Home Service Cuts MTA ‘optimistic’ Student MetroCards will be saved

MTA ‘optimistic’ Student MetroCards will be saved

by Benjamin Kabak

I have such mixed thoughts about the future of the Student MetroCard program. On the one hand, students in New York City should enjoy free rides to and from their public schools as every other public school student in the country does. On the other hand, the city and state — and decidedly not the MTA — should be picking up the tab for this benefit. On other other, other hand, I have to wonder why Albany can get so up in arms when Student MetroCards are threatened but can’t be bothered to lift a finger when buses and subway routes are eliminated.

Today, the news is guardedly optimistic for the future of the Student MetroCards as politicians and MTA officials believe something will happen to save the free rides for students. Even as New York State prepares to shut down its services because warring factions in Albany can’t come to a budget agreement, legislatures will step in to save student fares. Time, though, is of the essence as the MTA Board plans to vote in less than two weeks on its proposal to eliminate the free rides.

“The sentiment of almost everybody in our conference is that the money has to be put in there,” Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn assembly rep, said to The Wall Street Journal. While other state officials echoed Hikind’s line of thought, no one could say from where the money will flow. In March, Pedro Espada proposed bridge tolls to fund student rides, but that plan hasn’t garnered much attention since then.

Meanwhile, a quote from Richard Brodsky in The Journal struck me as appropriate too. “When the MTA said that the number was $210 million,” he said, “that was clearly not the case. When I announced that they could do this for nothing, that was clearly not the case.” I’m glad to see Brodsky’s admitting that student travel comes at a cost to the MTA, and I’m relieved to see Brodsky’s recognizing that the MTA’s $214 million figure appears to rely on what they would draw in as revenue if they charged students full fare. The actual cost of administering the student travel program and allowing students to ride for free remains to be seen.

At 347 Madison, the MTA, in the words of spokesman Jeremy Soffin, remains “optimistic” that Albany will come through. Yet, I embrace this rescue plan with some hesitation. What about we the fare-paying public? Don’t we deserve a proper funding package as well?

When the MTA implements its service cuts on June 28, over 2 million straphangers and countless more bus riders will find their commutes and travel around the city drastically altered. Trains will be slower in arriving and more crowded. Some trains won’t run at all; others will see new service patterns; and everyone will pay the price. The people suffering are the workers in New York who drive the city’s economy. Just as the city’s students deserve their free rides, so too do the rest of us warrant subway service that meets demands regardless of the price tag.

If Albany is willing to sacrifice something for students — bridge tolls, congestion fees, whatever it might be — it should be willing to up the ante for the rest of us who need the subways to lead productive lives. Our collective trips to work and to play are just as important as a high schooler’s trip to school, if not more so. Where’s our funding package?

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34 comments

Jehiah June 11, 2010 - 1:33 am

“Trains will be slower in arriving …”

I think you mean less frequent in terms of time not actually “slower” as in speed. If anything less trains could even make them faster as a result of less train congestion.

All that aside, you are right that if it’s worth caring about students having the ability to get to work free, how much more should they care about a huge portion of the general public in the most transit dependent city in the states having transportation to even pay for.

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Alon Levy June 11, 2010 - 3:34 am

Less trains means longer dwells per train, which means slower trains.

Trains aren’t cars. It doesn’t matter how many there are on the line.

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Andrew June 11, 2010 - 8:16 am

Of course it matters. There are capacity limitations. There are also merging conflicts.

(And I thought you said before that crowding doesn’t affect dwells?)

I think Ben is overstating the case. Most subway riders aren’t going to notice anything. Weekday service, and certainly rush hour service, is unchanged on most lines. Some lines will have their weekend headways increased a bit – from 8 minutes to 10 minutes, generally – but many of those same lines now go up to 12 minutes whenever there’s any sort of work going on on the line.

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Benjamin Kabak June 11, 2010 - 9:41 am

I think Ben is overstating the case. Most subway riders aren’t going to notice anything.

On the one hand, you might be right. But on the other, I think that’s a dangerous line of thinking. We shouldn’t be excusing service cuts just because some riders might not notice. Service will be worse, and the MTA is scaling back on its transportation offerings. That’s not a positive development.

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Colby June 11, 2010 - 10:07 am

I’ll double down on Ben’s initial statement. A segment of the population–and even that I think is a dubious claim–won’t see the impact i.e. rush hour commuters.

But that’s just a slice in time and in demographic. Additionally, if anything, disruptions and alterations in service tend to be understated.

rhywun June 11, 2010 - 4:21 pm

Many rush-hour commuters in Brooklyn who will see their service cut in half will beg to differ.

John June 11, 2010 - 6:58 pm

When the MTA designed the cuts, it generally targeted low ridership sections of lines. Low ridership sections tend to have a low frequency of headways. In Brooklyn, the elimination of thee M train wouldn’t double the headways along any of the lines that it runs on: The D and R run every 6-8 minutes during rush hour, wheras the M runs every 10 minutes. In addition, the service on the R would have to be increased, as it would be facing additional crowding from the elimination of the M in southern Brooklyn, and the W in Lower Manhattan, and the fact that the M would be running less frequently than the V in Queens.
Also, certain of the service reductions actually offer better service than before. The combination of the M and V offered more direct service to 22,000 people. Sure, 27,000 people in the southern section of the line would have to make an additional transfer, but it is one of the most efficient reductions they could make, in the end affecting only a net amount of 5,000 people while saving $4 million.
To a lesser extent, the combination of the B61 and B77 offers a one-seat ride to many people who used to have to transfer. With the extension all the way to Prospect Park, this offers riders transferring from the B68 at Prospect Park and the B67/B69 at 7th Avenue a direct ride to Ikea.
Another example is the restructuring of the S66 and S60. Riders went from having a shuttle service to having a line that offers direct service to the St George Ferry going eastbound, Port Richmond going westbound, and all of the points in between, with longer hours and more frequent service to boot. (Though admittedly, there is no service on weekends). These kinds of restructurings increase ridership and improve cost efficiency.
In the end, even though many people will be inconvenienced, some good came out of this. I sent a letter to the Planning Department showing which of the reductions should not be implemented, and offered suggestions on how to improve cost efficiency while still retaining vital services. There should be money used to restore the worst of the reductions, while providing long term savings through the streamlining of services.
I feel that both arguments have merit, but I feel that saving the Student MetroCard program should be a higher priority than taking back all of the service reductions. Some of them should be taken away, but not all of them.

Andrew June 13, 2010 - 9:47 pm

When I say most riders will not notice, I mean most riders will be unaffected. The rush hour cuts essentially target only the lowest ridership lines, where there’s more than ample space on the alternative services: the W in Lower Manhattan and the M south of Essex.

The Hub Bound data is freely available, so it’s a good place to look. Open SEC-B_SUBWAY_data.xls and go to the “BRKLN” tab.

Let’s start with inbound in the morning. There doesn’t seem to be a listing that separates the M and R, but columns X-Z give ridership on the two combined: 8,677 riders on 15 trains (120 cars) between 8 and 9. Unfortunately it doesn’t indicate how many of those trains were M’s and how many were R’s (it makes a difference, because the cars on the R have a guideline capacity of 175, while the shorter cars on the M have a guideline capacity of only 145); let’s say it’s 6 M’s and 9 R’s. That gives a total capacity of 6,960 + 12,600 = 19,560. Dividing into the total ridership gives a volume-to-capacity (v/c) ratio of 8,677 / 19,560 = 0.44. That’s incredibly low by rush hour standards – compare that v/c ratio to the v/c ratio anywhere else in the city. If we simply remove the 6 M’s and put their passengers onto the R, the v/c ratio becomes 8,677 / 12,600 = 0.69 – still quite low.

Let’s also look at the PM rush – normally the lighter peak, but the outbound data separates the M (columns N-P) and the R (columns X-Z), so it’s worth a look. Between 5 and 6, the M carries 1,372 passengers in 40 cars and the R carries 5,678 passengers in 80 cars. That gives the M a v/c ratio of 1,372 / 5,800 = 0.24 and the R a v/c ratio of 5,678 / 14,000 = 0.41. Put everyone on the R and its v/c ratio rises to 7,050 / 14,000 = 0.50.

Really, this is hardly the end of the world. Yes, some people are going to have to wait longer for the train, and some people are going to have to transfer, and some people are going to have to walk a few blocks more than they used to. But nothing’s going to be overcrowded by any stretch of the imagination. (Even if a lot of M riders divert to the IRT, which is more crowded than the R, it still have plenty of space to absorb M riders. The crowding on the IRT is at the Bronx end, not the Brooklyn end.)

The W in Lower Manhattan doesn’t show up in the Hub Bound report, since it doesn’t cross the cordon downtown (it crosses the cordon coming from Queens into Manhattan, but there it’s going to be replaced with the Q). In my experience riding it, though, it’s virtually empty south of Canal.

The Hub Bound report also doesn’t give any information on what will happen when the 600-ft V is replaced by the 480-ft M, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem. If the V currently operates at a v/c of 0.70 (and I think it’s actually lower), then the new M will operate at a v/c of 0.84 (just multiply by 175/145). Loads on the M will only exceed capacity if existing v/c’s on the V are 0.83 or higher, and they’re not.

A complete list of subway changes is here. Anything not listed is not changing.

tacony palmyra June 14, 2010 - 12:13 pm

Won’t most customers be waiting longer every weekend? I take the train at least a half a dozen times on weekends (more than weekdays, when I more often simply commute to and from work). We currently have bad service on weekends with trackwork, and I celebrate weekends when my routes are unaffected. Won’t the service reductions basically ensure that every weekend is as bad? Or am I misreading? And aren’t the trains already fairly full on weekends during peak times? From my experience, an uptown D train on a Saturday evening is already crowded by the time it gets to 59th Street.

Weekend service is bad enough as is. Complicated trips that involve transfers are already painful!

Andrew June 14, 2010 - 11:38 pm

Yes, you’re right that many people will have longer waits off-peak, especially on weekends.

However, it’s still not as bad as it looks. Currently, many weekend lines are scheduled to run every 8 minutes. When construction requires too many of them to merge, some are cut back to run every 12 minutes. The new arrangement schedules them to run every 10 minutes, and to keep them at 10 minutes through most construction changes. So this service cut will actually lead to more frequent service on many lines much of the time.

I have trouble agreeing with all of the subway cuts – reducing off-peak service on the L and 1 seems crazy to me – but mostly they seem pretty reasonable.

Bolwerk June 11, 2010 - 1:09 pm

I’m pretty sure I’m going to notice, given that I take the already jam-packed Lexington Avenue lines nearly daily – often in the evening, when it’s still likely to be jam-packed. I also depend heavily on both the L and M, so we’ll see how those turn out.

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Andrew June 13, 2010 - 9:50 pm

The Lexington Avenue line isn’t being touched.

Service on the L is being reduced middays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Rush hours and evenings it isn’t being touched. (And the new M will probably attract some riders off the L.)

The M, of course, is being totally changed, but it’s going to be at least as frequent as it is now (which isn’t very).

If you ride the M south of Essex, you’re going to have to transfer. Aside from that, your service isn’t changing at all.

Alon Levy June 11, 2010 - 5:40 pm

I said that crowding doesn’t have to affect dwells. In New York, it demonstrably does. The difference is such innovations as platform pushers, markings on the platform telling people where the doors are, and schedule padding.

Merging conflicts are something else, but the slowness of the rush hour IRT is on sections where there are no merges.

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Andrew June 13, 2010 - 10:04 pm

In the legal environment of this country, touching strangers is generally not advisable, especially on the part of public employees. I’m glad that platform pushers work elsewhere; in the U.S., however, they’d quickly lead to lawsuits.

Some stations have platform markings showing door locations. I don’t know what, if any, benefit they produce. It seems to me that they would merely encourage the practice of standing in front of the door and pushing onto the train before people have a chance to get off, but I haven’t seen any data.

Schedule padding doesn’t have any impact on capacity (except that it can sometimes effectively reduce capacity). Schedule padding is a good way to ensure that trains reach the terminal on time (by redefining “on time,” not by making the trains any faster), but it comes at the cost of increased train requirements, and it can increase trip times when trains run ahead of schedule and have to be held to get back on schedule.

Alon Levy June 14, 2010 - 3:33 am

There are lawsuits in countries other than the US. Japan for one is really gung ho nowadays about subway groping. Somehow the pushers haven’t generated company-bankrupting lawsuits.

The door markings can also include instructions to let people get out first. In Singapore and Shanghai, the door markings have arrows pointing away from the tracks; the areas right next to the parts aligned with the doors have arrows pointing diagonally at the door, toward the track.

Andrew June 14, 2010 - 7:30 am

There are lawsuits everywhere, but the exact laws and legal precedents on which those lawsuits are based vary from country to country.

Paris has similar arrows. And New York’s implementation has the words STEP ASIDE. But whether there are arrows or there are words, not everybody is as obedient as you might hope. In my experience riding transit systems, New Yorkers are the most likely to ignore such directions (and the common sense behind them) and to push onto trains before people have had a chance to get off. (Note that this isn’t restricted to native New Yorkers – without naming specific nationalities, some of the worst offenders seem to be foreigners living in New York!)

Incidentally, the platform where this is arguably the biggest problem – Grand Central on the Lex – has lots of obstructions (wide columns at the platform edge, staircases that occupy most of the platform width) that make things difficult even when people try to observe the platform markings.

Alon Levy June 14, 2010 - 1:08 pm

Paris also manages to run 30 tph on the RER A without train dwells affecting capacity.

In my experience riding transit systems, New Yorkers are the exact opposite of what you think they are. They’re much more careful of other people’s personal space, which makes them board more slowly. In Shanghai, people just shove you into the trains. (This means, among other things, that the slow boarding problem could be countered with a campaign. It may not work, but its cost would be trivial compared to the cost of infrastructure upgrades.)

Andrew June 14, 2010 - 11:52 pm

Good for Paris. The central section of the RER A (between the branches) was designed and built from scratch a few decades ago, specifically to handle large crowds. The signal system was subsequently upgraded in the 80’s to allow for short headways. (I wonder why it wasn’t built with an appropriate signal system from the start.) Stations, especially the busiest ones, were designed specifically to accommodate large passenger flows – compare Châtelet-Les Halles to Grand Central!

Some New Yorkers refuse to push. Others simply plow onto trains before anybody’s had a chance to get off, or at least stand directly in front of the door without leaving space for anybody to get off. (The big problem isn’t with simply squeezing lots of people onto the train – it’s with letting large numbers of people off the train while similarly large numbers wish to board. Pushing onto the train only makes that problem worse.) Campaigns have been attempted, with limited success. Could the campaigns be more ambitious? Certainly, but I personally doubt they’d be effective.

Alon Levy June 15, 2010 - 1:06 am

The signal system on the RER A is run-of-the-mill moving block signaling. They’re planning to install the same system on the most crowded lines in New York, only it’s called CBTC here.

The MTA hasn’t done any board faster campaigns that I’ve seen. It’s done don’t block the doors campaigns, and behind the scenes it reorganized service to allow it to run 26 tph on the Lex express instead of 24.

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 7:17 am

Based on this article, SACEM – the signal system on the RER A – appears to be a hybrid between a fixed-block system and a modern CBTC system. (CBTC is a generic term, not a brand name.) But in any case, that explains how the RER A can have such frequent service despite long dwells.

The problem here is not that people board to slowly! It’s that they board too quickly – without waiting for people to get off – and then, once they’re on, they stop near the doors rather than filling in the empty spaces in the middle of the car. If you mean that people aren’t pushy enough in moving to the middle, I agree, and I am pushy – but for similar legal reasons (applicable in the U.S., not necessarily everywhere else!) that the MTA wouldn’t consider the use of pushers, I doubt the MTA would ever engage in an official campaign specifically instructing passengers to be pushy.

Alon Levy June 15, 2010 - 4:03 pm

It’s not just a middle-of-car pushiness issue. People really do board faster in Shanghai. I don’t remember if they move to the middle, but it doesn’t matter because if they don’t, the subsequent passengers will push in.

Andrew June 15, 2010 - 6:29 pm

As I’ve pointed out before, the problem at stations like Grand Central (on the Lex) is the heavy turnover. Not only do a lot of people get on, but a lot of people also get off. It’s bad enough now that some of the people getting on refuse to let people off first, which only pushes them further into the middle of the car and makes it even harder for them to extract themselves. Telling people to push on would simply exacerbate the problem.

The issue you seem to be concerned with – people boarding crowded trains – is much less problematic in terms of dwells, if only because people will eventually give up and let the train go ahead without them. Rather than instructing people to push, it would probably be a lot more effective to encourage people to move to the middle of the car, to step away from the doors, etc. I’ve never had the guts to do this myself, but I occasionally hear that request from other passengers who are trying to fit onto the train.

Avi June 11, 2010 - 8:59 am

In an ideal world where trains are never held up, increasing the time between trains would have no impact on train speed. But in the real world, an extra minute between trains means there is more room for trains to get out of sync before “the train is being delayed for train traffic ahead.” Of course, as Alon points out, the increased headway will create longer dwell times per station as more passengers try to squeeze on the train. I have no clue which of the two factors will dominate and determine net time.

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Andrew June 13, 2010 - 9:54 pm

None of the cuts will be make trains so crowded that passengers will have to squeeze. The increases in dwell times will be negligible. But the R isn’t going to get stuck south of 36th or south of Whitehall waiting for an M to cross ahead.

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JP June 11, 2010 - 6:06 am

I deserve a free ride more than students, since I’m a better, more responsible customer. I pay the full fare, I ride all year long and I don’t run around the system screaming, holding the doors open and littering like kids do every single day.

You’re wondering why Albany is ‘up in arms’ when they have an opportunity to wave children around? Really?

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Scott E June 11, 2010 - 7:56 am

In this case, I have to disagree with the above sentiments. Funding of student transportation should come first. All across the country, workers pay their way to their jobs; whether in the form of gas, transit fares, tolls, etc. The salary (hopefully) offsets the commute, and then some. Yet all across the country, kids are entitled to a free education, and part of that includes free transportation to school (admittedly, the free transportation in certain cases is walking). New York should be no different.

Now, I’m not saying Albany shouldn’t help out the MTA overall, for the benefit of all its riders. It should. But the fundamental right to a free education should not be withheld to benefit paid workers.

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Andrew June 11, 2010 - 8:24 am

Sorry, you’re wrong here. Everywhere in the U.S., students get free transportation to school (but never courtesy of the local transit agency). It’s considered an educational expense, like the teachers themselves. New York City shouldn’t become the one and only exception.

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BrooklynBus June 11, 2010 - 8:29 am

Except in a few cases, bus riders will feel the impact much more than subway riders since the effects are so much more widespread. The MTA now is first posting the necessary descriptive signs and maps on the buses detailing the changes that needed to be posted prior to the hearings. Now no one can argue that they didn’t post these signs because of the cost. They just wanted to limit the protest and numbers at the hearings so they kept riders in the dark. As I stated before, info on the Internet is inadequate because the elderly and seniors for the most part do not use it. Now they will first learn about the plans when it is too late.

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines June 11, 2010 - 9:05 am

[…] If Albany Can Find $ for Student MetroCards, Why Can't They Preserve Transit Service? (SAS) […]

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JPN June 11, 2010 - 10:53 am

An article in the Times today says that students will walkout to protest the student MetroCard elimination and they will rally outside the Jay Street headquarters. Don’t they know the people that matter (in their eyes) are not going to be there but in Midtown?

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Roy Berman June 11, 2010 - 10:56 am

JPN, the article sounds to me like the rally at City Hall is the main one, as it should be, with a second rally planned at Jay Street.

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JPN June 11, 2010 - 11:00 am

Still, the Jay Street building should be closed, unless people are working there again now.

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JebO June 11, 2010 - 11:16 am

Suggesting new bridge tolls to pay for student MetroCards is the only good thing Pedro Espada ever did.

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Larry Littlefield June 13, 2010 - 12:51 pm

Here’s the real story. The state government provides funding for school transportation all over the state. That funding has been taken away from New York City, but nowhere else.

Why doesn’t someone ask Brodsky about that?

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