Commuters flock back to mass transit after worst of COVID-19 crisis: MTA

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Photo by Mark Hallum

Mass transit ridership seems to be healing after months of fear from COVID-19.

It only took the first day of Phase I of reopening for 213,000 more riders to come back to the subways and buses which has seem a 92% dip in ridership. This increased Monday’s ridership to about 800,000, representing a 17% increase from the week prior on subways alone.

The seeming likelihood that commuters are making a B-line back to public transportation could dispel fears that people may avoid the trains and buses for a prolonged period of time. Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg said she was optimistic from her outings on the subway that riders were returning with “confidence.”

“There was a real spring in people’s step, there was a bustle about the system. It was obviously a beautiful day, it was a good day to be out. But I think I was in six stations and seven trains and I feel like people were optimistic and glad to be back,” Feinberg said.

Ridership during peak hours is up by 18% to 22%, Feinberg said, and bus ridership is up 13%. Manhattan subway ridership was up 20% alone.

But while the MTA now has hand sanitizer dispensers in stations and other precautions, Feinberg was cautious to say things were back to normal entirely.

Overnight closures between 1 and 5 a.m. will continue for the time being with Feinberg taking a page from Governor Andrew Cuomo in telling reporters that the epidemic does not have a set end date.

“We get better, more effective and more efficient at cleaning all the time, so our plan is to return to 24-hour service at some point. We are definitely going to wait until the end of the pandemic,” Feinberg said.

Buses will continue to do rear-door boarding with no fare, as well as social distancing to protect drivers, but she said the agency would prioritize reinstating the fare and front-door boarding.

“There’s no question, we have to do that,” Feinberg said.

Last week, the MTA reversed course on a measure taken in March – the Essential Service Plan – to reduce service by 30% due to staff being out sick from COVID-19. Full service on all but 5 line was fully restored.