A few years ago, as part of a sponsorship/gimmick, baseball fans could take a ferry from Wall St. to Yankee Stadium. I happened to be working at the federal courthouse that summer, and one warm evening, my sister and I made the journey. It was fun and silly, albeit a little slow. The ferry dropped us off in the Bronx on the other side of the Metro-North station and the Major Deegan, a good 10-minute walk away from the stadium. We liked the boat ride but opted to take the 4 train from then on that year.
This story highlights a particular problem with ferry service to and from just about anywhere in the city. Because of choices our New York predecessors made in the mid-20th century, most destinations — housing, jobs, attractions — aren’t near the waterfront, and ferry service has to offer a far superior ride with added amenities to be better than the alternatives. This inconvenience of reality has not stopped our politicians from trumpeting ferries as some sort of amazing solution to our transit woes, and on Monday, the call came from the Bronx.
In March, just a few weeks before the East River Ferry operators had to raise their single-ride weekend fares to $6, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio requesting a three-year trial for a ferry from Soundview in the Bronx with two stops on the Upper East Side and an ultimate Wall St. destination. Crain’s New York broke the story on Monday, and in Thornton McEnery’s reporting, we see more of the same old from our elected.
In a March 10 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, a copy of which has been obtained by Crain’s, Mr. Diaz requests ferry service between the Soundview area of the Bronx and Manhattan’s East Side. Citing the success of ferries from Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan, and the geography of a coastline neighborhood that is not well served by public transit, Mr. Diaz’s letter requests that Mr. de Blasio endorse a three-year pilot program to test out the long-term viability of a new, permanent ferry route.
Mr. Diaz asks the mayor in the letter to acknowledge “the significant benefits ferry service between the Bronx and Manhattan would yield not just for my borough, but our entire city’s economy and our shared environment.”
The idea of a ferry between the southeast Bronx and midtown was not conjured up out of nowhere. The city saw a considerable expansion of ferry services during the Bloomberg administration, which also commissioned a study of the feasibility of ways to utilize the city’s waterways. The preliminary findings of that study were released late in 2013 and highlight Soundview as a promising origination point for a new ferry route. “It is felt that creating wider accessibility to the Bronx waterfront is an important policy consideration,” wrote the authors of the Citywide Ferry Study. “Additionally, there is opportunity for connecting Bronx residents to hospital and other job centers on the Upper East Side.”
I’ve touched upon the EDC report in the past, and it’s worth revisiting it to see if economic estimates from a group that loves to subsidize everything lines up with Diaz’s claim that ferry service would yield “significant benefits” for “our entire city’s economy.” Based on the EDC assessments of the Soundview ferry routes, it would cost at least $20 million to build ample ferry landings to support the service, and annual subsidies would run to approximately $6 million a year. The upper bounds of ridership by 2018 is approximately 1500 people per day — or the same number that can fit one one peak-hour subway train — and the subsidy per passenger could range from around $10-$24 depending upon the fare.
If anything, that’s a drag on New York’s economy, and not some panacea for for “our entire city’s economy and our shared environment.” Any bus route, for instance, that cost $10 per passenger to operate — let alone $24 — would have been eliminated years ago, and no one would have noticed. This is the fundamental problem with ferry service: It doesn’t solve any real problems for any real amount of people.
If we’re going to consider spending $20 million on upfront capital costs and $6 million on annual subsidies to improve transit, let’s figure out a way to spend it that will attract tens or hundreds of thousands of people a day rather than ones of thousands. Let’s figure out a way to talk this ferry energy and devote to real change. The fact that a politician is making this request and that it’s a serious one tells us all we need to know about the potential for transit growth in New York City today.
While I was up in Montreal two weeks ago, this short article from The Times slipped past my radar. The details in it seem a bit unprecise, as New York City’s population has been on an upward trajectory for longer than the piece notes, but the overall point remains: New York City’s population is at 8.4 million, an all-time high, and is showing no signs of slowing or declining.
Here’s the story. I’ll get to why it’s important after.
Despite the challenges of city living, the city’s population is growing in ways not seen in decades. For the third consecutive year, New York City last year gained more people than it lost through migration, reversing a trend that stretched to the mid-20th century.
For the year ending July 1, 2013, an influx of foreigners combined with a continuing decline in the loss of migrants to other states increased the population by more than 61,000, nudging it past 8.4 million for the first time, according to estimates to be released on Thursday by the United States Census Bureau.
Every borough registered a gain in population. Even the Bronx, a traditional laggard, recorded a rate nearly as high as top-ranked Brooklyn and Manhattan. While Manhattan and the Bronx lost more people to migration than they gained, the difference was made up by more births than deaths…Joseph J. Salvo, director of the population division for the Department of City Planning, estimated that the number of New Yorkers had grown by 2.8 percent since 2010.
So here’s my loaded question with a very obvious answer: If the number of New Yorkers has grown by 2.8 percent over the past four years, has our transit network kept pace? Of course not. In 2010, as you may recall, the MTA slashed subway and bus service across the board, and while some of it has come back, much hasn’t. Service levels remain barely adequate to meet current demand, and rush hour trains are generally unpleasantly crowded with no leeway for error.
Going forward, there aren’t clear indications the MTA will be able to meet population demands through the current system. Yes, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway will open in 32 months or so, and yes, the 7 line extension will, eventually this year, debut. But after that, the abyss of no transit expansion projects awaits. Phase 2 of SAS is but an idea on paper with no money behind it, and forget about much-needed Outer Borough expansions beyond Flushing, to Little Neck or even down Nostrand or Utica Ave. where much of the population growth is occurring.
What happens, then, as the city’s population grows but the subway system can’t keep pace? Already, the transit community is concerned about what the Domino Sugar Factory development in Brooklyn will mean for an L train that can’t handle current demand. The 7 train stations in Long Island City can’t handle more inbound traffic, but buildings continue to climb. Meanwhile, the South Bronx seems primed for a renaissance that will further tax the Lexington Ave. IRT just as the Second Ave. Subway opens. Ridership meanwhile reached a 65-year high as these new New Yorkers are generally using the subway system on a daily basis.
There’s no real easy answer here. The bus network will have to become more frequent and more reliable. The city will be forced to explore congestion pricing both as a means of controlling traffic and funding transit. And the pace of expansion may need to pick up. Eventually, without some forward thinking and plans for the future, New York’s growth will be constrained by the capacity of its transit system and its road network. We may be reaching that point sooner than anyone would like.
I’ve not forgotten about you this weekend, loyal readers. I’ve been dealing with an eye problem that’s made staring at computer screens a bit of a challenge this week.
Anyway, before I launch into the changes, take note of the work on the N. The MTA has to suspend Astoria subway service because, after nearly 100 years, Astoria residents started complaining the trains — which were there long before any of them — were too loud. So this is noise mitigation work. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but a voice in the back of my head is whispering “NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY” over and over again.
Here are the weekend changes, better late than never.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, 2 trains run local in both directions between 34 St Penn Station and Chambers St due to Mulry Square vent plan upgrade.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6, 3 trains run local in both directions between 34 St Penn Station and Chambers St due to Mulry Square vent plan upgrade.
From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, April 5, to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 6, 4 trains are suspended between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Woodlawn due to track panel installation at Bedford Pk Blvd and 161 St Yankee Stadium. Take D trains and free shuttle buses between 149 St-Grand Concourse and 161 St Yankee Stadium.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, April 6, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 6, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St due to track tie renewal north of Grand Central-42 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St due to cable work south of 125 St.
From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5, and from 7:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 6, 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Dyre Av and Bowling Green due to track maintenance north of Grand Central-42 St. Bowling Green-bound 5 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St due to cable work south of 125 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St due to track tie renewal north of Grand Central-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to station renewal work at Castle Hill Ave and Middletown Rd.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, 7 trains run express between Mets-Willets Point and 74 St-Broadway due to CBTC signal work.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, A trains are suspended between Jay St-MetroTech and Utica Av in both directions due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Transfer between A trains and free shuttle buses at Jay Street-MetroTech or Utica Av. We advise customers who are travelling to the Wood Memorial Stakes horse race at the Aqueduct Racetrack to take a J or L train to Broadway Junction, where they can transfer to an A train for service to the Aqueduct Racetrack.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Saturday, April 5, and Sunday, April 6, C trains are suspended between W 4 St Wash Sq and Euclid Av due track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Bronx-bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from Coney Island Stillwell Av to 36 St due to inspection of arch ceilings.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, April 6, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Forest Hills 71 Av to Queens Plaza due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills 71 Av, track maintenance south of 36th St and rail repairs from 36 St to Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Manhattan-bound E skip Briarwood Van Wyck Blvd and Forest Hills 71 Av due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills 71 Av.
From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, April 5, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Jamaica Center-bound E trains run local from Queens Plaza to Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av due to track maintenance south of 36 St, and rail repairs from 36 St to Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Coney Island-bound F trains are rerouted via the E from Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts Rock Ctr due to Second Avenue Subway work.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Queens-bound F trains run express from Church Av to Smith-9 Sts due to signal work at Church Ave.
From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, April 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Jamaica 179 St-bound F trains run local from 21 St-Queensbridge to Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av due to track maintenance south of 36 St, and rail repairs from 36 St to Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Coney Island-bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Briarwood Van Wyck Blvd, and 75 Av due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills 71 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Queens-bound G trains run express from Church Av to Smith-9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av. Queens-bound G trains will not stop at Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 15 St-Prospect Park, 7 Av, and 4 Av-9 St.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, April 5 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 6, Jamaica Center Parsons/Archer-bound J trains run express from Marcy Av to Broadway Junction due to track work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction.
From 4:00 a.m. Saturday, April 5 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 6, M trains run every 20 minutes due to track work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6, N trains are suspended between Astoria Ditmars Blvd and Queensboro Plaza in both directions due to switch work south of Ditmars Blvd. Free shuttle buses make all subway station stops between Astoria Ditmars Blvd and Queensboro Plaza.
From 10:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 7, Coney Island Stillwell Av-bound Q trains run express from Newkirk Av to Kings Hwy due to track panel work from Church Av to Newkirk Av.
From 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Forest Hills 71 Av to Queens Plaza due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills 71 Av, track maintenance south of 36th St and rail repairs from 36 St to Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av.
While the Port Authority’s future has been in question lately, the bi-state agency’s present has come under the microscope as well Though we’ve long known just how the Port Authority has become a victim of its two overseers and how its projects have strayed far from its core mission into the realm of political whims, a new report issued by NYU Wagner’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management underscores just how deep these problems run.
The report…says the agency spent more than $800 million from 2002 to 2012 on “regional projects” chosen by the governors’ offices. In the coming years, the pace of spending on zero-return state projects is expected to accelerate. As a result, the most powerful testaments to the agency’s peril, according to former agency officials and transportation experts, are not found amid the bridge access lanes of Fort Lee, N.J.
They can be traced to the grounds of industrial parks built in the Bronx and in Yonkers, with little obvious transportation purpose, or along the Pulaski Skyway, which the agency agreed to rehabilitate after Mr. Christie canceled the construction of a rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River in 2010 and claimed billions in planned spending to be New Jersey’s money.
The prospect of reform is particularly urgent, according to the review, given the increasing burden posed by the PATH rail system. In 2012, the system lost about $400 million, according to data compiled by the authors, more than twice its loss in 2000.
The report estimated that between 2002 and 2020, the agency will have put more than $4.6 billion into the PATH system, and that excludes more than $1 billion in spending on a new PATH station at the World Trade Center. “It is no longer possible for the Port Authority to adequately fund its own facilities and services while simultaneously allocating hundreds of millions for non-revenue-generating state projects,” wrote the report’s authors, Mitchell Moss, the Rudin Center’s director, and Hugh O’Neill, a former assistant executive director at the Port Authority.
The report essentially follows these threads of argument deeper. The zero-return issue is a big problem, and one that strong leaders will have to tackle by defying the governors who appoint them. I doubt we’ll see too much movement in that regard any time soon.
But let’s look at the PATH problem. The PATH system should be one of the Port Authority’s bigger focuses. Unless PATH is somehow integrated into the MTA — a politically challenging move to say the least — it remains an important part of the Port Authority portfolio, but unlike the MTA, PATH is funded only through tolls and other PA revenue. As the report notes, “PATH is today the only major rail transit system in the U.S. that is funded entirely through a combination of farebox revenues and subsidies from other transportation facilities, without any support from broader-based tax revenues.”
That’s all well and good for PATH, but the taxes that fund the MTA, for instance, a key revenue driver. Without them, fares would be impossibly high or service highly inadequate. As Moss and O’Neill note, that could be PATH’s fate: “Without some broader base of support, the next decade is likely to see continued escalation of bridge and tunnel tolls and PATH fares, increased pressure to cannibalize revenues from other Port Authority businesses to further subsidize PATH, sharp reductions in service – or some combination of all three.”
Instead of bolstering what the report calls reliable, low-cost, trans-Hudson rail service that has fed Jersey City’s rebirth and Lower Manhattan’s recovery, the Port Authority has become mired in zero-return investments that New York and New Jersey Governors have pushed. It’s an unsustainable business model for the PA and one that has ramifications that extend well beyond the Port Authority’s little fiefdoms. Somehow it needs to change, but I’m not optimistic it will.
It’s been nearly 18 months since Hurricane Sandy swept through New York City, and while its impact is less visible now than it was a year ago, our transit system is both still suffering and in need of investment ahead of the next storm. We have six months to go before the R train’s Montague St. tube reopens and work on the G train wraps, and we now know what’s next and what the MTA wants.
According to a report on Tuesday by NY1′s Jose Martinez, the next tubes to close will be the Eight Ave. line’s Cranberry St. Tunnel and the F train’s Rutgers St. tunnel. The specific details aren’t available yet, but the closures will focus around weekends and won’t begin until the R train is back in service. The work is set to cost around $50 million and will include, according to Martinez, new tracks, signals, lighting, pump room and communications infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the MTA is making its move for a share of federal funding for Sandy recover and storm resiliency projects. A few months ago, the federal government announced approximately $3 billion in resiliency funding available for the areas affected by Sandy. Application grants were due last Friday, and the region has requested more than the available amounts. According to a release detailing the funding request, “the state’s applications exceed available federal funding because the projects represent the extensive need New York faces in trying to protect its vital infrastructure.”
“Our response to the billions in damage Superstorm Sandy caused our transportation system is to build back stronger, better and smarter than before,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release announcing the application. “These projects build on the State’s commitment to transforming our infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, and coastal protections to better protect New Yorkers from future disaster.”
Interestingly, as had been reported over the past few months, the lead request is for the Penn Station Access project, not called the Penn Station Access Network Resiliency. The Governor’s office and MTA estimate that this project would cost around $516 million with the feds potentially contributing $387 million to the cost. Ostensibly, the project “would give Metro-North an alternate means to enter midtown Manhattan if its four-track main line through the Bronx or the Harlem River Lift Bridge were ever disrupted for a prolonged period.” But it’s been around for a while. Billing it as a resiliency plan is an interesting twist.
For the MTA, the other key projects include a river-to-river resiliency effort that would fortify the Amtrak and LIRR tubes into and out of the city as well as various flood control and hardening efforts. The MTA’s requests clock in at a total of $3.87 billion, $2.904 billion of which the feds could fund.
The other big-ticket requests came from the Port Authority. As part of their grant request, they’ve asked for help building a $400 million auxiliary bus terminal on 39th St. DNA Info had more details on that request. The annex would serve as a backup bus terminal and overflow parking space that could be used in the event of an emergency. If the funding comes through, it could be open by 2020.
A full list of the various requests is available in this press release. They all need to be built, and somehow, they need to be funded. Now we wait to see what, if any, of the tab the feds will pick up.
While I was out of town last week, Port Authority David Samson finally took one for the team as he resigned amidst the prolonged fallout over the Fort Lee traffic scandal. While driving across those very same lanes on Sunday night, I laughed about how those few miles of road leading to the George Washington Bridge could create such shockwaves both in New Jersey and on a national scale for politicians with ambitious that, at one point, extended well beyond Trenton.
The national politics are neither here nor there right now. Samson left without saying much more than two sentences: “Over the past months, I have shared with the governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ. The timing is now right, and I am confident that the governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead.” Now, calls for reform are on the table, but will two governors who haven’t expressed much of a willingness to take on transit causes look to improve the Port Authority or simply aim to re-entrench their patrons in positions long known for patronage?
In the aftermath of Samson’s resignation, the Garden State’s governor said he is open to change. “I don’t think there’s any question that structural changes are a possibility,” Cuomo said. “It’s also very complex, because the entire legal and financing mechanism that exists has an asset base that is now a bistate asset base. So it’s much easier said than done.”
On the New York side, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tried to circumvent the issue by directing state funds toward projects that were ostensibly under the Port Authority purview. Fed up with the pace of work at JFK and Laguardia, Cuomo has tried to reinsert the state in the planning picture. That’s a recipe for short-term progress but not for a long-term structural overhaul.
So where does the PA go from here? It won’t be easy to untangle a 93-year-old governing body that commands the area’s airports, a subway system, one of the largest development sites in the city and various bridges, but it may be worth a try. Here’s WNYC’s Kate Hinds toying with the idea:
At his press conference Friday, Gov. Christie said competing state politics lay at the heart of recent problems with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Citing “a history of conflict between these folks at the Port Authority,” Christie said that the way to resolve the feud between the states was “taking the Hatfields and McCoys and moving them to separate homes. Because they haven’t been able to get along with each other, despite my best efforts, the best efforts of Governor Cuomo, and many of our predecessors.”
What he meant was converting the Port Authority from a bi-state operation into separate state agencies. Until today, Christie has blocked reform at the Port, while staffing it with political appointees who had no transportation experience. But what if he got his way and the authority were to be broken up?
The first task would be to untangle multiple bi-state facilities. The Port Authority oversees the region’s airports and interstate bridges and tunnels, not to mention the PATH trains, World Trade Center redevelopment, and… the ports. Its annual operating budget is $8.2 billion — and it has a ten-year, $27.6 billion capital plan. Transportation experts told TN that unwinding those co-owned assets would be a daunting task that probably should not be undertaken.
As Hinds — along with various regional transit and transportation experts — notes, breaking up the Port Authority is throwing out the baby along with the bathwater. Pointing to various other metropolitan regions with competing authorities, most experts seem to believe the blame lies not in the structure but at the top. “Breaking it up isn’t going to solve the problem,” City College professor Robert Paaswell said. “Managing it better will solve the problem.”
Can this agency be better managed? Can we get to a point where a tit-for-tat doesn’t involve a $1 billion investment at Ground Zero in exchange for a $1 billion PATH airport extension? Can two states with divergent political whims work together competently to improve the region’s transportation infrastructure? The answer has to be yes for the region to grow and Port Authority to succeed, but the current leadership hasn’t inspired much hope yet.
For a little while, it appeared as though Albany would stop Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest raid on transit funding, but when the budgetary dust settled this past week, the status quo remained unchanged. Despite an initial plan to grab $40 million that didn’t pass the New York State Assembly or Senate, state legislators ultimately accepted a budget that diverted $30 million in transit funding the state had previously agreed to issue. With fare hikes on tap for 2015 (and every two years after that), the diversion is a stark reminder of the way Albany treats New York City’s transit riders.
“The sacrifice of dedicated transit funds will mean less money available to provide subway, bus, Metro-North and Long Island Railroad service. Taking away transit funding at the state level has a direct impact on levels of service, which still have not been restored to 2010 levels, and on fares, which continue to rise every other year,” a group of advocates including the Straphangers Campaign, the Riders Alliance and TSTC said in a release this weekend. “Sadly, our elected leaders have sent a clear message that the State can—and will—use the MTA as a piggy bank, siphoning dollars out of the pockets of transit riders.”
What made this year’s raid a bit more galling were words from MTA Chair Tom Prendergast essentially supporting it. I don’t expect Prendergast, who sits atop the MTA at the pleasure of the governor, to speak out forcefully against the actions of his boss, but the MTA seems more resigned to this budgetary fate than we’d like. “Our needs are being met,” Prendergast said to The Daily News. “It’s as simple as that.”
Even as the MTA says its needs are being met, though, are the needs of the riders being met? The $30 million, as many have pointed out, won’t lead to massive service cuts or an increase in the planned fare hike, but it’s money the MTA doesn’t have to invest in service or debt payments. It’s money the MTA doesn’t have when the budget inevitably takes a nose dive in a few years. It’s money the riders won’t see re-invested in a system that could use every dollar it can find.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen Cuomo repeatedly reject efforts to make transit raids more transparent as he has vetoed a lockbox that would require impact statements when funds are diverted. He’s taken the credit for good MTA news and none of the blame for the bad. So this latest raid isn’t shocking. Yet, it’s still a reminder that transit riders, even as they fill the system in record-setting numbers, are the ones left holding the short straw year after year once the budgetary dust settles.
When New York City’s subway system last witnessed 1.7 billion riders pass through its fare gates in one calendar year, it was 1949. Various elevated trains still rans, and the city ran at a different speed with the post-World War II boom only slowly ushering in the age of the automobile. Robert Moses’ infamous Cross-Bronx Expressway had only just begun, and the BQE would see a northern extension open the next year. The Lo-V’s still roamed the rails, and William O’Dwyer was the mayor.
Earlier this week, though, the MTA announced that in 2013, 1.708 billion people paid for their subway fares. As I’ve said in the past, if the trains seem more crowded than ever, that’s because they are. On an average weekday, 5.465 million people ride the subway, and on a typical Saturday, over 3.2 million swipe in. Sunday offers a respite with only 2.563 million rides.
Recent growth has been tremendous. Since 2007, weekend subway ridership has grown by nearly 10 percent while combined weekend ridership is up by approximately 13 percent. And after Hurricane Sandy knocked out the system late in 2012, ridership has come roaring back, even as service changes mount and the Montague St. Tunnel remains out of action.
In a release touting the figures, the MTA offered up some tidbits. Unsurprisingly, Brooklyn saw the city’s biggest increase with ridership up 2.4 percent last year, and the L, G and F trains all saw the biggest growth in the Borough of Kings. The 2 and 3 in Harlem also witnessed growth of around 4.6 percent.
Along with the figures, the MTA also announced ridership by station. The charts, with six years of data, are fun to browse. Of particular note was an increase in ridership on the Upper East Side. The Lexington Ave. IRT station at 86th St. witnessed a four percent growth in ridership, and over 20 million Upper East Siders crammed into this station last year. The area is simply screaming out for the Second Ave. Subway, and the impact it will have on overcrowding conditions on the Lexington line can’t be understated. In fact, five of the top ten busiest stations were along the 4, 5 and 6. Hopefully, the MTA will deliver on time.
The top ten stations remained predictable, with Times Squares’ 63 million passengers retaining its crown. Grand Central came in second, with Herald Square and Union Square a few million behind. The two Penn Station stops — counted separately — came in 5th and 6th; together, they’d be right behind Times Square. Columbus Circle, 59th and Lex, the aforementioned 86th St. and the Lexington-51st/53rd St. complex round out the top ten.
It’s easy to read the tea leaves. People feel safe riding the subway, and for all the legitimate griping about delays and fare hikes, dirty conditions and dingy stations, it remains the most reliable way around the town, and even more so for the price. If 1.7 billion riders recognize it, why can’t our city leaders and state politicians as well?
Ed. Note: I’m on vacation this week in Montreal where I’ll be using the Occasional card. I’ll post a few times this week, including on an engineering report on the East Side Access, but new content may be on the lighter side. Check out my Instagram account while I’m away. I’ll post some photos from up north.
As time marches on and the subways enjoy record-setting crowds (more on that later), various capital construction deadlines are fast approaching. As we know, two megaprojects — the 7 line extension and the Fulton St. Transit Center — are due to wrap this year, after nearly seven years of construction. Due to the delays plaguing the escalators and elevators at the deep 34th St. station along 11th Ave., the Fulton St. ribbon-cutting has leap-frogged the 7 line. According to MTA Board documents released yesterday, Fulton St. will open to public on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Save the date.
Meanwhile, mitigation work and acceptance testing continues on the Far West Side, and the MTA is still committed to delivering the 7 line in the fall, nearly 11 months later than scheduled. For now, the official word is still “November,” but according to an engineering report contained within the MTA’s materials this week, that date could hit December if problems aren’t resolved. The winter solstice is December 21. So the MTA has three weeks in December in which it is still technically fall to deliver the project. Hold your breath.
Finally, over on the East Side, the Second Ave. Subway continues to be on pace for a December 2016 revenue start date, but the documents detail some slippage. Construction crews have burned through approximately half of the project’s planned contingency days, and a few delivery dates have been pushed back. Still, until we hear otherwise, December 2016 it is. That’s only 33 months away, and the real estate market is responding in turn.
In the grand scheme of the way I use the city’s transit system, I don’t get too worked up over trends in subway car cleanliness. Trains are constantly in motion, and it’s easy to see how one person — that woman who drops her French fries on the ground and tries to hide it by stepping on them; the man using the subway floor for his chewed up sunflower seeds — can ruin it for everyone. By and large, I find subway cars clean enough for every day usage, but not anywhere I’d really want to settle into.
Apparently, though, my standards aren’t high enough. According to a report released last week by the Straphangers Campaign, the subways are not clean. This will come as shocking news to no one, but the Straphangers allege that trains are getting dirtier by the year with the D train leading the way. Here’s the story, straight from the advocacy group’s press release:
The number of clean subway cars declined between 2011 and 2013, according to the thirteenth and fourteenth annual “subway shmutz” surveys released today by the Straphangers Campaign.
Campaign surveyors rated 52% of subway cars as “clean” in a survey conducted in the fall of 2011. But this fell to 42% in an identical survey in the fall of 2013 – a statistically significant decline. This continues a general trend of a decrease in the number of clean subway cars since 2008. Cleanliness dropped from 56% in 2008 to 51% in 2009, then again to 47% in 2010. There was a modest improvement in cleanliness to 52% in 2011, but a significant decrease to 42% in 2013.
The worst performing line in our most recent 2013 survey was the D, with the smallest number of clean cars at 17% in this survey, down from 49% back in 2011. The best performing line in our 2013 survey was the L with 63% of its cars rated clean, up from 58% in 2011. Nine of the twenty subway lines grew significantly worse, while none improved and eleven stayed largely the same.
“Transit officials are losing the war against dirty subway cars,” Jason Chin-Fatt, field organizer for the Straphangers Campaign, said, thus making sure that everything possible is a war.
It’s worth noting that the Straphangers Campaign’s findings and the MTA’s own metrics differ considerably here, and therein lies the story. The MTA believes that 92 percent of its cars are acceptably clean; the Straphangers believe that nearly 60 percent aren’t. The Straphangers believe, even with the number of cleaners holding steady over the past few years, that conditions are worsening; the MTA does not.
The Straphangers couldn’t pinpoint the differences. As they group notes, methodology is nearly identical, but Adam Lisberg, MTA spokesman, last week to vehemently dispute the findings. It seems that the MTA measures car cleanliness at terminals while the Straphangers surveys trains en route. It’s challenging to keep subway cars moving and clean at the same time, and the MTA doesn’t have the manpower to sweep out cars in motion.
Still, even with this back-and-forth, I have to wonder if it really matters. The subways are the subways, and their level of cleanliness, so long as food is allowed and litter laws barely enforced, will have, as the Straphangers have termed it, shmutz. It’s worse in the winter when we track in dirty snow. But give me a train that runs quickly and on time, and I can find a way to forgive some dirt.