Home New York City Transit The Way We Ride: By the Numbers

The Way We Ride: By the Numbers

by Benjamin Kabak

When the MTA releases their annual breakdown of subway ridership by station, I tend to spend far too much time playing with these numbers. The new figures came out yesterday and are available here on the MTA’s website and here as a sortable Excel file. It is the stuff of what data dreams are made of.

We begin with the system’s most popular stations, and we see a newcomer in our midst. With construction impacting Fulton St., it slips to 11, and a Queens station — the Flushing-Main St. terminal along the 7 — enters the top ten. Considering how only one train services Flushing, that it cracks the top ten speaks volumes of that area’s growth. As good as the soup dumplings are, I don’t think 18.6 million folks are heading home from Joe’s Shanghai.

  2009 2010 Change
Times Sq-42 St/42 St 58099313 58422597 0.60%
Grand Central-42 St 42002971 41903210 -0.20%
34 St-Herald Square 36945680 37769752 2.20%
14 St-Union Sq 34245245 34730692 1.40%
34 St-Penn Station 27196195 26892243 -1.10%
34 St-Penn Station 24182097 24265016 0.30%
59 St-Columbus Circle 20418815 20711058 1.40%
Lexington Av/59 St 18924005 19553597 3.30%
86 St 18891890 19147021 1.40%
Flushing-Main St 18287069 18630490 1.90%

The least popular stations too don’t often change that much. More people pass through Times Square in a day than visit the Aqueduct Racetrack all year, and the stations in the Rockaways don’t see much traffic in good times. That many were closed for renovations last year depresses ridership even further. Whitlock Ave. and East 143rd Sts. crack the list because they too were shuttered for renovations for much of 2010.

Not listed here is 21st St. on the G train. It wasn’t closed for construction last year and was just the 11th least used station in all four boroughs. Fewer than 320,000 straphangers passed through the station that is clearly visible from the G’s northern terminus at Court Square.

  2009 2010 Change
Aqueduct Racetrack 27004 29644 9.80%
Beach 105 St 58588 65802 12.30%
Broad Channel 93087 92523 -0.60%
Beach 44 St 176647 143788 -18.60%
Whitlock Av 480146 163461 -66.00%
Beach 98 St 259501 215474 -17.00%
Aqueduct-North Conduit Av 249341 238119 -4.50%
East 143 St 239458 256277 7.00%
Rockaway Park-Beach116 St 267902 268625 0.30%
21 St 333612 319984 -4.10%

While pure numbers validate our belief that one station is crowded while another is less so, the percentages are more interesting to explore. Has one station become more popular than another? If so, why? By and large, the ones listed in the top 10 became more popular because those nearby were closed. That’s why a bunch of stations along the 6 in the Bronx, the A in the Rockaways and the Brighton Line in Brooklyn saw big increases in ridership last year.

Only one station along the L line — Morgan Ave. with 20 percent growth — made the top ten cut, but the rest of the L train stations throughout Williamsburg and east into Bushwick showed strong across-the-board growth. Michael Grynbaum speculated that gentrification is the cause of the uptick in ridership. Bedford Ave. is now the 46th most popular station around. Of note too was the West 8th St./New York Aquarium stop which saw an increase in straphangers of over 11 percent.

  2009 2010 Change
Elder Av 2050983 2864031 39.6%
Roosevelt Island 1875228 2580003 37.6%
St Lawrence Av 1284770 1655340 28.8%
Beach 36 St 263693 326592 23.9%
Lexington Av-63 St 3989743 4889704 22.6%
Beverley Rd 889066 1070872 20.4%
Morgan Av 1684084 2021162 20.0%
Parkside Av 1777758 2050518 15.3%
Castle Hill Av 2036025 2345255 15.2%
Dyckman St 1681370 1931287 14.9%

And finally, we arrive at the losers. Below are the top ten stations that saw major declines in ridership. For this chart, I omitted most of the shuttered stations along the 6 and A because the declines were drastic. Whitlock Ave. was closed for most of 2010, and it saw ridership drop by 66 percent. If the turnstiles aren’t on and the trains aren’t stopping, it’s going to be hard for passengers to find their ways on board.

The remaining declines paint an interesting picture of a train in trouble. Many of the G train stations are bleeding passengers, and it’s hard to explain why. Broadway, for instance, saw a 10 percent dip in ridership. Maybe more straphangers who would have ridden the G to Court Square to transfer to the E simply find it convenient to take the M into Midtown. Myrtle-Willoughby and Nassau Ave. too though are losing passengers at a brisk rate.

Other stations can trace their declining numbers to the service cuts. With M trains no longer heading throughLower Manhattan and along 4th Ave. in Brooklyn, Broad St. saw its ridership decline. I do wonder why the JFK stop at Howard Beach saw a seven percent dip in traffic as well.

  2009 2010 Change
Broadway 1047629 941243 -10.2%
East 180 St 2049824 1852836 -9.6%
Myrtle-Willoughby Avs 1346184 1223378 -9.1%
Broad St 1795906 1636627 -8.9%
Nassau Av 2321809 2126804 -8.4%
215 St 635361 582955 -8.2%
Rector St 2662135 2463933 -7.4%
Dyckman St 2406407 2237661 -7.0%
Howard Beach-JFK Airport 976481 908576 -7.0%
Church Av 4966209 4654613 -6.3%

Anyway, that’s your peek at the way we rode in 2010. Make of it as you will. It’s certainly one way to analyze the ever-changing demographics of New York City.

You may also like


Eric June 8, 2011 - 10:06 am

The G statistics, especially for the Greenpoint stops, are very puzzling.

Looking at the numbers, both Greenpoint Ave and Nassau Ave show a significant drop, whereas Vernon-Jackson on the 7 shows a healthy increase. Anecdotally, I have to conclude that more Greenpoint residents are choosing to ride the B62 to Vernon-Jackson rather than the G to Court Square.

It will be interesting to see the numbers for 2011 now that the Court Square transfer is finally open.

AlexB June 8, 2011 - 10:16 am

Yes, the difference in ridership numbers for the 7 at Court Sq between 2010 and 2011 will basically give us the number of people who transfer from the G. Perhaps riders did switch to the B62 because of the difficulty of transferring at Court Sq during construction.

Eric June 8, 2011 - 10:37 am

The only problem with that is that those transfers will no longer be captured in the numbers since riders no longer need to pass through the turnstiles to transfer.

AlexB June 8, 2011 - 6:11 pm

That’s what I am saying. You can subtract the ridership of 2011 from that of 2010 and that should equal the number of people who transfer from the G to the 7, roughly.

Christopher June 8, 2011 - 1:47 pm

The G is just so unliked by everyone. Especially Greenpoint people. I wonder how many people prefer biking to the WIlliamsburg to pick up a train there?

Eric June 9, 2011 - 1:37 pm

I like the G 🙁

ferryboi June 8, 2011 - 10:06 am

I have ZERO confidence in any numbers the MTA provides, especially since transfers within stations are not reflected, just turnstile swipes. Nor do these numbers take into account turnstile hoppers, children ducking under the turnstiles, and other “free” rides for a plethora of cops, firemen and other gov’t workers.

Ron June 8, 2011 - 10:40 am

Ok, I guess they shouldn’t provide us with any numbers they have. They don’t claim to be perfect, but it’s the data they have available. If you want them to start counting transfers, you better be ready to swipe to leave the and enter each individual platform.

Bolwerk June 8, 2011 - 11:39 am

There’s no reason to have no confidence in the data. You appear to have nothing but reason to have confidence in it, since you seem to know its limitations. The time to have no confidence is when you don’t know its limitations.

ferryboi June 8, 2011 - 11:59 am

Ah, OK.

Alon Levy June 8, 2011 - 7:30 pm

Free rides for cops, MTA employees, etc. count. If it swipes a turnstile, it counts.

AlexB June 8, 2011 - 10:13 am

Certainly Flushing is very busy because of all the commerce and housing around that stop; but more importantly, it is the main transfer point for all buses that serve northeast Queens. Almost none of these buses continue past the Flushing terminal and the whole system is designed to dump all these people onto or from the morning and evening express trains.

It will be interesting to see how ridership jumps at the Fulton Station after the work there is complete and other stations like Cortlandt on the R and World Trade Center/Chambers on the ACE are connected to it (and added to its ridership numbers). By the same token, it’s interesting to compare Times Square to Penn Station. Times Square is the most used station because all those lines are part of its ridership. If you added all the Penn Stations and Herald Square together, it would be busier than Times Square.

Phil June 8, 2011 - 9:44 pm

It used to be that if you added the two Penn Station stops together, it was greater than Times Square. I wonder why the 7th Avenue ridership went down but the 8th went up. That and I don’t particularly think that the construction at Fulton is really turning people away. I’d say that it’s just a natural decline due to lower economic circumstance. However, the rerouted M is also bringing people up rather than down, and while transfers wouldn’t be counted, that might be a factor in where people are going for jobs now that they don’t have to go Downtown to go Uptown.

Jared L June 8, 2011 - 10:28 am

I would postulate the increase at Roosevelt Island and 63rd and Lex may be due to the tram being closed for renovations.

On another note, it would be interesting to see top/bottom 10 stations EXCLUDING those that were closed for renovations.

pete June 8, 2011 - 4:51 pm

Roosevelt Islands has been getting condos during the Housing Bubble. Maybe they are starting to be sold finally and be occupied by mortal humans rather than banks?

Patrick June 8, 2011 - 10:42 am

I found it interesting to factor for the capacity of the station by adding a column to the spread sheet reflecting the number of tracks that have a stop at the station. Then divide the number of riders by the number of tracks. For example Times Square has twelve tracks (four on the Broadway, Four on the Seventh Ave, two on the Flushing and two on the shuttle) and thus falls way down the list when factoring in the capacity of the station. The local stops on the Lexington line move way up because they only have two tracks with a stop. You only have to add the track numbers for the top 20 or 30 to see the results. Try it, you’ll like it.

SomeGuy32 June 8, 2011 - 11:17 am

you forgot another 4 for the 8th ave trains (and the shuttle has 3 tracks, not 2 – but they’re short….)

AlexB June 8, 2011 - 6:18 pm

But how many tracks does the shuttle use? 1 or 2?

Matthew June 8, 2011 - 8:18 pm

The shuttle uses all three tracks during rush hours, two during most of the rest of the time and one at the beginning and end of service each day.

Brewster June 8, 2011 - 11:09 am

“I do wonder why the JFK stop at Howard Beach saw a seven percent dip in traffic as well.”

At a guess, because the JFK AirTrain makes it easier to get to JFK from other stops, e.g. the E/LIRR at Jamaica?

Benjamin Kabak June 8, 2011 - 11:10 am

That’s not a new development though. For as long as the AirTrain has been running, it’s made station stops at both Howard Beach and Jamaica.

SEAN June 8, 2011 - 11:31 am

True, but the A to JFK takes well in excess of an hour from Midtown The E on the other hand takes less than half the time & the connections to & from the E are better the A.

Benjamin Kabak June 8, 2011 - 11:47 am

Again, the E has always been option. Your reasoning should explain why the E is a more popular AirTrain destination from Midtown than the A, but not why the A saw such a big drop-off last year.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) June 8, 2011 - 12:37 pm

Perhaps marketing abroad has advertised “AirTrain to Jamaica for (E) service to Midtown Manhattan!”

Or perhaps people are slowly realizing that the Jamaica hub is a smoother and faster transfer between the AirTrain and services to Manhattan.

Besides, who wants to end up in Howard Beach after getting off a plane anyway…?

Anyway, endless speculation to say the least.

AlexB June 8, 2011 - 6:21 pm

Did the number of flights in/out of JFK change much in the last year? If so, the Jamaica station numbers would not have been as affected because that station is used for so much more than just getting to JFK.

pete June 8, 2011 - 4:58 pm

The A is a long, rougher, train through high crime Brooklyn areas rather than LIRR or the E. The JFK Express and moribund Rockaway Ferry, and Q53 Limited but not Express (saves $) all were created so East Rockaway/Woodhaven/Ozone Park/Howard Beach people don’t have to take the A or J to Manhattan. Its obvious which routes to the JFK Airtrain will be more popular. Racism is subtle in NYC.

ajedrez June 8, 2011 - 10:55 pm

Don’t forget the QM15 and (now) the BM5 that serves those areas as well.

ajedrez June 10, 2011 - 11:10 am

By the way, is the Q11 the only bus that directly serves the Howard Beach station?

Geoff June 8, 2011 - 11:24 am

I reckon that the drop in ridership at the Howard Beach/JFK stop is due to how airport customers choose to get to Manhattan.

For a good segment of Manhattan, the A and E trains offer a travel time from JFK that is essentially the same. But, the A train comes much less frequently than the E and from personal experience the majority of the clientele on the E train are far superior to those on the A.

Unless I’m coming from Brooklyn, I will choose the E over the A any day.

SEAN June 8, 2011 - 11:46 am

A trains take 70 minutes from Midtown & the E takes about 35 minutes to reach the AIRTRAIN. Once in Queens, the E makes only a handfull of stops & makes good time. The A needs to traverse Brooklyn even before reaching Howard Beach.

Even as a local in Manhattan, the E tends to be a fast mover while A trains tend to drag on even as an express along Fulton Street.

Bgriff June 8, 2011 - 12:08 pm

I second the idea that Howard Beach Airtrain service is losing to Jamaica. There are all sorts of reasons this could be hitting 7 years after the Airtrain opened–for a long time after the Airtrain opened, for example, lots of tourist guidebooks had wildly misguided or outdated information about the service, often mangled with info about the now defunct shuttle bus from Howard Beach. Also, the majority of Airtrain users are airport and airline employees, who were used to thinking of the Rockaways and other Howard Beach-convenient areas as the ideal place to live to get to the airport–perhaps they’ve started to move to areas more focused on Jamaica, a transition that could take a while. The closed stations in the Rockaways may also have led some of them to drive to the airport or take other means besides the Howard Beach station.

Ian June 8, 2011 - 1:57 pm

Thanks for posting Ben. Looking at the difference in ridership between 2007 and 2010, much of the ridership bump for Morgan Av, Roosevelt Island occured in the past year. Other big gainers that are not a product of station closures:

– York St (F – Dumbo) with steady ridership increases each year.
– Bay Parkway (D – Bensonhurst) with gains from ’07-’09 and steady ridership in ’10 despite no longer being a terminus for the M.
– Montrose Ave and Jefferson St (L – Bushwick) stop before and after Morgan Ave show similar trends.
– Vernon Blvd/Jackson Av (7 – LIC) substantial jump from ’07-’08.
– Gun Hill Rd (2/5 – Williamsbrige) steady growth each year.

Stations losing riders (again excluding those closed at any point for maintenance).
– Hunter’s Point Ave (7 – LIC) – significant ridership loss from ’08 to ’09, little recovery
– Hoyt St (2/3 – downtown Brooklyn) – steady ridership loss
– Broad St (J/M – FiDi)
– City Hall (R – FiDi) – lost the W in 2010
– Nassau Av (G – Wburg) – steady ridership loss
– 191 St (1 – Inwood) – steady ridership loss

Interesting trends, with ridership growth in gentrifying/gentrified outer-borugh hoods, and less ridership in a few spots as well as CBD-based stations, and Hunter’s Point, which provides alternative access to some LIRR trains.

It would be interesting to also compare 2010 ridership with 2005 (pre-recession, strong economic year).

Among top stations, Lexington Av/53rd St was #7 in 2007, #12 now.

Eric June 8, 2011 - 2:08 pm

Nassau Ave on the G has not had steady ridership loss since 2007. It dropped a little in 2009 (most likely due to the recession) and in 2010 it dropped quite a bit–again, I’d guess that has to do with the ongoing transfer construction at Court Sq.

Steve June 8, 2011 - 2:24 pm

I know this will never, ever happen, but I can’t help thinking that a branch from the G to a new subway under 23rd in Manhattan would do wonders for otherwise disconnected neighborhoods along the G and add cross-town service in a part of Manhattan that needs it.

Bolwerk June 8, 2011 - 2:26 pm

Other stations can trace their declining numbers to the service cuts. With M trains no longer heading throughLower Manhattan and along 4th Ave. in Brooklyn, Broad St. saw its ridership decline.

There could be something else going on here. The R from City Hall dropped too. You would expect that to increase from the M Train reroute. OTOH, Cortlandt Street partly reopened on the R, so that might be absorbing much of the former M ridership in the southbound direction.

BTW, is any one else finding it increasingly difficult to post comments? Half the times I click “Submit” I get a timeout.

Christopher June 8, 2011 - 3:54 pm

Continued office decline in the Financial District?

The neighborhood — where I work and where many nonprofits are based now — is becoming a 24 hour neighborhood with new residents but in large part the low rent for nonprofits and the re-imagining of older office spaces as housing are related.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it is something that is happening. (A large stock of older buildings benefits uses outside of top paying levels — in other words places for nonprofits, startups, etc.)

Walter June 8, 2011 - 4:17 pm

Funny that Yankee Stadium posted a small increase in riders; I would have expected it to fall with the popularity of Metro-North’s game-day service to 153rd Street (2010 was it’s first full year) from the Harlem and New Haven Lines and the shuttles between 153rd and GCT. Not only that, but the Yankees aren’t drawing close to what they were in the larger Yankee Stadium, and ridership is up huge from 2007.

Either Hudson Line commuters are beginning to buy monthlies to 153rd and taking the 4 to Midtown in lieu of paying to GCT (much like Marble Hill), or fans from Jersey and Long Island really are staying away from the wastes-of-city-dollars parking garages in droves and are taking the D up.

Ian June 9, 2011 - 11:10 am

Gas and parking vs. cost of trains and subways.

Ian June 9, 2011 - 11:14 am

Also, ridership to Willet’s Point has been consistent (bump in 2008 for Shea Stadium’s final year, despite lower attendance since Citi Field opened. More evidence that fans are becoming more likely to take the train to the game instead of driving.


Leave a Comment