slowdown

Subway Ridership Plunge Deepest at Big Manhattan Stations

The Times Square subway station on March 11, 2020.
The Times Square subway station on March 11, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The number of people entering the subway system plunged by nearly 1.7 million last Friday compared to the previous Friday — with some of the city’s busiest stations taking the biggest hits, new MTA data shows.

And if the coronavirus-driven dropoff continues, transit officials may reduce train frequency, THE CITY has learned.

An analysis by THE CITY of data from 4,375 turnstiles at more than 450 stations showed a 33% decline in entries for Friday, March 13, compared to the prior week.

The slide was especially evident throughout Midtown Manhattan, at some of the most traditionally bustling stations in the subway system:

• At Grand Central-42nd Street, the second-busiest station in the system, turnstile entries fell 48% to 66,519. The hub, which serves four subway lines, the 42nd Street Shuttle and Metro-North trains, averaged 155,345 riders on weekdays in 2018, according to MTA ridership statistics.

• 34th Street-Penn Station saw a 43% slide in turnstile entries over the last week. There were 80,813 along the 1/2/3 and A/C/E stops for March 13, down from 141,728 a week earlier.

• Turnstile entries at Times Square-42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal, the busiest station in the system, fell by 40% from 81,108 to 48,529.

• 34th Street-Herald Square had a 39% dropoff in turnstile entries — from 101,128 on March 6, to 61,549 last Friday.

• Among the boroughs, The Bronx had the smallest decrease of station entries — a 16% decline, compared to 22% in Queens, 28% in Brooklyn and 40% in Manhattan.

‘It’s a Fraction’

“It’s like night and day,” said David Santos, 36, of Manhattan, who was catching a train at 59th Street-Columbus Circle, where turnstile entries fell by more than 39%. “There’s always so many people coming into this station, but it’s a fraction of that now because people are aware of the coronavirus situation.”

From one week to the next, turnstile entries dropped at virtually all the 457 stations for which data was available.

Source: MTA turnstile data

At the 116th Street-University station in Morningside Heights, there were 9,226 fewer entries last Friday — a 62% decrease that would appear to be driven by Columbia University’s shift to virtual classes.

Only the West Farms Square station along the Number 2 and 5 lines in The Bronx reported a bump in passenger entries, turnstile data analyzed by THE CITY showed. More than 8,200 were recorded last Friday, up from 5,215 the previous week.

“Not surprisingly, we are seeing daily declines in ridership and we expect those declines to continue as mass gatherings are barred and major companies and universities move to telecommuting,” said Abbey Collins, an MTA spokesperson.

Manhattan stations are seeing less foot traffic, March 13, 2020.
Manhattan stations are seeing less foot traffic, March 13, 2020. Photo: Virginia Breen/THE CITY

The agency said daily subway ridership last Wednesday was down by close to one million — or 18.5% — from last March, when the system handled close to 5.4 million riders. For that same date, bus ridership dropped by 15%.

The MTA’s two suburban railroads, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, were both down by more than 30% last Thursday from that same date in 2019.

‘An Expensive Undertaking’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the MTA will need federal assistance to get through the coronavirus crisis, which has led to increased station, bus and train cleaning, driving up overtime.

“This is going to be an expensive undertaking,” MTA Chair Patrick Foye said Friday on NY1. “The ridership decline obviously reduces revenue, the substantial increase in frequency and intensity in cleaning costs money.”

The decrease may force the agency to take shifts in service frequency into consideration, said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit.

“But remember we are a system that moves medical personnel, first responders, et cetera,” Feinberg told THE CITY. “So it is important that we continue to move people.”

Even before the city’s first confirmed case of coronavirus on March 1, the number of people entering subway stations compared to last year had begun to dip in February, according to turnstile data.

“There’s a lot less people going out during rush hour,” said Teressa Capobianco, 26, as she waited for a train at 42nd Street-Times Square. “You see it at the turnstiles, on the platforms and the trains.”

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