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MTA: Wait, Y’all Would Ride the Subway More If It Was On Time?

A truly groundbreaking idea.

1:43 PM EDT on September 19, 2022

Riders board and exit a subway train.

(Marc T. Hermann / MTA)

Last week, MTA ridership reached heights unseen since March of 2022. But those numbers (3.7 million on the subways last Thursday!) are still just 63 percent of what they used to be in the Before Times, and are likely to be slow to climb back up, given the hybrid work model many private companies are employing. To avoid a death spiral, the transit agency has to find a way to get more people to ride mass transit.

What if the MTA ran more trains and buses, so that the wait for a train or a bus sucked much less, and you got to where you were going faster? Wouldn't riders like that? Wouldn't we all take more trains and buses if this were true? Hell Gate posed these questions to MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber this summer, and his answer was essentially: Yeah, I guess, sure kid.

Well on Monday, during their committee meetings, the MTA unveiled the results of their new monthly customer surveys, and guess what? Yes, riders in fact would ride more often if the trains and buses came more frequently and consistently.

NYC Transit president Richard Davey called these findings "key insights," which is true. They are also, to us, "conspicuously true insights" and "insights available to anyone who has cursed the MTA while watching a countdown clock go down, then up, then down, then up, then up a little bit more."

From the MTA's monthly "pulse check."

"What should have been obvious before is dawning on the people who matter to the situation," Danny Pearlstein, policy director of the Riders Alliance, told us. For months, Pearlstein has been hammering home the point that better service can lead to better ridership numbers, and thus more revenue; a comptroller report from last year showed that for a few hundred million dollars, New Yorkers could have bus and train service every six minutes for most of the day.

"Transit service is a targeted investment in economic activity," Pearlstein continued. "The question is: Will the governor acknowledge it?"

We asked Governor Hochul's office about her position on this and will update if they respond.

Lieber has been telegraphing that he believes the MTA should be treated like an essential service that receives the bulk of its funding from the government (around half of the MTA's money currently comes from fares), and the MTA recently appointed a weekend service czar, Jose LaSalle, in recognition of how weekend service has bounced back. This all may presage a big ask from the governor before she announces her budget in January.

(That's assuming Hochul will win in November; if Rep. Lee Zeldin is elected, which appears to be rather unlikely, the MTA…might not be able to count on ANY extra funding. A Zeldin spokesperson hasn't immediately responded to our request for comment.)

Other notable moments from Monday's board meetings: The NYPD's Chief of Department Kenneth Corey showed up, along with Transit Chief Jason Wilcox, to present the major crimes numbers on the transit system.

From the NYPD's presentation at the MTA.

"There is a narrative that's inaccurate that's driving people's perceptions about how safe the subway really is," Corey said, referencing the recent Bloomberg News story about how the media really loves the crime narrative. (Hmmm, wonder why?)

The NYPD is also cracking down on low-level offenses on the subway—those arrests are up around 160 percent, according to Cox.

MTA board member David Jones asked the police officers about the racial disparities in fare evasion enforcement that continue to persist. Cox didn't give him much of an answer.

"It's a concern for me as well, sir," Cox said. "We are very committed to being fair and open for how we deal with fare evasion."

As for the status of the attorney general's investigation into the NYPD's subway policing practices: A spokesperson for the AG hasn't responded to our request for comment. 

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