Subway Ridership Still Lagging as Cities Come Back to Life

While other aspects of urban life are starting to recover to pre-pandemic ‘normals,’ ridership on the nation’s subway systems is still well below average levels.

1 minute read

January 5, 2023, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Los Angeles Subway

Robson Hatsukami Morgan / Unsplash

In 2019, the New York City subway carried 1.7 billion riders. In 2022, that number barely hit 1 billion. As Daniel de Visé reports in The Hill, “The nation’s second- and third-busiest subway systems, in Chicago and Washington, D.C., are faring even worse.”

While many restaurants, bars, and other social institutions have made nearly full recoveries, U.S. subway systems have not seen the same growth. This can be attributed in large part to remote work, which grew from 6 percent to 18 percent between 2019 and 2022, particularly in cities with major subway systems.

But safety concerns, real or perceived, are also keeping riders away from public transit, de Visé writes. While New York City’s subway is vastly safer now than it was in the 1980s or 1990s, the crime rate did double between 2019 and 2022, with nine homicides committed on the system in 2022. With ridership revenue remaining low and federal COVID-19 relief funds drying up, transit agencies around the country are looking for new funding sources to sustain their operations.

The article notes that smaller rapid transit systems and bus lines are recovering more successfully, partly because more bus riders are transit-dependent and work in industries less impacted by remote work.

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