New York City is covered in subway stations. There are, in fact, 468 of them, and not one of them was designed to be closed overnight. Some are designed for reduced capacity late at night; some are designed to have fewer entrances open; but no matter the hour, a subway will eventually stop at every single station in the system.
Now, though, Elliot Sander, executive director and CEO of the MTA, is threatening to take it all away. Faced with a crushing deficit nearly 50 percent beyond what officials first projected, the MTA is facing a second Doomsday this year. Without a major funding plan from Albany, the MTA is going to have to raise fares and cut services for an unprecedented second time in one calendar year, and no one is looking forward to it.
During a Wednesday board meeting in which the MTA brass gave the go-ahead to its finance committee to draw up an 18-month plan that could be approved as early as June, Sander sounded a dire tone. “I’m not sure the English language captures what goes beyond doomsday but to me, as a transit professional, as a citizen and a user of the system, they are just unbelievably difficult and I think some would view them as horrific,” he said said.
Horrific as in no more 24-hour service.
Of course, that’s a political red herring, and one unmasked by reporters a few hours later. William Neuman of The Times, for example, wrote:
Asked if he would consider shutting down the subway late at night to save money, he said, “One can’t say that anything is off the table.”
He said that he had not discussed an overnight shutdown with the president of New York City Transit, Howard H. Roberts Jr., and that there were strong arguments for maintaining all-night service.
A transportation authority spokesman, Jeremy Soffin, later clarified those remarks, saying, “We are not actively studying a nighttime shutdown of the system.” He said running fewer trains at night was a more likely option.
It all comes back to those 468 stations. The system simply wasn’t designed to stop. There’s nowhere to store all of the rolling stock; the cost of securing the system would be immense; and the cost in labor or time in shutting down and starting up the system basically negates — and is generally believed to outweigh — the cost savings of a shut down.
Of course, that’s hardly good news. The MTA can roll back subway service to two trains an hour on nearly every line from 2 a.m. to, say, 5 a.m. It doesn’t even need to add complementary Night Owl bus service. It will make taxis a more alluring alternative and will add significant time to off-hours workers’ commutes. In other words, it’s a second Doomsday.
“I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps,” Frank Sinatra croons in his classic rendition of “New York, New York.” The subways are in fact the main reason why this city never sleeps, and to take away the late-night subway rides would be to rob the city of its vitality, its allure and its 24-hour-ness. It makes for a dire Doomsday threat, but it won’t happen. At least we have that silver lining in this dark grey cloud.
Photo of a closed subway station by flickr user A30_Tsitika.