Outlying Neighborhoods Make Up Largest Return in NYC Subway Ridership

Ridership in the city's wealthiest neighborhoods has seen the lowest increase since the start of the pandemic, according to a new dashboard from the state comptroller

Riders on subway
DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

Ridership on the city's subways has steadily increased since last spring when New York City ground to a halt and entire sectors of the workforce stopped commuting altogether -- but nearly one year later, new data shows that increase has not been uniform across the five boroughs.

A new interactive dashboard released by the state's comptroller breaks down ridership by individual neighborhoods. The result reflects a trend already known to many living through the city's pandemic: more New Yorkers have been commuting in neighborhoods with large immigrant populations, lower household incomes and higher unemployment rates.

The dashboard crunches ridership data from 11 months during the pandemic against February 2019, and compares it to household incomes broken down by individual neighborhoods throughout each borough. (The dashboard's neighborhood breakdown is in line with New York City's U.S. Census-defined neighborhoods.)

Neighborhoods with some of the largest median incomes, like SoHo, Greenwich Village, Park Slope and the Upper West Side, had some of the lowest ridership rates compared to February 2019, according to the dashboard.

The dashboard's latest data set, February 2021, shows that ridership has seen its biggest gains in neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx. Nine of the top 10 neighborhoods for improved ridership were in those boroughs, with the highest ridership rate seen in Flushing, Murray Hill and Whitestone in Queens, at 45.6 percent.

"As this dashboard makes clear, the New Yorkers returning to the subways are those who most need it, including many from The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens who work in lower wage, public-facing jobs," New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said Friday.

In a statement, Shams Tarek, spokesperson for the MTA, echoed similar sentiments to those expressed by DiNapoli.

“This data shows what we have known all along: lower income New Yorkers and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are most reliant on public transit and make up our essential workforce that has kept New York running during the COVID crisis. This is exactly why federal investment in the MTA remains so crucial — ensuring public transit continues to be the great equalizer, opportunity-provider and economy-driver that it has always been,” Tarek's statement reads.

The city's most impacted subway stations were almost all in Manhattan, according to data crunched by the comptroller's office. Nine of the top 10 stations that saw the biggest drop in ridership were in that borough, with the one outlier located in Brooklyn. Half of the city's busiest stations are also located in Brooklyn, with the other five divided between the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan, which boasts a nearly 200 percent increase at the 191 Street station.

"As New York begins its recovery, it's vital that New York state maintain affordable and reliable subway service for our immigrant community members, many of whom have no other means of transportation," said Murad Awawdeh, New York Immigration Coalition's co-interim executive director.

Memories of pandemic threats of service cuts and fare hikes still fresh, DiNapoli says his dashboard is key to signaling leadership and riders alike of equitable shortfalls as the transit agency pushes closer to pre-pandemic service. DiNapoli says the dashboard will continue to be updated monthly.

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