Latest Subway Surfing Death Highlights Surge of Risky Riders in Pandemic
The number of incidents of people riding outside the train in 2022 was up nearly fourfold since 2021 and nearly double the 2019 tally.
The number of reports of people riding outside of subway trains skyrocketed to 928 in 2022 from 199 in 2020 — a staggering 366% increase, new MTA data shows.
The striking surge in “subway surfing” was highlighted after the death Monday night of a Lower East Side teenager who police said climbed atop a Manhattan-bound J train as it crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and fell to his death after striking his head against an object.
The death of the 15-year-old, identified by the NYPD as Zachery Nazario, was the latest in a string of tragic subway surfing incidents in a system where young daredevils routinely post videos to social media of their stunts atop moving trains.
“The subway system is not a playground,” Michael Kemper, chief of the NYPD Transit Bureau said Tuesday at a meeting of MTA board members. “Subway surfing is not only illegal, it is super reckless, extremely dangerous and people die doing so.
“Tragedies like this are avoidable,” Kemper added. “Don’t do it.”
The MTA numbers include reports of people riding not only on top of trains but also on the side of or between subway cars.
THE CITY reported last June that there were almost as many reports of subway surfing in the first half of 2022 as in all of 2019. The number of incidents per month topped out at 162 in May, according to the new MTA data, with 116 in June.
While the number of monthly reports of subway surfing dropped to 62 in July after a 15-year-old boy was critically injured in June while riding atop a No. 7 train in Queens, they rose to over 70 in September and there were more than 40 reports in every month for the rest of 2022.
“It’s a cool thing to do now, unfortunately,” Andrew Albert, an MTA board member, told THE CITY. “It has to be made an asinine thing to do, a dangerous and deadly thing to do, not a cool thing to do.”
For Maritza Santos, the latest fatality brought back the horror of losing her 14-year-old son, Eric Rivera of The Bronx, who was killed in November 2019 when he struck something while riding on top of a No. 7 train near Queensboro Plaza.
“It truly breaks my heart that other families have to go through the pain that I still continue to have and that will never go away,” Santos, who has three other sons, told THE CITY. “I still don’t understand how this is still going on.”
MTA data shows that there were 490 reports of people riding outside of trains in 2019. That number dipped to 199 in 2020, as subway ridership fell by more than 90% during the early months of the pandemic. The number climbed to 206 in 2021, then skyrocketed to 928 in 2022.
NYPD and MTA officials said the deadly message needs to sink in for those who ride outside of trains.
“We will continue with our outreach and enforcement in relation to unsafe riding and subway surfing,” Kemper said.
In December, a 15-year-old boy was killed after falling off a J train as it entered the Marcy Avenue station in Brooklyn.
The tracks near the Williamsburg Bridge and along the No. 7 line have long been favorites among subway surfers, with some posting videos of their escapades to social media sites.
“It’s scenic, too, which makes it good on the social media, to see the skyline in the background, or the river,” Albert said.
He added that those sites share in the responsibility of what gets posted online.
“Social media shouldn’t accept these kinds of posts,” Albert said.
Janno Lieber, the MTA Chairperson and CEO, said the MTA has previously ”made approaches” to social media companies about videos that showcase reckless subway behavior.
“We’re going to renew it again, this is something nobody wants to see,” Lieber said. “A 15-year-old kid just breaks your heart, so we’ve got to keep pushing.”