The results of the Fall 2021 Customers Count and COVID Travel Survey are in!
This survey was the largest one we’ve undertaken. Between September 20 and October 4, 2021, we reached out to over 1.8 million customers and received responses from approximately 123,000. It was also the first survey to target customers using all of our modes of transit, including subways, buses, commuter rail, Staten Island Railway, and Access-a-Ride Paratransit.
The goal of the survey was to better understand how customers are currently using our services and to learn about any issues they have with the system. We also wanted to hear from customers who have not returned to riding with us since the pandemic and find out why they are choosing not to ride.
“Our customers are telling us that their travel patterns are changing and that they expect change from the MTA too,” MTA Chief Customer Officer Sarah Meyer said during a presentation of the findings at November’s MTA Board Meeting. “Both current and lapsed customers are telling us that they want to see a system that’s safe, clean, reliable and more cost effective. The good news here as the MTA is moving ahead with initiatives to address these concerns and we’re confident we can win riders back to a new and better transit system."
Hearing directly from our customers lets us better understand their biggest concerns and prioritize issues that we need to address, all with the goal of bringing customers back to our subways, buses, and trains.
Here are some of our findings:
Customers are still working from home — and that’s keeping them off public transit.
Both lapsed and current customers said that the shift to working from home has affected their travel patterns, with 36% to 70% of lapsed customers (or those who have not used MTA services since March 1, 2020), on average, reporting that they have not yet returned to work locations. Even those customers whose workplaces are open are not going to offices as much. Current customers are commuting less, but are taking more discretionary trips to see friends and family, go shopping, or go out to restaurants.
Customers care about crime and cleanliness.
Crime and cleanliness during the COVID-19 pandemic was cited as a top concern for lapsed customers. This has kept many of these former customers from returning to the transit system, even though it is safer and cleaner than ever. Public perception matters.
Customers are using other modes of transit.
Both lapsed and current customers reported shifting to other modes of transit to get around, including driving, biking, for-hire vehicles, and walking. Current customers cited perceptions of unreliable service and long wait times on subway, bus, Staten Island Railway, and paratransit. Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road customers reported using personal vehicles for some or all of their previous railroad trips.
How we're addressing those concerns:
Hiring more train and bus operators.
Having more train and bus operators lets us provide better service for our customers. We’ve prioritized hiring for these jobs, as well as other roles that are critical to keeping our services running smoothly and on time. We are also supporting our employees’ wellbeing and health by offering easy access to free vaccinations and flu shots. Keeping our teams healthy and protected is critical for providing the services customers rely on.
Prioritizing customer safety.
Our subway customers (64%) on average, indicated they feel safer in the presence of uniformed police officers. We’re working with public safety officials to ensure that customers’ safety concerns are addressed and advocating for more police on platforms and aboard vehicles.
Stepping up our COVID-19 safety protocols.
Masks are still required on all MTA subways, buses, and commuter trains, and in indoor stations. Compliance with this rule is high — close to 90% on subways and buses — but to get us closer to 100%, we’re still handing out masks in subway and rail stations. And we’re still cleaning and disinfecting our trains, buses, and other vehicles once every 24 hours.
Rolling out big changes to bus service.
We’ll begin piloting all-door boarding next year, which will help get riders onto buses faster. We’re also working with NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) to launch more busways and implement automated bus lane enforcement, all with the goal of speeding up buses and giving our customers a better experience.
Addressing service delays.
Paratransit customers cited on-time pickups as their biggest concern, and we’re listening. To help ensure timely pickups, we’re partnering with new car service providers and working with our current partners to provide more trips.
Evaluating our fares.
Planned fare increases for subway and bus customers have been postponed indefinitely. We’re currently looking at new ways of structuring our fares that will match customers’ usage of our transit systems and expect to share more on that soon. Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road customers will enjoy off-peak fares through the end of 2021.