The Traveling Effect of Covid-19 on Public Transportation

Olivia Kahn, Grade 11, News Editor

As students were deciding whether to attend in-person school last fall, one concern was the safety and availability of public transportation. Many New York City students rely on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to get to school. Before COVID-19, this was not an issue, as the NYC Department of Education gave students who live half a mile or farther from their school a free MetroCard. But dirty subway stations and tightly packed train cars seem like ideal places for disease to spread, causing worry amongst students.

To address these concerns and increase safety, the MTA has implemented new procedures. Riders are provided with hand sanitizer and masks, subway cars are disinfected with more regularity and rigor, and technology helps track the number of riders each day. All are listed on the MTA's 13-point plan to improve rider safety.

Because the High School of American Studies accepts students from all over NYC, many students use public transportation to commute to school. This included the group of students who elected to attend in-person classes before highschools returned to full remote learning in November of 2020.

"I do feel safe taking public transportation because usually I can avoid crowds, and it is usually rare that someone doesn't have their mask on," said Antonina Volvovskaya, a junior at the HSAS. The abundance of people wearing masks is due to the MTA's face covering mandate, which states that all riders must wear masks or face coverings or they could face a 50 dollar fine.

As for lack of crowds, public transportation ridership declined significantly due to an increase in people working from home and schools transitioning to remote learning starting in mid-March of 2020. According to graphics presented by the MTA at its board meeting in September of 2020, subway ridership was down 93% and bus ridership 78% in April of 2020. Although this has changed since April, the MTA still shows a decrease in ridership of 70.7% on the subway and 56% on the bus for dates as recently as January 7th.

Volvovskaya, who takes the B and D trains from the Upper West Side to HSAS, observed this decrease in ridership, especially among younger people. "What I noticed while taking the train the few times that [I] did in the fall, was that I didn't see any high school or college students, and there were a lot [fewer] adults on the train too," said Volvovskaya.

Less crowded trains allow for more social distancing but also lead to a lower income for the MTA. At the same time, there has been an increase in costs for intense cleaning procedures. "Relative to the MTA’s February 2020 financial plan, fare and toll revenues and income from economically-sensitive dedicated taxes and other subsidies are projected to decline in 2020 by $6.85 billion ... When combined with higher COVID-related costs, these revenue losses have plunged the MTA into the most severe financial crisis in the agency’s history," reported an NYU Rudin Center for Transportation and Appleseed study. After analyzing the MTA's current situation, the study suggests that the future of the MTA's finances is bleak.

Overall, a decrease in the use of public transportation services will have long term effects on both New York City and HSAS students.

Art by Min Lin Yang, Grade 11

The MTA underwent many changes to address safety concerns due to the pandemic.

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