As America’s most bustling city, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city’s transit are unheard of. Before the pandemic, some 160,000 people passed through Grand Central Station a day—nowadays, it is possible to walk through the terminal with a 6-foot distance from another person and citizens are seen more commonly strolling through than the usual brisk speed walk.
As the largest public transit in America, the slowdown of service within New York’s public transit system is debilitating for the state. As part of New York City’s plan to lower its carbon outtakes and become more carbon neutral by 2050, having more New Yorkers use public transit is a huge component. The decline of riders is affected by this as well.
Overall, ridership has lowered 90% since 2019 and has only recovered a third of the losses at this point. Shams Tarek, deputy communications director at the Metropolitan Transport Authority, which operates much of the city’s public transit, is optimistic, he states, “We expect ridership to gradually return to the system— it’s not a matter of if, but when— and we will continue to power New York’s recovery.”
Researchers who are watching the movement of New York transportation blame most of the decline on the fact that there has been a huge shift in remote work and sharp decline in tourism for the city since the pandemic began; less travelling from New York City dwellers and tourists for entertainment purposes have also contributed to this decline.
The ridership decline also follows a trend within income brackets. Unsurprisingly, subway stations near higher income neighborhoods have much larger declines in ridership in comparison to lower income neighborhoods. Cities like Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx are some examples of cities that have retained the most amount of ridership.
Due to the fact that the subways need to close down overnight for cleaning and sanitizing, profit and ridership has also lowered; the budget that the city has for transit has all but run out, putting the system in danger for more slowdowns or shutdowns. Bus transit had lowered equally to the subway since the onset of the pandemic, but has been seeing a rebound much greater than the subway. The rise of car travel endangers the city for gridlock if the numbers continue to rise, since car travel was the quickest to recover for New York’s transit.
Bike shares and sales have been seeing an incline; those advocating for an increase in cycling as an option for the city have stated that investing in bike paths and bike lanes is key for increasing the amount of bike riders in the city.
Though there has been a sharp decline in ridership as a whole, most experts do not believe that it will last forever, and after some time, the rate of ridership from cars, to the subway, to bicycles, will return to how it was before.