Morning Subway Demographics


Because I often work very late or come in very early to the office, I have been able to observe some demographic patterns on the subways in the AM hours. It’s interesting to see how the ethnic, class, professional, and gender makeup evolves as the morning hours go by.

(Please forgive the generalizations inherent in ad hoc ethnography):

3:00-4:00 AM
Drunks of all sorts, club kids, and winos. Late night workers, busboys, getting off their shifts. Only a handful of people per car. 6:1 male/female ratio.

4:00-5:00 AM
Transit workers changing shifts. Maybe 6 people per car. All male.

5:00 AM – 6:00 AM
Blue-collar laborers, minorities, immigrants. Half the car is asleep. Maybe 20 or 25 people per car. 9:1 male/female ratio.

6:00 AM – 7:00 AM
Construction workers, blue-collar laborers, hospital workers. 75% of seats in car are taken. 7:3 male/female ratio.

7:00 AM – 8:00 AM
Low-level office workers, civil service workers, some Wall Street broker types. Mostly minorities, lots of black women, lots of all kinds of women in fact. 90% seats occupied. 1:2 male/female ratio.

8:00 AM – 9:00 AM
Professionals, white collar workers, office workers. 100% seats occupied, many people standing. 1:1 male/female ratio.

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Early-career yuppies running a little late, creative industry workers, all sorts of professionals. 100% occupied. 1:1 male/female ratio.

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Hung over office workers, some seats available. 2:1 male/female ratio.

11:00 AM – noon
Starting to see people who are running errands for work, not just going to or coming from work. Plenty of open seats. 3:2 male/female ratio.

UPDATE: Great stuff from a 2004 New York Times special section dedicated to the NYC Subways (thanks Gothamist):

  • A diagram of the hourly population density of the subway (the 1/9 line) over the course of a single work day.
  • A drawing of the demographics and cultures along the F line (my line!) station-by-station, by the excellent Danny Gregory.


33 responses to “Morning Subway Demographics”

  1. great photo

    i used to be in that first demographic, now Im in the 3rd from last

  2. Wow. Okay. This makes me want to wake up earlier in the morning to catch the 7-8am slot =)

    Anyways, I wonder if the above is true in SF. Thanks for the observation.

  3. twhid: Same story here, except in the last year I’ve moved into the 8-9, sometimes even 7-8 time slot. Gotta show up early. Time to make the websites!

    Sherwin: My theory is that women tend to be more on time for work than men, and many have jobs that require them to get things up and running before the bulk of the staff arrives. Men seem to be given more slack for their latenesses, perhaps — except of course those guys who get up at 4:00 for the day labor gigs.

  4. might be interesting to get a little context. what train are you talking about, here? you moving from one borough to another or sticking strictly to manhattan? i would imagine that the demographics of where people get on and off change as the morning goes on as well (ie, more people getting off in lower manhattan earlier in the morning; more people staying on ’til midtown as the morning progresses).

  5. Nathan Avatar

    Also interesting is that the bulk of the commuters in the morning happens in a relatively short amount of time, but is evenly spaced within that time, I feel. But in the afternoon, there are huge spikes at 5 and then again at 6, but the trains aren’t as crowded in between.

  6. mr nice guy: I take the F train from Red Hook, Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan. Interestingly, at my station in the 6-7 time area I also see tons of Polish guys waiting for the G train heading towards Greenpoint, presumably going home. What were these guys doing in Red Hook all night? Or were they transfering from the F? I think about these things a lot.

    It’s interesting to watch the demographic shifts just from station to station, too. West Broadway on the F is in the heart of Chinatown, so the Asian population of the train surges (in the AM) and plummets (in the PM) as the F passes through. And any train that intersects with the L train loses (or gains) a thousand hipsters at 14th street.

    Nathan: Yeah, I think morning people stagger themselves on purpose to avoid the big crowds. it’s a wisdom of crowds thing, I suppose.

  7. This is SO my morning commute. The pic rocks. Bikes everywhere, half the people is asleep. Yeah, that’s my morning in Chicago all right. Good one.

  8. Spot on. Art director. I’m a 9:59 guy. I find that if you go later you start seeing lots of students/unemployed/tourists as well.

  9. fact checker Avatar
    fact checker

    this can’t be right. there is no time when there are more female to male. Yet, there are more females in NYC. what’s up with that?

  10. Hey fact checker, look at 7:00-8:00 again. Ladies outnumber gents two to one.

    Fact checker, check thyself!

  11. Weeze Avatar

    We civil service workers often have flextime, FYI, thus the 7:00 to 8:00 slot. I get off at 4:30, whoo!

  12. dopelickit Avatar

    i’m glad i work in fashion PR, live and work in the west village.
    a) it’s assumed i’ll be late/hungover once in awhile.
    b) it’s ok that i’m late/hungover everyday.
    c) i never take a train anywhere.

  13. Andrew B Avatar
    Andrew B

    I’m part of the crush from Gawker. Interesting, seemingly inconsequential story at first, but what a nice website! == teh bookmark

  14. wow, this is truly amazing work you’ve compiled here.

  15. I used to go alllll the way down the 6 in the morning and just delighted picking out the (invariably stylish) women that would get off with me at Spring as I slumped to my underpaid internship…I’m a 9:59’r myself (maybe we should start a club…)

  16. Hey this blog post got picked up on Boingboing!!!

  17. THis is pretty right on.. I’m an early career professional * not yuppie.. young latino professional!) .. in the creative field.. so i am a 9-10… sometimes 10-10:30 depending if i went out the night before.

  18. Hmm, you don’t mention any students! High school students take up a lot of the train from 6-8AM, and commuting college students from 8-9AM or so.

    Then there’s all the papers people are reading. It corresponds really well to your entry. First come the Daily News and Hoy and El Diario before 7, then the NY times and Wall street journal from 7-8, then the AMNew York and Metro from 8-9

  19. brian Avatar

    Another interesting way to use demographic data…

    Looking to buy a house in LA, Seattle or Phoenix, in a good neighborhood with plenty of disposable income? Plot all the Starbucks in town on Purchase a home in or near the highest concentration Starbucks cluster area (this method lets Starbucks do your demographic studies for you)… you may prefer the suburban cluster over the downtown cluster …

  20. cheryl Avatar

    ur observation is very interesting…but recalling wat happened in london…ur information may become very useful to a certain group of people who may plotting terrible things…

  21. oh noes the terrorists are coming for us!

  22. Yeah, PP, that’s what I was thinking. Cheryl, get a grip on yourself. As much as some people — both terrorists and western government leaders — may want you to be fearful, you must not let fear and paranoia cloud your judgement. If you seriously think anything I’ve said here could in any way help any sort of bad guy, then you should probably seek counseling.

  23. eat it good Avatar
    eat it good

    is it news that people take the subways? even terrorists aren’t this dumb.

    anyway, cool observations. i’d love some accompanying pictures of each time period. 🙂 maybe even an interview or two would be cool. it’s mind boggling to think about the million different stories people in a subway car live. and here they are, for one moment in time, converging on a single spot.

  24. This is so interesting, you sort of know this stuff in your head, but seeing it down on “paper” makes sense of it all.

  25. Kevin Avatar

    Watching crowds has always been more fun than being part of them.

  26. dallas Avatar

    I think this photo is of a group of Columbia Univesity students. There’s a class taught there about the history of New York City and one of the activities is a midnight bike ride through the city. It ends at the Brooklyn Bridge at 4am and everyone hops on the train, exhausted, and rides back up to campus. I took the class a few years ago and would have been one of those sleeping people on the train.

  27. dallas: Interesting guess, but incorrect. It’s actually from a bike “race” I did a few years ago called the Warriors Alleykat. The ride was inspired by the movie The Warriors. All participants dressed up in costumes to form “gangs”, and raced a winding, challenge-ridden course from the Bronx to Coney Island, including a section of the course that involved riding the subway.

    Nine soldiers max per gang. Make sure and wear your colors! All soldiers must stay together, but not all soldiers will finish. Who will get “busted”? Who will get “iced”?

    My gang was the Prom Knights, and the gang in this photo was called the Tennis Pros. You can see some other photos here and here.

    Seriously, this was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.

  28. strudel Avatar

    hi chris,

    interesting post. i live in sydney, australia, and i do a lot of thinking and studying related to the city. i have often thought about the currents of people who colonise the slots of space on specific train/bus routes at specific times. i recently moved house and have noticed a huge difference in the human traffic on my bus home. my old suburb used to be in an area that was a place to go to, a suburb with markets, pubs, cafes and parks. my new suburb is a place where people go home to, with small streets lined with houses and empty post-industrial warehouses now empty and silent. the trip home now is much more quiet. i like to hear people getting phone calls around dinner time: “yeah, i’m on the bus, nearly home, put the oven on now, i’ll do the rest when i arrive”. that makes me happy.

  29. strudel: I like that, too. Phone calls on trains can often be highly annoying, but since my stop is the first stop after the train emerges from underground, in my experience they have usually been heartwarming little chats about people coming home soon to see their loved ones, and that’s not so bad.

  30. Hi Chris,

    I tried to visit your site today to see what you were up to, but Safari crashes every time I log on!

    Anyway I snuck in the back way with a Google link. It landed me here on this page, which is pretty cool. I love those bikes!

    I spent years riding the Philly subways. Whenever I could get a seat, I used to tuck my handbag between me and the car wall for security — but even so, someone was able to steal it one day. I still don’t know HOW he got it out of there without me seeing/feeling/hearing anything!

    Later that day the police found my purse in a trash can in a bathroom somewhere, and called me to the station. No money, which I expected. But what I didn’t expect were a bunch of extra business cards in my wallet from people I didn’t even know — including a card for the head of the Philadelphia Port Authority. It was way too weird. I wonder what happened to my handbag in those hours!

    The police then led me to view a line-up of 5 guys. Of course it was hopeless — if I had SEEN the guy stealing my purse I would have fought him for it!


  31. This one makes sence “One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesstion everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.”

  32. Hi Christopher – sorry I’m reading your blog so late! I was wondering if you knew where I could find “hourly population density” diagrams for other lines. I’ve been riding the subway all my life, particularly the 6 train, and all of your observations were dead-on! Even though I’m a 20 yr old female, I’ve been on the train alone as late as 3am (partying) and as early as 6am (am running class around the reservoir) thanks to going to school in Manhattan and living in the Bronx.
    Any help would be great!

  33. Hey I am a resident doc and we get to work by 9 so yea I start my commute at 6:45 in Manhattan and get to BK at 7:30. BUT i hardly saw women on my ride maybe just one or two so on less popular trains the 6-7 is also into 7-8 (meaning less females)