The problem with increasing numbers of homeless people crowding New York City subways is "disgusting" and is "disrespectful" to essential workers who have to ride those trains to get to work, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
An angry Cuomo, addressing his daily news conference, brandished Tuesday's Daily News front page -- which read "Next Stop, Purgatory" below a picture of a homeless person and his cart almost completely blocking a subway car.
Cuomo went on to say that although initial talks at the start of the pandemic was to shut down the state's public transportation system, it was ultimately decided that it needed to run in order to get essential workers to their jobs.
"That’s why public transportation continued. We talked early on about closing public transportation," he said. "But, that’s how the nurses are getting to work. That’s how the orderlies are getting to work. Nobody will be at the hospital. Nobody will be there to deliver the food. Nobody will be in the power plant to keep the lights on. Nobody will be at the telecommunications department. Public transportation is vital for them. Well, then make sure public transportation is safe and disinfected."
Cuomo went on to says that the current state of subway cars is "disrespectful" to essential workers.
"Respect the essential workers. That is disgusting what is happening on those subway cars. It's disrespectful to the essential workers who need to ride the subway system ... they deserve better, they will have better," he said.
But the governor did not elaborate on what he intended to do about the problem, which has been a cause of consternation for weeks among those New Yorkers still riding the trains.
The governor also said that it is not safe for homeless individuals to continue seeking shelter within the public transportation during a pandemic while lacking proper protection.
"You have this whole outbreak. We’re concerned about homeless people, so we let them stay on the trains without protection in this pandemic of the covid virus? No. We have to do better than that and we will," Cuomo said.
Interim NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg said Cuomo was "absolutely right" in his assessment of the situation, and called for NYPD officers and outreach workers at end of the line stations.
"Look, we're a transportation agency, we run a subway system and a bus system. We are not a social services agency," Feinberg said, adding that she was pleased the mayor's office has started to address the problem. "I want the Mayor to send the NYPD and his outreach workers into every single end of line station by the end of the week."
The transit boss said she was willing to hire more MTA Police if necessary, just to have officers at the end of service lines to deal with any homeless found on the trains. However, she said she was not on board with any plans that would close certain stations, because essential workers may rely on them.
"If you're having trouble boarding a car because there are multiple people laid out, you have every right to be angry, I'm angry. I'm incredibly frustrated, and our workforce is incredibly frustrated," Feinberg said. "The men and women who work at New York City Transit, who show up every day to move the essential workers to work to fight this crisis on the frontlines, deserve better than this."
More than 80 transit workers have already died as a result of COVID-19.
In a statement, the MTA Chief Communications Officer Abbey Collins said the agency is relieved that the city agreed to provide safe shelter for the homeless and will improve safety and cleanliness on trains. Collins also called for added social services at certain stations.
“Right now, the City should step up and ensure NYPD and social service presence at every end-of-line station by the end of the week and commit to this effort long term. We have had to resort to hiring private security guards to serve as the eyes and ears of our system instead," Collins's statement read in part.
"The Mayor should get out of his car and into the subways so he can see what is really going on and solve the problem of his own making. Our mass transit system is the lifeblood of New York City and it has never been more important," she said, blaming the mayor for not addressing the problem. The governor has final say when it comes to MTA issues, however.
In response, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said "it's not clear why the MTA won't take yes for an answer. But if they agree with our plan, then let's get it done."
Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested the MTA shut down ten stations at the end of key subway lines, including Pelham Bay Park (6 train), Wakefield-241st Street (2 train), Woodlawn (4 train), Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street (1 train), World Trade Center (E train), Jamaica-179th Street (F train), Jamaica Center (E and J trains), Flatbush Avenue (2 train) and Coney Island (D, F and Q trains). During the hours between midnight and 5 a.m., trains could get a deep clean and outreach workers could try and help the homeless on board, as the city offers 200 extra shelter beds.
"They close ten high-impact stations at the end of the line, from midnight to 5am, and clean the stations," the spokesperson said. "We connect the unsheltered New Yorkers on those trains to the services they need. What's the problem here?"