Subway car during coronavirus pandemicA New York City subway car during the coronavirus pandemic, early April 2020

Last Thursday, Governor Cuomo made the decision to shut down New York’s subways from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to allow for train cars and stations to be disinfected every 24 hours. This ambitious move comes as a result of the still-rising coronavirus case numbers in the city, the decrease in subway ridership by about 90 percent, and the increase in homeless people on trains. The closure will begin Wednesday, May 6.

“This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings that the MTA has done,” Governor Cuomo said on Thursday. This was the first time that the Metropolitan Transit Authority stopped regularly scheduled overnight service. MTA officials noted that the subway’s closure during these four hours would affect about 11,000 riders, but buses and other means of transportation will still be running. To accommodate essential workers, the MTA will begin rolling out a program that offers workers two free trips on for-hire alternative vehicles each night, and additional buses will also be added in areas with large numbers of riders.

Passengers with gloves and masks on subway

The plan to end overnight service was actually brought up in 2017, as the Regional Plan Association suggested an end to overnight weekday service since only 1.5 percent of weekday riders use the subway from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. The RPA believed that shutting down the subway during these hours could allow for increased repairs of subway trains and stations built over a century ago. Yet many critics of the proposal felt that it would undermine the health, restaurant, and office maintenance industries and cited that overnight ridership has increased over the last decade by 11 percent.

Yet, there are a number of concerns about this four-hour closure, ranging from economic distress to more difficult commutes for essential workers. New York is one of the only cities in the world and the only city in the country to operate trains on all of its lines 24 hours a day. Losing this 24/7 access to the subway would impact many essential workers, specifically those working in medical professions, feel as though these alternative methods of transportation will be less reliable and dependable. Additionally, an overnight closure would affect affect the city’s atmosphere and character— no longer the city that never sleeps.

The New York Times in 2015 conducted an economic analysis of New York’s subways and determined that shutting down the subway even for just a day is very costly. According to the article, there are about 3.9 million people working in New York City with an average daily wage of $409, which amounts to just under $1.6 billion in total earnings. Yet, “If the subway closing led just 10 percent of people who work in New York City to take the day off today, the cost in lost labor was around $160 million — lost wages for those who are not fortunate enough to get a paid snow day, and lost productivity to the employers of those who did get paid without working.”

New York’s subways have closed down a number of times in the past, due to strikes, blackouts, and natural disasters. Here is our list of times that the New York subway shut down.

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