On the morning of April 12, Frank James filled a Manhattan-bound R train with smoke before firing 33 rounds into the crowd of passengers. Amazingly, no one was killed. The attack was an isolated instance of ideological terror, but it could not have come at a worse time for New York’s struggling subway system—and passengers fearful of returning because of the higher day-to-day risk of violent crime.
Subway ridership plummeted during the Covid pandemic, dipping as low as 6.5% its normal levels, but violent felonies—murders, rapes, robberies, and assaults—rose both per rider and in absolute terms. For over a decade prior, there were, on average, just 1.43 murders underground per year. But without the “safety in numbers” effect or the benefits of proactive policing, seven New Yorkers were killed on the subway in 2020.