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The Uncertain State of the Subway


Weather: Mostly cloudy, afternoon rain with a high about 50. Cold and windy tomorrow, with a chance of light snow; sunny and warmer Sunday.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Tuesday (Immaculate Conception).

Nobody knows what the future holds for New York City’s transit system. It’s carrying about a third of its usual 5.5 million weekday passengers after ridership vanished earlier in the pandemic.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subways and buses, is facing a $12 billion shortfall through 2021, the largest in the agency’s history. A dire scenario could mean fare hikes and service cuts of up to 40 percent.

“If the M.T.A. has to make major service cuts it will kneecap itself,” Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, said last month. “If those cuts come with a fare hike, it will drive even more people from transit, worsening the M.T.A.’s financial picture and hastening the transit death spiral.”

I recently asked my colleague Christina Goldbaum, who covers transportation, about the system. Our interview was lightly edited for clarity:

Q: How safe is public transit?

A: There is growing scientific evidence that the risk of transmission on the subway is not nearly as high as many people thought at the beginning of the pandemic, as long as riders are wearing masks and crowding is minimal.

How essential is the subway for essential workers?

Essential workers have been the backbone of subway and bus ridership throughout the pandemic — and will be the ones hardest hit by fare hikes and service cuts.

In Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx — where many essential workers live — ridership at some stations has rebounded to around 50 percent of normal. In Midtown Manhattan it has hovered at around 20 percent in many stations.

[Crowded subways? Yes, in neighborhoods where people have to go to work.]

What can keep the system intact?

The M.T.A. relies largely on fares and tolls for its operating revenue — much of which has vanished as riders abandoned the system.

Transit officials have lobbied for federal aid to make up their shortfall through the end of next year and warned that without that assistance, they will have to drastically scale back service.

How do the problems compare with those at other transit agencies in the United States?

The M.T.A. is one of the hardest-hit transit agencies because of its sheer size and its reliance on fare revenue to keep the system running. It is grappling with a roughly $16 billion shortfall through the end of 2024.

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Young Republicans Stage Secret Gala, Ignoring Virus Concerns

Want more news? Check out our full coverage.

The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.

Civilian police department employees will be allowed to work remotely as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the city. [New York Post]

Coronavirus cases have spiked at Brooklyn’s federal jail, with 55 confirmed since Tuesday. [Daily News]

Subway taggers hit 24 cars on six lines over the weekend. [The City]

The Times’s Melissa Guerrero writes:

Although many performance spaces, museums and community centers are closed, people are finding creative ways to connect through virtual events and programs. Here are suggestions for maintaining a New York social life this weekend while keeping a safe distance from other people.

On Friday at 5:30 p.m., take a virtual walk through the New York Society Library and learn about its history. Participants will also hear about the library’s famous members and see its current literary-themed exhibition.

Purchase a ticket ($10) for the livestream on the event page.

Celebrate the women’s suffrage centennial with a showcase and open mic on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Performers will share stories and poems about women who inspire them.

The event is free, but donations are welcome. Access it through the event page.

On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., join a workshop about the writer Audre Lorde and her view of language and storytelling. The group will read excerpts from her book “The Cancer Journals,” as well as other works, and talk about the self-care spaces that women of color create.

Register for the free discussion on the event page.

It’s Friday — T.G.I.F.

Dear Diary:

I was working as an occupational therapist at a preschool on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 19th Street. The therapy room had windows that looked out onto the avenue, but the lunchroom’s view was out the back, onto a courtyard of sorts.

We were told that the building we could see from there had once been a department store, and it had windows that measured probably eight feet high. They were perfect for viewing the comings and goings of the residents of the building’s renovated co-op apartments, à la “Rear Window.”

Through the bare windows of one apartment, we could see a young couple as they moved in and began to make the place their own. After a few months, one of the rooms began to fill with baby stuff. It was being turned into a nursery.

As the months went on, it became a topic of lunchroom conversation: Would the baby be a boy or a girl? When would the child arrive? There was talk of getting a betting pool going on the date of birth, but we tried to not to be caught gawking too obviously.

The big day finally arrived, a Friday, and the proud parents brought the baby home. How could we get the answer to our remaining question?

One of the teachers put up a sign facing the apartment.

“Congratulations!” it said. “Boy or girl?”

The father responded quickly, raising his own sign in our direction: “It’s a boy!!”

We all waved at one another and flashed thumbs-up signs.

By Monday, all the apartment’s windows had curtains and shades.

— Robert Flynn

New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

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