Subway sets COVID era ridership records in first week of school

The subways set pandemic era ridership records with the start of the school year this week, transit officials said Wednesday.

Subway ridership was 2.77 million on the first day of school on Monday and 2.9 million on Tuesday, according to official figures — more than any day since NYC went into COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

The subways have set COVID-19 ridership records four of the last six days, the MTA said.

“People are coming back to normal life, and they’re trusting in the MTA,” Acting Chairman Janno Lieber said at a press conference following the authority’s monthly board meeting.

Lieber said high ridership on weekends, when most people are riding by choice, show that fears of catching COVID-19 from riding mass transit have somewhat subsided.

The subways have set COVID-19 ridership records four of the last six days.
Christopher Sadowski

“The level where it’s discretionary, on the weekends and holidays, the numbers are actually much higher on a percentage basis compared to pre COVID,” he said. “That indicates that people are ready to get back on the subway, ready to get back on buses, ready to get back on commuter rails.”

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New Yorkers made some 2,184,296 subway trips on March 16, 2020 — the day before Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down city schools, bars and restaurants.

Ridership in the following weeks plummeted to less than 10 percent of pre-pandemic levels — forcing transit officials to spend the better part of 2020 and early 2021 begging for money from Congress, which in turn provided around $14 billion.

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Daily subway ridership was around 5.5 million trips per day in 2019. MTA consultants have estimated the ridership will take years to rebound to that level.

Straphangers wearing face masks at the Columbus Circle subway station
Daily subway ridership was around 5.5 million trips per day in 2019.
Christopher Sadowski

Officials said high levels of mask usage are essential to keep riders coming back.

Mask wearing has increased in recent weeks after waning a bit over the summer, according to MTA surveys. The most recent survey from Aug. 23 to Sept 3 found 74 percent of riders wore masks and another 12 percent wore them, but incorrectly.

Lieber said NYPD would be deployed to “bigger hubs” and MTA PD onto commuter rails “to communicate that this is not optional.”

“We all want to make sure that people are masking. It’s safe, and it’s also consistent with the whole spirit o the subway,” he said. “This is a shared public space. We respect each other and follow the rules. That’s kind of the New York way.”

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