For the last few months, I’ve received a steady stream of comments voicing concerns about the MTA’s approach to weekend service changes. Many SAS readers have wondered if the MTA had engage in the practice of using weekend service diversions as a cover to cut train frequencies and increase headways on Saturdays and Sundays. It sounds almost conspiratorial, but a new report by the NYC Transit Riders Council reveals that weekend service — and signs warning about service changes — are lacking.
The report, available here as a Word document, faults the MTA on two fronts. First, trains aren’t running as frequently as they should be, and second, stations do not feature adequate signage informing people of weekend service changes. To better meet the demands of subway riders in New York, the MTA must, the report urged, “increas[e] the availability of information to subway users and…provid[e] service according to a realistic schedule that can maintained even in the face of major changes to the pattern of service throughout the system.”
The Council conducted its survey at 15 B division stations over four weekends this past fall, and its results are telling. Out of 168 trains expected to pass through their survey points, NYCTRC volunteers counted only 149 trains. Furthermore, actual headways counted by the volunteers differed from posted schedules by a significant amount with 28 percent of trains arriving at least four minutes later than they should.
“It is widely acknowledged,” the report says, “that the amount of service actually provided during diversions is not the level of service that NYC Transit has stated that it will provide. Our observations bear out this assessment of the situation, and the NYCTRC finds it unacceptable for actual service to routinely fall short of what is being promised to the rider.”
Beyond the actual service, NYCTRC also faulted Transit for its approach to service change announcements. Volunteers found “a mixed picture” of adequate signage. Overall, 75 percent of stations with mezzanine levels featured service change announcements, but not all stations, as the report notes, have mezzanine levels. The picture got worse as we descend into the system. Only 42 percent of platforms featured service advisory signs, and only 22 percent of stations featured these signs at street level before straphangers would descend to the fare-control areas.
“This is a cause for concern,” said the report, “as the NYCTRC has long taken the position that service change information should be available to passengers before they ascend or descend into a subway station.”
NYCTRC targeted the B division stations because those are not due for the PA/CIS system installation for at least half a decade, and in the interim, the Council urges Transit to “make every effort to inform riders when work in the system will make service less frequent or regular than would ordinarily be expected.” Riders should know before they head underground what to expect, and right now, they simply do not.
According to amNew York, Transit is testing a new sign designed to clear up the confusion and seems to agree with the Council’s suggestion. Whether service will become more reliable or whether changes will be easier to figure out will be the real test of the authority’s willingness to respond to this report.