Some Data on New York City Subway Ridership in the Covid-19 Crisis

The MTA has weekly data on ridership by train station, which it divides into fare data, i.e. data by what kind of fare it is (single-use, monthly, etc.), and turnstile data, i.e. data by what bank of turnstiles was used to enter the station. MTA chief communications officer Abbey Collins talked to me briefly when I was writing this New York Daily News op-ed, and told me that the turnstile data is less accurate, so I am using the fare data.

Here is the table I’m using, comparing ridership in mid-January and the fourth week of March. It’s not fully sanitized, so some stations appear twice, which reflects multiple major entrances, e.g. the Times Square and the Port Authority sides of a single complex with in-system transfers. The relevant column is column E, labeled ratio. The highest-ratio station is Alabama Avenue on the J/Z, which has kept 53.5% of its January ridership; the next proper subway station, Bay Parkway on the F, is just at 38.6%, and it goes down from there. Overall, the ratio is 14.1%.

The general pattern is that the Manhattan CBD stations got pummeled. Grand Central has kept 7.5% of its pre-crisis ridership, and the Times Square side of the Times Square-Port Authority complex has kept 7.2%. A couple of Midtown and Lower Manhattan stations, like Rockefeller Center, are at the 5% mark. Practically no non-CBD station is this low, but one notable exception is Bedford Avenue on the L, in the center of Williamsburg. A few additional notable areas are in the 8-10% area, including more stations in Williamsburg, stations in Downtown Brooklyn and South Brooklyn, most stations on Central Park West, and Columbia. It’s notable that Columbia is low even though it has a major hospital, but it’s even more of a university.

Despite the stereotype, much of the Upper West and East Sides are not in the single digits. The key express stations, like 86th on the 4/5/6 and 72nd and 96th on the 1/2/3, are around 13-14%. Harlem is much higher, especially the busiest Harlem stations, 125th Street on the A/B/C/D and on the 4/5/6, both express stops, which have maintained 19.5% and 27.2% of ridership, respectively. 168th Street on the 1/A/C in Washington Heights is at 23.8%.

In general, working-class and lower middle-class stations seem to have maintained the most ridership. Jamaica Center, a key bus connection point to much of Eastern Queens, is by far the busiest among the >30% stations, at 35.3%. Utica Avenue on the 3/4 in Crown Heights is at 28.7%, and 149th Street on the 4/5/6 in the South Bronx is at 29.2%. Bedford-Stuyvesant is all over the map – Nostrand Avenue on the A/C is at 17.5%, Utica Avenue on the A/C is at 21.7%, the two Flushing Avenue stations are at about 27%, the Broadway stations on the J/Z past Flushing are in the teens.

I give those descriptive statistics because it relates to the question of subway ridership and the Covid-19 crisis. The crisis has hit outer neighborhoods harder than inner ones and working-class neighborhoods harder than middle-class ones, but beyond that pattern there is not much correlation at the level of detail. Bed-Stuy and Central Harlem have low infection rates and have maintained much more of their subway ridership than the city average.

The patterns probably concern essential workers. There are essential workers in all social classes, but more in the working class – cleaners, transit workers, sanitation workers, nursing assistants. The middle class supplies doctors and registered nurses, but there are fewer of these on the list of essential workers than lower-income, lower-education workers. Thus, middle-class neighborhoods, like the Upper East and West Sides, Astoria, Williamsburg, Sunnyside, Forest Hills, and Bay Ridge have below-average ratios, that is they’ve kept less of their ridership than the rest of the city.

One final pattern, or rather non-pattern, is that I can’t really see the hospitals on the table. The stations on the 2/5 closest to the Kings County Hospital, Winthrop Street and Church Avenue, are at 22.4% and 22.8% respectively, not too different from the rest of the Nostrand Avenue Line. The two Flushing Avenue stations have similar ratios, even though one is on top of Woodnull Medical Center and the other isn’t. 96th and 103rd Streets on the 6, the closest to Mount Sinai, have similar ratios to 110th and 116th farther up in East Harlem.

13 comments

  1. Benjamin Turon

    I read Mr. Levy’s Daily News commentary and thought it was a very reasonable piece making a fair point. My opinion is that the most dangerous places for contracting COVID-19 (seemingly outside hospitals, nursing homes, and churches) are work places, from offices to factories to meat packing plants.

    From listening, watching, and reading the news, case after case of COVID-19 seems to involve people most likely getting infected at work. Many clusters are centered on work places. There is now a suspected cluster at a call center in Chicago that occurred in February, long before testing and fears of widespread infection. Everyone there fell sick with symptoms that match COVID-19 very well. People who are exposed longer, get higher dosages of the virus, seem more likely to get sick, and be sicker with COVID.

    This makes a lot of sense, that being exposed for lengthy amount of times to a coworker (who could be very well asymptomatic) makes more likely that you will be infected. This person can infect a broad group of people, who will then spread it at home, likely spreading it to other work places. Brea krooms and employee bathrooms would be high on my list of places where infection is the highest. The often stale and poorly circulating air of modern buildings, the lack of sunlight, makes things worse. NHK World, NY Times, and CBS News are running stories on this issue.

    Thus, if work places are the primary nodes of infection, then the transport to and from them — be it personnel car or public transit — matters not much. The NYC subway, it seems to be as dangerous for passengers as suburban Walmart is to shoppers.

      • Benjamin Turon

        Sorry, no offense. In fact its just the opposite, respect and politeness. Firs off, I’m a service worker, so guests are always to me “Mr, Ms, Sir, and Ma’am or Madame. I even employ this politeness when mentioning “Mr Trump”, following the style of the NY Times and WSJ. I’m also a Star Trek fan, and I have been working for some time on a naval theme scifi work that has involved a lot of research on naval culture and phraseology, including reading both the novel and play “Mister Roberts”.

        A non-gender version of “Mr” is a very interesting idea (especially for a scifi work)… So how about Levy-san? lol.. Stay safe.

        Japanese Honorific Titles: San, Sama, Kun and Chan
        https://cotoacademy.com/san-sama-kun-and-chan/

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, honorifics are gendered because they’re rooted in traditional hierarchies. There are nonbinary people who use Mx. as a substitute for Mr. and Ms., but I haven’t seen that usage leap outside extremely queer spaces the way singular-they has (and the way neopronouns like zie have not). There’s always Dr. if you really want a normal honorific…

          • keaswaran

            The New York Times started using “Mx” in 2015, but I haven’t found many instances of it in their pages since then.

          • Herbert

            Singular they must be older than the abandonment of “thou” in most dialects of English…

    • Herbert

      In one of the early German clusters they could trace an infection to the following scenario:

      Two workers sit back to back at lunch break. One of them turns around and asks the other for salt.

      Of course the viral dosis matters a lot, too. Apparently most severe cases in people outside the risk groups are linked to a high dosis directly into the lungs. If nothing else, masks might reduce the viral loads that occur during potentially infective situations…

      Another thing, apparently Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten used uncharacteristically harsh language in his most recent podcast to criticize the early opening. I too think that people like Laschet are playing with millions of human lives in hopes of minor economic gains…

      I’m not sure how much M. Levy wishes to comment on the German debate, but it’d be a good opportunity to criticize several aspects they like to criticize about European unwillingness to learn from Asia…

  2. Walter Daum

    Alon,Correction needed: Columbia U has a hospital but it’s not at 116 St. It’s at 168 St.

      • michaelrjames

        That is on the main campus of Columbia U at 116th but it’s only a small branch of their hospital system (NY Presbyterian Hospital) whose main site (and CU medical school) is at the 168th street Washington Heights site which is vast and one of the biggest & best hospitals in the US. I’m usually heading there when in NY because a friend is a prof there and has an apartment in CU’s housing just a few blocks upriver.

        • SCC

          The hospital on 116th is St Luke’s/Mount Sinai Morningside. It’s a community hospital that has been further downsized in recent years since it was acquired by the Mount Sinai health system.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if hospitals aren’t showing up in the data. Elective visits to hospitals have been postponed, so these patients aren’t riding the subway. People who would be visiting patients in the hospital also aren’t riding the subway now that they can’t visit. COVID-19 patients, of course, are generally showing up at the hospital by ambulance or by foot and not riding the subway. Doctors and nurses tend to either live in the neighborhood or drive in due to parking garages that many of the largest hospitals provide; those who do normally take the subway are pulling more shifts and commuting to/from the hospitals less, and may also have shifted their transportation mode so that they don’t inadvertently infect other people riding the subway. Hospital workers who work 9-5 jobs at the hospitals are likely office admins who are either non-essential staff and/or have shifted to work from home. Hospitals, even though they are some of the few trip generators still functioning, aren’t likely to draw more people than usual during the current time period, and have pandemic reasons to reduce their transit generation even further during the current time period.

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