Home Service Advisories Thinking about snow with ‘close to normal’ service for Wednesday

Thinking about snow with ‘close to normal’ service for Wednesday

by Benjamin Kabak

As the snow storm that calmly blanketed New York City on Tuesday moves out of the area and the deep cold of the return of the polar vortex settles in, the MTA expects to run “close to normal” subway and bus service for the Wednesday morning rush. The commuter rail lines present a different picture entirely as service will be rather curtailed. It’s a lot to track after a fairly routine winter storm.

Within New York City, Transit expects “close to normal” service for the morning rush hour as trains that are currently stored on express tracks move out to make way for trains running on those tracks. The agency expects buses running at around 80-90 percent of normal levels “depending on customer demand.” After a few articulateds got caught in the snow, the city’s buses will be equipped with chains, but street conditions may cause service changes. All in all, that’s one big paragraph of uncertainty.

For those traveling in from outside of the city, the conditions are no better. The Long Island Rail Road will operate on a weekend schedule, which means only around two-thirds of the weekday service, and Metro-North will combine some trains as well. It plans to offer around 80-85 percent of normal service, though that too many change depending upon “the condition of track and power systems, the number of train cars available and the availability of crews.” Leave extra time, don’t travel if you don’t have to, etc., etc., etc., and for the latest, check out MTA.info.

Meanwhile, as the snow fell and the streets filled with powder, I couldn’t help but think about the incongruity of snow planning across city and state agencies. The MTA threatened to curtail service early on Tuesday night while urging New Yorkers to leave work as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the mayor told everyone in the city to stay off the roads, if possible. The two messages are seemingly at odds with each other.

Winter is always a tough time for the MTA. Trains that are crowded in the summer are even more so when the deep freeze of winter settles in. People who walk or bike to work opt for the warmth of a subway car, and everyone’s wearing layers and puffy coats creating the illusion, if not the reality, of less room all over. With the MTA’s own load guidelines dictating that a peak-hour train isn’t full until every seat is taken and a quarter of the number of seated passengers are standing, trains fill up quickly already. The threat of early service and crowded roads only makes it worse.

When the mayor says stay off the road, the MTA should try to bump capacity to encourage folks to avoid driving. Instead, in order to ensure, perhaps overly cautiously so, that trains are not iced in and that, unlike in late 2010, riders are not stranded in the snow, service across the board is reduced. Subways run local, express bus routes are culled, and commuter rail trains reduce their frequencies. The MTA should be able to deploy personnel and equipment to adequately remove snow while keeping service at normal levels for as long as possible.

As with many aspects of the city’s transit service, it’s a balancing act. In response to the 2010 problems, has the pendulum swung too far back into the realm of caution? Trains, after all, can push around a bunch of snow, and it’s far safer to have people riding the rails than driving the streets. It’s easy for me to second guess from the comfort of my couch, but maybe the MTA isn’t giving its services enough leeway in winter weather right now.

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Nathanael January 22, 2014 - 1:40 am

Given that the MTA has some pretty serious snow-fighting equipment, they really ought to be able to do better on the rails.


Nathanael January 22, 2014 - 1:41 am

That was LIRR, and Metro-North has similar.

At the subway:

Phillip Roncoroni January 22, 2014 - 8:39 am

In Bayside last night, after waiting an hour and a half at Northern and Bell for either a Q12 or Q13, only one showed up, which was too crowded to board. I understand storms make surface transit practically useless, but in these instances the LIRR should cross honor fares. Instead, it was $3.75 from Bayside to Main Street.

Bolwerk January 22, 2014 - 10:47 am

They really should anyway. It’s not like it’s more expensive for them to provide the rail trip.

fpp January 22, 2014 - 2:51 pm

Could the fare collectors be given mobile metrocard readers? It would be a nice experiment to set the ticket cost at a metrocard swipe off peak only within city limits.

Bolwerk January 22, 2014 - 5:10 pm

Could? Probably. Will? Very unlikely. Worth it? I don’t know, but I lean toward no.

I hope this question will be visited when the MC is replaced.

Michael Craven January 22, 2014 - 8:46 am

I see this both ways, the MTA trying to protect its equipment, but people still needing to get around.

By way of perspective, here’s a interesting bit from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s (Buffalo area) Winter Rider’s Guide on its website:

“Metro runs during even the most extreme of circumstances. However, on occasion, service may be discontinued due to heavy snow and ice. During these rare times, Metro does its best to keep buses running as long as possible, so everyone is able to get to where they need to go.”

As we all know, they’ve seen a snowstorm or two in Buffalo over the years…

Larry Littlefield January 22, 2014 - 9:08 am

They learned the hard way what they can and cannot do. I wouldn’t want to undo those lessons.

1) Blowing light snow gets in the under-car electrical equipment. Failure to account for that put nearly the whole Metro North fleet out of action once.

2) If buses get stranded, they block plows, which in turn stops buses.

A 12″ or less snow ought to be no problem for rail transit, the blowing snow issue excepted, and it was no problem for the subway.

Don January 22, 2014 - 10:30 am

You can’t run trains when it the snow is up to the third rail safety board.

Tower18 January 23, 2014 - 12:54 pm

There’s only a few lines where this is a conceivable problem, and it shouldn’t be hard to fix. Chicago has much harsher winters than we do, and they never shut down the L because of snow accumulation. So if the only issue is for the lines running in open cut, it really shouldn’t be hard to dedicate extra snow-fighting resources to just the Sea Beach, Brighton, and Dyre Av lines.

tacony January 22, 2014 - 12:05 pm

the MTA should try to bump capacity to encourage folks to avoid driving

The problem is that there’s a feeling that we’re sending mixed messages by not conflating traveling with driving. I didn’t change my routine and had no problem using the subway and walking last night as I normally would. But drivers were clearly having a hell of a time and I saw tons of cabs, buses, and trucks stuck in the street. The MTA’s website advised everyone to leave work early last night if possible as if we were all going to be stuck in traffic.

There’s also all sorts of new, weird “messaging” stuff going on that I don’t think was the norm in the past. We used to be the city that never sleeps! Now we’re the city that advises everyone to stay home for fear of lawsuits.

Alex January 22, 2014 - 12:37 pm

And de Blasio advised everyone to “not go out” last night because “we need the streets clear of cars so we can plow”. Evidently in de Blasio’s mind, going out = driving. To be fair, in the same breath he asked people to take transit. But I get the general impression from our new mayor that he erroneously views driving as everyday life for most people in the city.

Michael January 22, 2014 - 2:30 pm

In fairness in many parts of the country, “going out” equals “driving” because that is simply the way that the majority gets around and between the various towns, and other places.

Yes, plenty of cities have well developed transit systems, so driving is not necessary for various kinds of trips, but plenty of folk drive their cars as the situation dictates. When the radio and television news talks about “road conditions” – they are talking about driving.

In fairness, the new mayor was trying to give advice, and frankly there is a bit of truth to his statements about stalled cars that block the roadways. It is not a denial of the “people’s” rugged individualism based rights to suggest in extremely cold blizzard heavy snow situations – that it just might be better to stay indoors. The bars at CBGB’s will be open another night. LOL. There’s nothing “wrong” with saying that “if you don’t HAVE to go out, don’t”.

There’s also nothing “wrong” with preparing for a heavy storm,
by putting the transit systems, snow-removal trucks and other public services on the ready – all in the service of protecting the general welfare of keeping people safe during such a weather event. That IS one of the jobs of being the mayor.


fpp January 22, 2014 - 2:55 pm

What’s it matter what the rest of the country does, De Blasio is mayor of NYC, not bumblefuck iowa. And in NYC, a majority of households (56%?) are car free.

Michael January 22, 2014 - 4:54 pm

And as one of those households that is currently “car-free” living on Staten Island, and dealing with the bus system here. The last 3 census reports showed that about 76% of all households on Staten Island have a car, or more than one car.

So any information about “bad road conditions” – to me refers to just how bad the buses are traveling, how long of a wait for the 30-minute apart buses, or the hassle of getting to the ferry terminal for its 30 and 60 minute ferries. So please, please tell me something that I do not know about being “car-less”!

Buses (as well as emergency vehicles) get stuck behind snow-stalled cars, or high drifts of snow, and other traffic impediments. Not having such vehicles stalled on the roadways and streets – is generally a good thing. Only in NYC is such a situation seen as “anti-transit”!

So how long has the new mayor been in office? Are there already complaints from some of the “richer parts” of town complaining about how their snow was not picked up? Yes, yes – I know that there are plenty of folks that want to read “into the tea leaves” to understand this new mayor, and his thoughts on transit, and a whole host of other issues. Just days ago, the man just took the oath of office! Calm down already!


EgoTripExpress January 22, 2014 - 2:39 pm

That’s very telling. We’re gonna have a hell of a time with a mayor and governor with windshield perspectives. One of the positives of once having a Manhattan-centric mayor was that he had a straphanger’s perspective. I truly wonder if the Times Square pedestrian plazas would’ve ever been realized under a De Blasio administration.

fpp January 22, 2014 - 3:08 pm


Attacked 34th st BRT proposal in this letter, claimed DOT ignored city data critical of Times square and herald square pedestrian plazas. Also attacked DOT for saying a bike lane on 9th ave was a success when cyclists used it without mentioning the effect on traffic and congestion.

With him and cuomo behind the wheel, it’s going to be a long four years fighting tooth and nail for any reallocation of the public commons if it might possibly negatively impact drivers, no matter the benefit.

Spendmor Wastemor January 22, 2014 - 3:26 pm

“1) Blowing light snow gets in the under-car electrical equipment. Failure to account for that put nearly the whole Metro North fleet out of action once.”

Hoo could evar think it might snow in on the East Coast?
North America’s most incompetent transit agency, the MBTA, ran the unreliable Boeing LRV through many a blizzard. The strategy was pretty simple: don’t shut down overnight (they normally quit around 12am) and have the LRVs clumsily compact/melt/redistribute the snow.

A 400 ton 10 car MTA train ought to beat an LRV. And a little snow on the 3rd rail might defeat the 1st of 20 pickup shoes, but not the 10th-20th.

Etc, etc. There’s no excuse for not foreseeing that there will be snow, sleet +/or ice and equipping trains to get through. We’re talking Iron Age technology, quick-mount improvised plows and 3rd rail scrapers. These can be made in house from scrap metal.

The other thing is to have a procedure so that following trains can couple and push stuck trains in front. There’s just no way snow can resist 20 or 30 subway cars doing a back up and roll through. That’s 800 to 1200 *tons* and 1400-14,000 hp depending on how many shoes are contacting. The whole thing then becomes a plow, heat source and 3rd rail cleaning crew.

Jess January 22, 2014 - 7:04 pm

That looks like a dangerous climb.


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