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.