What a difference four years make. At around this time back in 2010, New York City and its transit system was gearing up for a day of reckoning. Bus lines throughout the city were to be axed with more bus stops eliminated, and subway service was set to be pared down. Despite record ridership, the MTA’s finances were in disarray, and Albany wasn’t willing to take unpopular steps to shore up the balance sheet.
These days, the MTA’s finances aren’t any more secure than they were four years ago, but the economy on the whole — and key tax revenues — are on the up and up. Thus, the agency is on a better footing and can bring service increases online to meet demand. We heard last week about some major increases in off-peak L train frequency, and that won’t be, according to a report in the Daily News, the only transit bumps New Yorkers will witness this year. We’ll know more once the MTA’s budget is released in July, but as Pete Donohue reported, the MTA is gearing up to add $20 million worth of service.
“The customers want more service and the board members want to give them more service,” an unnamed MTA official said to the News. “We’re looking at the most cost-effective ways to do that.”
And just what are those cost-effective ways? Here’s Donohue’s take:
The presidents of the MTA’s bus, subway and commuter train operations have submitted to headquarters possible targets for funding. Some board members and advocacy groups, like the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance, also have pitched suggestions. They include extending the J train on weekends to Broad St., extending the B37 bus route to downtown Brooklyn, returning the M104 to 42nd St., restoring weekend service on the Long Island Rail Road’s West Hampton branch and extending Metro-North Railroad trains with additional cars to reduce crowding.
The service upgrades, if ultimately adopted, would mark the third year in a row the MTA put forth major spending programs that boosted bus, subway and commuter train service after enacting deep cuts in 2010…
The MTA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the authority will not restore all of the 2010 cuts, adding that they included bus routes that proved too expensive because of extremely low ridership. This new round also will likely include more nonservice initiatives, such as working to improve cleanliness and customer communications, the executive said.
Based on this list, I’m more intrigued by the cleanliness and customer communications initiatives than I am of the actual service increases. Longer Metro-North train sets at certain hours of the day would be a boon for riders who feel the space limitations, but extending the J train to Broad St. on weekends isn’t anything that impacts that many subway riders. I’m hoping for more once we see the final plans. I am also tempted to say that it doesn’t make sense to bring back many of the axed bus routes, but this position raises the question of induced demand. Can bus service — even those expensive to run — lead to a greater desire for transit service?
Still, investment in more transit service is a positive from the MTA. We saw them pare down service by nearly $100 million a few years ago, and they’ve slowly added it back where demand warrants it. These are moves that warrant support; it’s only too bad the investments come in such small increments. Imagine where we would be and how the transit network could serve the city and the region if money were less of an obstacle.