A new study recommends closing the New York City subway system late at night.
The proposal was made by the Regional Plan Association, an influential research and advocacy group, in a wide-ranging report released on Thursday that offers a blueprint for the growing metropolitan area.
The group argued that shutting down the subway during the wee hours would make it easier to repair what is broken and to upgrade a crumbling, century-old system.
The change would undermine the nighttime economy.
I’m not referring to nightlife —like crowds going to clubs and bars and restaurants and shows. I’m talking about the nighttime workforce, largely a group of economically marginalized people.
“The city is becoming more of a 24-hour city than it’s ever been,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University, who called the idea elitist. “Closing the subways is a way to undermine the health care industry, the restaurant industry, the office maintenance industry. This is a threat to the fundamentals of the city’s economy.”
Andrew Sparberg, a subway historian, said New York City’s subways have run 24 hours since the day they opened in 1904, following in the footsteps of elevated trains that had also run overnight since at least the 1880s.
That all-night availability is practically written into the fiber of the city’s being. Trains shuttle tourists back to their hotels and carry workers to and from their jobs at all hours.
Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subway, highlighted the city’s nickname in pushing back against the idea of weeknight shutdowns.
“I believe a permanent closure of the entire subway system every night is a bit draconian,” he said, calling it “inappropriate” for a city with a reputation for insomnia.
And although weeknight ridership makes up only a small fraction of overall ridership, the number of people who depend on overnight trains has increased. Between 2009 and 2016, weekday ridership between midnight and 6 a.m. increased 11 percent, according to Mr. Moss.
Juan Colon Jr., 53, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, said he had begun waking up earlier and earlier because subway delays were causing him to be late to work. He now wakes up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a 5:30 train to his job in food service at Hudson Yards.
At that time, he said, the platform is already packed.
“Everybody’s getting up earlier,” Mr. Colon said.
Atlanta Amado Foresyth, 46, a singer, said she rode the subway after midnight at least four nights a week, traveling from gigs at restaurants or private events to her home in Long Island City, Queens.
If the proposal becomes reality, she said, “the city will shut down.”
“The city will cease to be what it’s known for,” she said.
Rather than scaling back nighttime infrastructure and services, cities should be on the forefront of leveraging their investments in the evening economy to activate and expand the dimensions of the night.