Subway ridership sets another pandemic high

A subway conductor wears a protective face mask during the COVID-19 outbreak.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

The slow yet steady recovery of the New York City subway system continued last week with three straight days of record-level pandemic ridership, the MTA announced Tuesday.

Approximately 2.57 million riders ventured into the subways on Friday, June 18 — or roughly 46 percent of the 5.5 million riders that the subways averaged pre-pandemic in February 2020.

The MTA also reported pandemic record-levels of commuters on June 18 for buses in New York City as well as the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Roads. Ridership on Metro-North exceeded 100,000 commuters on June 18 for the first time during the pandemic. 

The combined subway and bus ridership exceeded 3.7 million, close to half of the pre-pandemic average.

“The subway’s ridership return continues to gather momentum,” said interim MTA New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg. “The subway is essential to New York, and higher ridership is the surest sign of New York’s post-pandemic recovery.”

For more than a year, the MTA had been dealing with recovering from a sharp decline in ridership as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of New York City last year. The subways emptied in March and April 2020 as businesses closed and workers were sent home due to the contagion; at one point, ridership had fallen by more than 90 percent, with roughly 300,000 daily trips made at the height of the crisis.

The MTA kept the subway system running nonetheless, with select changes made, just to keep essential workers moving and the city running. As the first wave of the pandemic ended, in May 2020, the MTA closed service overnight for the first time in its history to permit all cars and stations to be disinfected; this program continued through May of this year, when 24/7 service was finally restored.

But as the vaccine got into arms and the city began reopening, another issue surfaced: a rash of crime in the depleted system. The MTA has clashed with the city over public safety issues on the stations, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a surge of NYPD officers into the system to add an extra level of security.

New York City Transit’s efforts to keep the subways safe and clean continue, according to Demetrius Crichlow, executive vice president of subways.

“Our dedicated employees are working hard to provide the cleanest, safest and most reliable service possible,” Crichlow said. “As traffic congestion returns to the streets and the temperatures rise, riders will appreciate the speed and comfort of travel on the subway now as much as ever.”

While the subway recovery continues, the MTA is apparently not wanting for traffic on its bridges and tunnels — which also set pandemic records for volume on June 17-18 with 973,485 and 989,296 vehicles, respectively. The June 18 figure is equal to about 96.4 percent of the pre-pandemic levels of traffic on MTA crossings.

This story first appeared on amNewYork.