New York’s MTA Sees Crime Fighting as Key to Reviving Subway Ridership

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the subway and bus operator whose ridership has plummeted since the pandemic, is trying to lure back riders by focusing on safety.

According to a recent survey by the MTA, 72% of active customers are very concerned with crime and harassment on the system, surpassing worries about health safety. And 36% of customers who stopped riding on the public-transit system said they did so because of such safety concerns.

That’s driving the agency to take steps to restore confidence in the system, Sarah Feinberg, interim president of MTA’s New York City Transit, which manages its subways and buses, said Wednesday during the agency’s monthly board meeting.

“The next three to six months are critical in terms of getting ridership back and we’ve got to get this into a better place in the coming months so that we can bring people back,” Feinberg said. “If we can’t get them back in the next couple of months, I believe it’s going to be harder and take longer in the future.”

Ridership on New York City’s subways is still about 35% of pre-pandemic levels, dealing a deep hit to the agency’s revenue collections. While the MTA is set to receive a combined $14.5 billion of federal aid to cover lost fare receipts, it will need riders to return as the agency projects budget deficits in 2024.

While the subway is dramatically safer than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago, the MTA needs to address the increase in crime for riders and employees, Pat Foye, the agency’s chief executive officer, said during the meeting.

“At a point where we want millions of people to return to their offices and to restaurants and to Yankee Stadium and to Broadway and to all the things that are not happening in New York -- and that must happen for the recovery -- we need to be able to convince people that the system is safe, which it is, and they’ll be free from harassment,” Foye said.

The agency is working to install cameras at every subway station and platform, Feinberg said. It added nearly 1,000 cameras last year, the most in the agency’s history, and plans to surpass that amount in 2021, Foye said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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