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The City Never Sleeps: Should the Subways? - Renée Roden

HAYLEY ZHAO, HOST: Since opening in 1904, the New York City subway has run 24 hours a day. But that changed last spring when Governor Cuomo shut the subway from 1 to 5 am for cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19

ARCELIA MARTIN, HOST: Beginning next week, trains will close one hour later and open one hour earlier. As we inch closer to a pre-pandemic schedule, Renee Roden asks is 24/7 subway service sustainable for NYC?

RENÉE RODEN, BYLINE: This fall, Delilah Caspers worked for the Board of Elections. And she missed the 24 hour train.

DELILAH CASPERS: We needed it, well I needed it, because we had to be at the polling sites at five o'clock in the morning.

RODEN: With the trains shut down until five a.m., she couldn’t get to work on time.

CASPERS: When they did that, that really messed me up. I would have to take

the Uber to a bus stop.

RODEN: The extended overnight closure is unprecedented. But the subway being in crisis is not. 2017 was a bad year for the MTA. The system flooded. Elevators and trains got stuck, trapping passengers for hours. Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency. In response, a group of transit scholars offered an unpopular solution. Shut the subway down at night.

RACHEL WEINBERGER: Uh, when that recommendation came out, it was very headline


RODEN: Rachel Weinberger helped come up with that idea. She’s with the Regional Plan Association -- a nonprofit that advises the city government. In 2017, the RPA recommended the city subways close from after midnight to 5am each weeknight. Permanently. There was a lot of pushback.

WEINBERGER: So, so why the backlash? So, I mean, part of it just is visceral in that, ‘Hey, we're New York and that's not how we do it.’ RODEN: But she says if the subway closed nightly New York could do what it’s doing now and rely on buses to carry passengers. It’s what most mass rapid transit cities - like London or Tokyo - do. And Asian and European systems already have an advantage, according to Weinberger

WEINBERGER: There's more support from their national governments, by

which I mean money.

RODEN: Before the pandemic, the MTA announced a $37 billion dollar improvement plan for the subways. But, now, the plan’s fate is uncertain. Weinberger says the repairs the system needs could be done faster and cheaper if the trains stopped running each night.

WEINBERGER: It's an old system, um, and, and it just requires a lot of, of love

and, and feeding. There's been a lot of just sort of temporary repairs.

RODEN: But Mitchell Moss disagrees. He’s the director of the Rudin Institute for Transportation at NYU. Before the pandemic, the number of night riders on the subway could fill Yankee Stadium twice. That’s only 1.5 % of the subway’s daily ridership. But Moss says they’re important

MITCHELL MOSS: The 24 hour allows people to work longer. It allows people to come and go to office maintenance jobs, to hospital jobs, healthcare jobs. The subway has been the key part of New York where all types of people come together.

RODEN: At a board meeting today, MTA chairman Patrick Foye said federal relief has prevented the need for any further service cuts for the city’s riders until 2023. No word on when 24 hour subways will resume.

RODEN: Renée Roden, Columbia Radio News


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