MTA struggles to staff trains as 2,200 New York City Transit workers quarantine

Image from iOS (3)
Photo: Mark Hallum

MTA Chair Pat Foye says congestion on trains is only “episodic” and could not be resolved with more service even if the agency had a mind to as the state battles widespread COVID-19 infections.

During his Tuesday appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show, Foye – who is fighting off a mild case of coronavirus himself – claimed that as ridership is down 90% and service has been reduced by only 30%, crowding on trains was not easily predicted or addressed.

If the MTA were to attempt to provide more trains to facilitate social distancing and stop the spread, it would not be able to staff the trains with 474 New York City Transit employees down with the virus.

Eight total transit workers have died from the illness in the past week.

“We do not have the ability to add additional service given the number of confirmed cases that we have at the MTA, that’s 582 confirmed cases of which 474 are at New York City Transit and we’ve got a significant increase in the number of those being quarantined at home,” Foye said. “The thing I will say at this point is we are taking first responders and essential workers to work, the people who are going to help the recovery.”

There are 3,300 quarantined across all agencies in the MTA and 2,200 who man the subways and buses alone.

After Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would consider using NYPD officers in the subways to enforce reductions in crowding on train cars, Foye said he supported the proposition, as there are few other options at this point.

“We do not have the ability [to run more trains] at this time given the number of colleagues with confirmed cases of the virus,” Foye said. “A normal situation would be 500 employees calling in sick, we are now nearing 2,000. We don’t have the ability to add additional service, that’s just not an option right now.”

A staggering number of train trips (40%) were canceled on Monday due to staff who were out on quarantine, Foye said.

For this reason, the chair said committing to more consistent updated schedules for riders would be nearly impossible for the MTA to commit to during this time.

After COVID-19 proven to be particularly deadly for transit workers, the MTA has now stepped away from CDC and other health organization’s recommendations that personal protective equipment such as masks should only be reserved for sick individuals and has since been distributing them alongside the Transport Workers Union Local 100.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, during his daily briefing on Tuesday, said the number of confirmed cases continues on the rise at 75,000 statewide; the apex of the spread is still in the offing, as New York continues “headed up the mountain.”