Sunday, April 18, 2021

The only thing that can save the subway: passengers

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As the coronavirus took over New York City at the beginning of last year, subway station Adrienne Crespo saw the crowd on the platforms slowly subside. One afternoon, he stopped at West Fourth Street-Washington Square station – typically one of the busiest in its line – and saw only two people boarding. “When I didn’t see anyone during rush hour, I understood. It was really scary. I thought, ‘Wow, this is bad. This is very, very bad,” said Crespo, 49.

A year ago, covid-19 removed almost all passengers from the subway, spread to thousands of workers in the sector in Nova York and plunged North America’s largest public transport agency into its worst financial emergency ever.

Today, passenger numbers have risen again to about a third of their usual levels, from a record low of seven percent from late March to late June. Billion-dollar federal aid has kept the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) afloat. And the agency, which operates the subway, buses and two railway lines, received another $ 6 billion from President Joe Biden’s rescue plan.

But the long-term survival of the MTA depends on the return of passengers and their fares, which make up their largest source of financing. Nearly 40 percent of the agency’s operating revenue comes from tickets, a percentage higher than that of almost any other major US transit system.

Now, as the city’s mass vaccination campaign reaches more people and urban life slowly recovers, public transport officials face a worrying reality: a growing consensus that passenger numbers may not fully return to their pre-levels pandemic, and that the agency will have to remodel and reduce the service to reflect the new travel patterns.

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