Here’s how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting public transit

  • 12 months ago
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New York city and state officials have sought to slow the novel coronavirus pandemic by shuttering all nonessential businesses, closing schools, and urging residents to hunker down at home. As a result, ridership has plummeted across New York’s mass transit systems—subway, buses, commuter rail, and ferries—as officials scramble to keep service running.

But as the city’s COVID-19 cases continue to climb, transit workers are becoming ill and service reductions are beginning to mount. Now, the MTA has implemented what it calls the MTA Essential Service Plan, slashing train and bus service across its network.

“Most people should stay off mass transit,” MTA President Pat Foye said at a recent press conference; Foye himself tested positive for COVID-19. “The step we are taking today is a tenet to advance the governor’s goals of flattening the curve of positive cases and slowing the spread of the virus.”

Health officials continue to caution those feeling sick—and even those who are not—from leaving home unless the state has deemed your job essential (healthcare, transportation, law enforcement, etc.) or to pick up groceries and medication. But if you absolutely have to leave your home, here’s what you need to know about COVID-19’s impact on public transit.

This post will be periodically updated with service changes.


Under the MTA’s Essential Service Plan, the authority has slashed subway service by 25 percent. The decision to scale back on train lines comes as ridership hits a historic low of 95 percent compared to this same time last year, and as COVID-19 hobbles the authority’s frontline workers; 59 MTA employees have died from COVID-19.

The system will continue to run on its typical schedule during the a.m. and p.m. rush, but trains are suspended on the B, C, W, and Z lines (along with the 42nd Street shuttle)—and express service across the system is being reduced. On the 7 and J lines, express service has been entirely suspended. N trains won’t run express in Manhattan. The same goes for the 4, 5, and 6 lines in the Bronx. D trains will make local stops in the Bronx but run express in Manhattan and Brooklyn, while the F line will make all local stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn and run express in Queens.

Trains on the 2 and 3 line are no longer bypassing 110 Street—where an arsonist set a blaze that killed a train operator; the station reopened after crews completed repair work. The Staten Island Railway will make all local stops, running every 20 minutes during peak hours and hourly overnight. Extra L train service on nights and weekends is also suspended.

Worker shortages have forced the MTA to cut service on stretches of lines. This includes on the 5 line between Nereid Avenue and East 180 Street in the Bronx (use 2 service instead); between Bowling Green and Brooklyn College-Flatbush Avenue (use the 4 and 2 as an alternative); on the A line between Broad Channel and Rockaway Park (use the S shuttle); and E train service between Jamaica-179 Street and Union Turnpike (use the F).

All told, the novel coronavirus has crippled subway ridership, with the resulting dive in revenue prompting MTA officials to seek a $4 billion relief package from the federal government. For the average rider, the subway’s new reality is clear with eerily empty trains during typically bustling rush hours and workers donning masks, face shields, and gloves.


The city’s bus fleet is operating at 75 percent of its typical capacity under the Essential Service Plan. Passengers likely won’t notice a major difference in service now that ridership is down more than 70 percent compared to the same time last year, says the MTA.

Most Staten Island express bus service is not running. The SIM1c, SIM3c, SIM4c, and SIM33c will operate seven days a week making stops in Downtown and Midtown. Limited stop service and the S42, S66, and S93 are not currently operating. The Eltingville Transit Center on Staten Island will be closed during these hours: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Other changes to the bus system include rear door boarding; only those with limited mobility will be allowed to board in the front to use ramps and accessibility seating. The move is an attempt to protect bus drivers from the spread of the novel coronavirus. Workers are using plastic yellow chains to close off the front section of buses, keeping drivers a safe distance from riders during the city’s pandemic.

People are still expected to pay the fare so long as on-board payment boxes or Select Bus Service ticket machines are accessible, says the MTA. Express bus customers can board as usual but as a precaution to drivers, they are barred from sitting in the first three rows.

Commuter rail

The MTA’s commuter rail lines—Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road—are both running on reduced schedules under the Essential Service Plan. Metro-North has scaled back on some service but will continue to provide hourly trains on the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven lines. There is no train or bus service on the Wassaic Branch on weekends. The LIRR is running on half-hourly or hourly service on most branches, with strategically added trains during peak travel times, says the transportation authority. Ticket counters for both lines are closed, instead customers can use ticket vending machines or the MTA eTix app.

Citi Bike

Biking is the only way of getting around that has seen a surge of activity amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, with Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraging New Yorkers “to bike or walk” in early March. The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) saw cycling traffic over its bridges spike between March 1 and March 10. Citi Bike also saw a 67 percent uptick between March 1 and 11, compared to the year prior.

In partnership with the Mayor’s Office and DOT, the bike share company has launched a Citi Bike Critical Workforce Membership Program, which provides first responders, healthcare, and transit workers with a free month of Citi Bike membership. Healthcare employers should email to enroll their staff in the program. People working in these fields who recently purchased a membership or have an upcoming renewal can access a free month. Citi Bike has also rolled out a new blue bike station at 169th Street and Fort Washington Avenue outside of Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Washington Heights to help healthcare workers more easily navigate the city on two wheels.

Citi Bike is working with DOT to install additional docks and stations in other parts of Manhattan as well. Staffers continue to disinfect high-contact surfaces each time they arrive in the Lyft-owned company’s depot, along with field mechanics cleaning each bike at every station they visit throughout the day. Citi Bike has also beefed up cleanings at stations near hospitals, and at the start of each shift, workers are disinfecting surfaces on vans used to transport the bikes.


All NYC Ferry routes are operating on a modified schedule until further notice. Weekday schedules will be operating with a reduced frequency to account for lower ridership while weekend schedules will remain the same.

The Staten Island Ferry’s ridership has also suffered a major blow, with a 75 percent dip in traffic compared to pre-coronavirus levels, according to DOT. Ferries will depart hourly until further notice. Departures will occur on the hour from St. George Terminal on Staten Island and on the half-hour from Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.

Four Staten Island Ferry workers have tested positive for COVID-19 with nearly half of scheduled employees calling out sick from their shifts over the last few weeks, says DOT. The reductions will also allow ferry workers to more frequently sanitize the vessels.

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