The New York City Economy Tracker is a joint project between Investopedia and NY1, using publicly available data to evaluate the economic health of the city across a variety of metrics.
For the week of February 27, 2023, we’re looking at public transportation in New York City, including passenger arrivals and departures at local airports, PATH and MTA subway ridership, and bridge and tunnel car traffic to and from the city.
Domestic Airline Travel Almost Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels
Regional airports serving New York City have nearly recovered their pre-pandemic passenger levels. As of December 2022, the region’s three biggest airports—Newark Liberty Airport (EWR), John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), and LaGuardia Airport (LGA)—totaled 11 million combined revenue passengers, just 4% below the pre-pandemic average from December 2019. All three airports have made considerable progress in recovering passengers lost due to the pandemic. In December of 2021, passenger counts across the three airports were still down 20%, on average. In December of 2020, they were down a stunning 75%.
Newark Airport has made the most progress. As of December, revenue passengers at the airport were just 2% below their pre-pandemic average, at almost 4 million. JFK and LGA lagged their pre-pandemic baselines by 5% and 6%, respectively, with passenger totals of 4.9 million and 2.5 million.
Recent passenger gains have been driven disproportionately by domestic flights. Passenger counts for international flights, however, still have significant ground left to make up. As of December, international flights at Newark Airport were still down 15% compared to 2019 levels, while those at LaGuardia were down 39%.
Public Transportation Use Lagging Well Below Pre-Pandemic Levels
Nearly three years into the pandemic, ridership for several modes of public transportation serving New York City remains subdued, with ridership on PATH trains, the MTA subway, city buses, and the Long Island and Metro North Railroads well below their pre-pandemic averages.
As of January, 3.7 million passengers rode PATH trains to and from NYC, lagging pre-pandemic levels by 44%. However, it’s a notable improvement from January of the previous year, when ridership was 67% below pre-pandemic levels.
Subway ridership has fared marginally better. In January, 89.2 million passengers rode the subway, down 28% from pre-pandemic levels. This also marks a significant jump from the same period a year ago, when ridership was down 49%.
Ridership on city buses and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) is down by a similar 32% and 29%, respectively, totaling 35.2 million and 4.5 million passengers for the month of January. Ridership on the Metro North Railroad is down 34% compared to pre-pandemic levels, with 4.2 million passengers riding the train in January.
Car Travel Has Made a Full Recovery
While the city’s public transportation system has struggled, car travel to and from the city has made a full recovery back to pre-pandemic levels. As of December, bridge and tunnel traffic was just 1% below its pre-pandemic baseline, with an estimated 10.2 million vehicles crossing the George Washington, Goethals, and Bayonne bridges, as well as the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the Outerbridge Crossing in Staten Island. Vehicle traffic for the Lincoln Tunnel and Bayonne Bridge is up 7% compared to pre-pandemic levels, with an estimated 1.7 million and 339,000 vehicle crossings, respectively, in December.
While vehicle traffic has been the quickest to recover, it also had a smaller drawdown early in the pandemic compared to other modes of transportation. Already by December of 2020, bridge and tunnel crossings were just 19% below their pre-pandemic average. By December of the following year, they were down only 4%, before making a full recovery over the trailing 12 months.