New data from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office confirms what many people suspected: Essential workers in neighborhoods with lower median incomes have been riding the subway throughout the pandemic at far greater levels than people living in wealthier neighborhoods who have the job flexibility to either leave New York or work from home.
Transit ridership remains far below pre-pandemic levels with the subways just barely hitting 2 million riders a day now, compared to 5 million daily before COVID-19. Overall, only about 30% of riders have returned, and the MTA doesn’t expect ridership levels to go back to “normal” for several years.
But the comptroller’s report shows how the data varies by neighborhood. In the Bronx at the 138th Street–Grand Concourse station, turnstile data from February shows ridership is back as much as 68%. The state comptroller’s office combined Census information with turnstile data to give a fuller picture of who is riding the subways now.
In the community surrounding that same Bronx station, which includes the neighborhoods of Concourse, Highbridge, and Mt. Eden, the comptroller’s data show 26% of the population work in “health care and social assistance.”
“It’s clear ridership has been more resilient in areas outside of Manhattan’s central hubs. Neighborhoods with high levels of immigrants and working families,” Di Napoli said on a conference call with reporters Friday. “And most importantly, these neighborhoods have high shares of essential workers who cannot perform their jobs remotely.”
Other leading neighborhoods with high ridership include Flushing, Whitestone, and Murray Hill in Queens, which are seeing ridership at 46% pre-pandemic levels.
“The straphangers putting money into the fare box right now are the ones who can least afford to lose service or pay more for it.” DiNapoli wrote in a statement. “This online tool gives riders, the MTA, elected officials, transit advocates and stakeholders information to guide smart and equitable decisions as we rebuild from the pandemic’s devastation.”
The MTA recently received an additional $6.5 billion in federal relief aid, which it said will help avoid any service or job cuts over the next three years. This week the MTA re-affirmed that it would implement its previously scheduled bi-annual fare hikes later this year. It also said it would “unfreeze” the $51.5 billion capital plan, although it didn’t say which projects would begin first, just that it would prioritize signals and accessibility projects.
“This is exactly why federal investment in the MTA remains so crucial — ensuring public transit continues to be the great equalizer, opportunity-provider and economy-driver that it has always been,” MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek wrote in a statement.
Transit advocates say the city and state should use the comptroller’s data to ensure low income immigrant communities receive equitable transit service in future decisions.
“In the next few months it’s going to be really important to track the data, make sure people have fast reliable transit service, buses are not being stuck in traffic, overcrowded conditions aren’t appearing and punishing certain neighborhoods,” said Kate Slevin, senior vice president of state programs and advocacy at the Regional Plan Association.