I’ve used this line before, but here we go: If the subways seem more crowded than ever, that’s because they are. Transit released its final 2014 ridership figures on Monday, and the increase in ridership hasn’t slowed. Overall, ridership jumped by 2.6 percent over 2013, and 1.751 billion people rode the subways, a level not seen in 65 years. It’s amazing then that politicians like to act as though the subways don’t exist — or should be used only as a prop — when they power New York City.
On a daily basis, the crush is obvious. The subways average 5.6 million riders per weekday and around 6 million on Saturday and Sunday combined. Ridership is up by nearly 500,000 people per day since the depths of the recession in 2009 and by over 2 million riders per day over the past 30 years. That’s insane growth considering the system hasn’t added any significant new service since then.
“The renaissance of the New York City subway is a miracle for those who remember the decrepit system of the 1970s and the 1980s, but moving more than 6 million customers a day means even minor disruptions now can create major delays,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement accompanying the ridership figures. “We are aggressively working to combat delays and improve maintenance, but the ultimate solution requires investing in infrastructure upgrades such as Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) signaling systems to accommodate every one of our growing number of customers.”
On a granular level, the change in ridership mirrors long-standing patterns. Areas with massive population growth and development — Long Island City, Williamsburg, Bushwick — have driven ridership gains on nearby subway lines. Overall, Brooklyn led the charge with an increase of 31,000 riders per day while Manhattan entrances jumped by 2.5%, Bronx by 2.1% and Queens by 1.9%. Every single L train station saw ridership gains with Bushwick stations seeing double-digit percentage growth. The MTA attributed the jump, in part, to the CBTC installation which has allowed for more frequent service.
Meanwhile, the M line — rerouted in 2010 to cover for the dearly departed V train — saw ridership jump by around six percent at stations between Marcy and Metropolitan Avenues. The M in fact has led to a growth in ridership by nearly 25 percent throughout its corridor though it’s tough to separate that jump from the overall ridership increase brought on by an improving economy. Meanwhile, ridership in Long Island City grew by 12 percent as well, and the 7 line will see more new riders when the extension to Hudson Yards finally opens sometime ever. In the Bronx, the 2 and 5 led the way with 3.7 percent growth, and in Manhattan, the 2 and 3 set the pace with similar numbers.
Meanwhile, indirectly through Prendergast’s statement and directly from the mouth’s of the city’s transit advocates, the ridership numbers gave those fighting for dollars another platform to call for funding. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign:
The New York City subway system is one of the region’s most valuable assets, but with the delays and crowds that characterize the commutes of millions of daily riders, it is easy to underappreciate. Today’s news that subway ridership increased by 2.6 percent in 2014 is both a significant milestone celebrating the progress and popularity of the system over the decades, but potentially a harbinger of bad news if more investment is not made in the system.
The plan that outlines such investments, the 2015-2019 MTA capital program, has a $14 billion gap. The improvements that reduce delays and crowds are on the chopping block as a result.
As legislators return to session in Albany this week, addressing this gap must be one of their top priorities. This plan outlines the train, track, signal, technology, bus, and station projects that will mitigate delays, crowds and deteriorating service across the entire MTA system.
The New York Ci†y’s subways are giving us a degree of mobility unparalleled in America, with access to jobs, family and what makes New York City so appealing. So whether it’s a hipster going clubbing along the L line or tourists from Texas trying a new budget hotel in Queens, we welcome you – and demand that transit officials take action to make our commuting lives bearable.
The Riders Alliance:
People are taking the subway at levels we haven’t seen for generations. Our elected officials should be falling over each other to invest in better subway and bus service, to serve the eight million people who take the subway and bus every day. Instead, there’s a debate about whether to invest even the basic funds required to prevent the subways from deteriorating further. New Yorkers are voting with their Metrocards and relying on public transit more each year. It’s time for Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers to listen to the crowd and increase transit funding to match riders’ needs. If they don’t, riders are in for a future of more delays, dangerous crowding and higher fares. With more people than ever relying on public transit, that shouldn’t be Governor Cuomo’s vision for public transit in New York.
As voters do indeed vote with their Metrocards, is anyone listening? Even as alternatives bloom — CitiBike, Uber, Lyft — six million people per day can’t really be wrong.