As COVID begins its winter comeback, New Yorkers with disabilities have called on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the MTA to restore face mask requirements on trains, buses and paratransit vehicles.
The latest push to restore mandates lifted in September comes as cases of coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses surge, prompting city health officials earlier this week to force masks to be worn indoors and in crowded outdoor settings. This is because it is recommended that you wear it.
At a hearing at MTA headquarters on Wednesday, public transportation officials said several people with disabilities had called for the return of mask mandates, citing guidance from health officials, and why Access-A-Ride drivers did. I spoke to a member of the MTA board who asked if it wasn’t. face must be covered.
“Today’s Mayor of The New York Times is pushing new orders for the spread and spread of COVID-19, flu, and everything else,” said MTA Board Member David Jones. I’m here. “And I’m wondering why we can’t give that power, at least for the drivers we actually control.”
Transportation officials insisted they leave decisions about face coverings to public health officials. Current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing masks in transit hubs and indoor areas on public transit.
The city’s health department also “strongly recommends[s] Everyone should wear a mask indoors and in public to reduce the spread of these viruses. ”
“I think it’s clear that we need to follow state and city public health officials,” MTA president and CEO Janno Lieber said Wednesday at the agency’s monthly board meeting. “And if there really is a direction other than the current policy, we will obviously follow.”
Reinstating mask mandates was only a recent call. In September, THE CITY reported that many of the same voices warned that the MTA’s message about face coverings was misleading.
“They should never have lifted it,” Ruth Lowenkron, director of disability justice at the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, told The City before Wednesday’s meeting. “And absolutely now, with COVID coming back furiously with RSV and flu, it’s time to undo that mandate.”
Others have pointed out that the lack of masking is causing some people with chronic illnesses to avoid public transportation.
“The MTA and the Hochul governor have not made mask-wearing an urgent requirement, which means many New Yorkers with disabilities and immunocompromised people avoid public transportation because the vast majority of people don’t wear masks. Mask,” said Cara Liebowitz, advocacy coordinator for the Brooklyn Center for Disability and Self-Reliance.
Metro and bus ridership was about 60% of the total in 2019, and access-A-Ride paratransit service usage dropped to pre-pandemic levels for 18 days in December, according to MTA data. Over 80%.
Those calling for reimbursement of mask mandates said it would be particularly useful for users of the MTA’s paratransit services.
“It’s especially important on Access-A-Ride when you’re in cramped places to travel long distances with strangers,” says Lowenkron. “That’s the least we can expect. It’s moral. Why not?”
hike and cut
Calls to renew mask mandates came after the MTA board unanimously approved a $19.2 billion operating budget for next year. The budget sees higher-than-expected fare increases and reduced service on Mondays and Fridays on several metro lines.
“Voting for fare increases in the budget is in stark contrast to the MTA’s main priority … increasing passenger numbers,” said board member Midori Valdivia. , said it may vote against such budgets in the future.
The Transport Workers Union Local 100 has also been critical of the planned adjustment of services on Mondays and Fridays, when passenger numbers have fallen significantly thanks to the pandemic’s work patterns. They said the proposed cuts, along with increased weekend services on the G, J and M lines, could lead to more attacks on transport workers by frustrated passengers.
Union president Richie Davis said, “I’m going to get to the bottom of it. Service cuts are a terrible, terrible idea.” “And the TWU Local 100 will battle you every step of the way.”
Changes may go into effect in June. Transportation officials claim that the 1, 6, 7, E, F, L, and Q line schedule changes are minor adjustments that you wouldn’t notice unless they were talking to you.
“If you are currently running 100% service, [and] The changes will actually go into effect … we will have 99.8% service,” said Richard Davey, president of the New York City Transit Authority. “So we’ll be niggling the edge on Mondays and Fridays, too.”
‘COVID is not over’
Eman Rimawi-Doster, Access-A-Ride campaign coordinator and organizer of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said the hearing’s paratransit service is the only option for public transportation, but it’s a comfortable one. said not.
“COVID is not over, but you continue to act like you are,” said Rimawi Doster, a double amputee. I don’t want to catch the coronavirus, so I have to open the windows even on cold days, which puts me at risk.”
MTA stats show mask usage on subways fell to 64% on subways and 67% on buses by April, down from a high of over 90% in spring 2021.
The agency stopped conducting mask-wearing surveys in April, but usage appears to have dropped significantly since the mandate was lifted this fall.
“You and I are both riders,” Lieber told THE CITY.