By Jessica Easthope
Jennifer Montano rides the subway every week since the pandemic began to get to her prenatal appointments.
“In the car that I got on today, on the Q train as soon as I walked on there were literally four people laying down sleeping, taking up much of the space,” Jennifer said.
She only has to see this once a week, but MTA train operator Yann Hicks sees it everyday.
Last week, city and state leaders made the historic decision to close the subways overnight. The MTA has been disinfecting all trains. Yann, who’s been with the MTA for 14 years and operates N and J trains says he’s seen a big improvement in that area.
“I have to say that the trains are being cleaned up very well, I’m very proud of the MTA and the management for starting to clean up the trains,” Yann said.
“Since the closures, I’ve noticed the subways — I was on the Q today and the R — have looked a little bit cleaner,” Jennifer said.
“The subway ride was nice, it was clean,” said rider George Samuel.
But Yann says the homeless who have been forced off the trains during the nightly cleanings come back.
“Around 5 a.m. people are all lined up to get back on the train that got kicked off at 1 a.m., whether they be homeless people or people that live on the train,” Yann said.
Then he says the conditions within the subway return to unacceptable and unsanitary.
“It’s disgusting when you’re a train operator and you’re pulling into a station, and you see a pile of defecation here and a pile of defecation there,” he added.
Yann says forcing people off is a small fix to a much deeper problem that has plagued New York City for decades.
“There’s a lot more work to be done, the city really needs to step in and help the people out, people shouldn’t be living on the trains and in the stations,” he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ThriveNYC has an immense budget to address mental illness in New York City, critics say the initiative has failed.
“We now have found new ways to get street homeless people off the streets,” Mayor de Blasio said.
Yann says the people who call the subway home are lacking resources and options and are not getting the help they need.
“Right now it’s still a lot of homeless people, people who are mentally ill, people who think they live on the trains. It’s very difficult to see this,” Yann said.
The subway will be closed overnight for the foreseeable future. Yann says he hopes he and his fellow train operators are approached by city and state leaders to help come up with a more permanent solution to homelessness on the subways.