City Services Under COVID Strain: MTA Cuts Trains Again Due To Staffing Shortages; FDNY Reminds 911 Is For Emergencies Only

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Staffing shortages due to COVID-19 have hit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hard, resulting in delays and cancellations on certain lines.

CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon spoke to the agency about the cutbacks.

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Signs announcing service has been suspended on the Z, W and B trains were visible throughout the city Thursday. The suspensions and delays are exhausting commuters.

“It’s very, very frustrating because sometimes we’re in a rush and I work the night shift,” one person said.

“It’s frustrating, it’s very frustrating, but I’m grateful we have transportation,” another said.

Overall, service disruptions have been around since the beginning of the pandemic, but the recent surge due to the Omicron variant has made the situation worse.

“We have fewer people because they are people out on COVID leave, so we’re making sure that we can run service,” MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said.

Lieber said a few hundred employees out of the agency’s 67,000-person workforce are currently out of commission.

“We’re running what you’d call a bigger headway, so a little more time between trains,” Lieber said.

As for the three lines that are suspended, Lieber said only routes that are duplicated are impacted.

“The W, the B and the Z, those are the three lines which we’ve elected to suspend because they run on the same lines as other services,” Lieber said. “People can get to exactly the same place they want to get to. They may just have to ride a different line.”

On Thursday afternoon, Z train service resumed briefly but just temporarily.

The MTA added 80% of its workforce has at least one dose of the vaccine.

In order to deal with staffing shortages, the agency has brought in 20 retirees, while also incentivizing currents employees to delay taking vacation.

Meanwhile, the MTA has implemented Gov. Kathy Hochul‘s new shortened isolation policy for fully vaccinated essential workers.

“We’re providing 80% to 90% pre-COVID service to 50% of the ridership, so there’s plenty of room, plenty of service,” Lieber said. “We’ve used a lot of different strategies to make sure that even as there were crew shortages because of COVID that we were able to run service.”

The MTA says despite its best efforts, delays due to COVID staffing shortages will be around for the foreseeable future. So, it is asking commuters to be patient. The real impact of those shortages will be felt when commuters return from the holidays next week.


The NYPD said 21% of its uniformed officers called out sick Thursday.

As a result, the department is canceling days off for members on Friday and Saturday to provide security for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As for the FDNY, 30% of EMS and 17% of firefighters are currently on medical leave.

The department added it is experiencing hundreds of extra calls a day and is reminding people it does not provide COVID testing. It is asking New Yorkers to only call 911 during a real emergency.

“Only call 911 if you need help right away. If you have severe symptoms including shortness of breathe, chest pain, high fever or low oxygen level go to an emergency department, call 911,” the FDNY said in the message.

“The reality is the system has taken a hit,” said Oren Barzilay of Local 2507, the union representing EMTs and paramedics.

He said response times have been impacted.

The FDNY said more than 100 EMTs have recently been put into the field from the EMS Academy to help with staffing. EMS is also using mandatory overtime to help fill holes.

The agency added all firehouses and EMS stations are open, but Barzilay said the situation is troublesome.

“All EMS stations or firehouses may be open, but it doesn’t mean there’s ambulances coming out of them,” Barzilay said.

The union representing EMTs and paramedics is now urging the FDNY to increase its resources and staffing even more.

CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.