Home F Express Plan MTA grades F poorly in internal report

MTA grades F poorly in internal report

by Benjamin Kabak

The F line, much maligned and often overcrowded, is near and dear to my heart. I live nearby the stop at 7th Ave. in Brooklyn and often find myself relying on it for travel to and from home and parts of Brooklyn or Manhattan. A few years ago, securing F express service became a cause célèbre for me and a few Brooklyn transit advocates.

During our discussions about F express service, the MTA informed us that the option would not be available until after the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation is finished in 2013. We were prepared to wait, but our efforts aroused the attention of a State Senator from the area. With complaints mounting about the F service, Daniel Squadron asked the MTA to perform a comprehensive study of the 27-mile F long. The agency released report — available here as a PDF — on Friday, and it is a rather critical of the current conditions along the second longest subway line in the city.

Citing the fact that parts of the line are 90 years old, the report notes how prone to delays and problems the F is. “Reliability of the F, as on all other lines in the subway, is affected by infrastructure condition, maintenance and renewal; in the case of the F, the need to renew key assets in the coming years is becoming critical, due to their age and condition. As assets age, they become more prone to breakdown, thus adversely affecting reliability,” it reads. Simply put, the F line is falling apart.

The report features a lot of technical MTA-speak. It delves into a discussion on merges and diverges, shared trackage and component replacement plans. It discusses the mean distance between car failures and talks about who the F rolling stock features five different classes of cars — many of which are slated for retirement in 2010. It analyzes controllable on-time performance and absolute on-time performance. It examines ridership numbers and a passenger environment service.

In the end, though, the report boils down to a few main conclusions: The F is a patchwork line made out of parts of varying ages and varying quality. Its oldest sections — between Ditmas Ave. and Ave. X — are 90; its youngest piece — South of W. 8th St. to Coney Island — is just five years old. Because of these discrepancies, the F line is overtaxed and in need of maintenance, oversight and investment.

The report, however, doesn’t make too many out-of-the-box recommendations. In fact, many of the suggestions are in the process of being implemented and capital investment projects are already underway. It urges the following and notes the implementation timeline:

  • Reorganizing line management, to provide greater accountability over multiple disciplines (July 2009).
  • Establishing a task force of senior managers to review F line operations and develop strategies for improvements (Fall 2009).
  • Reviewing the schedules and service design of the F to assess potential operational and service changes, including modifications to Queens/Manhattan service (underway) and express service in Brooklyn (to be undertaken prior to the completion in 2013 of the ongoing Culver Viaduct project).
  • Undertaking a train load analysis to provide line management with critical information for evening out train loads (underway).
  • Assigning more reliable cars to the F (July 2009), reducing the number of separate car classes operating on the F from 5 to 2 (July 2009), assigning a dedicated car maintenance manager to the F (September 2009), and continuing to place new cars into F service (underway).
  • Modifying delay management strategies to reduce reliance on skipping stations (July 2009).
  • Renewing aging infrastructure, including, but not limited to, reconstructing the Culver Viaduct (underway), rehabilitating key stations like Jay Street (underway), and modernizing critical components of the signal system (planned for the 2010-14 Capital Program).
  • Developing strategies to reduce the impact of maintenance and infrastructure renewal work on operations (underway), including coordinating previously separate maintenance activities, establishing a “Scheduled Maintenance System” for signal repairs and heavy maintenance gangs for track repairs, and installing track barriers during long-term projects to reduce the need to slow down when passing work zones.

New York City Transit President Howard Roberts noted that many of the projects are already in place. “While we are already in the midst of several capital projects aimed at improving service for F Line riders, there are measures underway that will move our customers closer to the type of service that they pay for and that they deserve,” said Roberts.

To me, this report doesn’t say anything new. The MTA knows the F is a problem, and the authority already had measures in place to fix those problems. Why did they fulfill Squadron’s request for a report? How much did it cost them? Would we see similar results if this investigation were repeated on, say, the J or the R line? Is adding another layer of management going to solve these problem?

Transit should certainly be praised for a critical self-examination, but Straphanger Joe and Jane could just as easily evaluate the F line. We know it’s a subpar line. Now, we have to see if a report produced at the behest of a State Senator can improve these poor conditions.

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Alon Levy October 12, 2009 - 2:27 am

Reorganizing line management, to provide greater accountability over multiple disciplines (July 2009).

assigning a dedicated car maintenance manager to the F (September 2009)

Modifying delay management strategies to reduce reliance on skipping stations (July 2009).

From the above examples, it looks like the MTA commissioned a report saying that the line needs more managers. How surprising. What next – a report issued by City Council proposing raising council members’ salaries? A report issued by the UFT proposing hiring more teachers?

Marc Shepherd October 12, 2009 - 4:52 pm

Actually, what the report says is that most of the problems are structural and will take years to fix. These things, in the meantime, are all that can be done. Otherwise, the report would have had to say that nothing can be done.

Alon Levy October 12, 2009 - 8:19 pm

There’s one thing that can be done: the city could bust the unofficial Brotherhood of Managers and Consultants, bringing in managers from cities where transit is run competently. I’m sure there are a couple of people in leadership positions in Tokyo Metro or JR-East who’d move to New York for an American executive’s salary, which is several times that of a Japanese executive’s. Let them figure out how to reform the system, instead of asking sclerotic local managers what to do.

Adam G October 12, 2009 - 8:44 am

For all the complaining about labor costs at the MTA, this report sure seems to imply to me that a ballooning management structure is a bigger problem.

Working Class October 12, 2009 - 10:46 am

I agree %100! The F line like all of the others has way too muc managment already they just do a poor job.

Alon Levy October 12, 2009 - 12:16 pm

Hey, managers are a labor cost… the good news about this waste is that if the city runs out of money and ends up having to sell the MTA to JR-East or something, JR-East could cut costs and actually make a profit out of it.

Working Class October 12, 2009 - 9:57 pm

Pretty sure the MTA does not consider management salaries part of “labor” costs. Just hourly blue collar employees that actually make the system run everyday.

rhywun October 12, 2009 - 11:00 pm

Please. Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Alon Levy October 14, 2009 - 9:05 pm

No, the reports lump together all “Salaries and wages,” including benefits like health insurance and bonuses.

E. Aron October 12, 2009 - 11:08 am

I ride the F from 63rd St in Manhattan to 169th in Jamaica, Queens everyday and I have to say that since they replaced the tracks in Queens (that is what they did, right? In any case it no longer feels like I’m riding a roller coaster), aside from the low frequency of non rush-hour trains, the service has been satisfactory.

JP October 12, 2009 - 5:22 pm

more positive news: since extending the G train through church ave in brooklyn the rush hour service in both directions between jay st and ft hamilton has been much less crowded, with fewer delays.

Think twice October 12, 2009 - 6:16 pm

A pleasant turn-of-events that makes the obtuse luddites at the MTA scratch their heads and say, “Who’da thunk it?”

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines October 13, 2009 - 9:06 am

[…] Admits F Train Performance Stinks, Has a Plan to Improve It (City Room, SAS, Bklyn […]

Larry Littlefield October 13, 2009 - 10:44 am

“Its oldest sections — between Ditmas Ave. and Ave. X — are 90; its youngest piece — South of W. 8th St. to Coney Island — is just five years old.”

FYI, the “oldest sections” were built first, but had their signals replaced when the former BMT line was connected to the IND in the late 1940s. The portion of the F route (and other routes that use the Smith/9th, 6th Ave and Queens Boulevard Lines) has signals installed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, along with the rest of the IND.

Still underperforming, the F shows improvements :: Second Ave. Sagas November 16, 2010 - 1:16 am

[…] With old rolling stock, poorly maintained infrastructure and decaying assets, the F line was literally falling apart. A year later, a follow-up reveals that Transit has greatly improved the F, but the line still lags […]

Someone September 26, 2012 - 9:48 pm

Three years now, and F express service still hasn’t started. Worse, the Smith-9th Streets stop has been closed for 15 months now.

Someone December 3, 2012 - 8:34 pm

The MTA should actually consider activating the F express along the full length of the Queens Boulevard line east of 36th Street.


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