The G train’s chicken-and-egg problem


Once upon a time, the G train wasn’t a particularly popular train. The remnants of this era are still evident in the state of the line. Desolate, half-abandoned platforms that aren’t close to a state of good repair mark the line, and the way it shuffles back and forth between Queens and Brooklyn with nary a stop or even a tunnel in Manhattan lends it the air of being part of The Other.

Yet, despite the mysterious sense of foreboding allure that surrounds the G train, it is both popular and reliable. It touches some of the more rapidly growing areas of Brooklyn and connects job centers in Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn while skirting through residential neighborhoods. It comes reliably, if not often enough, and can be rather crowded during rush hour and, when running normally, on weekends.

Passing through or around various other subway lines, the G is also ripe for better connections to the rest of the city, and to that end, the Riders Alliance — an organization for which I sit on its board — has targeted the G for its first campaign. Its goals are rather simple: The Alliance is building grassroots support to pressure politicians and the MTA into adopting a few easy improvements for the G, including a free out-of-system transfer between the G and the J/M/Z and the G and the Atlantic Ave./Barclays Center station, increased train frequency at rush hour, improving communications with riders and reopening closed entrances.

At a rally on Sunday with approximately 75 riders, the Alliance and a few local politicians presented the requests and a letter to the MTA for a full line review similar to that conducted on the L and F lines over the past few years. The letter came from State Senators Daniel Squadron and Martin Malavé Dilan. “After calls to expand weekend L services to Williamsburg were made in 2011, the MTA discovered that transit riders are a reliable resource and know a thing or two about what improvements can be made, and where,” Dilan said in a statement. “These suggestions are worth looking into. And I hope the G Line can share the same success that came of the working relationship between the MTA and L riders last year.”

The letter expressed similar sentiments. “We ask,” it read, the MTA to “review schedules and ridership on weekdays and weekends, with the goal of creating a schedule that is more reflective of ridership patterns.” It is a modest request and one tough to turn down.

While the MTA hasn’t yet issued a full response to the letter, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Adam Lisberg offered a glimpse into the MTA’s thinking. “Our decisions to add service reflect on what we go out and measure,” he said. “What they’re calling for is not borne out by our numbers.”

And therein lies the MTA’s chicken-and-egg problem. First, the MTA sets its own load guidelines. If it doesn’t find the train crowded, that’s because its definition of crowded may not line up with yours or mine. (For what it’s worth, a train is full when every seat is taken and a quarter of the car is standing.) Second, the MTA has often said that demand doesn’t warrant more service, but it’s very possible that more frequent service will lead to greater demand. New Yorkers avoid the G train because they think it doesn’t run very often, they think waits are too long and they think trains are too crowded for the service. By changing perceptions and encouraging ridership, ridership will go up.

The G train has gotten better over the years but it could be more valuable. It could help feed riders off the L and to the M. It could serve as a true lifeline through growing neighborhoods. It could be a great way to travel in between Queens and Brooklyn without that annoying loop through crowded Manhattan stations. The MTA should give a nod to these possibilities and explore ways to make the G better.

57 Responses to “The G train’s chicken-and-egg problem”

  1. Kai B says:

    The F and the G actually have remarkably similar service frequency, particularly in “off hours”.


    • al says:

      Its the peak service frequency issue. The F share trackage (thus require coordination with) the E and M in Queens and Manhattan. This pushes gaps in service with the G train.

      There are 2 possibilities for improving RUSH HR service:

      1) Have 6 and 4 (R46 or R68 – 75′ ea) car trains mix during PEAK HR. Run 6 car train for the slots with equal to or greater than 6 min headways. Run 4 car train for slots with headways of 4 min or less. Leave 4 car trains to run at other times unless demand warrants 6 car train.

      2) Use Bedford Nostrand as short turn terminal. Run 4 car (R160 – 60′ ea) or 2 car R68/R46 trains. Run OPTO at all times.

      • Someone says:

        1) Even better- run more frequent 4-car trains.

        2) You can’t run a 2-car R46/R68 on a line other than the Franklin Avenue shuttle or the Rockaways shuttle. That’s a non-starter.

        • al says:

          This will require a fleet swap. R68 to C. R32 to J/Z. R160 to G.

          • Someone says:

            This will require a yard change, which is costly.

            R68: CI -> 207
            R32: 207 -> ENY
            R160; ENY -> CI

            Are you sure that’s logical?

            • al says:

              R32 will get to run outdoors on the El during the summer. That will be great for aging HVAC units. Coney Island already has R160. 207 has extensive yard and shop facilities.

              It could be done indirectly and in conjunction with end of AM rush train layup.

              D,B R68 CI -> C 207/168: Terminate B @ 145st Terminal, layup at 207 or 168 instead of Concourse Yard.

              G R68 CI -> D,B R68: End of rush hr layup CI Replace D,B @ CI.

              J/Z R160 ENY -> CI: Terminate Broad St and continue south and layup at CI instead of ENY.

              C R32 207/168 -> CI -> J/Z ENY: Terminate some southbound C @ Jay St at end of AM rush transfer to CI. PM Rush send to J/Z through BMT Sea Beach, 4th Ave and Montague like the defunct Peak Hr pattern.

              OTOH, R32 will be replaced 2015-2017 anyway so this may never pass. What they can do in the end is send R68 to 207 for R32 retirement. Get 4 car R179 sets for G to run OPTO.

              • Someone says:

                Concerning OPTO on the G. The G can already run OPTO in its current 4-car R68 configuration, as a train only needs one crew member for every 300 ft of train.

                CI does not have R160A four-car sets yet.

      • Matthias says:

        The F shares with the M but not the E (the M shares with the E). The G shares only with the F, so it should be easy to build a decent schedule around the F.

  2. Jaime says:

    “A train is full when every seat is taken and a quarter of the car is standing” – I’ve taken the G from Broadway to Court Sq at least 20 times between 8 and 9am in the past few months and not once have I gotten a seat. Most mornings it’s so packed I have to squeeze myself on the train. Not sure when they’re doing their research but it’s obviously not in line with my experience with the G.

    • Someone says:

      A train may be full and still not be at capacity…

      It can be worse. In Tokyo, I was packed into a train at 200% capacity on a line where trains were running only 32 tph. Every single peak hour train is like that. Even if one gets on at the second stop, they cannot find a seat- that’s how crowded it is there.

      • Someone says:

        Capacity in Tokyo is defined as everyone having a seat, bar, or strap to hang on to.

        • Alon Levy says:

          De facto the capacity numbers Tokyo spits out are about the same as the guideline capacity the MTA publishes for rush hour frequency. They’re defined differently, but they end up the same.

          So the Lex is 113% of capacity, which is less than any Tokyo subway line.

    • Alon Levy says:

      At rush hour, the capacity guidelines allow much more crowding. The 125% of seated capacity rule is for off-peak service.

  3. Colin says:

    I take the G fairly regularly (in peak hours and off-peak hours) and never wait horrendously long or have to squeeze myself into a car thats anymore crowded than the rest of the system. Maybe the problem with the G is not the train itself but the people riding it?

    • D in B says:

      Every time I take the G – coming from the L Train – the wait never seems any longer than at other stations. The A express train can be a joke in the middle of the day. And there are plenty of worse looking stations in upper Manhattan.
      People use the G Train if they need it, period. Improving service won’t add passengers unless the neighborhoods it goes through add people.
      I’ve made my peace with the G Train and it no longer bothers me.

      • Someone says:

        The weird thing is that while ridership on the G has gone up in recent years, the number of cars used on the G has gone down- from 72 cars in 1999 to 52 in 2012.

        • Farro says:

          That’s probably because they cut the length of the G route by about half. Thus, although the trains are longer, you don’t need as many cars to run on the full line at the same time.

          • Someone says:


            The MTA cut the route in half in 2001, about the same time that the 63rd Street tunnel connector started running and V service began, which ended service between Court Square and 71 Avenue during weekdays. This also caused more frequent, but shorter, trains.

            • Frank B says:

              Changing the G Train to 4 car sets to obtain more frequent service was actually a pretty good idea on the MTA’s part. A common-sense solution that you rarely see.

    • LLQBTT says:

      I ride the G regularly during peak AM hours towards Court Sq and can say that by Nassau and Greenpoint there are plenty of people left standing on the platform waiting for the next G.

  4. Alex C says:

    To be honest, I think the problem with the G is perception, not reality. It’s a short train that runs mostly through dilapidated stations. Every time I need a G train I magically never wait longer than the wait for say an N train. But I suppose I’m lucky. Take over the abandoned Rockaway branch and send the G down to Howard Beach. Bam, make it 600-feet and problem solved. We’ve discussed how the MTA can fit the G/M/R on the QB local tracks without CBTC already.

    • al says:

      I prefer the M go to JFK via Rockaway. That creates a 1 seat ride to Manhattan, and allows for creation of Peak Hr E/F local from 71st Continental. That would alleviate AM peak crush loads on F and E west of 74th-Roosevelt Ave, esp after Q starts running through 63rd-Lex Ave to/from 96th-2nd Ave.

      • Someone says:

        I prefer that a new line go to the Rockaways, and let the E and F keep their express service. Also, I prefer to install CBTC on the 63rd Street, QB, and Archer Ave lines ASAP, so that trains could run on headways of 35-40 tph instead of just 30 tph (on the express tracks) and 15 tph (on the locals).

    • Someone says:

      One correction.


      You only need a 300 foot long platform. Bam! Problem solved.

    • Justin Samuels says:

      The G will never extend to the Rockaways. For starters, people in areas like Bedstuy and downtown Brooklyn can already take the A train to the Rockaways, so why on earth would you need the G running to the Rockaways? The only way doing anything with the Rockaway Beach LIRR would make sense is if it gave Rockaway residents an one seat ride to Manhattan (the M or the R).

  5. Eric Brasure says:

    Scheduling is a problem. For instance, like most people, I leave my apartment about the same time every day and generally know when the train is “supposed” to arrive. If I miss the “first” G train, I know another one will be along in 3 minutes. Yes, 3 minutes. Great for me, but that’s a little lumpy.

    Communication is a problem. I’ve been stuck at Hoyt and Metropolitan–Holy has an PA system, Metropolitan does not (as far as I know.) Yet only once when I was stuck waiting for the G at Hoyt did they bother to make any announcements, and that was after a lengthy (over 25 minutes) delay–and they waited to make an announcement until G service had resumed. That’s… not great.

    Crowding is a problem. I take the G from Nassau to Hoyt in the mornings, and the last car will frequently be crowded (as per the MTA guidelines) with people wanting to transfer to the L while the second and third cars will have free seats. Stopping the G at the base of the downtown platform at Metropolitan instead of at the second staircase would help this.

    The route is a problem. In general, in the mornings, the G fills up from Court Sq to Metropolitan with people transferring to the L. Then after Metropolitan it fills up with people transferring to the A or C–this is the stretch of the G that is really crowded throughout all 4 cars.

    • Emily says:

      I ride the opposite — every morning from either 15th St/Prospect Park or 4th Avenue, up to Metropolitan. I’m on the early side of things (school teacher), and I can pretty reliably always get a seat. However, I almost always wait more than 3 minutes: between 6:30 and 7am, the trains are about every 6 minutes, but then, after the 7:01 (at 15th street) there’s not another one until 7:12, which is always super crowded.

      I ride back in the afternoon, and could not agree more about the southbound trains stopping at both staircases at Metropolitan — it’s really quite hazardous the way people have to rush to get to the back of the train there, and the traffic jam caused by everyone getting on/off is always a mess. If it’s not too weird a time, sometimes I just wait on the mezzanine for the next one rather than deal with it, if I hear the train coming in while I am at/near the turnstile.

      • Someone says:

        I couldn’t agree more. Everyone is crowded into one part of a platform, so the chance of an accident happening is very likely.

        In the meanwhile, the MTA should fence off the sections of the platforms that are not in use (about 60 feet from each end of the platform, in case of a need to operate 8-car trains)

        • capt subway says:

          On occasion, due to blockages due to system failures, or due to general order reroutes full length trains, usually “F” trains are re-routed over the line. So you need to maintain full length platforms.

          • Frank B says:

            Which is exactly why reactivating the Rockaway Line with platforms less than the IND 10 car standard is a non-starter, as Alex C suggested above.

            Unless the train contains NO track connections to the remainder of the system (And all shuttles do), the platforms must be standard length; being able to reroute a train when suddenly necessary prevents a chain reaction of delays throughout the entire line.

            • Someone says:

              It is very likely that a line with one track connection to the rest of the system would only need a 300-foot platform. That’s the idea I was suggesting.

        • Eric Brasure says:

          I’ve been beating this horse for over a year and I still haven’t been able to get an actual answer for why the southbound G stops there. Aside from creating a dangerous situation, it seems like changing the stopping point would help spread out the crowd of people transferring to the L from 1 car to 2.

      • Eric Brasure says:

        I wish that they would put up crowd control barriers. When a G arrive at Metropolitan it’s like fighting through molasses to get to the G platform.

        That entire transfer isn’t built to withstand the traffic through it, in my opinion.

    • Kai B says:

      I… think… Metropolitan has a PA system. The lighting fixtures are the modern ones with the speakers (probably thanks to the 1999/2000 renovation):

      I’ve never once heard anything come out of them, however, so maybe they’re just pre-wired.

      Most of the other stations, seeming untouched since opening day (with the exception of florescent lighting) are entirely in the (communication) darkness.

      Is this still on track?

  6. Someone says:

    Once upon a time, the G actually did go from Church Avenue to 179 Street.

    Also a problem is the fact that even though service capacity on the local tracks has gone down from 30 to 20 (!), the MTA could still manage to make some G trains go to Forest Hills.

    I used to take the G between Roosevelt Avenue and Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Back then, trains were 6 cars long and not as crowded. Now, trains run on closer headways and are always crowded.

  7. asar says:

    I thought the mta was going 2send the r train out 2 jfk?they should really focus on smith 9sts station instead afyer they wasted 2dang years

  8. SA says:

    Sounds good to me! Wish the G could somehow end up going further into Queens again! I know all the issues but it would really make commuting so much easier/faster, at least during nights/weekends.

  9. Someone says:

    Anyways, with CBTC impending and the end of passenger fumigation at 71st Avenue being talked about, the G could probably run once more to Forest Hills, though I don’t see it happening until 2016 (when the W train gets reactivated to run on the Astoria Line during weekdays, the G would probably have to change yards and go back to the Jamaica Yard.)

  10. Larry Littlefield says:

    Bottom line with the G — it was built to serve people who worked in factories along its route. Then the factories closed, or at least most of them. So you just had residents going to Manhattan — with a transfer — if they didn’t have another subway alternative.

    The G was also hit be free bus to subway transfers. People in Clinton Hill and Fort Green could take a bus to Downtown Brooklyn and switch to their choice of subways.

    More people working in the corridor would increase G ridership.

    • Justin Samuels says:

      Yes, the G has diminished since the shut down of the factories along the East River. It used to run all times to Forest Hills except late nights. But then service on the G got cut to weekdays only to Forest Hills. Then it stopped going to Queens Plaza. Mainly because most subway commuters in Queens are going to Manhattan. (People who live in Queens and who work in Queens or Brooklyn often take the bus or drive).

  11. Michael K says:

    Why not extend the E to brooklyn and have it take the G route up to court sq and just scrap the G entirely?

    While brooklyn-queens connections are important, ridership says otherwise – also many people that are working and living in those 2 boroughs are likely not working on Queens Blvd and drive to work.

    • Someone says:

      Actually, at Hoyt Schermerhorn, the A and C never share tracks with the G.

      How about: scrap the M between Essex Street and 71 Avenue and have the M go down to Bay Parkway instead, and have the G come back to Queens Boulevard. Reroute some E trains to 6 Avenue between 53 Street and West 4 Street during weekdays.

      • Justin Samuels says:

        I used to live on the Queens Boulevard line. Fewer and fewer people were interested in taking the G, that’s why it no longer runs on Queens Blvd. These days the G there is a waste of capacity. Queens subway riders are generally going to Manhattan.

        So the M on Queens Boulevard is perfectly logical. A lot of people from Queens work in midtown, and just the F alone would be insanely crowded. The M, and the V before it, provide relief for the F.

    • Eric Brasure says:

      So… turn the E into the G? What would be the point of that, exactly?

  12. LLQBTT says:

    Here’s another easy suggestion for the Rider’s Alliance:

    In order to remove any confusion as to where the G actually stops at the platform, paint that area of the platform G green with big Trains Stop Here painted over the G green.

    • Bill says:

      At Greenpoint Avenue, my stop, the G stops closer to the south stairs on weekends and in the center of the platform on weekdays. Why it does this I have yet to figure out.

      • Kai B says:

        Happens at a lot of stops. The ‘OPTO’ stop marker can be in a different spot than the ‘6’ marker usually used.

  13. RB says:

    Here’s a possible solution to the chicken/egg situation:

    When the East River Ferry was getting started the offered 2 weeks of free service. It was packed day and night. When they began revenue generating service they could be confident that almost everybody who should have know about the ferry service did.

    It’s time that the MTA stepped up and put their ridership opinion to the test by providing a similar promotion. If the G train is nothing but the backwater, seldom-used service that it’s being treated like then a brief freebie won’t cost them much.

    As all of us who live along the G line know it is an enormously popular and necessary train. It will be inundated during the freebie period.

    That’s a good way to generate hard data. Chicken/egg solved for the G.

  14. RB says:

    Sorry, typos: the–>they know–>known

  15. Bolwerk says:

    It occurs to me that perhaps hundreds of thousands of people around the city would be absolutely thrilled to have the reliability and speed of the G Train in their transit. Think of all the poor suckers stuck on buses, stuck near infrequent parts of the LIRR, or depending on SIRT and the ferry before they even get to the subway.

    • Eric says:

      Yes, and people in Haiti would be thrilled to eat the chili I’m making for dinner. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and make it taste good.

  16. Void says:

    I still wish they would move the queens terminus back to 71st-continetal. Stopping a train just short of 2 major transfer hubs (Queens Plaza and Roosevelt) makes no sense since it forces people to transfer TWICE when they could transfer once. It only adds to reluctance to use the line by Queens residents, since it is so inconvenient to get to the Queens end of it. This then drives overcrowding on the F, which is viewed as a better way to get to Brooklyn since you aren’t waiting around to do the E->G shuffle (no one does the M-> shuffle since the M takes even longer).


  1. […] course, as I’ve noted before, the G train suffers from a chicken-and-egg problem. By not investing in G train service, the MTA stifles ridership, but then, the agency points to low […]

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