Apr
30

MTA can’t really end overnight service

By

New York City is covered in subway stations. There are, in fact, 468 of them, and not one of them was designed to be closed overnight. Some are designed for reduced capacity late at night; some are designed to have fewer entrances open; but no matter the hour, a subway will eventually stop at every single station in the system.

Now, though, Elliot Sander, executive director and CEO of the MTA, is threatening to take it all away. Faced with a crushing deficit nearly 50 percent beyond what officials first projected, the MTA is facing a second Doomsday this year. Without a major funding plan from Albany, the MTA is going to have to raise fares and cut services for an unprecedented second time in one calendar year, and no one is looking forward to it.

During a Wednesday board meeting in which the MTA brass gave the go-ahead to its finance committee to draw up an 18-month plan that could be approved as early as June, Sander sounded a dire tone. “I’m not sure the English language captures what goes beyond doomsday but to me, as a transit professional, as a citizen and a user of the system, they are just unbelievably difficult and I think some would view them as horrific,” he said said.

Horrific as in no more 24-hour service.

Of course, that’s a political red herring, and one unmasked by reporters a few hours later. William Neuman of The Times, for example, wrote:

Asked if he would consider shutting down the subway late at night to save money, he said, “One can’t say that anything is off the table.”

He said that he had not discussed an overnight shutdown with the president of New York City Transit, Howard H. Roberts Jr., and that there were strong arguments for maintaining all-night service.

A transportation authority spokesman, Jeremy Soffin, later clarified those remarks, saying, “We are not actively studying a nighttime shutdown of the system.” He said running fewer trains at night was a more likely option.

It all comes back to those 468 stations. The system simply wasn’t designed to stop. There’s nowhere to store all of the rolling stock; the cost of securing the system would be immense; and the cost in labor or time in shutting down and starting up the system basically negates — and is generally believed to outweigh — the cost savings of a shut down.

Of course, that’s hardly good news. The MTA can roll back subway service to two trains an hour on nearly every line from 2 a.m. to, say, 5 a.m. It doesn’t even need to add complementary Night Owl bus service. It will make taxis a more alluring alternative and will add significant time to off-hours workers’ commutes. In other words, it’s a second Doomsday.

“I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps,” Frank Sinatra croons in his classic rendition of “New York, New York.” The subways are in fact the main reason why this city never sleeps, and to take away the late-night subway rides would be to rob the city of its vitality, its allure and its 24-hour-ness. It makes for a dire Doomsday threat, but it won’t happen. At least we have that silver lining in this dark grey cloud.

Photo of a closed subway station by flickr user A30_Tsitika.



Categories : Doomsday Budget

27 Responses to “MTA can’t really end overnight service”

  1. Mike says:

    “The MTA can roll back subway service to two trains an hour on nearly every line from 2 a.m. to, say, 5 a.m.”

    That’s already part of the adopted budget, to be implemented in late fall. How much lower can they go?

    • They could do it on every line. Off the top of my head, I think the fall rollbacks are only on some of the lines with the others still running three or four.

      I guess they could even roll it back to one an hour. They’d have to stick to a fairly rigid schedule though if they go that route. I can’t imagine anyone would wait for a train that isn’t going to come for 50 minutes.

  2. Phil says:

    “The MTA can roll back subway service to two trains an hour on nearly every line from 2 a.m. to, say, 5 a.m. It doesn’t even need to add complementary Night Owl bus service. It will make taxis a more alluring alternative and will add significant time to off-hours workers’ commutes. In other words, it’s a second Doomsday.”

    A second doomsday? Come on, here, isn’t what we are talking about here rational practices? Shouldnt the MTA as a matter of course be doing what you say between 2 and 5 am? Sure, hardship for some, but we need to be running the system more rationally and based on ridership.

    • The R in Brooklyn runs as a shuttle late night twice an hour and it is so extremely painful that I just walk from where the shuttle begins at 59th Street. The 40 minute walk (I’m a fast walker) is better than the 30 minute wait and actual subway crawl.

      When the shuttle begins at 36th Street I’m SOL or at the mercy or sleezy livery cabs idling by the subway.

      • rhywun says:

        I’m usually the first person to slam the smelly, unreliable R but I’ve had pretty good luck with it overnight. Also, it’s 3 an hour, not 2. For now.

    • Fairness says:

      You would be shocked at how many people there are riding the trains during the overnights. Certain lines are relatively full.

      • Phil says:

        so keep the full lines at more frequent service, and the others scale back.

        • rhywun says:

          Many lines ARE scaled back to shuttles already, such as the above-mentioned R, and the 5. Many others don’t run at all. We’re talking bare-minimum service already; cutting out one train per hour really isn’t that huge of a savings when you look at the big picture.

          • Phil says:

            So of it’s not huge savings why is the MTA threating it as part of a “doomsday” plan?

            • rhywun says:

              Because it’s an “easy” cutback, and it gets people’s attention. The real drains on the budget (labor, pensions, health care, debt service) are politically impossible to address.

              • Phil says:

                thus eroding the MTA’s credibility even further.
                Between that and Albany we’re stuck between two ridiculous entities.

            • Marc Shepherd says:

              So of it’s not huge savings why is the MTA threating it as part of a “doomsday” plan?

              They are not actually threatening it. In response to an open-ended question, all Sander said was that “everything is on the table.”

    • zgori says:

      I think the point is that if you are spending money to keep 468 stations open, the savings of running 2 trains an hour instead of 3 is pretty much negligible.

  3. Scott E says:

    If service is scaled back (1-2 trains) overnight, just make sure there is an intelligent schedule (including well-timed connections) and that you stick to it. If it’s 3:05 AM and I know the “R” isn’t scheduled to come until 3:40, I won’t go into the station until 3:35 or so — this is exactly how commuter rail works. City dwellers have become accustomed to heading to the platform regardless of time/schedule, because either trains come so frequently or because they are so sporadic. Nobody has to wait 50 minutes in that dark, empty station if everyone just follows the schedule.

    • rhywun says:

      20 minutes is about the max anyone will wait without consulting a schedule–increasing that to 30 or god forbid 60 would be a huge cultural change for a city which is more crowded and 24-hours-y than ever.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      That is extremely different to do, because there are so many potential transfers. I mean, just look at a map and count up all of the ways that a rider can transfer. It is not mathematically solvable to schedule 1-2 trains an hour so that every transfer happens smoothly — even assuming that all of the trans run on time. Then add to that all of the reasons why trains could legitimately be delayed.

      Commuter railways can do that because the number of potential transfer points is much less.

  4. Scott C says:

    What is more likely is expanding the hours of reduced late night service. So instead of starting late night service at 2 a.m., it would start at 11p.m. on weeknights and 12 or 1 on Friday and Saturday.

  5. Josh says:

    I don’t think “Elliot Sander… is threatening to take it all away” is really an accurate characterization of what was said.

    Asked if he would consider shutting down the subway late at night to save money, he said, “One can’t say that anything is off the table.”

    He’s just acknowledging that desperate times call for desperate measures and he can’t rule it out. To me, this quote is as much about sending a message to Malcolm Smith about his view that bridge tolls are off the table as it is about cost-saving measures under consideration by the MTA.

    • Yeah, it sounds like the reporters were fishing on that one. From the Daily News:

      Sander seemed to downplay repeated questions from reporters that the MTA might shut the subway system down overnight like Boston and other cities.

      Still, he continued, “one can’t say that anything is off the table.”

  6. R2 says:

    Ben,

    I’m recalling that April Fool’s joke from 2008.

    While I don’t think this would happen, if even just the overnight hours were extended per Scott, this would certainly inconvenience (quite the understatement) late-shift workers AND the nightlife industry. I’d simply go out less and that would be the death knell for many a business.

  7. jake says:

    Two stations are. Aqueduct Racetrack and Broad St on the J/Z.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>