Hundreds of people living in the subway have left the system in the past year, even as homelessness has risen citywide, data shows.
Almost 670 people have moved out of the transit system since July 2014, according to the Department of Homeless Services. Of the more than 600 chronically homeless that the agency tracks, 158 people remain in the subway system.
"That's a very important part of the conditions in our subway," said Chief Joseph Fox, who heads the NYPD's Transit Bureau. "Because we're doing more operations with outreach in the field, we're making less arrests and more people are taking services."
Not all panhandlers are homeless, but the NYPD says it has seen a drop in the number of people asking for money.
Arrests of begging riders have dropped 52.2 percent -- from 578 at this point last year to 276 so far this year. Summonses for panhandling and asking for MetroCard swipes also have dropped.
Panhandler busts are still higher than 2013, when 128 people were busted by cops.
Penn Station subway musician Jean Matheus, 37, said his trumpet was stolen several times by panhandlers, but doesn't think it's helpful to arrest them.
"A lot of them have mental illness and are not on their medication," he said. "They need help, counseling. A lot of people feel sorry for them."
The NYPD credits the decrease in arrests this year with fewer people living in the subway, as well as a focus on quality-of-life violations like panhandling and break-dancing. Homeless services said it has tripled its outreach workers since starting a new program with the MTA in July last year.
Police have arrested overall fewer homeless people this year for any offense -- 1,327 so far, down 14 percent from almost 1,550 at this point in 2014. Simultaneously, transit cops have doubled their joint operations with the Bowery Residents' Committee, which provides housing for the homeless.
The 75 officers in the Transit Bureau Homeless Outreach Unit have done more than 700 joint operations, a 115 percent boost from the 339 joint operations from the year before. During the operations, two cops provide Bowery staffers -- typically counselors and social workers -- with security while they contact homeless people.
More than 85 people have been moved out of the subway this year by the transit cops and the Bowery committee, up almost half from 58 last year, police said.
People aren't considered placed outside the transit system unless they have stayed in a shelter for at least 30 days.
The drop in chronically homeless people underground is a significant contrast to the overall city. In June 2015, there were 58,671 people living in shelters. In January 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, there were 53,615 people in the shelter system, according to city data.