clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Here’s how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting public transit

New, 9 comments

Plunging ridership, service cuts, and deep cleanings: Here’s what you need to know.

Noam Galai/Getty Images

New York city and state officials have sought to slow the novel coronavirus pandemic by shuttering all nonessential businesses, closing schools, and urging residents to hunker down at home. As a result, ridership has plummeted across New York’s mass transit systems—subway, buses, commuter rail, and ferries—as officials scramble to keep service running.

But as the city’s COVID-19 cases continue to climb, thousands of transit workers are falling ill and service reductions are mounting. Now, in a historic moment for New York, the MTA has rolled out the first planned overnight shutdown of subway service since the system opened 115 years ago. The subway will remain closed from 1 to 5 a.m. for the foreseeable future to provide more time to thoroughly disinfect trains, stations, and equipment.

“We’re in an unprecedented moment in the history of our city,” Patrick J. Foye, the CEO of the MTA, said at a recent press conference. “The reason we’re taking this extraordinary, unprecedented action is to protect the safety and public health of our customers and our employees.”

Major changes also extend to daytime subway service with the MTA Essential Service Plan, which slashes train and bus service across its network. Health officials continue to caution those feeling sick—along with those who are not—from leaving home unless the state has deemed your job essential (healthcare, transportation, law enforcement, etc.) or to pick up groceries and medication. But if you absolutely have to leave your home, here’s what you need to know about navigating the city on public transit during the pandemic.

This post will be periodically updated with service changes.


Subway

For the first time in the MTA’s history, officials have halted regularly scheduled overnight service. In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the MTA is suspending trains between 1 and 5 a.m. for the foreseeable future in an effort to deep clean the system every 24 hours. The unprecedented disruption began on May 6, with free, alternative transit made available for essential workers traveling in the early morning hours.

If you’re one of the roughly 11,000 riders who have regularly traveled on the subway in the early morning hours, you have a few options: The MTA has majorly expanded overnight bus service and is offering free taxi and for-hire vehicle trips so essential workers aren’t left in the lurch. For more on the overnight shutdown, check out our break down here.

Meanwhile, under the MTA’s Essential Service Plan, the authority has slashed daytime subway service by 25 percent. The decision to scale back on train lines comes as ridership hits historic lows of more than 90 percent compared to this same time last year, and as COVID-19 hobbles the authority’s frontline workers; more than 100 MTA employees have died from COVID-19 as of this writing.

The system will continue to run on its typical schedule during the a.m. and p.m. rush, but trains are suspended on the B, C, W, and Z lines (along with the 42nd Street shuttle)—and express service across the system has been reduced. On the 7 and J lines, express service has been entirely suspended. N trains won’t run express in Manhattan. The same goes for the 4, 5, and 6 lines in the Bronx. D trains will make local stops in the Bronx but run express in Manhattan and Brooklyn, while the F line will make all local stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn and run express in Queens.

Trains on the 2 and 3 lines are no longer bypassing 110th Street—where an arsonist set a blaze that killed a train operator; the station reopened after crews completed repair work. The Staten Island Railway will make all local stops, running every hourly. (Trains will leave St. George Terminal six minutes after the hour starting at 12:06 a.m. and trains will leave Tottenville one minute after the hour starting at 12:01 a.m.)

Worker shortages have also forced the MTA to cut service on stretches of lines. This includes on the 5 line between Nereid Avenue and East 180 Street in the Bronx (use 2 service instead); between Bowling Green and Brooklyn College-Flatbush Avenue (use the 4 and 2 as an alternative); on the A line between Broad Channel and Rockaway Park (use the S shuttle); and E train service between Jamaica-179 Street and Union Turnpike (use the F).

All told, the novel coronavirus has crippled subway ridership, with the resulting dive in revenue prompting MTA officials to seek a $4 billion relief package from the federal government. For the average rider, the subway’s new reality is clear with eerily empty trains during typically bustling rush hours and workers donning masks, face shields, and gloves.

Buses

The city’s bus fleet is operating at 75 percent of its typical capacity during the day under the Essential Service Plan. Passengers likely won’t notice a major difference in service now that ridership is down more than 80 percent compared to the same time last year, according to the MTA.

Most Staten Island express bus service is not running. The SIM1c, SIM3c, SIM4c, and SIM33c will operate seven days a week making stops in Downtown and Midtown. Limited stop service and the S42, S66, and S93 are not currently operating. The Eltingville Transit Center on Staten Island will be closed during these hours: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Brooklyn bus service will operate on a Sunday schedule seven days a week except for these routes which will operate with modified service: B82SBS, B100, B103, BM1, BM2, BM#, BM$, BM5, X27, and the X28. The X37 and X38 routes are not currently running. Service on the BxM9 route in the Bronx is also reduced.

Other changes to the bus system include rear door boarding; only those with limited mobility will be allowed to board in the front to use ramps and accessibility seating. The move is an attempt to protect bus drivers from the spread of the novel coronavirus. Workers are using plastic yellow chains to close off the front section of buses, keeping drivers a safe distance from riders during the city’s pandemic. Express bus customers can board as usual but as a precaution to drivers, they are barred from sitting in the first three rows.

For overnight travelers during the subway shutdown, the MTA has expanded bus service with an additional 1,168 bus trips on 61 routes, which requires 344 bus operators to work overtime shifts. Overnight buses will not charge a fare while the subway is closed, expanding on a decision in March to no longer require a fee on local lines.

Commuter rail

The MTA’s commuter rail lines—Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road—are both running on reduced schedules under the Essential Service Plan. Metro-North has scaled back on some service but will continue to provide hourly trains on the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven lines. Trains are operating hourly on the the New Canaan line, every two hours on the Wassaic Branch (with no service on weekends) and every three hours on the Danbury branch. There is no service on the Waterbury branch, buses are running as an alternative every three hours.

The LIRR is running on half-hourly or hourly service on most branches, with strategically added trains during peak travel times, says the MTA. Ticket counters for both lines are closed, instead customers can use ticket vending machines or the MTA eTix app.

Citi Bike

Biking is the only way of getting around that has seen a surge of activity amid COVID-19, with Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraging New Yorkers “to bike or walk” in early March.

In partnership with the Mayor’s Office and DOT, the bike share company has launched a Citi Bike Critical Workforce Membership Program, which provides first responders, healthcare, and transit workers with a free month of Citi Bike. Healthcare employers should email HeroBikes@Lyft.com to enroll their staff in the program. People working in these fields who recently purchased a membership or have an upcoming renewal can access a free month. Citi Bike has also rolled out a new blue bike station at 169th Street and Fort Washington Avenue outside of Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Washington Heights to help healthcare workers in the area more easily navigate the city on two wheels.

Citi Bike is working with DOT to install additional docks and stations in other parts of Manhattan. Staffers continue to disinfect high-contact surfaces each time bikes arrive in the Lyft-owned company’s depot, along with field mechanics cleaning each bike at every station they visit throughout the day. Citi Bike has also beefed up cleanings at stations near hospitals, and with each shift, workers disinfect surfaces on vans that transport the bikes.

Ferries

NYC Ferry ridership has plummeted by 90 percent since Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated nonessential workers stay at home on March 20, according to NYC Ferry data. All routes are operating on a modified schedule until further notice. (Despite the plunging ridership, the system has yet to see major budget cuts unlike other city agencies and services.) The system is reducing service by 50 percent, which will save the city roughly $10 million in operation expenses, according to Seth Myers, executive vice president of the city Economic Development Corporation.

The Staten Island Ferry’s ridership has also suffered but is beginning to return. As of May 21, the ferry will run every 30 minutes during rush hour. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, transit officials had reduced ferry service to running hourly as ridership plummeted by 90 percent. Prior to the pandemic, roughly 70,000 people rode the Staten Island Ferry each weekday. The mayor said during a recent press briefing that there are now 600 ferry riders a day, up from an a low of 400. He added that a $21 million grant from the federal government will help pay for additional cleanings and operational expenses for the system.