Op-ed | NYC subways are getting bigger and better

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber in subway
MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber
Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

The old saying goes “everything’s bigger in New York.” That’s definitely true of our subway system, which every weekday carries significantly more passengers than the next 14 largest transit systems combined. 

So, it makes sense that the MTA is poised to receive the largest grant ever from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for a single transit project – the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway.

Thanks to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Governor Kathy Hochul, and U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, USDOT will be contributing $3.4 billion toward the project to extend the Q line 1.75 miles north and then west through Harlem, with three new stations to be built at 106th and 116th Streets on Second Avenue and 125th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. 

More than 80 years after the Second Avenue El was demolished, East Harlem and Central Harlem – New York’s most transit-dependent communities – are finally getting the long-promised subway that will connect residents to jobs, education, and everything New York has to offer. Long awaited transit justice! 

I’ve been working on this grant since I came to the MTA in 2017. Not much progress was made under the prior administration in Washington, but President Biden and his team have made clear their commitment to public transportation and infrastructure, and we thank them. 

This exceptional news for the Second Avenue Subway comes amid a rising demand for mass transit across the region.

Last week, all MTA operating agencies broke ridership records, with the subway recording its best week since the pandemic. In that seven-day period, we carried more than 24.4 million riders, averaging 4 million per weekday and 2.4 million per day during the weekend. 

That surge led to our highest-ever OMNY usage on Saturday, Oct. 28, when 55% of riders tapped into the system rather than swiped. We expect tap-and-go market share to continue increasing as New Yorkers take advantage of newly installed OMNY card vending machines in stations.

Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North have also posted their best weeks since COVID, with 1.4 million and 1.3 million riders respectively. The latter’s ridership included strong leaf-peeper trains turnout from the weekend. Metro-North sold 3,010 tickets to Cold Spring from Grand Central on Saturday, Oct. 28, more people than the population of Cold Spring itself!

Meantime, Access-A-Ride paratransit service saw 196,000 trips booked, beating the last record just set in September. 

With continued investment, not only in megaprojects like Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, but also critical State of Good Repair work, the ceiling for ridership is as high as the hopes of Harlem residents looking forward to a whole new subway line connecting them to where they need to go.

Janno Lieber is MTA chair and CEO.