MTA returning to 24-hour subway operation on May 17

May 4, 2021
Service resumption coincides with the state lifting a curfew on late night food and beverage service, as well as increased ridership on the subway.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will resume 24-hour subway service on May 17, more than a year after it closed down for a few hours every night to deep clean the system as a step to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"COVID-19 is on the decline in New York City and across New York State, and as we shift our focus to rebuilding our economy, helping businesses and putting people back to work, it's time to bring the subway back to full capacity," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The state of New York will end its outdoor food and beverage curfew on the same day. Returning to 24-hour service will undoubtedly help late-shift workers safely travel to and from work. The curfew will end for indoor dining areas on May 31.

"Overnight workers like waitresses, bartenders and more, depend on transit to get around in the late-night hours. We've been moving them for the last year by bus and I'm thrilled that we can once again provide them with safe and efficient overnight subway service as well, as more COVID restrictions on businesses are lifted,” said Interim President of New York City Transit Sarah Feinberg.

The New York City Transit subway lost close to 90 percent of its weekday ridership during the pandemic. However, April offered the system several bright spots as it began to focus on recovery with subway ridership surpassing the two million mark on April 9 and the 2.1 million mark on April 23, which is a new pandemic ridership record.

"At this critical moment for New York's recovery, Gov. Cuomo and the MTA recognize the time is now right to safely restore overnight service on the subways. The city's economic revival hinges on a strong mass transit system - and a vital part of that is round-the-clock service,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye. “The MTA stands ready to power New York through this crucial next stage, as it has throughout the pandemic, prioritizing safety above all. Our rigorous disinfecting protocols remain in place and we expect to see continued high mask usage thanks to the systemwide mask mandate."

MTA originally made the decision to shut down its subway system for four hours every night last May to allow crews access to clean high-touch surfaces and disinfect vehicles. On Feb. 22, 2021, MTA shrank the shutdown window to two hours every night and extended service until 2:00 a.m. and reopened at 4:00 a.m.

Masks will still be required on the system, a mandate the Transportation Security Administration recently extended until September. However, MTA notes mask compliance in the system is high with more than 97 percent of customers honoring the requirement.

Betsy Plum, executive director of the New York area rider advocacy group Riders Alliance, said the restoration of service is a win for riders.

“After more than a year of punishing overnight commutes that impacted tens of thousands of essential workers, New Yorkers will see a long overdue return to a crucial part of normalcy,” said Plum. “New York is a 24/7 city because of our subway. The restoration of 24/7 service is a victory not only for the city's reopening but for New Yorkers' determination to hold our public officials accountable.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.