge," but vital to keeping the system safe because it continues to be a place of high density. Images posted on social media in recent weeks have shown packed subway cars, leading police to increase social distancing enforcement.
"You have to disinfect every place a hand could touch on a subway car. Every rail, every pole, every door," Cuomo said. "Or, coughing, sneezing, wherever droplets could land."
Ridership plunged by 92% since the start of the pandemic, Cuomo said, and most of the people commuting are health care workers, first responders, and other front-line workers who've been keeping the city running.
Cuomo highlighted a front-page report Tuesday in the New York Daily News chronicling incidents of indecent exposure, filth, people stretching out on seats and other problems.
He said the situation was "disrespectful" to essential workers who need the subway to commute and unsafe for homeless people who are congregating in trains without face masks or other protections.
The shutdown affects the slowest part of the day for the subway system, in terms of ridership. Around 10,000 people ride the system overall during that period of time, Cuomo said.
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Commuter trains serving Long Island and the city's northern suburbs will also be disinfected every 24 hours, he said. City buses will continue to run around-the-clock but will be rotated out of service for cleaning.
"Think about it, the entire public transit system in downstate New York will be disinfected every 24 hours," Cuomo said. "We're doing a lot of things here that we've never done before."