Subway Ridership Drops 90% During COVID-19 Shutdown

Posted on: April 23rd, 2020 at 5:04 am by

In just over a month, ridership on the city’s subways precipitously dropped to levels unseen in decades.

Prognosticators are quick to note how the city’s storied transit system rebounded from the 1970s and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yet meets its match with the COVID-19 shutdown.

Ridership is down a whopping 90%. Last Thursday, the subway system notched 470,000 passengers; the same day last year, it had 5.9 million.

Thus making the images of crowded subway cars, with elbow-to-elbow straphangers wearing face masks, emblematic of the current crisis. The MTA reduced frequency of trains, so essential workers commuting are now packed.

“We don’t want to turn the clock back to the bad old days of the MTA when state of good repair and system expansion was gutted to balance operating budgets,’’ MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said to the New York Times. “We’ve come too far.”

Facing a major budget shortfall, the agency is seeking $3.9 billion in federal money. Plus, hiking fares is too risky.

With less than a million riders using public transit, raising the fare now would be futile. Cutting service beyond the reduced schedules is complicated by the critical role public transit plays in moving doctors, nurses and other essential workers. And indefinitely delaying long-overdue upgrades and maintenance could set back service for years to come.

An analysis of M.T.A. finances by McKinsey & Company projects fare and toll revenue losses up to $5.9 billion and dedicated tax revenue losses as high as $1.8 billion. By the end of the year, the authority will face revenue losses as high as $8.5 billion, officials said.

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