As autumn descends on their virus-weary city, New Yorkers have new reasons to be optimistic.
There are more people on the sidewalks. The gyms are open again. Though Broadway is still dark and Manhattan CEOs complain of “widespread anxiety,” many offices aren’t as empty as they were before Labor Day. Meanwhile, indoor dining and classroom learning will both be back by the end. of the month, with limitations.
But there is still a big piece missing in the complex puzzle of New York’s slow revival, and transportation officials are struggling hard to put it back in place. The subway is still a relative ghost town.
Is the subway safe?
“Absolutely,” Foye said.
With fewer bikers, cleaner trains, night closures, and wearing the mask already north of 90%, the president of the MTA seems to have science on his side. But he still needs to earn the trust of millions of his former runners and reluctant Republicans in Washington who have been incredibly slow to step up with a financial bailout.
“It’s a five-alarm fire, a 100-year fiscal tsunami,” said Foye, a veteran of the Empire State Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “We get half of our revenue from customers on a per driver basis and receive a subsidy package from the state legislator,” shares of the mortgage registration tax, wage mobility tax and other revenue streams that have also been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. “New York state and New York City are in equally dangerous waters,” Foye said. “It is only the federal government that has the resources and the capabilities.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher for New York’s economy as the city comes back to life. These 36 lines, 472 stations, and 691 miles of track are not just a means of transportation. They are the irrigation system that feeds all of those glittering Manhattan skyscrapers and has kept the city’s economy alive for the past 116 years. Nobody would go anywhere with a couple of million more cars on the streets.
The subway usage has returned to rise from the depths of spring, when the passes and touches of fare cards decreased by 95% compared to last year. Now, the passenger count has dropped by 73%, reaching around 1.6 million motorcyclists per day. This is a good sign, but still far below the over 5 million that ran on a typical weekday last year.
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The MTA data tells a fascinating story about the metropolitan area’s uneven recovery.
City bus passengers are almost half back now. And traffic on the MTA’s bridges and tunnels (Triborough Bridge, Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and five other intersections) decreased by only 10%, suggesting that many people are even more comfortable. in their cars. On Wednesday, 833,000 cars and trucks paid MTA tolls. Meanwhile, the agency’s two commuter lines, the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, are down even more sharply than the subway.
What does it give there?
In part, it may be that suburban commuters are more likely to own cars. But a broader explanation, Foye said, is that many white-collar workers in the suburbs still work from home or out-of-town satellite offices. “That’s not possible if you’re a construction worker or waiter or work in a pharmacy,” he said. “You don’t have a remote work option.”
But the scheme in New York – first cars, then urban transit, then suburban rail – is a repeat of what has already happened in major European cities, the MTA president said. So a big part of the focus now is building trust at home.
Foye noted a recent study by the American Public Transportation Association that concluded that transit transportation was not a vector for the spread of the virus. And MTA officials are working with Columbia University researchers who believe ultraviolet light can help disinfect a transit system. The night subway closure has helped public transit workers and teams from the city’s Department of Homeless Services find refuge for the homeless, or at least escort them out of the system. And Cuomo, Foye, and other New York officials continue to look to Washington, trying to alleviate local concerns.
“The behavior of New Yorkers is not in Washington’s hands,” Foye said. “Much depends on us.” Clearly, there is still a long way to go.
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At an emergency meeting of the MTA board of directors in August, budget officials warned that if Washington does not step forward, the only alternative will be 40% cuts in bus and subway service and 50% cuts on Metro. -North and Long Island Rail Road, plus 8,500 layoffs.
Foye said: “The Great Depression was not as bad as this.”