After by the end of last year New York City's beleaguered subways fell to carrying a mere 30% of pre-pandemic volumes but also as vandalism and random violent attacks soared, sparking widespread concern over safety, officials with the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority are now looking to spend $2.2 million a month on private security guards, a recent Wall Street Journal report confirmed.
By month's end some 200 private guards are expected to be present at stations and on trains, which is double what it's been in prior months - after the MTA urged more city police amid rising crime in areas of the transit system where there's often near-deserted platforms given the prior COVID-fueled rider drop off.
While MTA's budget is huge, into the multiple billions annually, it's lately had to rely heavily on federal Covid relief to continue operations.
"The last thing I want to do is to devote precious resources in the middle of a financial crisis to additional security contractors," MTA's interim head of subway operations Sarah Feinberg said. "But I'm also not going to be in a position where my customers and workforce continue to feel uncomfortable and unsafe."
The move also comes after a persistent homeless and vagrant problem, as largely empty cars often get essentially taken over by transient "residents". The private security guards will reportedly be unarmed and will mostly operate in an "observe and report" capacity, as part of broader efforts to prevent drug-use, fare evasion, robberies, violent crime, and vandalism at the stations.
A huge spike in robberies and violent attacks was observed starting in March and April of 2020, just after pandemic shutdowns left the underground transport network largely abandoned in many spots. For example, an April 2020 crime report noted after a full month of the pandemic that "Robberies jumped 55% last month, compared to the same period in 2019, according to an NYPD report to the MTA, and major felonies remained essentially flat even as ridership all but vanished due to the coronavirus crisis."
And from the opening months of pandemic lockdowns, the MTA began adding more and more security in an attempt to get a handle on the continually deteriorating safety situation: "With platforms and stations increasingly desolate — and the NYPD hit by coronavirus-related absences — the MTA is adding 70 more uniformed personnel to the subway, from its own police department and a pair of firms that already had security contracts with the transit agency."
However, at this point a mere extra 200 unarmed guards seems like a drop in the bucket in terms of the immense number of issues facing New York's subways on multiple fronts, which continues to fuel hesitancy among an increasingly vaccinated public in terms of jumping back into pre-pandemic public transport routines at prior normal levels.