Like much of our city’s public infrastructure, our transit system was devastated when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit New York. Riders fled the system in record numbers as the virus spread, ripping a hole in the MTA’s budget and leaving its future in doubt. Faced with a grim fiscal picture, transit officials floated the possibility of mass layoffs and draconian service cutbacks to ensure long-term solvency.
For the first time in its history, the 24 hours a day system that once ensured that New York City never slept, went dark in the early morning hours.
Fortunately, the future of our public transit system is now looking much brighter – thanks in part to a major infusion of cash from the federal government, robust evidence showing a low risk of transmission underground, and the recent announcement that subways would return to 24/7 service starting May 17th. But while ridership is on the rise, it remains stubbornly low — roughly 40 percent of pre-pandemic levels. And while it is understandable that our system has not rebounded totally as New Yorkers have not fully returned to work, the primary reason people are avoiding the system is not what many would expect.