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MTA looks to experts on commuter safety when LIRR resumes full service

An MTA worker works helps disinfect a train

An MTA worker works helps disinfect a train at the Coney Island Stillwell Avenue Terminal on May 5, 2020. MTA officials have said they are considering a range of ideas to address mass transit safety for the eventual reopening of New York City and Long Island. Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

The MTA will look to transit experts, medical doctors, behavior psychologists, and “crowding experts” in putting together a plan to safely transport commuters once they return to work, including on the Long Island Rail Road.

At the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s monthly board meeting Wednesday, MTA chairman Patrick Foye offered new information about the steps being taken by the transit agency to prepare for the eventual restoration of full service once New York reopens.

Steps include the hiring of consulting firm WSP USA to prepare a “COVID-19 global practices review” that will compile strategies used by transit agencies in Asia, Europe and North America to protect riders and employees from the coronavirus.

“The MTA has been looking at what transit agencies around the country and around the world have done or are considering to address the unique challenges posed by COVID-19,” Foye said at the meeting. “The next step in this process is formalizing the practices and emerging innovations that we have observed domestically and internationally.”

MTA officials have already said that they are considering a range of ideas to address the eventual reopening of New York City and Long Island, from checking the temperatures of riders to implementing a seat-reservation system on the LIRR.

Foye on Wednesday disclosed that other measures are being considered, including providing hand sanitizer at stations, deploying “traffic control” monitors on platforms, and working with “behavioral psychologists and crowding experts to learn how to best serve our riders.”

The MTA also announced on Tuesday the launch of a program to use ultraviolet light to disinfect trains and buses.

“The bottom line is that the MTA will leave no stone unturned to restore public trust and confidence in the transit system,” Foye said. “There’s no question that the transportation system as we know it is going to change. As such, we’re looking at many solutions to help us adjust to the new normal.”

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MTA Board member Robert Linn, while supporting the agency’s efforts, said the MTA should also prioritize protecting the welfare of its employeessaid the top priority should be given to protecting the welfare of its employees, who have been infected by the coronavirus at an alarming rate. The number of MTA employees killed by the virus has reached 123, including one LIRR worker, according to Foye.

“I hope, when we’re ready to expand service, that there are no more cases among transit workers — that we’ve done what it takes to create absolute safety within the system,” said Linn, a representative of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “That will be the way that we can publicly entice people back into the mass transit system.”

MTA officials said the cost of their COVID-19 response efforts will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — adding to a massive and growing financial impact from the pandemic that Foye said is expected to total $10.4 billion through 2021. The MTA has already received $3.9 billion in federal aid, and has asked for another $3.9 billion.

New financial figures released by the MTA illuminated the devastating economic toll of the outbreak. For April — the first full month under the effects of the pandemic — fare and toll revenue across the MTA was down by $591 million, or about 82%.

On the LIRR, ridership fell by 96.7% last month, when the railroad carried 253,571 customers, as compared to 7,724,038 during April of 2019.

But there are already indications of the recovery of the region’s transportation system. LIRR ridership has returned to about 7% of usual levels this week — up from a low of around 3% throughout most of April. And, 1,174 LIRR employees have returned to work, including 268 of 291 workers who had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“With every single person that overcomes this illness, the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter for us,” said LIRR President Phillip Eng.

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