Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s own police force has a far lower vaccination rate against COVID-19 than their colleagues in other parts of the sprawling transit agency.
Only 60.3% of the 1,038-strong MTA Police Department have provided proof of receiving at least one shot as of Thursday, Dec. 2, compared to 71% for the MTA as a whole, according to figures provided to amNewYork Metro.
MTA Bridges and Tunnel police — of whom there are 461 workers — have a 65% vaccination rate and the next-lowest rate is on the Long Island Rail Road at 67%, Bridges and Tunnels overall at 69%, and New York City Transit’s subway and bus operating staff, which logged 70%.
At the top end of the scale is Construction and Development with 92%, followed by MTA Headquarters, excluding the police force, at 87%. The agency previously wrapped the MTA PD rates into the rates of MTA HQ during public meetings, but declined to provide the breakout figures for the cops specifically, despite repeated requests by this paper.
MTA PD’s membership is a fraction of the almost 67,000 people working at transit authority and much smaller compared to the 36,000 officers serving the NYPD.
Its officers patrol Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and along the two commuter railroads and the Staten Island Railway, while NYPD’s Transit Bureau staffs subway stations and train cars.
MTA has also started deploying its officers onto buses to prevent fare evasion as bus officials plan to debut back-door boarding with the tap payment system OMNY.
Bob Linn, a member of the MTA’s 21-person board, told amNewYork Metro that the lower rates should be “of tremendous concern,” especially when comparing them to city workers, most of whom have been under a vaccine mandate since late October.
“When you have such issues going on in terms of potentially new strains of the virus, I think this is something that everyone needs to be quite concerned about,” Linn said in an interview. “I’m worried about employee illness and that leading to family illness, the substantial cost of testing that’s now in the budget.”
MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren first declined to give the rate back in July, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that protects sensitive health information of individuals.
“I can tell you the vaccination rates for all of MTA, right now I don’t have them broken out for the MTA PD and I’m not sure that, you know, where that falls on HIPAA stuff that we should be talking about right now,” said MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren when asked by amNewYork Metro during MTA’s July 21 monthly board meeting.
The MTA press office also declined to provide the numbers in a follow-up email after the meeting and amNewYork Metro filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the data on July 22.
Two months later, MTA PD Chief Joseph McGrann couldn’t give the rate for his own force’s vaccination either, telling this reporter that officers have been “pretty amenable” to getting the shot.
“I don’t have a current rate for you, but we strongly encourage it,” McGrann told amNewYork Metro during a Sept. 22 press conference about masking up on public transit. “Most of our officers are pretty amenable to getting the vaccine when they see fit.”
“There is going to be a handful, as there are a handful of people in the public, that probably will resist it and go to that weekly testing system. But I think those are going to be few and far between.”
More than four months after the initial request for the information and the FOIL filing, agency spokesman Tim Minton reached out to provide the figures Dec. 2, while emphasizing that the two police forces and their almost 1,500 workers make up a mere 2.2% of all MTA employees.
One government transparency advocate said the agency should have been more forthcoming with the vaccination rates from the start, and even more so now that there are two police forces operating on transit under varying public health policies.
“Now you have a situation where you have police officers from different agencies operating under different vaccination requirements,” said Rachael Fauss of the good government group Reinvent Albany. “I think to your average person, a rider, they don’t necessarily know who that police officer is employed by.”
The state-run MTA has become one of the least vaccinated public workforces in New York City and transit officials have budgeted $100 million in federal funds to regularly test the almost 20,000 of its workers who have yet to provide proof of vaccination, the Daily News reported.
Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed through a contentious mandate for city workers to get at least one dose by Oct. 29, and rates have shot up across all agencies since then.
The latest figures provided by City Hall show a 94% vaccination rate for the first dose across all municipal agencies as of Dec. 1, with 87% at the NYPD.
Hochul has instituted mandates for state healthcare workers over the past months but said Thursday that she did not intend to do the same for the MTA, which has also been suffering from immense crew shortages during the pandemic.
“Right now, we’re not making a change in that because they’re all required to wear masks,” the governor said during a COVID briefing. “We are monitoring their positive rates and they are lower than the positive rates for the rest of the city.”
At least 173 MTA workers have died from COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, but recent employee infection rates were at 0.6%, according to Minton, compared to 2.82% across the Five Boroughs.