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.