MTA leaders believe the agency has turned a corner on the pandemic.
Almost 9,000 workers have returned from quarantine, the number of new coronavirus cases among staff is falling, and there are signs of a homecoming for straphangers.
“We are starting to see a ridership uptick," Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit, said at the MTA's monthly board meeting on Wednesday.
The MTA says it's now carrying 1.3 million riders on its subways and buses on an average workday, up from a low of about 800,000 in April.
Before the pandemic, the subways and buses carried about 8 million a day.
The agency says it is preparing for ridership to continue to increase - and concedes it will be difficult, if not impossible, to keep all passengers a safe distance from each other as trains and buses become more crowded.
“Six feet and a mask is ideal, but cannot be the expectation," Feinberg said. “There are going to be many, many times when they’re in a situation where six feet is not possible, and the goal will have to be being absolutely vigilant about your mask use and putting as much distance between yourself and the next person as possible.”
MTA officials said they're enlisting the help of behavioral psychologists and crowding experts to plan for New York's reopening.
One MTA board member, Bob Linn, said the MTA will be able to encourage riders to come back only if transit workers - who have been particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus - are fully protected from becoming infected.
Linn says he hopes there are no cases of coronavirus among its workforce when the MTA has to ramp up service.
Some train crews are not waiting for MTA management to act: they have taped off seats closest to their operating cabs, like on the G train.
To chart a safe way forward, MTA leadership is looking overseas for ideas, agreeing to pay up to $100,000 to its go-to consultant, WSP, to draft a report on what transit agencies around the world are doing to keep riders and workers safe as restrictions on business activity and travel are lifted.
“Our ridership is going be determined in a large part, when the pandemic subsides and the governor begins to lift the limitations of New York on 'PAUSE,' by our success in convincing millions of customers and tens of thousands of employees and tens and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of employers that it is safe to ride on transit," MTA Chairman Pat Foye said.
The report is due by the end of June.
If recent trends continue, a lot more people will be on the buses and trains by then.
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