I Rode The Subway Around the UWS for the First Time in Months; Here’s How It Went

By Mariel Priven

Disclaimer: I was infected with COVID-19 in March, and have since tested positive for antibodies, so I probably feel more comfortable riding the subway than the average, self-isolated reader. That being said, I took every precaution I could, as there is still a lot unknown about the immunity associated with antibodies, and out of concern for the safety of my family members who were not sick.

I decided to ride the subway in the late morning so as to give essential and phase one workers priority and space. I also went with the following route with the hopes of learning the most about the lines and stations you all are most likely to use: I rode the 1 train from 96th to 59th, and then the C back up to 86th.

As I walked down the stairs of the 93rd street Broadway entrance to the 96th street station, I was immediately met with the familiar subway smell I hadn’t inhaled in three-and-a-half months. It’s one of those smells I can’t name, but automatically equate with the subway. It didn’t suggest dirt or germs the way one might associate with our subway, but rather the century-old and reliable system used by millions of New Yorkers.

When I entered the station, it was essentially empty. I refilled my long-unused MetroCard, and immediately noticed that the keypad where I entered my debit card’s security code was clean. I had never seen the buttons so shiny.

I swiped in at 10:23 AM, taking note of the functioning OMNY readers, but unsure if they had been there on my last ride on March 1st.

I walked down to the downtown trains and estimated 20–30 people on the platform, all spread out; decals on the floor of the station and platform indicated a safe distance to maintain between passengers. Everyone was wearing masks, and an MTA employee was emptying and replacing the trash.

I boarded the 1 train at 10:25, and instantly noticed the cleanliness everyone has spoken of. The familiar orange and red seats were more vibrant and shinier than I’d ever seen them; the poles practically sparkled; the floor felt smooth and clean, absent any unconfirmed sticky substance; and the air felt fresh, clean, and breathable. The cleanliness of the car is probably only noticeable to New Yorkers and other frequent riders — it doesn’t scream Lysol or feel artificially covered in disinfectant, but it’s undoubtedly cleaner than any subway car in which I’ve ridden, and I’ve ridden in a lot.

My ride to 59th went smoothly. There were only three to five other passengers in my car at any given moment, and they were all wearing masks. The stations we passed were all pretty empty, all with those floor decals marking six feet, and I only saw one man without a mask.

One man boarded my car at 72nd street, mask and all, holding one of those disposable flossers. It was unclear whether he was using it to touch surfaces and avoid using his hands—people have gotten quite creative these days—or to unhygienically floss on the subway. I never saw him use it.

At 66th I saw the aforementioned unmasked man, who appeared to be experiencing homelessness.

At 59th a few people exited onto the platform with me, and all, save one, were masked. As I walked to the B/C train, the platform felt extremely empty.

I boarded an uptown C train at 10:34. It was also much cleaner, but not as shiny as the 1 had felt. Only two other passengers were on the car with me, both masked.

Again, the ride went smoothly, with rather empty platforms, consistent floor decals, and masked riders.

At 10:38 I exited the train at 86th and Central Park West. The platform felt very clean—cleaner than the 96th street 1/2/3 station, probably a result of the large number of people who use the 96th street station for its easy access to 42nd street.

I rubbed some hand sanitizer in my hands and headed above ground.

Overall, I felt very safe riding the subway. It was clear that the overwhelming majority of riders were taking the necessary precautions to keep themselves and others safe, and that the MTA was doing its part as well. I was definitely not riding at rush hour and can confidently say that the late morning hour provided a safe and comfortable time to ride.

If you’re working from home and don’t need to ride the subway, maybe give priority to essential workers for now. But if your work restarts with phase two or you need to get somewhere a little farther than usual, the subway felt like a good option right now — at least based on my experience. The cars are clean, there are very few people riding, nearly everyone has masks, and everyone is maintaining safe distances between each other. Chances are that you can ride the subway with less contact and greater distance from others than in a narrow store aisle.

NEWS | 48 comments | permalink
    1. Linda H says:

      Thanks. That is helpful as I venture out into known but currently unknown territory.

    2. Anthony Campbell says:


      Great to hear one persons perspective on one trip.

      It would be great to hear more accounts on a regular basis as NYC opens up.

      Thank you

    3. Michelle says:

      Your experience was quite different than mine. I rode the express train on Wednesday at 9:30am from 42nd to 72nd. There were four people in my subway car. Two women, myself included and two men…one lying on the seats showing his butt while the other lifted his dress as he masturbated the entire ride. When we arrived at 72nd, I informed the conductor & he rolled his eyes in disgust as the train left the station. Needless to say I felt extremely unsafe.

      • Sophie says:

        Michelle, I am so sorry that you had to witness that 🙁 I am so angry with you!

      • Danielle Remp says:

        Thank you, Michelle, for providing an drastically different picture. In the past month, I’ve had both very comfortable and downright scary experiences on subways and buses. It’s important to know ahead that it’s unpredictable.

        Also, no matter how disinfected mass transit may be, it takes only one — with or without symptoms or mask …

        I worry for those who must commute, and doubly so, when I envision the city moving beyond Phase I.

      • Ari says:

        Thank you for sharing, Michelle. While I have been fortunate enough to avoid masturbators so far, I have ridden the subway a handful of times in the last few months and was approached, followed, and spoken to multiple times by men I did not know in stations or on trains. I do not feel safe in the subway right now.

      • lynn says:

        Michelle, very sorry that happened to you. Both my coworkers and I have had similar experiences. Unfortunately this has been going on for years and I have yet to find a conductor or police officer who has any interest in hearing about these things after the fact. With all the new advancements in technology is it possible there is a tech savvy person out there who could come up with an app allowing passengers to call for assistance while these things are happening in real time?

      • Janis says:

        While I found Mariel’s acct informative it was not half as entertaining as yours. It is reassuring to know that some things remain the same.

    4. Kate Skinner says:

      I haven’t yet ridden on the subway but glad they have cleaned cars and stations (and not just for health reasons) !!! It has long been terrible that the subway is so filthy ! It doesn’t need to be. The London Tube is so very clean–every car and every station!!!!!! and it is a large metropolitan city so there is no reason NYC couldn’t have that same standard.

      • Buddy Revell says:

        Standards begin with the riders who use it. Subways are trashed bc many users have no respect for others. I routinely see people spit, throw trash on the ground within several feet of a trash can, and spill food. Look at some of their own neighborhoods as an example.

        I could eat off the floor on the subway in Singapore. Nothing will change until rules are enforced and people generally learn to take care of nice things.

      • uwsbacksliding says:

        The London system closes overnight for cleaning, whereas nyc runs 24/7. We can be clean too by closing down at night.

        • C.A.B. says:

          Okay…. I’m about to go on a bit of a rant, brace yourself.

          That bit about the London Underground is incorrect. But everyone believes it, and it drives me insane. The Jubilee, Northern, Central, Victoria, and Piccadilly Lines all run straight through the night on Friday and Saturday as part of the Night Tube service that was implemented in 2014. And the Tube never closed for “cleaning,” it closed overnight due to serious noise issues (a large part of the system, especially the older lines that run in open cuts like the Central and District Lines, generate massive amounts of noise aboveground), and for track, signal, and system maintenance and general work, just like the WMATA’s Washington Metro does. The “closed for cleaning” thing is one of those things everyone just believes automatically for some reason. People repeat the same thing about the Milan Metro, Paris Metropolitan, Berlin U-Bahn, Chicago El, et cetera, and it’s not true in any of those places, either. London was able to activate the overnight service thanks to extensive upgrades to tunnels and signaling, as well as altered and creative servicing patterns. And they plan to keep upgrading, and activating it on all of the remaining lines, and expanding it to additional nights, because London keeps growing and improving. Meanwhile, NYC is in full-retreat.

          Bottom line, the system does NOT need to be shut down overnight for “cleaning.” It isn’t even shut down now. It still runs, since maintenance crews, MTA employees, and the like, still use engineering, trash, and cash trains all through the night. The same cleaning they are doing now could be done at only a slightly-reduced level by keeping the cleaning staff they’ve organized online, and limiting station cleaning to certain, more-quiet nights (like Sunday into Monday), and doing what they’ve always done, cleaning the trains once they go into the yard after they’re done running for the day, just more-frequently.

          The shutdown is not about cleaning or COVID-19, it’s about kicking out the homeless, and Cuomo’s obsessive need to be “Excelsior tough guy muscle car man that gets things done.” He literally did it right after he freaked out about that Daily News cover about homeless people taking over the trains. I mean, that story barely mentioned COVID-19. It was just pearl-clutching about “scary” homeless people. And the very next day…. It had to be closed overnight for “cleaning.” Sure it did.
          He just wanted to look like he was doing something (because ego, and because he’s deluded enough to think he can run for President in 2024). …Even though surface transmission of this particular virus appears to be nearly a non-issue as we learn more about it.

          The shutdown is horrendously inconvenient to poorer workers and essential workers, who rely on the system to get around at odd hours, and would be a death knell for the city’s youth and nightlife businesses if allowed to continue past the pandemic. It’s a cowardly, pathetic, embarrassing retreat from what New York is in its soul. The Subways didn’t shut down for 9/11, for World War II, for World War I, for Spanish Flu, for Hurricane Sandy (although it was limited until they cleared tunnels)… Until Cuomo showed up. Now we close it for snow storms. And I don’t trust a governor that openly talks about being a “car guy,” and regularly diverts transit funding to Upstate highway projects (like a six-lane, five-mile highway that goes from the middle-of-nowhere to a military base in the middle-of-nowhere, thanks for that, what a boon to the state that $125 million you spent on I-781 was) to ever actually bring it back without significant pressure placed on him. It NEEDS to come back if this city is ever going to regain what it has lost during this crisis. Please, please don’t repeat that canard about the Tube, you’re just giving him more ammunition.

          …Sorry, that was a rant. I am just VERY frustrated by this.

    5. Joanne Morse says:

      Thanks for this! Very helpful to have an eye-witness report about the very things I’ve been wondering about. Maybe it wouldn’t be crazy to try the subway and get to the eye doctor.

    6. Bonnie says:

      This excellent article definitely gives confirmation to Governor Cuomo’s declaration that he would be instrumental in providing Covid Free subways, that will be/ and which are now the cleanest in MTA history! Was there hand sanitizer in.evidence too?

    7. Anne Gruber says:

      that all sounds good. i got on an eastbound M57 bus at 2:30pm and before I got to my essential medical appointment on 6th Ave it was SRO. just an FYI.

      • HelenD says:

        Do you mind if I ask a few questions about the bus? Do you still enter on via the back door as was suggested a few weeks ago? When you say SRO is that because everyone was spaced in every other seat? I don’t see any changes at the actual bus stop downstairs from me, in fact I haven’t seen any buses, much less riders. I don’t mind sitting next to someone as I don’t have the stamina to stand all the way crosstown to York Avenue. Thank you!

        • rs says:

          I’ve ridden the M5 numerous times since the lockdown began, from the 90s to midtown. At first it was even emptier than usual, but the last couple of rides, in the last week or so, it’s been quite crowded, including people standing (rather than sitting next to someone). Everyone is masked, the ventilation is good, but if you’re nervous the bus may not be the best choice for you.
          I was on the 3 last Sunda, round trip 96th-42nd, and it was fine, hardly any passengers on platforms or in cars, everyone keeping their distance. Of course, this was Sunday, it’s going to be different during the week.

        • B.B. says:

          All passengers enter and exit buses from rear. Only exceptions are elderly and those with disabilities that need the ramp. Buses are still free, and front area is sealed off with plastic. Thus if you do enter via front (see above) you remain in that area of bus.

          Buses are still free, even SBS.
          In my experience many bus passengers are wearing masks, but there are those who aren’t or doing so improperly.

          Some passengers choose to stand even when there are seats. But often buses get crowded and people sit as usual.

          If crowds and potential for seeing people without masks freaks you out, bus travel may not be for you atm.

    8. Tamar Kummel says:

      That’s a really great account. Thank you for the report.

    9. Ellen says:

      Thanks for your essay with pics on the subway during the pandemic. I’ve taken the #1,2,3, and the A,C,B from the Upper West Side to my office near Battery Park several times. My experiences comport with yours. I found the subway to be strikingly clean, and of course it’s a shame it took a pandemic for that. 😉

    10. El Bo says:

      This accords with my experience last Tuesday on the 3 train at about 4:30 PM. More riders than described (perhaps 15 in the car) but everything clean and everyone masked and spread out.

    11. J. L. Rivers says:

      Good to know. I’ll be riding the 1 train for the first time in three months tomorrow. This gives me reassurances that it won’t be as bad.

    12. Kim says:

      Thanks so much for the info. I have to take a round trip farther than I would like to walk. I will consider taking the subway after reading your report.

    13. B.B. says:

      Keep in mind subway platforms, track, stations are so “clean” because in large part ridership has been nil for over three months.

      NYC subways carried over 5 million passengers per day in February. By early June numbers were only 735,747.

      It’s much easier to keep something clean when no one is using it.

    14. A says:

      Mantra: IF you ride the train Do you part.
      Masks+DISTANCE= Safety
      Or something clever like that

    15. joe cee says:

      Thank you for this report. I know at some point I may have to get back to the subway but I am extremely concerned of what it will look like in a few months of heavier use and in Sept/Oct when there may be a second wave.

    16. Susan says:

      London subways may be cleaner than New York’s because there is only limited Night Tube service.

    17. Juan says:

      Thank you for sharing. This is great to hear though it isn’t sustainable long term as eventually, large numbers of people will need to resume using the subway for the city to return to “normal.” I’m still not sure how that will work.

      I think the ideal subway car has 5-10 people on it – there is a certain safety in numbers in case one of the other passengers turns out to be like some of those mentioned in other comments. I actually do not feel safe on an empty car for fear of who might join me on it.

    18. Diane says:

      Thanks for this well-written (and illustrated) essay, but let me add two notes:

      First, we read last week that there was an attempted rape at the Broadway/West 72nd Street #1,2,3 station – admittedly on a low-ridership Saturday. This is very alarming.

      Second, a friend entered the same station about two weeks ago on a weekday and descended to the platform. Shortly afterward, a man came down to the platform and proceeded to urinate against one of the girders.

      Lax patrolling and much lower ridership obviously contributed to these incidents and one hopes that as things ease up and more people are around, this will change.

    19. Christine says:

      I rode the 2/3 Friday around 8:30 am from 96 to 125th. The car was super clean; I was on my own. At 125th someone was squatting with his/her(?) pants fully down, peeing all over the platform, so much urine that it was spilling onto the tracks. Stepped over to avoid. The reverse trip around 2pm was different. A packed 2/3 with many NOT wearing masks – shocking. Also… get off on the west side of the street at 93rd and try — just try — to social distance at the construction projects on Bway. You’ll have a better chance seeing unicorns.

    20. Craig Plaxe says:

      I also rode the subway for the first time recently. On Sunday June 7th early morning and then again on Saturday June 13th early morning. Taking the number 2 train from the Bronx to the Upper West Side. On both occasions I was forced to continually change subway cars as there were three or four passengers in many cars without masks. Some people were holding them in their hands some people were letting them dangle around their necks. I was very freaked out and feared for my safety. On one of the trips I saw two police officers board a car that I had just exited because of multiple unmasked passengers. I observe those officers get on and stand at the doors that they had just entered. They rode for one stop without commenting to any of the unmasked passengers and then the police officers got off the train. If shop owners are allowed to Bar customers from entering their establishment if they’re not wearing masks who is going to provide that service to the Riders on the subway. MTA employees are not instructed to do so. There needs to be a police presence on every train to enforce this law.

    21. EGF says:

      I rode the downtown 1 train last week from 66th at 8am. It was me and one other person on the platform. As the train pulled into the station I noticed most cars were empty or had 1-2 people in them. I boarded a car with 2 people on board. The car smelled of disinfectant and the surfaces were cloudy with streaks which shows they had been wiped down and were wet at one point. My concern is that workers are merely moving germs around from one surface to another. The stop at 59th street was eerily quiet as nobody boarded or got off. The station was empty. I don’t fear for my health as much as my physical safety on the trains since there is virtually no other people around to help if something were to happen or someone were to approach you and you felt threatened. For that reason I will be avoiding the subways until there are more people around.

    22. lauren lese says:

      I rode the C train to work last week in Soho from the upper west side, entering at the 72 street station. I too noticed that the stations and trains were cleaner than ever before and most people were wearing masks. I did not feel at risk of contracting Covid but for the first time since High School in the 1970’s and early 80’s I felt unsafe for other reasons. While I did not have the unpleasant experience Michelle did, I did feel that old sense of needing to keep my wits about me and potential for danger. I will continue to ride the subway, I did it then and still believe it is the best way to get around NYC. But I hope people will return to the subways in greater numbers so that feeling of relative safety can return. Covid19 is not the only thing that can endanger a person in New York.

    23. ben says:

      Rode the subway (1) for three roundtrips last week between 96th and 168th for work. The uptown ride in the morning has always been less hectic during normal days and last week I’d seen at most 3-4 others in a train car with me. The downtown ride in the PM predictably had more passengers but all sitting as far apart as possible from each other.

      In general the train cars were clean and the stations were fine. People observed enough social distancing and almost everybody was masked up, save for one or two (you always get these one or two).

      The overall number of infections are low enough now that when combined with the sharp decline in subway ridership, makes traveling by subway (if you have to) not totally a scary proposition.

    24. Rachel Mehler says:

      Great article!

    25. David says:

      Bought a bike last July. Barely been on public transportation since. I’m much happier.

    26. Susan says:

      Please continue to give us updates on the quality and nature of any subway and bus rides that are relevant to UWS-ers going forward. Also other time periods besides early morning or other rush-hours would be useful for those of us who DON’T need/want to go at those times. Thanks.

    27. Lisa Pottheiser says:

      Thank you! I have suffering from subway anxiety🤪 This article was so well written and very reassuring. Stay safe & well!

    28. PQDubya says:

      Same experience two weeks and one week ago. Subway platforms and cars (and NJ Transit) noticeably cleaner, although I did notice a lot of “scratchitti. Only one other person in the car two weeks ago, last week about 12 – any more than that and 6’0 distancing would have been impossible. Everyone wearing masks. all in all it was fine. No way can the system work and have 6’0 social distancing

    29. Andrew says:

      I’m a former UWS resident what bas forced out of the neighborhood by the cost of living. I grew up on 70th street and attended PS 87 and IS 44. I lived here for the first 28 years of my life. The son of a hard working superintendent and a hard working house keeper.

      My job recently located me to the area and I was excited to be in the neighborhood I remember and loved.

      Reading people’s comments here and their “fear” of the train just really drives home to me how the neighborhood has changed.

      Just because most people living here either had the resources to leave, or had the ability to work from home, doesn’t mean the rest of the city stopped going to work. The people delivering your food, or stocking your grocery store shelves still had to get to work somehow.

      My co-workers and myself have all had experiences with people in the neighborhood giving us “the look” trying to let us know we are not welcome.

      The UWS I remember was a diverse, caring community. The type of community that came together and built the Wood Park, the type of community that made you feel loved and accepted. That is gone now.

      Gone is Ray Bari pizza, gone is Big Nick’s. Beacon hardware is on the way out. This is the community that has developed. Is this what we want our community to be?

      • davidaron60 says:

        No, some of us are still here. Or have been able to afford to move back after leaving. But I understand exactly what you are referring to. Here’s hoping we meet on a stoop one day. Cheers!

      • Lisa says:

        Andrew, I’m so sorry to hear this, that makes my heart hurt. Know that there are more of us who feel like you do, than the outliers who give you “the look”.

        On another note, reading these comments and those in other posts, I fear for the mental well-being of many NYC residents. How are you all ever going to go out into the world again without masks? Or at what point will you feel safe going out without masks? There is something fundamentally wrong with this situation when it turns neighbor against neighbor in fear. We need to be smart and safe, but stay level-headed about it. Honestly it seems to be turning into a psychosis / fanatacism for some people, whom I fear will never feel OK about being out in the world again, no matter how far in the rear view mirror this is.

    30. Ed says:

      This is a very accurate report. I’m essential and have been taking mass transit through this entire endemic.

    31. B.B. says:

      At last count barely 1 in 10 subway riders were not wearing masks. Furthermore MTA while welcoming NYPD “reminding” passengers to wear masks, it does not want violators arrested or fined for violations. This is the same agency against people being processed for fare evasion remember.

      Next people have to consider something known as “message” or “alarm” fatigue. Basically people get tired of hearing something and begin tuning it out either on purpose or otherwise.


    32. B.B. says:

      Largest test for subways and NYC mass transit overall will be when or if Phase II happens on June 22 (next Monday). Offices and many other places are still closed, so numbers of people required to travel still is rather low.

      Truth to tell many people may never ride a subway again, or not in foreseeable future. They are biking, driving, walking, or any other means to get from point A to B without taking trains.

    33. Jaimee Pearl says:

      I did the same ride from 96th to Times Square on Tuesday . I also had not been on a subway since
      March 16th . It was extremely clean it even smelled
      decent and like her I felt a bit human again since I have been riding the subways for over 40 years . Overall I felt like the bandaid had been ripped off ……..

    34. Patty R. says:

      I rode the C train last week and saw more people unmasked than masked. Two were USPS employees in uniform and 1 was a UPS employee also in uniform. I saw no hand sanitizer either when I got on or when I got off and there was no one handing out masks at either end of my ride. What’s the point of requiring masks if no one is going to enforce it? It will be a long time before I venture onto a subway again