Oliver Cyrus, Garrett Goble, Peter Petrassi, Anil Subba — four New York City transportation workers, all dead last week amid the coronavirus pandemic that has swept Gotham. The deaths are a reminder that in interacting with the potentially infected public on a day-to-day basis, transportation workers are on the front lines.
Cyrus, 61, a bus driver, and Petrassi, 49, a subway-operations staffer and former conductor, died within 24 hours of each other late last week of the coronavirus, as did Subba, an Uber driver in his 40s.
Goble, 36, died in an even more horrific way, if that’s possible: trying to save passengers from a likely arson fire on his subway train early Friday morning. Police released photos of a suspect, after finding a burned-out shopping cart in one of the train’s cars.
With the exception of medical workers, transit workers are most in the direct path of this enemy. Until mid-March, passengers were still taking subways and buses in crowds, exposing workers to continuous risk.
(Metropolitan Transportation Authority top brass, including chairman Pat Foye and acting transit chief Sarah Feinberg, have also exposed themselves to this risk, with Foye testing positive over the weekend.
Now, even with passengers down by 90 percent, transit workers must come to work every day so other essential workers, including lower-paid grocery clerks and security guards, can come to work as well.
They do so without provision of masks and inconsistent equipment to clean their own operator and conductor booths so they don’t transmit the virus among them. The MTA has directed bus riders to enter by the back door, to avoid drivers, and is starting some temperature checks. As of late last week, it was scrambling to provide masks, but the authority is competing amid a shortage.
Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers are in just as tough a situation: They work alone. Until global flights stopped two weeks ago, a person ordered to “self-quarantine” often hired a car home from the airport to do so; that is likely how Subba got sick. People who are afraid they are sick continue to call Ubers and Lyfts to go to the doctor or hospital.
Uber and Lyft drivers work without partitions, notes Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Cab, Uber and Lyft workers also have to work without the city, state or companies providing protective gear.
Uber says it is finally trying to get sanitizer and wipes to drivers, and maybe masks. But just like the MTA, the ride-sharing company is competing for a scarce resource. “Arm those drivers with the supplies” to the extent possible, urges Desai.
Uber and Lyft drivers afraid to work right now also can apply for state unemployment insurance after two state rulings in their favor, before this virus hit. New federal-level benefits will also help them soon.
Goble, of Brooklyn, who left behind two young children, didn’t die from the virus. But it’s fair to say he died in the chaos the virus has created. Early reports are of an arson fire on his overnight train, a fire that an aggressive police presence could have prevented.
Just days before the deadly fire, transit chief Feinberg, in response to a picture of a passenger smoking on a near-empty train, implored people not to do that. Nothing flammable belongs on a subway.
And sparsely populated trains aren’t empty; they still require policing, especially as this crisis has made mentally ill left people to their own devices on the streets and subways even more confused and desperate.
These statistics will likely get worse before they get better. Even before Petrassi’s death, 30 employees in his office were under self-quarantine.
Yet three deaths across the Transport Workers Union in two days is already a grim record, even for a workforce that suffered two track-worker deaths in a week in 2007, and two token-clerk murders in 1979.
As for the car business, Desai is trying to confirm that two other for-hire drivers have already died. “I’m just really worried,” she says.
For now, it is hard to think of constructive suggestions. Dense cities, even under lockdown, can’t operate without their critical transportation workforce, public and private. Vulnerable people do this work. They are heroes.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal.
⭐️Singer/Songwriter/Voice Talent/Actor/Media Personality⭐️
Born in Syracuse, NY. He holds a bachelor of science degree in communication from Florida Institute of Technology with specialization in technical writing, business, public relations, marketing, media, promotion, and aerospace engineering.
⭐️ Las Vegas Entertainer ⭐️ MTV uplaya Platinum Auddy Award Winner ⭐️ Southeastern FTTF Talent Champion ⭐️ Movies & TV ⭐️ Listed in ‘Who’s Who’ publication ⭐️ Voted ‘MOST MARKETABLE’: Sonic Records ⭐️ U.S. Veteran ⭐️