Home MTA Economics Daily News: The MTA’s Doomsday scenario

Daily News: The MTA’s Doomsday scenario

by Benjamin Kabak

For the last few days, The Daily News has teased New Yorkers with references to the MTA’s “Doomsday plans.” The paper has run stories on the MTA’s potentially axing station agents and raising the base fare to $3.00.

Today, the tabloid dropped a bombshell: Reportedly, the MTA’s Doomsday scenario includes substantial service reductions and whole scale line eliminations. The paper’s sidebar tells the story:


  • W and Z lines shut down completely.
  • No more express J-train service, makes all local stops.
  • G line nearly halved with the northern terminal being Court Square, Long Island City, Queens, at all times. No more service from Court Square to Forest Hills.
  • M line halved, making stops only between Metropolitan Ave., Queens, and Broad St., Manhattan.
  • B line trains arrive every 10 minutes weekends, up from 8 minutes.
  • Overnight: Scheduled gaps between all trains running between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. increased to 30 minutes from 20 minutes.
  • Midday: Schedules changed – less frequent trains from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – system wide so that trains carry more passengers: 125% of the seating capacity, up from current guideline of 100%.

Buses: A few dozen bus routes eliminated overnight and weekends, including X27 and X28 weekends. Bus routes targeted for less frequent service generally are those with lower ridership numbers or where subway trains are an option. A few routes running weekdays axed.

This, of course, is terrible news, but I am wondering how accurate it is. Fewer trains would leave many New Yorkers disgruntled. And while the Daily News reports that B service on the weekends should slow down, savvy straphangers know that the B doesn’t run on the weekends.

Jeremy Soffin, deputy director for media relations and the MTA’s press secretary, issued a statement on behalf of the MTA a short while ago. He said:

“We will not comment on the specifics of gap closing measures until the budget is presented to the MTA Board on Thursday morning. As we have said previously, plummeting tax revenues have increased the MTA’s deficit to $1.2 billion. The MTA began belt tightening long before the current financial crisis, and budget cuts start with further significant administrative and managerial cuts. The size of the deficit will also require a combination of fare/toll increases and service cuts, which will be presented on Thursday. We await the release of the Ravitch Commission recommendations in December and hope they will be implemented to restore financial stability to the MTA.”

We’ll know for sure on Thursday after the MTA board meeting if these plans line up with the MTA’s reality. If they do, these plans could mean one of two things. Either the MTA is presenting this Doomsday scenario to get the attention of the people with the purse strings. In that regard, this move would be fairly politically motivated to get more money for the subways. Or else, the MTA is really in dire straits, and New Yorkers who rely on the subways for transportation are in for a world of inconvenience and declining service.

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Kevin November 18, 2008 - 12:16 pm

I know it’s not your fault but the B doesn’t even run on weekends. Do they mean weekdays?

Also, the G is no big deal since it’s hardly ever run to Forest Hills for the past year. The extra M service to Bay Parkway isn’t really necessary either so that should be okay.

The elimination of the W would be interesting though…big changes are probably in store for Broadway service patterns.

Benjamin Kabak November 18, 2008 - 12:17 pm

I’m guessing it’s a typo by the DN and not some wrong information. They probably mean weekday B service.

Wayne"s World November 18, 2008 - 12:20 pm

They might have meant weekend “D” service.

Marc Shepherd November 18, 2008 - 12:23 pm

They surely didn’t mean weekend “D” service, as that would leave the West End Line with no service at all. In every other example cited, there is at least one other service covering the same territory.

Marc Shepherd November 18, 2008 - 12:27 pm

We’ll know for sure on Thursday after the MTA board meeting if these plans line up with the MTA’s reality.

They surely do. If there is no more money forthcoming, these are the more-or-less obvious service changes to make. Soffin’s “non-denial” sounds like a confirmation to me.

I don’t see any reason for beating around the bush. The MTA should lay out in stark terms the consequences if its operations are not properly funded. The fools who killed congestion pricing and insisted on funding the MTA with debt can now see the mess they’ve created.

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 12:28 pm

Of course it’s political. Everything a public agency says and does is political.

That said… as a resident of Bay Ridge, can I cross my fingers and pray that the R will finally get some decent service if it doesn’t have to compete with the M and the W on the same tracks? Or is that just wishful thinking.

Kid Twist November 18, 2008 - 12:31 pm

Re the R train — not necessarily. If the W goes, the TA could decide to have the N serve Lower Manhattan instead and operate through the montague Street tunnel.

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 12:47 pm

At least the bottleneck at Whitehall would go away. (Hey, I need to find something positive here.)

abc November 18, 2008 - 12:48 pm

Why in the world don’t they just axe the ridiculous Second Ave subway instead of this nonsense?

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 12:52 pm

Because that’s already paid for. These are operating costs.

Benjamin Kabak November 18, 2008 - 12:55 pm

Mostly federal money in this project. They can’t easily — or at all, really — shift the money from SAS to cover operating budgets, and it’s not contributing to the debt.

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 1:06 pm

It’s crazy that the V is left unmentioned while it is one of if not the least used line in the system. Even during the rush hours the trains aren’t full.

Marc Shepherd November 18, 2008 - 2:25 pm

The V serves one of the most heavily-trafficked corridors in the entire subway system. The question is not whether the V is full, but whether the remaining services could absorb the riders it carries. And the answer is that they couldn’t.

Tania November 18, 2008 - 3:15 pm

It’s especially not mentioned because part of the constant justification for the G getting cut on Queens Blvd is that existence of the V train. If you were to try and cut that, then they’d have no grounds for the G being cut (which seems to be the MTA’s mission in life sometimes…).

All the cuts and yet….they’ll never make Queens Blvd make sense. I’m told by the several million signs I start at every day that the G shall never run to Forest Hills under further notice, that the V and the R don’t run at night, that the E runs local at night and that the F will never run local out these parts.

However, more often than not the G is the only reliable train out there, the E almost always will run express and make you come back from 71st, I take the R most late nights and the V is the only train that actually comes according to it’s schedule.

If the MTA runs any other subset of it’s system in this manner, it’s no wonder they’re struggling.

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 3:22 pm

The G is only supposed to run along queens blvd. during late nights and weekends. The V doesn’t run during these times.

The TA wanting the G to permanently end at court square has nothing to do with the V.

Scott E November 18, 2008 - 1:29 pm

I can’t understand why, just a few short months ago, we saw increased service on the 3 and the 7 (although track work has pretty much nullified all of the expanded 3 service) and now there’s a full about-face.

The Z-train (and skip-stop J) runs for less than an hour Manhattan-bound in the morning, and less than an hour Queens-bond in the evening. Pretty pathetic as it is, but I guess that’s no big loss. The one time I wanted to take it from Broad St. to Jamaica, I realized that my rush-hour didn’t coincide with the J/Z rush-hour. It’ll suffer the same fate as the 9 train.

Marc Shepherd November 18, 2008 - 2:27 pm

This isn’t exactly a “full about-face,” because they’re not cancelling the same services that were added. They’re cancelling (or threatening to cancel) others that are less frequently used.

The Z was always a more successful service than the 9, because there are so many stations along that route that are lightly patronized and extremely close together. But overall, the Williamsburg Bridge is the subway’s least used East River crossing, so I’m not surprised they’ve targeted it.

Benjamin Kabak November 18, 2008 - 2:31 pm

Just as a thought: I wonder what the MTA thinks about shuttering stations. There are plenty of stations, particularly in Brooklyn and around Lower Manhattan, that are ridiculously close together. I wonder if the agency could save money that way without cutting frequency of trains.

Todd November 18, 2008 - 2:56 pm

I think that’s a wonderful idea. Fewer stops would also decrease dwell time and increase train speeds, yes?

Tania November 18, 2008 - 3:16 pm

I don’t think the MTA can afford the publicity. The second they mention an inkling about closing a single station, the petitions of closing someone’s ‘my’ station will start taking all the time they should be spending on their consumers.

Marc Shepherd November 18, 2008 - 3:30 pm

I suspect that running fewer trains saves much more money than shuttering stations. It’s notable that the only stations not open 24/7, Fulton & Broad Streets on the J/M/Z, are at the end of the line, which means the runs are shorter. That was likewise true when 145th & 148th Streets on the 3 weren’t open full-time. Shutting a station in the middle of a line probably doesn’t save much.

Kid Twist November 18, 2008 - 4:02 pm

Trying to shut stations would be a political nightmare for the TA.

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 5:17 pm

It’s such a good idea though. I’ve always wondered why the stations are (often) so ridiculously close together in NYC. But y’all are right–it will never happen.

Alon Levy November 18, 2008 - 5:50 pm

Because the subway is old. The Métro has the same problem, to the point that in the 1960s they had to create a new system based on commuter rail lines.

Scott E November 18, 2008 - 5:46 pm

Actually, it’s not such a bad idea. There are few people downtown who can claim a station as “MY” station, since not to many people live there. Even though the residential population is increasing dramatically, they are generally not part of the “midnight straphanger” community, in my opinion. We’ve got South Ferry (1), Bowling Green (4/5) and Whitehall (W) within a stone’s throw of each other; and Wall St. (2/3) and Wall St (4/5) are both a block from Broad St (J/M/Z). I doubt that crime and vandalism would be an issue with closed stations in this neighborhood.

Alon Levy November 18, 2008 - 5:59 pm

Bowling Green and Whitehall are through-stations, except on lines that don’t serve them late at night. Both Wall Street stations are always through-stations, and serve a population that often stays at work till very late at night. South Ferry there’s no reason to cut, unless for some reason the TA wants to completely shut service on the 1 north of 96th.

Benjamin Kabak November 18, 2008 - 6:02 pm

I was thinking more along the lines of the Franklin-Houston-Canal-Christopher quartet and then 14-18-23-28 quartet. It’s ridiculous to think that between 34th St and Chambers St, there are 10 stops inclusive of the two end points.

I don’t think closing the one or two stations I would axe, though, really saves much in the way of money.

Alon Levy November 18, 2008 - 8:45 pm

It doesn’t. It might speed things up a bit, but the 1 travels through fairly sketchy areas between 14th and Chambers. Manhattan outside Midtown proper is surprisingly deserted late at night – past about 9, even Broadway is dead south of 34th.

There might be a good argument for axing Franklin, which has low ridership and is very close to both Canal and Chambers, and possibly 18th, but beyond that, there’s nothing in Manhattan. We had a discussion about this on the Straphangers forums a while ago – there were people arguing for closing the above two stations, plus Hunterspoint Avenue on the 7, Beverley on the Q, and a few more I don’t remember.

Marc Shepherd November 19, 2008 - 8:26 am

Yeah, that’s basically the issue. There’s no point incurring the community wrath to close a station when you’re not actually saving very much by doing so. If they were building the 7th Avenue Line today, the stations would be farther apart, but closing them now doesn’t make any meaningful dent in the deficit.

Franklin Street, by the way, does not have low ridership; it is about average, and indeed, higher than Canal.

Alon Levy November 19, 2008 - 2:56 pm

We had the Franklin vs. Canal debate on Straphangers, too. They have basically the same ridership – as of 2007 Franklin is a bit higher, and if I remember correctly the 2006 data said Canal was a bit higher. I argued for keeping Canal because Franklin is very close to Chambers while Canal isn’t very close to Houston, and because there’s a better chance Canal will get gentrified, for example if Chinatown keeps expanding.

But overall you’re right – station closures won’t really reduce spending by much.

MTA’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy « Politics as Puppetry November 18, 2008 - 2:37 pm

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Duke87 November 18, 2008 - 5:41 pm

Weekend service cuts on the B. Ha. That is so getting clipped and taped to the wall by my desk.

count Z November 18, 2008 - 10:31 pm

Why not shift some local trains to the unused express tracks on some lines without actually increasing the number of trains? You could potentially shift from local to peak-direction express on the 1 above 96th, the D below 36th, and the 2 and 5 above 149th, not to mention those infernal F express tracks. That would mean lower operating costs for the MTA– you’d reduce the run time of some of the slower trains, reducing labor costs as well as making it faster to get downtown. (I got the idea from Caltrain in San Francisco, which took a huge chunk out of their operating costs by shifting most of their rush-hour local service to run express end-to-end.)

Marc Shepherd November 19, 2008 - 8:11 am

People do travel in the reverse-peak direction. The idea here is to save money sensibly, not just to use tracks mindlessly because they happen to be there.

count Z November 20, 2008 - 12:30 pm

Think of how the 7 and 6 pairs work. You could apply that service model to create a 1 pair, peak direction only.

herenthere November 19, 2008 - 12:35 am

Maybe I should write a letter to the editor of the DN that it is not the MTA to blame, rather the politicians who voted (or not at all) against congestion pricing. 🙂

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » The fare side of the Doomsday scenario November 19, 2008 - 1:13 am

[…] 2nd Ave. Subway History « Daily News: The MTA’s Doomsday scenario […]

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[…] 0 Comments Tags: blog, budget crisis, mta I’m not an expert on MTA business, but perhaps cutting service and making riding transit less appealing might *not* be the right strategy for saving a system that […]


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