COVID-19

NYC’s overnight subway shutdown leaves essential workers stranded

Kristin Schwab May 6, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A commuter wearing a face mask rides the subway. The nightly closure for cleaning is causing problems for some essential workers in New York. Scott Heins/Getty Images
COVID-19

NYC’s overnight subway shutdown leaves essential workers stranded

Kristin Schwab May 6, 2020
A commuter wearing a face mask rides the subway. The nightly closure for cleaning is causing problems for some essential workers in New York. Scott Heins/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Like the city that never sleeps, New York’s transit system is a 24/7 operation. At least, it was. As of last night, the subway is shutting down nightly between 1 and 5 a.m. for cleaning. Who rides the subway during those hours? Essential workers: the nurses, janitors and convenience store workers who keep businesses going.

Overnight workers like Bobby Daubert unload trucks and restock shelves. Daubert lives in Brooklyn and works at a market eight miles from his house. He usually takes the subway for 30 minutes.

Today, however, he took the bus, which made 26 stops. The bus was completely full, with no room for social distancing. Then he had to walk half a mile. The commute took an hour and, without the trains, it’s the only way he can get to work. Daubert checked Uber this morning, just in case, and the fare was $35. With hazard pay, he makes $18 an hour.

“I mean, if it wasn’t for public transportation, I wouldn’t have a job right now,” Daubert said.

The transit authority says 11,000 people have been riding the trains in the early morning hours during stay-at-home orders. During the subway shutdown, it’s giving essential workers who can’t access buses a free nightly car ride.

But for now, Daubert and people like him will have to find other ways to get to their jobs.

“By and large, those are essential workers with especially long and difficult commutes,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director at Riders Alliance. He said the majority of people who ride the subway late are “super-commuters” — workers who travel 90 minutes or more. And that’s during normal times.

“New Yorkers have organized our lives around the fact that you can get anywhere in the city at any time of day or night by public transit,” Pearlstein said.

The city’s massive economy depends on the subway. And Sarah Kaufman, associate director at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, said so does the city’s identity.

“Right now, having a subway that doesn’t run 24/7 brings that into question,” Kaufman said.

She said this could make people question whether New York needs a 24-hour subway, even in a post-pandemic world. And without those late-night rides, some of the industries that anchor New York, like nightlife, would change, too.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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