As 2 a.m. neared on Monday, some subway riders raced to catch what they thought was the last train of the night.
David, who lives in Sunset Park, was headed to Harlem on the D train so he could make it to work by his 4:15 a.m. start time. He didn’t want to give his last name because he works for Amazon and fears potential reprisals for speaking to the press.
But David didn’t know full 24 hour subway service had resumed that night, meaning he didn’t need to catch a train at 1:30 a.m. to be at work on time. He spent one last night, killing two hours in Manhattan, reading and checking his phone before clocking in for his shift as a shopper at Whole Foods.
“Always stay positive,” he said. When informed by a Gothamist reporter that the trains were now running overnight, he said he looks forward to not having to leave the house so early, and he’ll use his time to relax and do some reading before work.
Since Monday, the MTA saw a steady uptick in riders from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., a time that had been off limits to commuters since last May. Overnight subway service shut down just over a year ago between 1-5 a.m. so cleaners could disinfect train cars and subway stations during the pandemic. The MTA then shortened the closure hours to 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. in February.
According to the MTA, this week’s ridership numbers between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. are higher than they were pre-shutdown. The subways saw 2,519 riders last Monday from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. That number jumped to 3,869 by Wednesday. That’s higher than on May 5, 2020, just before the MTA shuttered overnight service, when there were 3,192 riders between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
“We always said we look forward to resuming 24/7 service and we’re thrilled to see people coming back to the system at all hours of the day,” MTA spokesperson Sham Tarek wrote in a statement.
Daily subway ridership figures continue to climb above 2 million a day, which is still down more than 60% of pre-pandemic levels. But these overnight riders appear to be another promising sign that the city’s recovery is underway.
“Immediately after its return, 24/7 subway service is already saving thousands of New Yorkers valuable time and money,” Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director with Riders Alliance wrote in a statement. “Overnight commutes were punishing enough before the pandemic. When the subway was closed for over a year, they became literal nightmares. Now, with the subway fully reopened, New Yorkers can breathe easier and keep building toward a better normal.”
Returning to “normal” will surely take a while, because so many companies are still letting employees work from home. There have also been nearly constant headlines about assaults underground in the emptier subway system. The MTA has launched a new ad campaign to reassure riders that it’s safe to ride the subways again after the pandemic. It’s also been calling on the city to increase police presence in the subways, as the number of felony assaults this year is higher than the same period last year.
Business leaders, like Kathryn Wylde, the president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, agrees with the MTA and worries riders won’t return if it’s not safe.
“Harassment and intimidation on transit and in major transit hubs is a regular complaint of employees and has discouraged a return to the workplace,” she wrote in a statement last month. “Increasing the sense of personal safety on transit is essential to the city’s recovery.”