In the halcyon days of pre-COVID New York City, an estimated 5.5 million people rode the subways on a daily basis. According to Spectrum News, ridership hit a low of nearly 366,000 riders on April 13, three weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the “New York State on PAUSE” executive order. On June 19, however, the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced that weekday combined ridership on New York City subways and buses surpassed 2 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March.
Taking all of this into account, questions still arise: Will suburban commuters want to deal with the subway, even with precautions in place like face coverings and mandatory cleanings? Will there be a demand for office space in short walking distance from the three major transportation hubs of Grand Central Station, Port Authority Bus Terminal, and Penn Station?
A new report from Colliers International endeavors to give necessary context to those questions.
To analyze the size of the Manhattan workforce, Colliers cites ”The Ins and Outs of NYC Commuting,” a 2019 report from the New York City Department of City Planning. According to that study, nearly 75% of the Manhattan workforce in 2017 either lived in Manhattan (29%) or the outer boroughs (45%). The remaining 26% of the Manhattan workforce amounted to 664,000 people commuting into the city from the suburbs. More than half of these suburban commuters worked in office-based jobs, significantly higher than the 38% of NYC residents who worked in office-based jobs.
Northern New Jersey was found to represent 53% of the commuter workforce coming to Manhattan from the suburbs, followed by Long Island at 23%, Hudson Valley at 21% and Connecticut at 5%. Nearly half of those commuters relied on NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. The study further showed 21% of commuters relying on buses, and an additional 21% relying on cars.
If commuters would prefer to work in offices nearest the three main transportation hubs instead of using the subways, available options appear limited. Colliers found that approximately 19% of total Manhattan office inventory is located within a 10-minute walk from Grand Central, followed by Penn Station at 12% and Port Authority at 11%. No single office building is located within a 10-minute walk from all three hubs.
Midtown boasts 52% of buildings within a 10-minute walk to one of these hubs. Most of them (42%) were walkable to Grand Central, followed by Port Authority (10%). The study found 33% of Midtown South was within a short walk to Penn Station.
Of the nearly 190 MSF office inventory within a 10-minute walk of the major hubs, Colliers found that 80% were in pre-war or post-war buildings. Only 11% were in post-2000 buildings. This is a potentially important issue, as newer buildings are generally more energy efficient and have better air circulation and filtration. Elevators in the newer buildings often have limited touch points and tend to have fewer occupants if they service specified floors.
New York City entered Phase 2 of reopening on June 22.