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Metro-North train service slows to a crawl during health crisis

HARLEM VALLEY — COVID-19 has changed the lives of all New Yorkers — including those who live in the Harlem Valley. That means not only are most people staying home these days, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered only essential businesses may operate during the pandemic — even closing schools throughout the state for another two weeks — few are traveling.

The majority of area residents who usually commute to New York City for work or play have stopped doing so. Locally, the Wassaic and Ten Mile Metro-North Train Stations are nearly empty, as are the stations in Dover Plains and Wingdale. It’s no surprise, then, that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has called for serious cuts to service.

“The decision to reduce service is not one we take lightly, but feel at this time is in the best interest of our workers, customers and the system as a whole,” said MTA Chief Operating Officer Mario Peloquin. “Our goal has been and continues to be to move New Yorkers where they need to go. That’s never been as important as right now.”

On March 24 the MTA announced it “continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and move the healthcare workers, first responders and essential personnel on the front lines of this public health crisis [by implementing] the ‘NY Essential Service Plan.’ The reduced schedule will ensure service to and from work for the workers on the front lines of this crisis, while adapting to never-before-seen ridership lows — dropping by as much as 90% across New York City Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.”

Changes to service started to be phased in on Wednesday, March 25.

According the MTA announcement, “Metro-North Railroad has seen a 94% decline in ridership as a result of the pandemic. Beginning on March 27, Metro-North will provide hourly service on the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines, with extra trains added during peak times. Normal weekday capacity will be reduced by approximately 50% when compared to a normal weekday. The reduced schedule will run 424 trains, down from 713 during a normal schedule. Beginning the weekend of April 4 and 5, Metro-North will provide hourly service while also suspending shuttle service between Wassaic and Southeast on the Upper Harlem line.”

The service changes will be reflected on the MTA website, www.new.mta.info, the MYmta app and on countdown clocks in stations and on platforms.

The changes follow the governor’s New York State on PAUSE directive, which orders riders use public transportation only for essential travel and obey social distancing protocols. The MTA assured riders it is following “aggressive disinfecting procedures at each of its stations twice daily, and continue daily sanitization of its fleet of rolling stock with the full fleet of train cars and buses disinfected every 72 hours or less.”

The health crisis is taking an economic toll on the MTA. According to the Authority, it is now facing “financial calamity.

“Farebox and toll revenue, which normally constitutes nearly half of the MTA’s annual budget at approximately $8 billion, has dropped significantly as more and more riders stay home. That’s on top of more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA that is likely to evaporate in the inevitable economic downturn. Additionally, the MTA’s enhanced and intensive disinfecting efforts are expected to total over $300 million on an annualized basis.”

That’s why the MTA asked Congress to include at least $25 billion in dedicated funding for mass transit, with $4 billion just for the MTA. On Wednesday, March 25, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced the MTA will get $3.8 billion through the nearly $2 trillion emergency relief package that the Senate approved Wednesday, with a vote of 96 to 0. The House also passed the bill, on Friday, and the president signed the relief package that night.

Meanwhile, the MTA continues to serve New Yorkers.

“Our crews and front line employees at  Metro-North will continue to provide the service our customers deserve during these trying times,” stated Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi. “Our ridership has seen a steep decline over the past several weeks, but health care workers and other first responders continue to ride our trains every day. While some reduction in service makes sense right now, we will continue to run a safe and reliable service to get these critical employees to their places of employment every day.”

 

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