Home Service Cuts Inconvenient service cuts don’t save much money

Inconvenient service cuts don’t save much money

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA this week released more details about the planned service cutbacks that will arrive starting in July if no action is take on the Ravitch Report. The reports are all available here as PDF files, but I’m going to highlight the changes and cost savings here. As you’ll see, the subway cutbacks will impact a lot of people, and the aggregate annual savings just don’t seem that high to me.

  • Terminate the G at Court Square
    Net Annual Savings: $1.9 million
  • Operate the N via the Manhattan Bridge Late Nights
    Net Annual Savings: $390,000
  • Eliminate the W; extend the Q to Astoria Weekdays; operate the N local in Manhattan
    Net Annual Savings: $3 million
  • Eliminate M between Broad Street and Bay Parkway; eliminate Z and J/Z skip-stop service; and operate J local between Jamaica Center and Myrtle Avenue
    Net Annual Savings: $2.4 million
  • Operate 10-Minute headway on B division Weekends
    Net Annual Savings: $5 million
  • 125 percent of seated-load weekday middays and evenings
    Net Annual Savings: $8.4 million
  • 30-Minute Headways 2 a.m.-5 a.m.
    Net Annual Savings: $4.1 million
  • Total Net Annual Savings: $25.19 million

Now, over the course of the week, the MTA estimates this will impact upwards of a million passengers per day trying to get anywhere in the city. The cost savings also represent about two percent of the total $1.2 billion operating budget gap.

I understand that the MTA needs to close the budget gap as best it can, but I have to wonder if inconveniencing so many passengers is really the way to do it. I think these numbers show the extent and magnitude of the cuts. At some point, nearly every New Yorker will deal with longer wait times and reduced service options. They’ll face more crowded trains, fewer seats and more surly passengers. Is that really the best approach for the MTA? At a time when the agency needs sympathy, it will be antagonizing its riders.

On the flip side, the numbers for personnel reduction are much higher. New York City Transit alone is looking at over $100 million in cost savings alone through managerial cutbacks and station staffing positions. I’d rather see more of those than what seem like minimal savings through service cuts whose reverberations will be felt throughout the whole system.

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rhywun December 30, 2008 - 2:18 pm

The service cutbacks are a means to “spread the pain around” in order to gain support for the more lucrative but politically difficult staffing cuts.

Mr. Eric December 30, 2008 - 2:40 pm

The lucrative staffing cuts will never be made. Those are managerial jobs. If any cuts are made it will be to the lowest of the pay scale as always cleaners and station clerks. They would rather cut 100 of those than 30 non essential managers who combined make much much more.

Benjamin Kabak December 30, 2008 - 3:17 pm

They’re cutting some managerial jobs. Check out the PDF files I linked to.

And, rhywun, I understand it’s “spreading the pain around,” but that doesn’t mean they should necessarily do it. I’d pare down the bureaucracy before cutting service for a whopping $25 million in annual savings and countless headaches.

rhywun December 30, 2008 - 8:39 pm

Oh, I agree. In fact, I think the service cuts are absolutely unacceptable. Rather, they’re a way to get the union to accept cuts. The union isn’t going to take this lying down–they’re going to want to see everyone taking a hit before they’ll give an inch.

mdh December 30, 2008 - 4:06 pm

Basically the MTA is cutting back on some of its part-time service along the ends of a few lines. It doesn’t seem to make financial sense in terms of costs/benefits, as you mention in this article. But a few questions do come to mind…

Why is it a big deal to eliminate the W Train completely? In lower Manhattan, the R Train hits the same stations and in Queens, the N Train provides redundant service to Astoria — extending the Q Train would strengthen the argument that eliminating the W Train isn’t such an issue… let me know if I’m missing something here.

On the other hand, why terminate the G Train at Court Sq? At least if it ended at Queens Plaza, passengers could more easily transfer to the E Train, which provides service out to Jamaica Center, and a transfer is also available to the R Train, which runs full time to Forest Hills.

Duke87 December 30, 2008 - 4:48 pm

The tracks at Queens Plaza don’t allow for a local train to teminate there. So, while it might appear to make more sense to use it as the end of the line instead of Court Square, it cannot be done. At least not during the day. Late nights, when the express tracks aren’t being used, it could be.

James D December 30, 2008 - 4:55 pm

The G train very rarely runs on Queens Boulevard anyway. There is no point in paying the crews for a service that doesn’t run.

As for running to Queens Plaza, the result of this would be to limit throughput on the E and V trains. 53/Lex is a zoo already — it doesn’t need to be made any worse.

Tania January 1, 2009 - 1:05 pm

I beg to differ. As I’m sure we’re all well aware, after 11PM…the Queens Blvd line becomes a regular game of “will I have to wait more than an hour for the local train while the F express goes by.” As a creature of the night, I can’t recall the last time I’ve taken a local E or R (which I swear still does not run at night…) home but can recall in the past few months several dozen times I’ve had to run to the middle of the platform at Roosevelt to catch the G.

Of course, this is right next to the sign stating the G will not stop here ever at all times.

Considering how sub-par night service in these parts are, I don’t see the big inconvenience for the MTA to keep doing what they’re doing: G to Court Sq. during the day, G to 71st. at nights. It makes the most sense considering during the day, there are 2 express lines and 2 local lines on the line. At night, there is one local and one express. There isn’t exactly the same train traffic problem at night that there is in the day.

James D December 30, 2008 - 4:48 pm

I suppose the real question is how much bigger a fare hike would offset these cuts, If it really is as trivial as it looks, perhaps this should be an option.

Josh December 30, 2008 - 5:08 pm

I think the MTA should go back to pushing the total reorganization plan it had a few years back: All the Buses under one heading, Subways (including SIRR) under their own, both railroads under one heading, with Bridges & Tunnels and Capital Construction bringing up the rear.

To me, this seems like a more logical organization of resources, grouping similar operations together to save overhead. If all of teh MTA bus operations were similarly grouped, the economics of scale in purchasing alone would be a huge savings, especially if they ran a standardized fleet.

The same goes for LIRR and MNRR. The two use entirely different locomotives and different trailer cars. While the M# electric multiple units are of the same type, they aren’t compatible on the other system. LIRR uses top shoe third-rail and MNRR uses bottom shoe third rail (and Amtrak and ConnDOT use partially compatible catenary wires). Now I know this is because the two systems were developed independently by competing private railroads back in the day, but they’ve been under one agency for what, 35 years now, at least? The operating overhead for the two (payroll, management, scheduling, maintenance shops, etc.) should be unified for cost savings.

As far as workforce reductions, I have an idea: convert the napping token clerks into station cleaners. I think that would be a better use of the workforce. Then take the current station cleaning work crews and make them roving “super cleaners” that take care of the really hard stuff like pressure washing or station painting. The unions would probably fight it, and while I normally side with unions in most matters, I think this would better benefit the public and be a better use of money. I haven’t actually talked to a station token clerk in at least a decade.

Alon Levy December 31, 2008 - 9:35 am

Reorganizations rarely do much.

Unifying the electrification systems used in the area is a good thing, but like all other capital projects, it requires spare cash. It makes sense to write up a plan so that the federal government might fund it as part of a new stimulus, but in this market it’ll be insane to spend city or state money on it.

Economies of scale flatten. It’s easier to buy 100 cars than 50, and it’s easier to buy 200 cars than 100. Beyond that, the benefits hit diminishing returns. New York City Transit’s current order, the R160, consists of 1,700 cars; at this scale, there’s no difference in unit cost if the order is doubled or halved.

Standardized fleets are good for low-cost airlines, not railroads. Rolling stock lasts 40 years, with a few high-tech exceptions like high-speed rail. Standardizing the fleet means retiring a lot of trains in good condition.

Kurt December 30, 2008 - 6:21 pm

Also keep in mind there is a significant cost savings for the MTA on the Capital side of the budget if they reduce these services. The few trains you have running during the peak of peak (i.e. eliminating the W, Z and truncating the M), the fewer cars you need to purchase in the coming years for system expansion. This will allow the MTA to either cut the number of new cars they have to order, or keep fewer older cars in service then originally planned. Those older cars require more maintenance so there is a savings from that. I suspect the real cost savings from this is probably about $100M over the next 3 years in terms of the entire operations if you include ordering fewer cars. The majority of it, outside of the $25M is a one-time savings though.

Alon Levy December 31, 2008 - 9:59 am

New car orders are capital construction, which is funded separately from operations.

Kurt December 31, 2008 - 10:12 am

thanks for reading…

Alon Levy December 31, 2008 - 12:21 pm

You say, “This will allow the MTA to cut the number of new cars they have to order” in defense of cutting train routes.

Thanks for reading your own post.

Scott E December 31, 2008 - 8:26 am

I find it interesting how they say that low turnstiles are OK at now-unmanned entrances, citing their success on the PATH system. Not too long ago, they were replacing all of them with the high turnstiles in an attempt to stop fare evasion. They say that cameras will serve to enforce fares, and, yes, there will be some evasion.

I wonder what good the cameras will do. Is the clerk at another booth supposed to watch someone jump a turnstile on TV, then leave the booth, run down the stairs and tackle the perpetrator on the platform?

Ellie December 31, 2008 - 7:20 pm

I would love to see a station agent actually leave their booth.

Marc Shepherd December 31, 2008 - 8:14 pm

I am still not clear what you think they ought to do, assuming the Ravitch proposal, or something equivalent to it, fails to pass the legislature.

Blowin’ in the Wind | Now and Then: an American Social History Project blog January 8, 2009 - 3:18 pm

[…] Also, to keep things in perspective: Estimated Income from Plastic bag tax: $16 million Estimated Savings from MTA Service Cuts in doomsday scenario: $25.19 million dollars  […]

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Cen-Sin January 19, 2009 - 1:29 am

Why are they running the N local in Manhattan instead of the Q? The Q is already local in Brooklyn, and the N is express in Brooklyn. Why make riders switch trains just to continue their trip express? Besides, it makes little sense to me to run an express train local half way and vice versa. The cost savings — if implemented — would be the same, since the N and Q run the same route from Manhattan to Queens anyway.

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