A month ago, the MTA had a legal obligation to pass a balanced budget, and in the face of a budget gap that may reach nearly $400 million, the agency simply passed a series of cuts that resembled those put forward in late 2008. Following that vote, MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder directed those at the MTA to reassess the service cuts and set for the necessary savings in such a way that will have as little impact on the MTA’s customers as popular.
This afternoon, the agency unveiled those cuts, and barring an economic miracle, they will go into effect in late June. Although the cuts are still reductions in transit offerings and straphangers will see slightly less frequent service and slightly more crowded trains, the latest iteration are designed to minimize the pain and provide more efficient service. Many overnight bus routes have been spared the chopping block, and others have been restructured to ensure that no one is more than a quarter of a mile away from transit in high-density neighborhoods and half a mile away in lower density neighborhoods. As service cuts go, things could have been far, far worse.
As part of the announcement about the new cuts, the MTA has updated its website with some very complete information packets, all of which are available right here. The booklets feature extensive data about bus ridership levels and the cost to the MTA per bus route. “While the cuts in funding to the MTA require painful actions, we have worked hard to limit the impact on customers,” Walder said. “We are now making an unprecedented level of information available to the public so our customers understand exactly how these proposals were developed and the impacts they will have well in advance of the public hearings.”
I’ll be delving into the bus cuts over the weekend. They’re rather extensive, and the MTA should be applauded for the rigorous examination and overhaul to which they subjected their original plans. Numerous bus routes, particularly in Brownstone Brooklyn, have been restructured to provide continuous service, and although some routes were eliminated entirely, those featured some of the lowest ridership figures in the city.
Furthermore, the MTA showed a willingness to respond to complaints raised at last year’s public hearings. Last year, vocal groups of bus supporters showed up, and the new plans reflect those demands. The M8 and M10, both scheduled for elimination last year, have been partially restored. The M10 will no longer run south of 59th St., and the M8 will operate on weekdays only. The crosstown buses through Central Park, the subject of a piece in The Times a few weeks ago, won’t be cut either.
So how then are the changes configured on the subway side of the equation? To find out, you’ll have to click through the jump.
First, the MTA says weekend service will cut, and by doing so, they will better accommodate scheduled construction projects. On Saturdays, the D, F, G, J, V, N, Q and R trains will see trains show up every 10 minutes instead of every eight minutes. On Sundays, the A, D, E, F, G, N, Q and R trains will experience the same 10-minute frequency. Headways on the 1 will decrease to eight minutes from six on Saturdays and Sundays. This move will save $5.5 million and will lead to wait times on average one minute longer than they are now.
Next, the MTA is changing its off-peak service levels to meet new passenger load guidelines. Instead of considering a car with no seats available but no one standing to be 100 percent full, the new load guidelines will consider a car 100 percent full if there are no seats available and 10-18 standees per train depending upon the rolling stock. This move will allow the agency to adhere to internal guidelines while running fewer off-peak trains.
Beyond the rather technical changes, the agency is also changing a few service patterns on the G, N/W/Q and V/M lines. Take a look:
The G train will run only from Court Square to Church Ave. at all times. Although this change requires Queens Boulevard-bound G passengers to transfer, Transit will now run three additional evening G trains to provide more frequent service along the route. As it stands now, the G went to Forest Hills during just three weekends in 2009, and construction often alters that route.
For those who rely on the BMT Broadway line, the W will be completely eliminated. Yet, service to Astoria will not be markedly worse as the Q will now extend north from 57th St. and run local in Astoria. South of 57th St., the N will replace the W, making all local stops to Canal St. Only the R will service City Hall, Cortlandt St., Rector St. and Whitehall St./South Ferry.
Finally, the MTA will, as I reported a few weeks ago, reactivate the Chrystie St. Cut for revenue service. The M designation will be eliminated, and the V will replace the M between Essex St. and Metropolitan Ave. The V will continue to run between 71st St./Continental Ave. in Queens and Broadway/Lafayette St. via the Sixth Ave. line. Then, it will service the Myrtle Ave. corridor in Brooklyn. Overnight and during the weekends, the V will run only between Metropolitan and Myrtle Aves., and at no time will the train run between Essex St. and Bay Parkway as the M currently does during the two rush hours. This move will provide more one-seat options into midtown from parts of Brooklyn.
On the down side, because the stations along the current J/M/Z route are smaller than those along the V line, the V train will lose approximately 120 feet of length or the equivalent of two cars. Passengers riding through Manhattan and northern Queens may find space at more of a premium than it already is. However, load volumes on the V are currently nowhere near capacity.
So that’s that, for now. Unlike in the 2008/2009 Doomsday plan, the MTA has worked hard to make sure popular routes aren’t shuttered and inefficient but inconvenient changes are not implemented. The Z train will not be cut, and the J/Z skip-stop service will not be eliminated. The Lower Manhattan stations on the BMT Broadway line will not shutter overnight, and late-night headways will not increase from 20 to 30 minutes as the agency had proposed a year ago.
Over the weekend, I’ll delve into the bus changes on a borough-by-borough basis. Between the restructuring and the cuts, those are more complicated than the subway changes. While it is important to remember that these cuts are still just that, the MTA took a month to analyze service patterns and have come up with cuts that minimize the pain and save the most money. It is a small victory amidst service reductions but an important one nonetheless.