Home Congestion Fee Apparently, the subways are a bit crowded

Apparently, the subways are a bit crowded

by Benjamin Kabak


Graphic courtesy of The New York Times. Edited by me. For the original, click here.

As the debate over the congestion fee rages, New York City Transit decided to release a report this week that came as a surprise to, well, exactly no one. The subways are very crowded, the MTA announced. In fact, the subways may even be too crowded.

To which, I say, “Duh.”

New York City Transit has studied its train lines, looking for on-time performance during rush hour and trains in which each passage gets three square feet of space. In other words, everyone gets their own 20-inch square tile on which they can stand. In a city in which three square feet can cost a lot of money, this valuable subway real estate is hard to come by. The New York Times summarizes:

What is revealed is both predictable and eye-opening. Many subway lines are simply maxed out, meaning there is no room on the tracks they use to add trains that could carry the swelling numbers of riders. And that has implications that range from day-to-day decisions about how trains travel through the system to long-term planning on how to best move people around a growing city…

[NYCT President Howard] Roberts said that on many subway lines, especially the heavily used numbered lines, there is little or no room to accommodate more riders.

The Daily News picked up on the story with an interesting twist. They claim that there is no room for the boost that may come due to the congestion pricing. As those numbers amount to several hundred thousand new riders out of an estimated 7 million per day, I find this conclusion hard to believe and so does the MTA.

Let’s think about this: First, we have to consider the Second Ave. subway. One of the goals of the congestion fee is to properly fund this new subway line. Considering that three of the most overcrowded subway lines are the 4, 5 and 6 trains and the Second Ave. subway is designed to alleviate just this overcrowding on the East Side IRT, well, then we’ve solved one problem.

Second, I believe that the congestion fee won’t affect the IRT subway lines as much as anyone thinks. First, nearly everyone commuting from northern Manhattan and the Bronx along the IRT lines already takes the subway. If commuters choose to drive from north of 86th St. to anywhere in the so-called Central Business District, they do so because they can, by and large, afford to do so. The people on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side will continue to pay $500-$600 a month to park their cars in garages, and they will pay the $8 congestion fee.

Relatedly, the lines that will see the most growth are those out in Queens. While the E is already overcrowded, I think the F and V trains from Queens to Manhattan will see a large increase in passengers. I think the Bay Ridge and southern Brooklyn trains will see a large increase in passengers. For those people, driving is simply quicker than taking slow subways (and isn’t that why we need express service along the F tracks?). Some will continue to drive; others won’t.

But in reality, the transit lines that should see the greatest increases in ridership numbers are Metro-North, the LIRR, New Jersey Transit and PATH trains. Commuters who, for some reason, aren’t using commuter rail lines will turn to those trains as a way to avoid the congestion fee if the economics make sense.

So, yes, the subways are very crowded. Anyone who rides the train on a daily basis can attest to that fact. But it won’t be worse after the congestion fee, and in the long run, the congestion fee is designed, through funding the Second Ave. subway, to make life better for straphangers. The City’s quality of life — from traffic to noise to the environment — will improve and so will subway service, crowded trains or not.

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Alex June 27, 2007 - 10:44 am

Don’t forget about the 7 line! A hundred people stuffed into one car at rush hour with no room to breath, let alone get off the train. And every train is like this in the morning and just after work, so you can’t wait for the next one.

grvsmth June 27, 2007 - 11:58 am

PlaNYC contains a lot of provisions for express buses, and the reduction in congestion (plus dedicated lanes for some of them) is expected to make them a reasonable way to get to work for people living in southern Brooklyn and eastern Queens.

Gary June 27, 2007 - 1:42 pm

Right once again. grvsmth is also correct. The bus system in NYC right now is terrible (try taking a cross-town bus anywhere in Manhattan) but through no fault of the MTA . . . their is simply too much traffic to move the buses effectively.

However, the new express bus lanes are a good start (eg, Staten Island) and the planned expansions will definitely help.

Ultimately, I’d like to see further major expansions of the subway system, but congestion pricing to remove cars and new buses to move people is a big step in the right direction.

This morning I came to a sad thought, however: will we be bemoaning the lack of an express track on 2nd Ave in 20 years? Signs point to yes.

Wakefield852 June 27, 2007 - 9:39 pm

I know this is a dumb idea, but I believe that the MTA should consider having articulated rolling stock. The BMT previously experimented with articulated rolling stock. If we experiment with them there could be more surface area for people to stand as having 8 or 10 individual constricted units would not carry as much people. I am not sure if it will reduce the overcrowding, but lots of money will be spent to elongate subway platforms.
We should start activating disused express tracks (F in Brooklyn)
We should speed the BRT testing process, BRT could relieve some overcrowding (depending on the corridor) and will provide another means of mass transit.

Benjamin Kabak June 28, 2007 - 12:25 am


Don’t sell yourself short. That’s a fantastic idea. I’m going to write about that soon. Thank you.

Marc Shepherd June 28, 2007 - 6:51 pm

I think Ben has said this before…but I find it very hard to believe that lengthening the platforms would be economical.

Accelerating construction of the Second Avenue Subway is the best move they could make. Reconfiguring Rogers Junction and adding tail tracks at Flatbush Avenue would increase capacity on all the IRT lines (except the 7).

Marc Shepherd June 28, 2007 - 7:06 pm

To Gary’s point…the lack of express tracks on Second Avenue has a lot to do with the method of construction. In the old cut-and-cover days, once you opened up the street, building four tracks wasn’t much more expensive than building two. But with a TBM, each track is in its own tube. Therefore, building four tracks is close to double the cost of building two.

I would have preferred a design where they at least left room for express tracks to be added at a later date, as was done on Sixth Avenue. But having said that, I don’t see the SAS running out of capacity anytime in the next few of decades, assuming it’s even finished by then. Bear in mind that only the first part of the “stubway” has full funding, and construction of the lower half of the line is a long way off.

Little Blue PD June 28, 2007 - 11:24 pm

We all have to wonder what Bloomberg is really thinking of with this congestion pricing tax scheme. Maybe he mostly just wants a new tax. Just wrap it up in ‘concern for the environment’, and then people can just demonize those who oppose it.

If he cares so much about traffic jams, congestion and air pollution, why does he let Park Avenue be blocked off? Why doesn’t he do anything about that?

Pershing Square Restaurant blocks Park Avenue going South at 42nd St. for about 12 hours a day/5 months of the year! This Causes Massive Congestion & Air Pollution!

But apparently it does not bother NYC’s Nanny-in-Chief Mike “Congestion Pricing Tax” Bloomberg? Check out the map!


Check it out!


Little Blue PD

Wakefield852 July 1, 2007 - 8:05 pm

The congestion fee is a bad idea in that it would make it harder for us to stand (or sit) in the train. If Bloomberg does have the tax, there is a number of people who will ditch their cars. Those people who will be willing to ditch their cars will either add more sardines to a packed sardine can or ride bikes. If they ride bikes, it would be a huge problem if the new cyclists would take their bikes to the trains. That will be something that will raise even more hell in our already packed 4, 5, 6, 2, 3, 1 or F trains.

Victoria Jeter July 3, 2007 - 1:05 pm

I don’t have intelligent comment to add to this debate, but great article, Ben, good points.


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