In the face of growing coronavirus concerns, many New Yorkers are avoiding public transportation and heeding advice to walk or bike whenever possible. As the Daily News reported, ridership on Wednesday was down nearly 20 percent on subways and 15 percent on buses compared to March 2019. A similar comparison on Thursday morning showed Metro-North ridership was down by 48 percent and Long Island Rail Road ridership down 31 percent. According to the New York Times, the number of cyclists crossing the East River bridges has doubled since the beginning of March and Citi Bike has seen a 70 percent increase in trips so far this month.
With rider fares and driver tolls (vehicle traffic on MTA bridges and tunnels was down 7 percent on Wednesday) making up roughly half of the MTA’s already-stretched-thin budget, concerns over the long-term impact of declining ridership are rising. The interim president of New York City Transit, Sarah Feinberg, noted the “slight downturn” on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” Thursday evening but emphasized that so far “we’re not seeing anything particularly dramatic.”
When asked how a drawn-out, months-long coronavirus crisis would impact the MTA budget and “big-ticket items” like accessibility initiatives, Feinberg said, “I haven’t seen any impacts like that yet. I wouldn’t rule them out. But, you know, we’re sort of at the beginning of this. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m not seeing it right now.”
Restrictions on large gatherings and the closure of venues throughout the city will likely lead to further declines in ridership, and if those numbers dip enough it may lead the agency to reduce service, though officials say that hasn’t been considered yet. “We expect those declines to continue as mass gatherings are barred and major companies and universities move to telecommuting,” MTA spokeswoman Abbey Collins said in a statement. “We continue to run regular service.”
The Daily News pointed out another threat to subway service: the looming threat of a NYC Transit employee getting sick. “Let’s say somebody works the F line out of Jamaica on a train and they get sick and it’s confirmed that person has the virus. Everybody else who works on that line and came into contact with them is going to have to be quarantined,” Eric Voegel, vice president of rail transit operations at Transport Workers Union Local 100, said. “If it continues at this rate we could see shutdowns of subway service.”