It’s an obvious idea, really. When an agency has hundreds of miles of tracks, subway cars and bus along with millions of passengers each day, why not test out innovations on the fly? Who needs a laboratory when New York City is filled with guinea pigs?
This approach to innovation is one that, over the last few years, New York City Transit has readily embraced, and with Howard Roberts at the helm, the agency is going to continue this policy full speed ahead. “Piloting stuff makes great sense,” Roberts said to me two weeks ago.
Over the last eighteen months, since Roberts took the helm at NYCT, more and more pilot programs have rolled out on the rails. The MTA embraced the Rider Report Cards and is in the midst of year two of the grading project. As a result of those report cards, NYC Transit has instituted the line manage program. Elsewhere, the city has seen the return of double-decker buses.
But the best, perhaps, is yet to come. As I wrote in August, New York City Transit will soon be tested train cars with flip seats that will enable the agency to accommodate more passengers during peak hours. The catch, of course, is that some of these cars won’t have seats, and everyone will be left standing.
Roberts wants to institute a test run of this program sooner rather than later to see if New York City Transit can begin to alleviate the problems of overcrowded. By deploying these retrofitted cars on some of the more crowded lines, the agency can add capacity to lines that can’t take more trains per hour.
When this pilot program commences — and it will still be a few months before that launch date — NYC Transit plans to stagger the seatless cars. Group them in the middle, and those rider angling for seats will avoid these cars like the plague. Mix it up, and straphangers will test these cars.
The MTA these doesn’t have much leeway in its budget for off-line experimentation. That the agency is willing to experiment on the fly, that they’re willing to take the risk that some pilot programs will work while others may not, is a sure sign that leadership is willing to do what it takes to respond to the demands of the passengers. If only our elected representatives were so obliging.