Those of us living in New York City through the pandemic know that, while the subway is much safer than it was decades ago, it's less safe than it was a few years ago.
To quote one recent report, the New York Police Department counted 461 underground assaults across the city in 2021, 102 more than in 2020, and the most since 1997. For perspective, a typical week has a ridership of some 20 million, or more than 3 million rides per weekday--in a huge city where the system operates 24/7.
ABC reported that, according to NYPD crime numbers, the chance of being a victim of any subway crime is 1 in about 408,000. "These are very random events," said one expert, who likened the chance to being hit by a bus.
So the subway is still generally safe, and most trips are uneventful. (I wrote this before the extremely rare, though of course unsettling, shooting on a train in Sunset Park, which brought more police to the subway system. And the suspect was quickly caught.) The mayor has increased the number of police patrols as well as social work teams to assist homeless people who choose the subways over the not-so-safe shelter system.
But please recognize that the subway system is not the equivalent of a suburban train ride, or even the generally calm subways of many other world systems.
So, over the course of a week of riding the subway, there may be panhandlers (sometimes aggressive); there may be people lying down on the seats (sometimes messy); there may be people acting out by ranting or smoking.
Does that mean we don't use the subway? No, but we're more careful, and maintain street smarts. I haven't been on the subway after 11 pm in a while. My girlfriend, with a greater degree of vulnerability, doesn't take the subway alone after 9 pm between Manhattan and Queens.
On the platform, experts advise that you should never wait near the yellow line or be distracted by your phone. Back up to a pillar or wall, or stand firmly in the middle of a platform. Stay around others; don't isolate yourself at the end of a platform. Don't look fearful and make yourself a target.
Keep your wallet/phone in a front pocket, not a back one; don't leave your wallet or purse visible in an open bag. Don't flash cash. Stay aware of your surroundings; don't isolate yourself with earbuds. Avoid bumping into people.
In off-hours especially, consider riding in the first car, or the middle car, which has the conductor.
When faced with a less than pleasant situation, often we just endure it, with the rest of the straphangers just trying to get to their destination. Sometimes we switch to the next car. Every now and then, I get out at the next stop and wait for the next train.
Does that mean you should, or shouldn't, take the subway? It's a personal assessment of whether the marginal risk/annoyance is worth it in terms of convenience, speed, and cost. I'm a big fan of the subway. (I buy a 30-day card for unlimited subway and bus rides.) But if you stay aware, you lessen the risk.
Below, more from the NYPD.
Touring Brooklyn Blog
Observations and ephemera related to my tours and Brooklyn. Comments and questions are welcome--and moderated.