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Too little, too late? Shock as NY subway cleaned overnight for FIRST time in 115 years amid Covid-19 crisis

Too little, too late? Shock as NY subway cleaned overnight for FIRST time in 115 years amid Covid-19 crisis
New York City's iconic 24-hour subway has begun shutting down overnight for deep cleaning, the first deliberate closure in the system's history – a move triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and a growing homeless presence on trains.

Wednesday morning at 1am marked the first time the city's entire system was deliberately shut down for deep cleaning in its history. The system will close down nightly for four-hour disinfection of trains, stations, and equipment as long as coronavirus remains a “threat” to New York, which is still the epicenter of the pandemic. Nearly 14,000 people in the city have died with the virus as of Wednesday.

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The decision to shut down the subway was made last week after photos showing filthy trains and homeless people camped out in nearly-empty subway cars went viral, forcing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to confront the disastrous state of the transit system, which has lost over 90 percent of its ridership since the state ordered non-essential businesses to close in March. While homeless people taking shelter in the subway is not new, the sharp drop in ridership meant they were much more visible, and sick or furloughed transit employees meant there were fewer workers tasked with rousting them.

The system has only shut down deliberately twice before, in 2011 and 2012, both times for weather-related reasons – never for cleaning, which is done on a staggered basis as trains finish their runs and enter yards sprinkled throughout the city. Stations are usually cleaned in the early-morning hours, but remain open during cleaning.

While many on social media were surprised to learn that New York's subways had been operating nonstop since 1904, others were appalled to learn that the trains had been running throughout the pandemic, suggesting that the city's high caseload might be due to the notoriously dirty transit system.

Others cracked jokes about the famously filthy trains literally not having been cleaned in 115 years.

New Yorkers seized the opportunity to air their grievances.

Some 11,000 riders who had been using the system between 1 and 5am will be affected by the shutdown, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates the city's subways and buses. The agency plans to offer riders who can prove their travel is “essential” two free trips per night in “for-hire vehicles,” as well as free rides on buses and so-called “dollar vans,” to replace the lost service. However, some subway riders have expressed fear that 24-hour service may never return, given the agency's perennial budget woes. 

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