As New York City aims to ease restrictions and open some nonessential businesses on June 8, the city’s mayor and the state’s governor have a plan . . . sort of.
After the “New York on Pause” order went into effect on March 22, almost 900,000 people in New York City alone were furloughed or laid off. As New Yorkers sheltered in place, ridership on the city’s subways and buses declined by 90%. The city also saw a surge in COVID-19 cases, with over 200,000 infected and more than 20,000 deaths.
But today, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the city would start reopening in early June. It is the last part of New York State to begin this process. The decision comes after only 5% of the city’s residents tested positive for the virus, the lowest daily number recorded yet.
According to The New York Times, this measure will let nonessential stores including furniture, clothing, and wholesale stores open for curbside pickup and allow for construction and manufacturing deemed nonessential to start up again. The businesses that reopen will have to follow social distancing protocol and limit occupancy to 50%. They will also have to give employees proper protective equipment. Employees will be required to wear face covering, and there will be mandatory health and temperature checks.
One point of confusion—how people will get around. On Thursday, Mayor Bill De Blasio suggested that up to 400,000 might return to work during phase 1 of the reopening, according to CNBC. The MTA has increased subway frequency to accommodate more riders and is starting to phase in more service restoration.
“For the next few months, people are going to make their own choices. Some are going to come on mass transit and some are not,” De Blasio said, acknowledging that some people may not be comfortable taking public transit and that there may be more car congestion as a result. This despite the fact that only 45% of households in the city own cars.
According to Gothamist, transit experts have warned that increased car usage could lead to increased pollution and density—two factors that have increased the risk of getting COVID-19 for low-income New Yorkers.
As for making public transit safe for New Yorkers to return to work at full capacity, a few ideas have been mentioned, including a reservation system. But there appears to be no full plan. To get ideas for just what it will take to get New Yorkers comfortable with riding the subways and buses again, the MTA is asking riders to take a survey. Those who do will be entered in a drawing for—what else?—a 30-day unlimited Metrocard.