MTA spends $1 million to test disinfecting NYC subways with UV light

It's like a UV chamber for a smartphone, but for a train.

MTA New York City Transit

Early next week, the MTA will begin disinfecting subways and buses using ultraviolet light in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. The pilot program will test small UV light devices developed by the Colorado-based startup Puro Lighting. If all goes as planned, the boxes will zap the virus from the air and surfaces, providing an automated alternative to chemical disinfectants.

The MTA will use approximately 150 devices, which according to NY1, it purchased for $1 million. That’s more than $6,500 per device. The MTA plans to first test the tech across New York City Transit trains, buses, subways and occupational facilities. In the second phase of the pilot, it will expand the devices to Long Island Rail Road and Metro North.

Earlier this month, the MTA started closing subways from 1AM to 5AM in order to provide more thorough cleaning. These devices could help bolster those efforts, and according to the MTA, it’s been working with Puro Lighting since mid-March to readapt the technology for MTA infrastructure. The devices can be installed in the ceiling, mounted on a wall or suspended.

MTA installs Puro Lighting UV disinfectant devices.
MTA New York City Transit

“We know UVC can help disinfect surfaces in hospital operating rooms, and we owe it to our employees and customers to experiment with it in our system to keep them safe. If successful, the results could help disinfect our buses and train cars, crew rooms, and other facilities in a more timely and cost efficient [manner],” MTA Chief Innovation Officer Mark Dowd said in a statement.

Hopefully, the tech will make a difference in the fight against COVID-19 in New York City. It may also offer a glimpse of how society will move forward after the pandemic is over. We’ve seen UV light clean humidifiers, airplane bathrooms and toilets, and in the future, it may be used more often to disinfect shared surfaces and spaces. As Puro Lighting points out, in addition to killing 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria, the devices can also reduce the growth of fungi, like yeast and mold.