NEW YORK - New York is still in the grip of the pandemic. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority already is looking to the day when the city begins to awaken from its hibernation.
The challenge: how to move millions of New Yorkers a day without allowing the coronavirus to easily spread.
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"We have given it a great deal of thought we’ve consulted with the public transit trade associations and agencies around the country and around the world to learn what they are doing," said MTA Chair and CEO Pat Foye.
The MTA chairman is light on details of what the agency's new normal might look like, beyond saying it will do more of what it is now doing - continually disinfecting its trains, buses and stations and having workers submit to temperature checks and coronavirus testing.
"We continue to add to that portfolio of customer and employee-driven health and safety issues and we are far into a plan for increasing service as New York Pause is lifted," Foye said.
An analysis for the MTA by McKinsey and Company concludes that ridership by September could rebound to as much as 60 percent of where it was in September of last year when the MTA handled more than eight million trips a day.
An epidemiologist at NYU cautions that the MTA must face the possibility of the virus spreading more rapidly again when the weather turns colder in the fall, just as an influenza outbreak begins.
"I think disinfection will be helpful but it’s not going to be everything and we’re going to have to figure out a way to continue with the social distancing and the masking as much as possible," said Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health.
The MTA may need help from the government and business community to reduce crowding on trains and buses so riders can maintain some degree of social distancing while commuting.
"I think there are lots of possibilities, going back to 1918 flu, one of the things that employers in the City of New York did was to stagger business hours. I think that’s clearly something that is on the list that’s not something the MTA can mandate. But obviously, the governor and mayor could take steps along that way," Foye said.
But experts say riders will have to do their part too by following public health guidelines and trying to steer clear of mass transit as much as possible.
"It’s our responsibility as much as it is the MTA’s responsibility to reduce the possibility of transmission," Ompad said.