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May 19, 2010 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Did transit workers let people ride for free on September 11th, 2001 in NYC?

I've just left New York, and was at the World Trade Center a few nights ago and started thinking about the logistics of what happened that morning when everyone was panicked and trying to get out of the city. What was the situation regarding transportation? Were people streaming onto buses and subways without paying? Did conductors generally make people pay regardless? I know this wouldn't be true 100% of the time, but did it happen most of the time?

If people were getting on buses and subways without paying, did this extend to the LIRR, PATH trains, and ferries like the one that goes to the Statue of Liberty?

Segueing into my second question - are there policies made available publicly that explain what transit workers are supposed to do in these emergency situations? Are they supposed to head back to the main station or continue on their regularly scheduled route?

I'm curious to hear from people that might have been there, but secondhand stories or news articles would be appreciated as well.
posted by amicamentis to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (38 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
PATH, subways, and NJ Transit trains were all stopped by about 10am, when I left my office in the West Village. I was able to get to NJ via the NY Waterworks ferry from midtown to Weehauken, no charge. Ferry workers were just trying to fill up the ferries as quickly as possible, as they were one of the only ways out of Manhattan at the time.
posted by xsquared-1 at 5:42 AM on May 19, 2010

PATH services to lower Manhattan obviously weren't in operation, as the terminus of the line was located directly beneath the World Trade Center. (Thanks to some quick thinking from a train operator, the station was evacuated, and the last train was pulled out of the station just before the collapse)

I have no idea if NJT/LIRR/Metro North were running, although I doubt fares were collected due to crowding.

The anecdotal evidence seems to be that the ferries were the saviors of the day for commuters looking to get out of NYC.
posted by schmod at 5:49 AM on May 19, 2010

I had to pay to ride the DC Metro. My roomate rode the bus for free early in the day. My boss rode his expensive commuter bus to the suburbs for free, they took on extra riders and hitchikers and the driver dropped everyone off near there homes.

After the initial log jam of cars trying to cross the bridges out of town, the downtown streets were completely empty, save for an occasional humvee full of troops and a soldier standing at the center of every intersection. The only thing moving was Metro. It was fucking eerie.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2010

My sister was in Brooklyn at the time, and from what I understand, most transit was not running after a certain point in the morning. This was both because a huge piece of the infrastructure was destroyed, and because people weren't sure what other buildings or systems might be targeted.

People had to walk home from Manhattan; my sister and her friends went down to one of the bridges to give out water to people. I'm not sure what taxis and buses in the outer boroughs were doing, but I imagine they were pretty scarce.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 5:52 AM on May 19, 2010

I walked home from the village to midtown, because there was no transit running. In fact, we walked most of the way home up 8th Avenue, because there were no cars allowed below Times Square. My father walked most of the way to New Jersey. I didn't know what was going farther away, but in Manhattan below 50th street, nothing was running. I suspect the same was true in most of the city.
posted by decathecting at 5:56 AM on May 19, 2010

I didn't try to get on any transit until late that afternoon, and then they were running, and charging, as normal.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:58 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was no transportation, I first walked home from downtown where I worked a couple blocks from the towers and then from my place in the East Village with a friend across the Williamsburg bridge, which was almost shoulder to shoulder with people on foot in a mass exodus from lower Manhattan, to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There were big crowds of Hasids at the foot of the bridge on the Brooklyn side with folding tables set up giving out bottled water and damp towels for people to wipe the dust from their faces with.
posted by The Straightener at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

The last Staten Island Ferry left a few minutes after the first collapse. Those remaining in the ferry terminal area were evacuated about an hour later by (free) city busses which took us up the FDR (empty except for us and our police escort) to 34th and 1st. Getting to Brooklyn from there was as decathecting and The Straightener describe.
posted by gubo at 6:09 AM on May 19, 2010

I paid to take the L into Manhattan at about 9:10 or 9:15, after both towers had been hit (I could see the towers, from Metopolitan Ave-- don't ask me why I still tried to go to work; I have no idea). I paid my fair, and the passengers, despite some crying, were relatively calm. I must have taken the 4/5/6 train too, to get to my office in Midtown, but I don't remember it.

I also paid my way back to Brooklyn on the L, at about 1:45 or 2 I think, after walking downtown from 57th street, against the flow of everyone else, which was surreal.
posted by activitystory at 6:13 AM on May 19, 2010

I can't speak to NYC, but Boston's "T" was allowing free rides all day.
posted by cmar618 at 6:14 AM on May 19, 2010

The short answer to your question is yes, subways were free when they reopened on Sept.11.

I was in midtown at 57th and Seventh Ave. As others have said, everything was on lock down for most of the work day. No buses, no subway, and very few cars or taxis were on the street.

Sometime in the late afternoon, maybe around 3pm, they started opening main subway lines, like the A, 1, and 6. I walked over to Columbus Circle to get the A uptown. The turnstiles weren't locked, the emergency gates were open, and transit workers were shepherding people onto the trains. You did not need to swipe your metro card. And the whole scene was eerily quite. The trains were packed, and silent except for the people who were crying.
posted by kimdog at 6:14 AM on May 19, 2010

quiet, not quite.
posted by kimdog at 6:15 AM on May 19, 2010

Now that I read kimdog's post, I realize I don't have a memory of swiping my card in the afternoon. I assumed I would have remembered something as remarkable as a free subway ride.

As probably evidenced by my typo-ridden earlier post, it all sort of rushed back to me. I haven't thought much lately about what I was doing that morning, the mundane stuff. Now I know I'm doomed to refresh my recent activity all day to watch this thread grow.

posted by activitystory at 6:19 AM on May 19, 2010

Phila/PA regional rail was free also.
posted by tremspeed at 6:23 AM on May 19, 2010

I attended a school a couple hours north of the city. So many of my fellow students were from the city. Metro North was definitely down. Students were trying to get friends and families to come to Poughkeepsie or Albany to stay in the dorms, but there was no way for anyone to get there.

The president of our college was in the city when it happened, and the school was trying to figure out how to get him back to campus with all transportation down and all exits closed. Somehow he was back that night and held an emergency community meeting.
posted by zizzle at 6:29 AM on May 19, 2010

I don't remember when the subways came back up, but they were definitely down for quite a bit.

I will say that some movie theaters in NYC were free for a while after 9/11, too. Many of my friends wound up seeing The Musketeer for free. Does anyone else remember this?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 AM on May 19, 2010

I was in Brooklyn. No transit running. Most of the trains from my neighborhood (Sunset Park) went into/through lower Manhattan so clearly they couldn't go. I honestly can't remember when they started up again.
posted by miss tea at 6:31 AM on May 19, 2010

Also - it was $1.50.
posted by thejoshu at 6:31 AM on May 19, 2010

Yes. At least for the Metro-North trains going north from Manhattan into Westchester and Connecticut.
posted by dfriedman at 6:34 AM on May 19, 2010

The last time I was in New York, I talked to a Duck tour operator who said that he spent the day shuttling people across the water at no charge.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:40 AM on May 19, 2010

NJ Transit out of Hoboken was free, or at least no one was checking tickets on the train. They also had different schedules that usual - basically 'pack them in until there's no seats at all, then let it go'.

The bus I took from work in Weehawken, to the ferry, was the 126 bus, which went from the Port Authority to Hoboken. With the Lincoln closed, no bus. I ran into a guy who was going the same way, we flagged a cab, and the cabbie charged us, well, less than usual for the run to Hoboken.

I actually went to work the next day - the only one to make it into the office - and it was just kind of weird. I still get a little weirded out by days with clear skies and just a little cooler than average, the same as the 11th.
posted by mephron at 7:13 AM on May 19, 2010

Metro North service was suspended that day till afternoon, and Grand Central was closed/evacuated. When they reopened, things were crowded and the schedule was ad hoc, the way it is during a big winter storm. They did not collect tickets.
posted by xo at 7:22 AM on May 19, 2010

Had to check my notes. Yes, Brooklyn to Manhattan on the subway was free when they reopened the trains at 1:30pm.
posted by MsMolly at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2010

According to this, subway and bus service was partially restored by 2:59, but I can't find anything about whether it was officially free. I walked from Soho up to the east side after the attacks. In late afternoon I walked back downtown and over the 59th Street Bridge. The trains were running by the time I got to the bridge, but I was freaked out about taking a subway under the river. Got on the train on the other side, though. Can't remember if I paid.
posted by Mavri at 7:59 AM on May 19, 2010

Non - 9/11: I've seen the MTA & Police open up the gates for free rides exactly once in my 10 years here to prevent the crush of the masses of people. In my memory it was a Yankees game, but I've been to many other Yankees games where the crush of people is ignored and it's a royal pain to get through the paying turnstiles. So it doesn't make sense to me what they did that once. So it was likely some other special mass gathering to alleviate crowding.
posted by yeti at 8:54 AM on May 19, 2010

I got the metro north out of the city at around 2? 3? They didn't check/collect fares - although as a practicality the train was so packed that it would have been impossible - although most people on it would have had monthly tickets anyway.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2010

I got on a NJ Transit bus from Jersey City Heights heading to Hoboken at 9am(ish). I paid like usual. By the time I got 3 blocks from the house the bus made one of its usual stops in front of Palisade Park. The driver came on and said 'If you are trying to get into the city you should get off now because there is no way to get in'. I looked at the passenger across from me and said that is weird. What happened? He said a plane just hit the WTC. I remember thinking well who does that? What a bad driver! Got off the bus and looked across the water and saw the building smoking. I thought well that was a wasted fare and walked home wondering how I was going to get to work. It wasn't until I got back to my apartment that I understood exactly what was happening. I didn't get back into the city for 2 days. By then everything was back to charging as usual.
posted by MayNicholas at 9:40 AM on May 19, 2010

I don't think the G train ever stopped running. I walked across the Queensboro Bridge and took the G home around noonish. I believe it was free, but my memory is shaky on that point.
posted by rikschell at 9:51 AM on May 19, 2010

I took my usual bus from Jersey City to Hoboken (paid) and there heard that the PATH wasn't running to WTC. I'd seen the smoke from the first plane hit and at that point still thought it was an accident. The PATH to 33rd St. was running so I paid and took that to 33rd St. The second building got hit sometime between then and me getting across town to my job.

Once I got there and found out about the second attack, it became obvious that I wasn't staying at work that day. I sent some quick emails to family members and then went back across to the PATH station. Paid my fare, got downstairs just as a train was leaving. Another one pulled in, we got on it, and there was a long wait, ended by a PATH operator walking through and telling us the trains were out of service.

So we all got off the train and walked over to the ferry. The ferries were filling up and running for free at that point, back and forth with no schedule other than to move people as fast as possible. The line was literally at least a mile long and took a few hours--I got sunburned--but every time anyone thought about complaining, you'd see someone covered in that gray ashy dust and kind of get over it.

On the Jersey side, the buses were a mess. I got on something that looked like it was vaguely going where I needed to go, and walked half a mile or so back home. They didn't charge for the bus ride.

So I think after about 10:30 AM anything that was running was free.
posted by bink at 9:56 AM on May 19, 2010

My girlfriend and I lived about a quarter of a mile south of the WTC on 9/11. We stayed at our place until the power went out (around dinner time or so). Then, we walked a very circuitous route North and finally ended up in the village, and the West 4th street subway. By then the trains were running again, and it was free - we just walked through the turnstiles and onto an uptown train to a friend's apartment.
posted by aerosolkid at 11:03 AM on May 19, 2010

Subways definitely stopped running by 10:45 or so. I know this because it is why I ran from NYU's campus to 25th street in heels, carrying all my books.

Every transit agency has a rule book for operators that cover emergency actions. I was actually reading the MTA's for work today. Some emergencies are not really the kind you can plan for, though.
posted by millipede at 2:24 PM on May 19, 2010

At some point in the afternoon (maybe around 2 or 3pm) I took a bus from the upper east side to Penn Station. I'm pretty sure I paid a fare, because I vaguely remember hearing a rumor that the buses were free and then being surprised when I had to pay. I took the LIRR out to Queens, so the LIRR was definitely running at that point, though I don't know if it was on schedule. I don't remember if I had to show my monthly ticket. Everything felt sort of up-in-the-air; I didn't know if I'd be able to catch a bus, didn't know if the LIRR would be running when I got to Penn Station.
posted by pluckemin at 3:37 PM on May 19, 2010

I (mostly) walked from the Upper East Side to Brooklyn--first we were directed to the Brooklyn Bridge, which was closed, we ended up walking across the Manhattan bridge--we did take a bus part of the way down, but not very far as I remember, because everything was closed to all traffic below a certain point. It was very crowded, and free. This would've been around 3:00, 3:30 in the afternoon.

(I wish I remembered more details--thinking back on the day, it's amazing the kind of specific flashes of memory I have, but a lot of the afternoon was a total blur. Walking 10 miles in heat, confusion, terror and dread will do that to you, I guess.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:41 PM on May 19, 2010

On post-view, missed your second question. There's probably policies in place now, but on the day it seemed like no one had any idea what was going on. (Witness us first being mistakenly directed to take the Brooklyn Bridge.) As I recall, it was mostly transit workers directing people--the police were, naturally, a little busy.
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:44 PM on May 19, 2010

I took one of the ferry boats from the 23rd St pier to get back to Jersey City after the PATH was shut down and was not charged -- I've always assumed that the city has some kind of contract in place with the various ferry systems where once a state of emergency is declared, the ferries suspend their regular services and operate under some kind of pre-arranged 'evacuation schedule A' plan and that the city later reimburses them for the day's operating costs.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:45 PM on May 19, 2010

I worked on Pine Street, about two blocks away from the Trade Centers. I got to work right between the first and second planes hitting. When I got downtown, I was blocked from entering my building (I worked on the 47th floor of another skyscraper, and security had started to fear that all tall buildings were possible targets). Things get a little fuzzy here, but I believe the second plane hit as I stood there like an idiot outside on Chase Plaza for some indeterminate period of time, gaping in shock at all this happening overhead, and then I apparently zombie-shuffled my way to the 1 & 9 train Wall Street entrance, caught what had to be one of the last trains outta there (which is weird, because it was nearly empty), and headed back to my apartment in the West Village. By the time I got above ground at 13th & 7th, the first tower had began to fall. I paid going both ways.

Hmm. Without wanting to derail the thread, this question (aside from kicking up some delightful flashbacks) has me wondering if people got free rides on the day of the blackout.
posted by involution at 10:10 PM on May 19, 2010

I was on the Upper East Side that day, and there was no discernible "panic" in my area, as the OP's question suggests. I am sure there was plenty of anxiety - I felt awful - and I have no doubt that near the site things were quite different. But there was not, at least from what I saw, any kind of panicked rush. Since, as everyone has said, walking was pretty much the only option for most people for much of the day, and a lot of people had to walk very far, all you're going to do is, well, walk. It's not like you could run all the way home if you worked in the West Village and lived in Astoria.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:42 PM on May 19, 2010

I rode the subway in Manhattan that afternoon. At the uptown station where I got on, the gate next to the turnstiles (for strollers or whatever) was left open. I had the impression that it was left open explicitly so that nobody had to pay a fare - I vaguely recall the station attendant motioning people to just walk through.
posted by exogenous at 8:18 AM on December 28, 2010

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