New York City’s transit system has weathered deadly crashes, fires, strikes, hurricanes and terror attacks — but COVID-19 poses its greatest threat yet.
The numbers are startling. Over a two-week period in late March, subway ridership plummeted to fewer than 500,000, from 5.5 million people on an average workday. Commuter-rail and bus ridership collapsed as well. Even now, after a summer of careful reopening, weekday ridership remains low. Subway ridership is now nearly three-quarters below normal.
In response, the MTA’s immediate task is both operational and psychological — and the stakes are high. It must provide reliable service to the riders who need transit now and demonstrate to everyone watching that it can do so without exacerbating viral outbreaks. Its ability to pull this off bears relevance for everything from Broadway theaters to nightclubs to group-fitness classes. Subways and buses, in other words, are the first real test of whether Gothamites can crowd safely into the other vital indoor spaces.
The hurdles are daunting. At least 131 transit workers have died from the coronavirus, translating into a death rate (351 per 100,000) far higher than the city average (270 per 100,000). These numbers lend validity to the perception that mass transit is risky.
The good news, though: Since ridership has increased over the past two months, COVID-19 cases have gone down.
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