Subway worker shortage threatens NYC’s push to bring workers back to offices

An MTA worker shortage could derail New York’s push to lure workers back to Manhattan offices — with mass subway cancelations and overcrowded cars.

As around-the-clock services resume and workers return to their commutes, the Big Apple’s public transportation agency is struggling to man the trains, internal records obtained by The Post show.

Last Wednesday marked a pandemic high of over 2.5 million trips, according to official MTA stats — but transit dispatchers had to cancel a whopping 114 scheduled trips because they could not find anyone to drive.

A lack of subway operators or conductors forced the cancellation of 5,355 trains through the first 18 days of June — which is already more than four times the number of canceled services in June 2020.

More than 8,000 scheduled trips were nixed in May, the internal documents show, with June on pace to record more than 8,700 canceled trains.

In pre-pandemic times, just 500 or so of the MTA’s 200,000-plus monthly scheduled trips were canceled because of a lack of workers, sources said.

Compounding the problem, officials have now been forced to spread out the trains that do make it out of the terminal, sources said — which in turn increases wait times and crowding.

general view of an MTA bus with a "masks required" sign
Mass subway cancelations and overcrowded cars can be expected with a worker shortage.
Christopher Sadowski

“The subway’s convenience hinges on frequent service,” said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance. “Without it, people will choose other modes or continue working from home.”

Insiders said the shortage stems from the COVID-19 pandemic, which killed over 150 transit workers and spurred many hundreds more to retire.

Officials also instituted authority-wide hiring and wage freezes as they mulled massive budget cuts due to depleted ridership.

“We’ve seen attrition — hundreds of positions in the division of Rapid Transit Operations, which is the conductors, train operators and tower operators,” said Eric Loegel, Transport Workers Union Local 100 Vice President for Rapid Transit Operations.

“The hiring hasn’t kept pace with regular attrition, let alone the attrition because of COVID.”

Today begins the first day of madatory mask wearing on NYC's subways and MTA bus services under penalty of a $50.00 fine
Officials have been forced to spread out trains that do make it out of the terminal.
Matthew McDermott

As a result, Loegel said, “more and more scheduled trips need to be canceled.”

The MTA experienced a net loss of over 2,800 employees since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures. The worker shortage has also plagued MTA bus operations, The Post reported in April.

Meanwhile, New York lags behind other US cities when it comes to workers returning to the office.

Transit management has tried avoid train cancelations by paying out overtime, but sources said it will take months to get the workforce up to size.

Conductors require up to three months of training, while train operators require up to eight — meaning a motorman hired today won’t be driving trains until the beginning of next year.

A train conductor for the 1 train Broadway line wearing a mask as he closes the train doors
The MTA experienced a net loss of over 2,800 employees since the start of COVID-19.
Taidgh Barron/NY Post

“You can’t just hire someone and put them on a train,” said Lisa Daglian of the MTA’s in-house advisory council. “There’s an entire process, and that timeline can’t be diminished.”

MTA spokesman Tim Minton on Sunday confirmed the staff shortage’s adverse impact on ridership.

Still, Minton noted that subway “performance continues at historic highs,” and pointed to public stats that show bus performance changed little since September.

“There’s no doubt ongoing crew shortages, as well as some challenging issues with our tracks and signals, had an impact on service in recent weeks,” the rep, Tim Minton, said in a statement.

“We continue to prioritize reliability for our riders and are working as quickly as possible to hire and train new crews as we recover from an unprecedented hiring freeze.”

 

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