slowdown

Coronavirus Causing ‘Financial Calamity’ for MTA as Ridership Plummets

A commuter waits for an A train at Nostrand Avenue, March 19, 2020.
A commuter waits for an A train at Nostrand Avenue, March 19, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Subway ridership spiraled into a coronavirus-driven freefall last week, as the average number of people entering stations over a seven-day period sank 66% from that same stretch in 2019, new MTA data shows.

An average of 1.6 million subway turnstile entries were recorded for the seven days through March 20 — a sliver of the more than 4.7 million daily entries on those days in 2019.

The resulting plunge in revenue has created a “financial calamity” for the already-shaky finances of the MTA, which is seeking $4 billion in relief from the federal government.

An analysis by THE CITY of data from 4,375 turnstiles at 457 stations reflects an even bleaker dropoff in ridership last Friday compared to two weeks earlier, when the outbreak had not yet forced as many New Yorkers to stay home or shuttered schools and all but essential businesses.

“The stark reality is that as New Yorkers stay home following the direction of state, local and federal authorities and medical experts, the MTA is now facing financial calamity,” Tim Minton, an MTA spokesperson, said in a statement to THE CITY. “We have urgently requested $4 billion in federal assistance as MTA revenue has plummeted and we continue to provide essential services moving heroes on the front lines of this crisis.”

Room and Gloom

MTA figures show 1.3 million turnstile entries were logged Friday — a decrease of more than 3.7 million, or 74% — from the 5.1 million entries on March 6. That was five days after the first diagnosed case of coronavirus in the city.

The decrease can be seen and felt at all stations, on every subway line and in every borough, from an 80% decline at Manhattan stations to 55% at stops in The Bronx. The analysis by THE CITY shows that stations in higher-income neighborhoods typically saw larger relative decreases in entries, a possible reflection of higher-income jobs offering more flexibility to work from home.

Before the current crisis, Manhattan had the highest proportion of residents who work from home, while The Bronx has the largest share of workers in the food and personal service industry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey data.

A sign posted at Canal Street calls for acceptance and vigilance in combatting the coronavirus.
A sign posted at Canal Street calls for acceptance and vigilance in combatting the coronavirus. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

“That first week of March, there was more room than usual on the trains, but people were still going to work on the train,” said Maribel Perez, 54, who, until last week, commuted by subway from the Highbridge neighborhood of The Bronx to clean apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “Now you can feel that fear and the trains are empty.”

The usually busiest station in the system, 42nd Street Times Square/Port Authority Bus Terminal, saw only 14,240 entries on Friday. The average weekday ridership there in 2018 topped 204,000.

At Beach 105th Street in Rockaway Park, the least-used stop in the subway system, ridership plummeted by 70% from two weeks earlier, when there were 222 station entries. Last Friday, the turnstiles counted a mere 65 people passing through.

The steepest drops in ridership have been at usually bustling stations in Midtown Manhattan.

Grand Central-42nd Street, which serves four lines and the 42nd Street Shuttle, saw 19,804 station entries on Friday, an 84% drop from March 6, when 127,351 entered through its turnstiles.
At 34th Street-Herald Square, 16,648 station entries were counted, an 83% decline from the 101,128 entries two weeks earlier.
The turnstiles at 34th Street-Penn Station, which serves six subway lines, had a nearly 83% drop in entries. There were 12,365 on Friday, down from 72,157 on March 6.

‘Uneasy Eye Contact’

Mike Strand, 38, has continued commuting on the R train from Bay Ridge to downtown Brooklyn, where he is an assistant manager at a wine and liquor store that’s among the businesses deemed as “essential” by the state. He said there is “a feeling in the air of tension and uncertainty” that wasn’t there at the start of March.

A rider on a Brooklyn-bound D train, March, 9, 2020.
A rider on a Brooklyn-bound D train, March, 9, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Depending on the morning, rush hour was packed with frustrated, irritated New Yorkers,” he said. “Now, it’s people with face masks who make nervous, uneasy eye contact.”

On Saturday, nine members of New York’s delegation to the House of Representatives signed a letter from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens) that presses House leadership for $4 billion in aid to the MTA as part of an emergency federal stimulus package.

On Sunday, 20 members of Congress joined an appeal by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan, The Bronx) for immediate federal aid to public transit agencies around the country.

“In some cases, nearly 90% declines in ridership, combined with plummeting sales-tax receipts, have resulted in multi-billion-dollar revenue losses, much of which will simply never be recouped,” read the letter.

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