The MTA released theirs very quietly last month 2019 passenger numbersand last year was a good year for the subways. After three years of declining driver numbers, the annual subway driver number reached 1,697,787,002, a jump of almost 18 million or a hair over 1 percent above the total of 2018. Normally, the MTA celebrated higher passenger numbers and higher ticket revenue, but there things the way they are now, the publication of these numbers was restrained.
Ultimately, the L-train work that reduced the frequency of weekend service along the 14th St. corridor probably cost the MTA a shot at 1.7 billion passengers, and if fare evasion was really as widespread as the MTA claims it was the subways last year maybe it was more crowded than ever. I’m not quite sure if it passes the smell test, but I digress. All in all, 2019 was a positive step forward for the MTA, a rare place for good news amidst the rush of bad news these days. Whether the city will ever return to these high-rise subway drivers in the COVID era depends not only on the development of a vaccine.
Looking back on 2019
With the number of subway drivers collapsing amid the corona virus pandemic, it’s strange to talk about overcrowded trains and an increased number of drivers. But let’s look at the numbers. The increases were fairly evenly spread across days of the week and weekends, a positive sign of the service on Saturday and Sunday, which has been bleeding drivers for years. On an average weekday in 2019, there were almost 5.494 million drivers, compared to 5.438 million in 2018, while the total number of drivers at the weekend was just over 5.494 million, also compared to 5.438 million in the previous year. Saturday’s gains surpassed Sunday with an average Saturday with an increase of 40,000 drivers, while only 14,500 drivers gained on Sunday.
Aside from the way the L train got passengers going on the G, J, and M trains, the city’s newest subway stations saw some of the biggest gains. At the 7-train terminal at 34th St. and 11th Ave. The number of drivers increased by 75% to 18,875 per day when the development of the Hudson Yards took shape and the ship and shopping center opened. The total number of day-of-week entries at the three Q stops along Second Ave. also increased by around 2500 a day. These increases exceeded the total jump made by subway drivers by a few percentage points.
The L-Zug work stopped the MTA push for 1.7 billion drivers, but the declines weren’t quite as steep as I would have expected. The average number of weekend drivers for the L-Bahn stations on 1st and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan decreased by about 50%, while the stops in Williamsburg and Bushwick fell between 40 and 50 percent. The straphanger traffic on Bedford Ave. only dropped 36 percent, and it was still the 39th busiest weekend stop in the past year, an impressive achievement given the slow progress. The Lorimer / Metropolitan L / G station recorded a drop of only 3.7 percent, and the stops of the G trains in South Williamsburg and Greenpoint saw an increase in the number of drivers at the weekend of around 25 percent.
Other lines that were expected to carry the sag of the L-train actually did. In the vicinity of the station along lines J and M, weekend demand was over 50% above the 2018 level and the various mitigation measures worked overall. Overall, the subways have lost around 20,000 weekend entrances due to L-work, but the nearby lines have certainly seen an increase in usage. (The L-Zug was officially packaged at the end of April, and I wrote a post-mortem about the L-Zug project.)
2020 In preview: A tip in front of the cliff of the pandemic
After this rosy year 2019, things looked good for the current year. As the MTA reported in its board materials and last year’s trumpet release: “This upward trend in drivers continued in January and February 2020, with both months exceeding January and February 2019.” But nature in the form of COVID-19 has just found its way with the world, and since shelter-in-place orders have slowed the pace of life in New York City, only about 400,000 to 500,000 riders use the subway a day, a 90% drop in driver numbers that is difficult to contextualize. In a letter published last month calling for additional $ 3.9 billion in state aid, the MTA included a report prepared by McKinsey & Company consultants and the expected passenger numbers for the rest of the year 2020 describes. The graphics are ugly:
The MTA has not yet released an updated version of this chart, and even these pessimistic assumptions look too optimistic. In the New York City region, the state’s PAUSE restrictions are unlikely to be released until early June, and the “delayed containment and recovery” route, where the number of drivers reaches 40 percent, is far more likely than the trend line, the 60% of returning drivers expected until September. A second wave will determine whether we will be with 5 to 10 percent of the drivers again by the end of the year and whether we will be in a different blocking situation. Even without another wave, the MTA is looking back on a lost year of drivers, and even if everything is going well for the city, the optimistic trend line provides that only around 55% of drivers will return this year. What if when The times speculates today, few people go back to work? While I am skeptical of the long-term trendIn the short term, the offices in Manhattan will be empty, and the days of 1.7 billion annual drivers will only be fond memories for the foreseeable future.
The question that arises about all of this concerns the future. What happens next? Even the McKinsey analysis is addressing this issue as the forecasts include a variety of options and end in December. The subway driver will not return on January 1, 2021. After receiving $ 3.8 billion last month and asking for another $ 3.9 billion, the MTA now says it will need at least $ 10.4 billion stay afloat by the end of 2021. Forget about the $ 51 billion capital plan and the long-awaited federal contribution. The MTA needs these dollars to remain solvent over a long period with a small number of drivers. Without them, they – and the city – are sunk while the bills pile up.
“As in the first round, our request has received significant support from both parties,” said Pat Foye, CEO and Chairman of MTA, this week. “This is not a red or blue government problem. It’s a no-brainer. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of public transport during the pandemic and as part of the economic recovery after the pandemic has subsided. “
However, the recovery is not just economic. The MTA must make people feel that transit is a choice that does not endanger public health. The agency has already struggled with false claims, as set out in an MIT report that the subways spread the corona virus. Both Alon Levy and Aaron Gordon burned a lot of pixels that exposed and contextualized the argument. I don’t buy it either, but while we learn more about the transmission of coronavirus through droplets that are dispersed in enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation, the subways can be daunting. This is partly why the governor ordered the end of the subway service around the clock (although we should also be skeptical of these claims, as I said in a Patreon Post last week).
Nevertheless, it will be expensive to make the subways attractive. The MTA must maintain the appearance of cleanliness through an aggressive cleaning and disinfection program that is currently running. This program has no price yet, and the agency has not released a scientific assessment showing how long trains stay clean or disinfected after customers go on board to touch everything. We have to get used to masks, gloves and habits sing a lot less in the subways. Contactless tariff payment should also help, but the OMNY rollout is still stopping due to the response to the virus. Until there is a vaccine, most New Yorkers are likely to be skeptical about transit, and I can’t say I blame them. The geometry of the cars and the geography of New York City will likely help avoid the Carmageddon we fear, but the driver-dependent finances of the MTA won’t improve unless and until the number of drivers increases and the number of drivers does not increase if the New Yorkers don’t feel comfortable crowded subways.
Glimmer of hope across the board
The impact of UK’s most popular import into New York City has remained unspoken in my forays into driver numbers today. The numbers for 2019 and early 2020 were proof of Andy Byford and the results he achieved. By focusing on improving the metro service and focusing the public conversation on the actual improvements, the drivers returned to the system. The one percent increase during a longer period of detour of L-trains is a real success story, and the building blocks are in place for the MTA to build on this success after COVID. The problem will be one of the government’s revenues that can save the MTA and save the city’s economic lifeline if the drivers run back, and one of the times. In a year when the MTA publishes passenger numbers for 2020, the picture will be grim, but we can now hope that things will continue from there.
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