Will Lagging Ridership Cloud the Future of Public Transit?

By Mihir Zaveri

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It’s Monday.

Weather: Mostly sunny, with a high in the low 60s.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Sunday (Passover).

The $6 billion included in President Biden’s stimulus plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was undeniably good news for New York City’s struggling transit agency, which operates the subway, buses and two commuter rail lines.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that the aid alone will not be enough to counter the blow delivered by the pandemic.

Almost 40 percent of the M.T.A.’s operating revenue comes from fares. Ridership is up to only about a third of its usual levels, and it could take years to recover to something close to prepandemic levels.

With likely long-term changes in office patterns and more remote work, public transit in New York might never look the same.

[“Commuter culture is going to change,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group.]

The hit

Before the pandemic, New York’s subways were the city’s most popular mode of transit, with nearly 1.7 billion turnstile swipes in 2019. But in March 2020, ridership fell 90 percent, with the biggest drops typically taking place in higher-income neighborhoods.

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