Op-ed | Keeping NYC’s transit system safe from COVID-19, and criminals

Interim NYC transit President Sarah Feinberg. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

BY SARAH E. FEINBERG

As the city continues its reopening, our greatest and most important obligation remains the same – keeping our riders and our employees safe. Whether that means safe from a virus or safe from other harm, safety remains New York City Transit’s top priority. It’s a duty we take incredibly seriously.

If you are just now returning to the transit system, you should know that there are some new amenities and safeguards in place to help keep you safe.

We are installing protective barriers on buses between riders and operators, and we are offering free masks on buses via our new, homemade mask dispensers. We also provide free masks, and free hand sanitizer, in every subway station, along with new signs and floor decals reminding riders to social distance. We are also continuing to clean and disinfect our system 24/7.

But the most important element of keeping yourself safe in the transit system is to be vigilant about wearing a mask. We know that wearing a mask or face covering is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and others from illness, and it’s also the law. I am so proud that the vast majority of our customers — consistently hovering in the mid 90 percents — are complying with the mandate.

Keeping you safe isn’t just about cleaning, disinfecting, and providing masks though — it’s also about preventing and deterring crime in our system.

It’s important for us to be honest and transparent about what we are seeing— in recent weeks we’ve seen an unsettling increase in assaults on both MTA employees and riders. This is intolerable. One incident would be too many; that there have been multiple attacks is outrageous.

Some of our bus operators have been targeted for asking passengers to wear a mask. Our conductors are sometimes attacked, and spat upon. Just this past week, a pregnant MTA cleaner was attacked and beaten. These brave employees are heroes helping to move our city during an unprecedented crisis, And they deserve so much better than this.

Policing in America, and in New York, is going through an important self-examination — as it should — but we cannot lose sight of the importance of an engaged, respectful law enforcement presence in our system to prevent and deter crimes like these from even occurring.

To be clear, we have a safe transit system— and one that New Yorkers can be proud of. But we have to keep it that way, and the reality is that even one violent incident is too many.

For the future of the city, it is critical that people continue to come back to mass transit. Most days last week, we served more than 2.4 million customers on the subway and buses. I am proud of those numbers, and proud that New Yorkers are starting to come back to Transit.

But if those numbers are ever going to increase to pre-pandemic levels, we must be able to promise New Yorkers a safe system. Anything less is unacceptable—to our riders and to us.

Sarah Feinberg is interim president of MTA New York City Transit.

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