Metro-North New Haven Line ridership drop slows in December
Published 10:58 am, Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Ridership losses on Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line appeared to level off in December, railroad officials said. It's an encouraging sign in a year when overall ridership dropped about 4 percent because of white-collar job losses in Manhattan during the economic recession, the officials said.
Though New Haven Line ridership saw a drop in 2009, to 36.3 million rides from 37.8 million rides the year before, Bob MacLagger, Metro-North's vice president of operations and planning, said ridership losses fell more slowly in December, from 3.24 million to 3.19 million rides in the same month in 2008.
MacLagger said this is notable because ridership on Metro-North's Harlem and Hudson lines continued to erode at 4 percent to 5 percent in December, reflecting a recovery in New Haven Line ridership as job losses slow in finance and insurance-related employment in the New York area.
"It seems that companies have, on a limited basis, stopped cutting as many jobs, and we seem to be heading back toward stability," he said. "The drops are slowing down, and we're hoping that will be followed by our historic pattern of a return to growth."
The railroad released the final ridership numbers Monday.
The pace of job losses in New York City's financial services sector and related business in the professional services sector, which includes lawyers, accountants and computer support services, was nearly level in December 2009, said Jim Brown, a labor market analyst for the New York State Department of Labor.
The financial services sector in New York City lost 26,000 jobs from December 2008 to December 2009, while business and professional services lost 24,000 jobs in the same period.
"It certainly is a positive sign, but you won't really know if you've hit bottom and turned around until it is in the rearview mirror," Brown said. " It is certainly an improvement over what we saw earlier in the year."
Until January 2009, when ridership fell 1.8 percent, the New Haven Line had seen more than a year's worth of month-over-month ridership growth of 3 percent to 5 percent, according to statistics.
New Haven Line ridership began to fall off in the latter part of 2008, when, spurred by higher gas prices, a record 38.2 million people rode the New Haven Line, a 3.7 percent increase from the year before.
From January 2008 to June 2008, ridership rose 5 percent each month, peaking at 6.2 percent in July of that year as gasoline prices hit $4.50 a gallon.
In 2009, combined ridership on Metro-North's New Haven, Harlem and Hudson lines fell 4 percent, from 83.9 million to 80.5 million.
A rebound in the business and professional services sector of Fairfield County is not obvious from state Department of Labor statistics, which showed that the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area shed 900 white-collar jobs in finance from December 2008 and December 2009, said Jo Shute, vice president of marketing for The WorkPlace Inc. The organization administrates state and federally funded job training efforts in the region.
"We see and hear about a pickup in financial hiring and openings, but it wasn't something we've seen in the state employment numbers," Shute said. "Those are the workers that we would see whose jobs would be more centered in Stamford and Manhattan and would use the trains."
While additional holiday shoppers riding the train may have helped bolster train use in December, Darienite Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he was hopeful that decreases in ridership had reached a low.
"It could very well be that the decrease in ridership has bottomed out and be an indication of a strengthening economy," Cameron said.