The Subways Haven’t Been This Crowded Since 1940

The subway map for the last year there were 1.75 billion riders.
The subway map for the last year there were 1.75 billion riders.

If your commute felt more crowded last year, you weren’t mistaken: subway ridership in 2014 grew 2.6%, to 1.75 billion riders, according to a report released today by the MTA. These numbers peaked, predictably, during the last four months of 2014 (or, when winter struck), when an average of more than 6 million people rode the subway every workday–500,000 more per day than five years ago. The annual ridership is higher now than it’s been in 65 years, when there was a “post-World War II boom.” And the demographic trends driving the spike in ridership suggest that 2015 won’t be any better.

To wit: the report found that the highest percentage increases came in neighborhoods with “rapid residential development and population increases,” such as Bushwick in Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens. Every Brooklyn station on the L saw a ridership increase last year, with the biggest jumps coming at the Bushwick Av-Aberdeen St (11.5%), Wilson Av (9.9%) and Jefferson St (9.3%) stops. The Bedford Av station in Williamsburg still leads the pack, though, with an average of 27,224 weekday customers. The J/M/Z Marcy Av station in Williamsburg saw the single biggest increase: an astounding 24% over last year, and 60% over the last five years.

Overall, Brooklyn led the four subway boroughs with a 2.7% increase, followed by Manhattan (2.5%), the Bronx (2.1%) and Queens (1.9%). The surge in ridership makes scheduling routine maintenance more difficult, which in turn means more minor problems become major ones. “The renaissance of the New York City subway is a miracle for those who remember the decrepit system of the 1970s and the 1980s,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “But moving more than 6 million customers a day means even minor disruptions now can create major delays.

“We are aggressively working to combat delays and improve maintenance, but the ultimate solution requires investing in infrastructure upgrades such as Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) signaling systems to accommodate every one of our growing number of customers,” he added.

This can probably be read as a veiled shot at the city’s financial support–or lack thereof–for subway maintenance and development. The city’s contribution to the MTA capital plan has hovered around $100 million per year since 1982; if it had kept up with inflation, the city would’ve given $360 million to the MTA last year, according to an Independent Budget Office analysis conducted for the Straphangers Campaign. The resulting $15 billion capital plan gap should be plugged by some combination of federal, state, and city money; some, like Pete Donohue, the public transit reporter for the Daily News, are calling for the city to double or triple its annual contribution. Doing so would be one impactful way the city could better accommodate its growing population.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.


  1. At the time of the map on top, assuming that, as now, they counted the elevated lines as part of the system, there were a lot more subway lines and stations and miles of track. Just on that portion of the map, you can see long-gone els like Myrtle Avenue between Broadway and Jay Street, Lexington Ave. in Brooklyn, and in Manhattan, lines along First-Second, Third, and Ninth Avenues. as well as an el running above the subway on Brooklyn’s Fulton Avenue.


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