April 26, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
A Manhattan-based civic group has called on President Donald Trump to shut down the subway system to protect riders from rising crime and COVID-19.
The group, the Central Park South Civic Association, is making its request a week after four council members—including three from Queens—urged the MTA to shut down the subway for a week citing crowded, filthy trains.
The CPSCA is calling for Trump to close it, since the MTA has refused to do so. The group argues that riders are at great risk of contracting COVID-19, noting that the trains are overcrowded—stemming from reduced service– and that there is a rise in the number of homeless using them.
“Residents are fearful that the subway is causing the deadly coronavirus to spread throughout the city and boroughs,” the group president Michael Fischer said Thursday.
Fischer said that homeless people are heading to the subways for safety in big numbers, believing that shelters are hotspots for the virus. Homeless people, he argues, are more likely to contract and spread COVID-19 because they have weaker immune systems and don’t have access to sanitizers and other items to keep clean.
As of Sunday, 55 people who are part of the shelter system have died, according to the city’s Department of Social Services.
Fischer argues that the subway system has also seen an uptick in crime—putting essential workers at risk. For instance, the MTA reported that there were 51 robberies across the subway system in March despite the reduced service, compared to 33 in March 2019.
“This is a very unsafe environment and is putting medical staff and first responders who ride the system at risk,” he said.
The CPSCA, a civic group that advocates for public safety, said the current problem with the homeless population falls at the feet of the mayor. Fischer said that the mayor should have provided adequate facilities for them to stay when the outbreak began.
Fischer said the subway should have been shut down weeks ago and frontline workers should have been put up in hotels and bused to work.
On Thursday an MTA spokesperson slammed the CPSCAs suggestion in a tweet saying it was a “dumb idea” and took a shot at the four council members who also called for the closing—albeit temporary.
👇 dumb idea last week, dumb idea this week. We’re moving the heroes on the frontlines of this crisis who are saving lives. Also shows you who the 4 council members who were calling for this last week are aligned with. Not the working people https://t.co/TVb6k6Xldj
— Abbey Collins (@abbey_e_collins) April 23, 2020
Queens Council Members Robert Holden, Eric Ulrich, Peter Koo – as well as by Bronx Council Member Mark Gjonaj were the four lawmakers who called for its temporary closing, citing the need for the MTA to clean trains, buses and stations.
Council Member Holden called the MTA’s spokesperson’s comments shameful and said the MTA should get its priorities straight before shunning the views of city residents.
“As a former civic leader myself, these voices give important insight into what our city residents are feeling,” Holden said.
Holden also criticized the MTA, arguing that the agency has not looked after its workers. As of Friday, the MTA reported that 84 employees had died as a result of COVID-19.
“The agency has failed to protect its workers and can’t even make sure there is soap and running water in its employee bathrooms,” Holden said.
Holden reiterated his calls for the system to close temporarily.
“The filth on the subways, the homeless taking up entire trains, and the failure to enforce the governor’s mandate to wear masks on mass transit are all contributing to the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“I believe we can safely shut down the MTA [subway system] temporarily to resolve the problems we are seeing with homelessness and overcrowding while providing alternative transportation for our essential workers.”
However, the MTA insists that the subways should remain open to make sure that essential workers can get to their place of employment.
“What these council members don’t realize is that shutting down mass transit during this unprecedented crisis would be dangerous and could lead to even more deaths,” a spokesperson for the agency said.
“Even with subway ridership down more than 90 percent, we are making it possible for doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery and pharmacy workers, and other essential personnel to get to work and save lives.”