Sunday, June 12, 2011

Subway Station Counts


On Thursday someone posted on nyc.transit a link to New York subway station counts.

The counts are annual fares paid per station. Stations connected by free transfer are shown as one station, since you can't tell which line riders are going to. Although the stations are ranked from 1 to 420, the chart is arranged alphabetically by borough, so it takes a little looking around to find the top and bottom performers.

One thing is missing: transfers. That's because there are no turnstiles to provide counts. Some stations may have only a moderate number of riders entering but quite a few changing trains. Transfer makes a station important in the system and adds to the number of passengers boarding trains at the station.

But granting the limitation of counting only passengers entering the system, I thought it might be interesting to check to top and bottom 15.

Good locations: Times Square and Grand Central.

1 : TIMES SQUARE and 42ND ST (Eighth Ave). 58,422,000. That's about 160,000 a day. This group of interconnected stations might also be the busiest transfer location in the system, but we don't have counts to show that. Why do 58 million passengers enter here? The Port Authority Bus Terminal brings in 58 million riders a year, and the 42nd St (Eighth Ave) station is the only one nearby. But there are also a lot of riders coming back from movies and shows and shopping around Times Square.

2 : GRAND CENTRAL. 41,903,000. 16 million fewer than Times Square! The entering riders include some per cent of Metro North's 44 million railroad passengers. This is an office district too, more so than Times Square.

3 : 34TH ST (Sixth Ave and Broadway). 37,769,000. This is the major shopping center of Manhattan, anchored by Macy's. I wonder how many riders are coming from Penn Station, one long block away, and how many from PATH.

4 : UNION SQUARE and 14TH ST. 34,730,000. Interesting. Where are all these people coming from? It's the closest express stop to New York University, and there are plenty of small stores, and some offices. I've been in this area in the evening recently, and it is a happening place full of life. I am still surprised to see it at number 4.

5 : PENN STATION (Seventh Ave). 26,892,000. The first one that is on only one subway line. This is only one block from number 3, and has some of the same traffic from Macy's and other stores. But then there's Penn Station. I've had trouble finding an annual count for Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak railroad passengers using Penn, but 200 million is in the ballpark. Way more than Grand Central or the bus terminal. But for continuing the journey by subway, they've got two separate adjacent stations at Seventh Ave and Eighth Ave and a third nearby at Sixth Ave. Combined those three have 88 million, which blows away Times Square, fed by the combined railroad and shopping traffic.

6 : PENN STATION (Eighth Ave). 24,265,000. Look how evenly Penn Station splits to the two stations. The Seventh Ave side is close to more stores and that's probably the difference. If these two were connected within the subway system they'd take the number 2 spot.

7 : 59TH ST and COLUMBUS CIRCLE. 20,711,000. It's not the prime stop for theaters or Lincoln Center or Central Park or midtown offices, but maybe it's just close enough to each of them.

8 : 59TH ST and LEXINGTON AVE. 19,554,000. Look at that. It's almost the other Central Park corner, and it's got almost the same numbers. A big thing here is Bloomingdale's and other stores, and it's at the north edge of the office district.

9 : 86TH ST (Lexington Ave). 19,147,000. The first one in a primarily residential area. It's the only express stop for a mile around, and the residential towers are in this area are tall.

10 : MAIN ST. 18,630,000. The first one outside Manhattan, and it's way the hell out there in Flushing. The meaning is clear: the subway stops short of where a lot of riders want to go. They transfer here from many local bus lines.

11 : FULTON ST. 18,303,000. The first one that is mainly based on journey to work, I'd say. This is four interconnected stations from which office workers can go home to all points in the city. Even so it competes with other stations very close by. It's also the closest station to South St Seaport.

12 : LEXINGTON AVE 53RD ST and 51ST ST. 18,025,000. Another journey to work station, in the heart of the Midtown office district.

13 : 47TH-50TH ST (Sixth Ave). 16,518,000. Again, plus the tourist stuff around Rockefeller Center.

14 : ROOSEVELT AVE and 74TH ST. 16,280,000. Queens isn't the biggest outer borough for subway ridership, but it sure is concentrated. The only really big passenger magnet here is that Roosevelt Ave has very good express service to Manhattan, so people must be staying on the local bus to get here.

15 : CANAL ST (Broadway, Lafayette St, Centre St). 16,007,000. Chinatown, what's left of Little Italy, cheap stores, and the north edge of the courthouse district.

Brooklyn's top stations are downtown: Borough Hall and Court St (24 with 11,135,000), Jay St Metro Tech (28), and Atlantic Ave and Pacific St (29), the last raised somewhat by the adjacent Long Island Rail Road terminal. The next ones are Utica Ave (Eastern Parkway) (36), an impressive showing by Bedford Ave (North 7th St) (46), and Flatbush Ave (Nostrand Ave) (62).

The Bronx's best are 161st St Yankee Stadium (37) and 149th St (Third Ave) (50), the only two that crack the top 100.

Now for the bottom of the list.

 Bad locations: Cemeteries. Bay Parkway, Cypress Hills, Bushwick-Aberdeen.

405 : BAY PARKWAY (McDonald Ave). 427,000. F train. Consider a circle around this station, and you find that three-quarters of the area is a cemetery. As you'd expect, the "residents" don't ride trains much. Close it.

406 : ATLANTIC AVE (Snediker Ave). 424,000. L train. It's right above the Long Island Rail Road's East New York station, but a, who cares, and b, walking two blocks gets you to Broadway Junction station (number 169) with much better train service. Close it.

407 : CYPRESS HILLS. 419,000. There's not much here besides the eponymous cemetery. Close it.

408 : BUSHWICK AVE - ABERDEEN ST. 399,000. L train. Hidden away on a dead end street next to a cemetery, and it's just like number 406, too close to Broadway Junction. Close it.

409 : BEACH 25TH ST. 388,000. Rockaway. Not bad for a suburban railroad station, but this is the subway.

410 : BEACH 90TH ST. 339,000. Ditto, and see number 420.

411 : BEACH 36TH ST. 327,000. Ditto 409.

412 : 21ST ST (Jackson Ave). 320,000. Long Island City. G train. Close it. There are other stations nearby.

413 : ROCKAWAY PARK. 269,000. See number 420.

414 : 143RD ST (Southern Blvd). 256,000. 6 train. Close it. A lot of riders want to get past here to where they're going.

415 : AQUEDUCT. 238,000. I'm impressed it has even this much traffic, for a location at the edge of nowhere. Feel free to add 30,000 who use the part-time Aqueduct Racetrack station, because it doesn't make much difference. But before closing it, let's hang on and see whether the track's foray into slot machines generates traffic.

416 : BEACH 98TH ST. 215,000. See number 420.

[ 417 : WHITLOCK AVE. Foul. It was completely closed for 8 months in 2010, so no wonder the counts are a little low. In 2009 it did 480,000, which isn't great, but it's enough to keep it out of the bottom 15. I'm not considering it. ]

418 : BEACH 44TH ST. 144,000. Rockaways.

419 : BROAD CHANNEL. 93,000. On one side, a small town in the middle of Jamaica Bay. On the other side, nothing.

420 : BEACH 105TH ST. 65,800. Oh come on. That's an average of 180 a day, or with 4 trains per hour, 2 passengers per train. It's easy to understand. On one side is an empty lot and a parking lot, and on the other is an industrial property full of tanks. Great. Why is this station open? All four stations on the Rockaway Park branch are in the bottom 15— numbers 420, 416, 410, and 413. Why is the line open?

Really bad locations: Broad Channel and Beach 105th St.

What should we do with the whole Rockaway line south of Howard Beach? The only two stations not in the bottom 15 are Beach 60th St (378 with 789,000) and Far Rockaway (302 with a respectable 1,375,000). I want to allow that during the past year many of the stations have been closed part of the time in one direction for construction, but the passengers must have just gone on to the next station, and they are still all low counts.

The numbers really are well within the range of Long Island Rail Road station counts, even Far Rockaway (subway) which has fewer riders than about a dozen suburban stations. Far Rockaway (LIRR) has one train an hour, or two in rush hours, and a ride from New York will cost you $7.25 off peak. Should we really be running four trains an hour for $2.50 on the subway side?

I know. No one wants to open the can of worms about the gap in fares and frequencies between subway and mainline rail lines. It's the "third rail" of transit policy... or maybe some other metaphor! We can save that for another time.

The images are from Google Maps.



  1. This is fascinating -- as someone who just moved to Manhattan it's really interesting to see the stations and their traffic analyzed. The fact that Main St is so popular does suggest that the line should be extended in this direction, and makes the beach stops sound even more impractical

    I'm hoping to make a visual map of ridership, and your post is a great starting off point for thinking about how to go about it.

  2. Lawrence VelázquezAugust 3, 2011 at 1:51 AM

    Bushwick–Aberdeen is incredibly difficult to find, even if you investigate the intersection. I wonder how many nearby residents simply go to the hulking Broadway Junction down the street.