A recent editorial by Jim Cameron (“Do You Feel Safe Riding Metro-North?” May 15, 2021) wrongly and unfairly suggests that it is unsafe to ride Metro-North. I want to be clear: it is absolutely safe to ride our railroad.
In his piece, Mr. Cameron claims that “riders are not coming back to Metro-North,” while at the same time claiming that conditions are so crowded as to be unsafe. Both of these statements cannot be true. Moreover, he disingenuously takes a single anecdote and turns it into a commentary on Metro-North at large. The chief complaints were that his friend’s train was crowded, and some riders were not wearing masks.
I’ll start with the first point. It is a simple fact of the region’s ongoing recovery that more people are going to be riding trains again and that social distancing will not always be possible. While it can be jarring to start to see more people on the train after a year of isolation and record low ridership, this is exactly what the region needs to recover economically from this unprecedented crisis. If people don’t return to public transportation, there will be no revival.
We are continually monitoring service levels to ensure that we have adequate service to handle the riders that are returning to our system. Specifically, with respect to our service to Yankee Stadium, which Mr. Cameron references in his editorial, we have already increased service frequency in light of better-than-expected ridership on game days.
As for mask usage, we know from internal surveys that the vast majority of riders are wearing masks as required by our systemwide mandate, which remains in place per the latest federal and state guidelines. Those who refuse to comply are fined. Additionally, free masks are available at our busiest stations from station ambassadors and on board all our trains; in addition, hand sanitizer dispensers are available at all Metro-North stations, with PPE vending machines installed at select locations. The regional MTA Mask Force also regularly hands out masks personally at many of our stations.
My highest priority as president of Metro-North is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for all our riders. We have taken an all-of-the-above approach to promoting public health, which is why we continue to disinfect our stations and trains around the clock. We’re also actively working to expand our innovative capacity tracking feature on the Metro-North TrainTime app to the New Haven line.
In addition to the state-of-the-art air filtration and purification system that we are piloting inside our rail cars, as noted by Mr. Cameron, our railcars already have a complete air exchange rate of every 5 minutes, 12 times each hour.
I hope that Mr. Cameron soon joins the many people who have already come back to the New Haven Line as the region continues its recovery from the pandemic; ridership has increased 20.3% in the past month, 36.6% in the past two months, and has climbed from 19.9% of pre-COVID ridership two months ago to 27.2% this week. He’ll return to a cleaner, better, and safer system that is prepared to lead the region’s recovery from this unprecedented health crisis.