If the subways seem more crowded that usual lately, it’s not an illusion spurred on by sluggish trains and grumpy commuters. According to the numbers released by New York City Transit, subway ridership is on the climb yet again, and the figures could reach near-record levels by the end of 2008.
The MTA this week announced the final tally of subway and bus riders through February. The subways have seen over 256.5 million riders this year while 118.5 million have ridden the city’s buses. Last year through February, 240.2 million swiped their MetroCards through subway turnstiles while 114.9 dipped their way onto buses.
If the subways maintain this six percent growth rate throughout 2008, we could see upwards of 1.66 billion subway riders this year. This total would be a new record in the MTA era and just 300 million off the all-time peak subway ridership figures.
The make or break moment will come next month when the MTA releases the March 2008 ridership figures. Then, we’ll see what — if any — effect the most recent fare hike had on ridership figures. In March 2007, 135 million people rode the New York City subways, and I believe even more rode the trains this March despite an early March hike. But will that number increase again by another six percent?
Internally, New York City Transit and the MTA don’t anticipate a decline in ridership, and they say that an increase is overwhelmingly likely. The average fare, after all, didn’t increase too much beyond the February 2008 levels of $1.29 per subway ride per customer. No matter how you slice or dice the fare hike, it’s still significantly cheaper and way more convenient to pay $81 for a monthly Unlimited Ride MetroCard than it is to pay $45 every five days to fill up at the pump. So the numbers will go up, but the rise might not be as drastic as it was from February 2007 to February 2008.
Meanwhile, while the increased ridership figures means more bucks for the MTA’s coffers, the demands of 1.6 billion people on the system will soon become a bit overwhelming. The shortcomings of under-served lines will grow more evident; the crowds on the packed lines will grow worse. Soon, we’ll need a tit-for-tat from the MTA. More people will ride the trains, but we also need more service to meet that demand. From where will the funds for that service — a vital necessity for the economic health of New York — come?
Photo above of a crowded 7 train by flickr user scottpowerz.