By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
New Yorkers have always had a love-hate relationship with the subway system. However, as of late, with the rising crime, the pendulum has decidedly swung in the hate column. Some are afraid to take the subway and ride only during the daytime, others have stopped riding it altogether and some continue to pack into the subway car because they have no other choice. One man has been following the trends closely: Subway aficionado and enthusiast Derrick Richard has long been doing what he can to help New Yorkers get from point A to B. By the time he was 13 years old, Richard memorized all of the routes and stops of the MTA subway system. As he got older, he would go to busy stations like 34th St, Lexington Ave or 14th St and help commuters until he decided to take his services online.
Although he isn’t associated with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Richard, now 25, keeps a very close eye on what’s happening with the subway system and tweets out service changes as they happen. He’s been doing so since 2014. From 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and again after 2 p.m., he seeks out Tweets from frustrated passengers hoping to get an answer from @NYCTSubway, the MTA Twitter account on the status of their trains. Richard often responds way before the MTA does. Richard has loved subways since he was a toddler living in the Bronx. He is currently unemployed, but hopes to become an MTA train conductor — his dream job — in the near future. Richard spoke with Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado about the changes he has seen in the subway ridership and service.
Epicenter-NYC: How has the MTA changed before the pandemic, during its peak and now?
Richard: Throughout the pandemic, a lot of the train service was reduced and very limited because of crew shortages, many of them having Covid, and really nobody was riding the trains because of the lockdown. When the lockdown was lifted in NYC, a lot of people started to come back because everything was starting to reopen up once again and the Covid numbers came down. Right now in 2022, there are still many people riding the subways. A lot of the service has come back to regular weekday service like it was before the pandemic happened. Even though masks are required, people are wearing masks but others are not — that is the main difference between now and 2020.
Epicenter-NYC: What about subway violence, have you noticed an increase?
Richard: There has been an increase in subway violence. There have been a lot of police investigations — somebody got shot on the train, someone got pushed to the tracks, somebody got stabbed on the trains or robbed. So there has been a lot of subway violence lately, and a lot of homeless people on the subway, those with mental issues have been causing a lot of violence lately.
Epicenter-NYC: Have you noticed a rise in “police investigations” interrupting subway service?
Richard: Today there hasn’t been a police investigation, but recently there have been a lot of police investigations responding to a ‘disruptive passenger.’ Just yesterday, disruptive passengers were riding on top of the 7 train. They’ve had to call the police on that before.
Epicenter-NYC: How can one incident affect the entire subway service?
Richard: If it is a disruptive passenger, sometimes the trains can hold in the station for a long time and cause a lot of backups, but it can vary depending on track space. If there was a disruptive passenger on the Jackson Heights E train, they can easily reroute trains to the local track and keep service moving. But if it is a disruptive passenger in the 116 Street station on the 2 and 3 lines and the NYPD investigation takes a long time, that’s when you have to stop service and even suspend service in both directions. It only has two tracks going uptown and one downtown.
Epicenter-NYC: Have you seen subway ridership change after the recent subway shootings?
Richard: There has been a lot of change in subway ridership because some people still have the fear of taking the subway, with robberies, shootings and stuff like that. The MTA is trying to get everyone to ride the subways but it’s not just one incident, it’s multiple incidents — the shootings, fights and stabbings that are happening in the subway system. It’s been really tough to get ridership up and make them feel safe on our subway system.
Epicenter-NYC: Are there still some subway lines that continue to stay crowded despite the shootings and increase in violence?
Richard: There are still some subways that are still very crowded. Last Saturday, I was on the 2 train and the train was very packed even though we had to get off and take the shuttle bus because of track work. Nonetheless, the 2 train was very packed when I was riding it in the afternoon from 135 Street to Times Square. It’s mostly on the 2 train, the F or the E as well, some subways still are crowded.
Epicenter-NYC: Why would commuters keep riding the subway despite violence?
Richard: New York City is a very big city and the subway is the number one transportation that everyone uses. Some people only have the subway as their only choice of transportation, not everybody in the city has cars and not everybody can afford to ride a taxi every single day. Everybody is still riding the subway system because $2.75 is still the cheapest way to get from point A to point B. There are also a lot of people who live further away, for example in Eastern Queens, they only have buses and they may take the bus to the subway despite the shootings and violence.
Epicenter-NYC: What is one method you would suggest to decrease subway violence?
Richard: We need more police officers on our subway system on the trains and patrolling the platform making sure everyone is safe and no one is being very suspicious, and that no one is disrupting or causing anything. We need more people and definitely more police officers, also on our buses too. If that could happen a lot more people will feel safe on the subways and more people will continue to ride the subways and we may be able to go back to ridership increasing up again to pre-pandemic levels.
Epicenter-NYC: What tips would you give New Yorkers riding the subway?
Richard: If you see something, say something. Make sure you are on high alert and watch your surroundings. If you see something suspicious, talk to a police officer or an MTA employee and they will send someone to deal with it — just be safe.
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