There’s been much debate about the future of public transportation in New York: can the MTA survive the impact of COVID? Will the transition to hybrid work crush us completely?
These are valid questions, and the most pessimistic among us sometimes suggest that we’re doomed. Not me.
Far from regressing, the MTA is showing serious signs of life since the start of the new school year. Commuter railroads are breaking ridership records what seems like every few days, with Long Island Rail Road ridership exceeding 200,000 riders twice now since September 7, a level not achieved since March 2020. On September 14, Metro-North carried a record 181,000 riders, nearly 70 percent of its pre-pandemic base.
New York City Transit is also crushing it. total transit ridership is 22% higher today than it was a year ago and 87% greater than 2020. Huge progress.
These numbers are on the higher end of our most recent projections, proving that mass transit is moving in the right direction, and we’re not stopping. While some degree of hybrid work is here to stay, this latest surge shows that return to the office is a genuine trend.
But we’re not just waiting for office workers to come back. On-time performance is as high as it’s ever been, and we’ve been working aggressively to enhance service delivery, the measure of how many of our scheduled bus and subway runs actually go out; last month it increased to 92.8% on subways. Customer journey time has also improved to its best number since May 2021, meaning riders are getting where they need to go on-time more of the time. No doubt this was helped by agency-wide efforts to quickly hire and train new recruits in service-sensitive roles. We’ve been particularly successful in the Department of Buses; the vacancy rate for operators is now below one percent, back at pre-COVID levels.
Like the operating agencies, MTA Construction and Development is also firing on all cylinders, delivering project after project on time and on – or under – budget. This month we celebrated the opening of the first section of the newly wider, taller LIRR Concourse at Penn Station. You wouldn’t recognize the space; the corridor’s nearly doubled in width to 57 feet, while the ceilings were raised to 18 feet. And that’s just a glimpse of what’s coming.
Governor Hochul has prioritized transforming Penn, and we’re preparing to award a contract soon for that important work. The MTA is convening a Working Advisory Group to advise on station design, with virtual town halls planned for next month so the public can weigh in as well.
So hold off writing an obit for New York and the MTA. We’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere—except with more and more of you on trains, buses, railroads and paratransit to wherever you need to be.
Janno Lieber is MTA chair and CEO.