Home New York City Transit The day nearly six million people rode the subways

The day nearly six million people rode the subways

by Benjamin Kabak

Due to a variety of circumstances yesterday, I had the opportunity to take five subway rides at various hours of the day. My peak-hour trains were packed to the gills, but I also rode an uptown A train in the early afternoon and another uptown E train 90 minutes later that were both tight on space. Everyone, it seemed, was on the subway.

Yet, November 20 paled in comparison with October 24, for that day, according to The Times, was the busiest since the MTA started keeping records in 1985. As Matt Flegenheimer reports, the MTA has determined that 5,985,311 people used the subway that day, a record high in MTA history. It was a perfect storm for record high ridership:

The feat was consistent with a pair of little-publicized trends: Ridership tends to peak on Thursdays, transit officials said, and the last two Octobers are responsible for the five busiest subway days on record — three Thursdays and two Fridays. Before the new high, the record was 5,938,726, set on Oct. 11, 2012.

“October is a month where you have school in session for a majority of the days,” said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the authority, adding that Columbus Day was the only major holiday. “It’s also a month when a vast majority of the working public is at work.”

Thursdays, meanwhile, combine the high peak-period ridership of a midweek morning with an after-work slate of happy hours and late nights out, Mr. Ortiz said. Ridership on Thursdays in 2012 was 2.4 percent higher than the average weekday figure, the authority said. Wednesday was second busiest, Tuesday was third, and Friday — when high late-night numbers are often offset by sleepier rush hours — outpaced only Monday, the typical coda to a long weekend.

If the subways seem crowded, I’ve often said, that’s because they are. It’s hard to read too much into this trend other than as a clear indication that people are using mass transit, but it’s also easy to draw a lesson from increasing ridership. Investment in transit continues to be an important piece of the New York City puzzle. The MTA’s next five-year capital plan is going to be a huge ask, and it needs to come through.

Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is taking the reins of a city where, on one weekday shortly before Election Day, subway ridership was nearly three-quarters of the entire population of the city. That’s one very large constituency that deserves more than it’s getting.

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20 comments

Alon Levy November 20, 2013 - 11:46 pm

“Busiest since 1985” seems strange. In 1985, ridership was two thirds what it is today. How come the strongest day of 1985 had so much ridership? What happened then?

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Benjamin Kabak November 20, 2013 - 11:50 pm

I’ve clarified the reference.

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BruceNY November 21, 2013 - 11:22 am

I thought the all time busiest day was around 1945–was that number beaten in 1985, during the worst days of the subway? Or are we only talking about since the advent of the MTA as the controlling agency (ca. 1970 onwards)

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nycpat November 21, 2013 - 11:56 am

I thought so too. 8,000,000 on black friday 1946. Of course there were more els then.

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anon_coward November 21, 2013 - 8:38 am

gas prices fell and car ownership increased
people probably started driving more

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Patrick @ The LIRR Today November 20, 2013 - 11:51 pm

Just for giggles and grins, the MTA has much of it’s turnstile data publicly available online for all weeks dating back to May 2010. The data is meant for developers, so it’s jumbled up into some .xml computer language thing. Personally, I can’t make any sense of it, but those of you who are good at that computer stuff you might be able to get something out of it.

Here’s the link: http://www.mta.info/developers/turnstile.html

~Patrick

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Boerumhillscott November 21, 2013 - 8:11 am

I’ve put a lot of the schedule and fare data in formats easier to read and play with, although I have not updated in a few weeks.

http://boerumhillscott.com/transit/index.php

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Josh November 21, 2013 - 12:00 am

Patrick – interesting stuff ! I’ll shoot you a note via your blog about decoding it.

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Alain November 21, 2013 - 3:09 am

That’s one very large constituency that deserves more than it’s getting.

I wonder how many of those 5 million plus statistics are out-of-towners or double/triple/quadruple/multiple entries (the number of riders almost never corresponds to the number of unique individuals).

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David Brown November 21, 2013 - 6:31 am

The problem with Transit are itis easy to spot failures and not praise successes and it is not
really appreciated by the masses who rely on it. People love to talk about ” Affordable Housing” but who talks about ” Affordable and Reliable Transportation”? Without that, where do the jobs and people go? Straight out of New York that is where.
From a more personal perspective, I will miss the Subway. Except when I lived on Long Island and had the car, I always relied on Transit, and by and large it came through for me. I never appreciated it until I walked home after Sandy from 22nd Street and Second Avenue back home to Grand Street in the dark. It might be the only time since I was a kid, that I was really afraid( (particularly walking on 11th Street where there was zero light). My time here is ending ( God willing I will be in Arizona on the 16th of December), but I hope that people no matter their political perspective, start to realize that millions rely on transit, and we better not take that for granted, because as Sandy proved, without it we are all in trouble.

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Subutay Musluoglu November 21, 2013 - 8:34 am

I’m a little confused – the article states that the MTA has been keeping these records since 1985. However I recall previously reading references to the busiest day in the subways as being a day in late December 1946, a few days before Christmas, with a daily total of over 8 Million. I would have to dig around a bit to find this, but maybe someone can confirm?

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John November 21, 2013 - 9:14 am

You’re right: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12......html?_r=0

That was back in the perfect storm of nickel fares, the els, population starting to boom, and just before the car boom.

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Brandon November 21, 2013 - 9:22 am

Its kinda apples to apples there because that includes a lot of elevated lines that dont exist anymore.

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tacony November 21, 2013 - 9:59 am

But you can see the ridership for each line/station in, for instance, this: http://diametunim.com/shashi/nyc_subways/

So I’d think you could easily create a fair comparison to show that there was more ridership per station/line in the 1940s than there is today.

They city also had a lower population in the 40s than it does today, making today’s claim even less impressive.

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Alon Levy November 21, 2013 - 3:47 pm

Barely lower. The population today is about 8.4 million and the population in 1945, taking the midpoint of 1940 and 1950, was 7.7 million.

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BruceNY November 21, 2013 - 8:45 pm

And let us not forget that the population nosedived starting in 1970 until the mid-80’s. I think it’s lowpoint was 7.1 or 7.2 million. That’s why the 1985 “high” figure seems that much more peculiar.

Bolwerk November 21, 2013 - 11:05 pm

We can probably assume a significant undercounting through that whole period.

Edward November 21, 2013 - 8:38 am

Isn’t the number 5,985,311? The 5,938,726 is the number from 2012.

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Bolwerk November 21, 2013 - 11:16 am

I can’t find my copy of this book, but I seem to remember it citing a 1940s record of upward of 7 million rides in one day.

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Sarah November 21, 2013 - 5:45 pm

It’s because my mom and her best friend were in town, and I dragged them all over the place.

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