Edited (1:10 a.m., Saturday): Oftentimes, the G train is called the forgotten stepson of the New York City subway system, and last week’s service change illustrated just how the IND Crosstown can suffer. Since the G is no longer running to Forest Hills and because track work halted the run through South Brooklyn, the G train ran from Bedford/Nostrand to Hoyt/Schmerhorn or a total of five stops. Considering the walk from those two stations is under two miles, the MTA could have canceled the G entirely, and few riders would have noticed.
These extreme service changes come as no surprise to the subway’s weekend warriors. For the better part of the last decade, the MTA has used low weekend ridership figures to justify massive service changes that can result in confusing transit patterns. Considering the often convoluted explanations given on the MTA’s own signs, many riders find weekend subway travel to be a painful experience.
Yesterday morning, amidst stories of budget cuts and Homeland Security grants, New York’s two comptrollers announced an impending audit of the MTA’s service changes. Although the authority has to adjust weekend service to allow for capital improvements for a system that doesn’t shut down, Thomas DiNapoli and John Liu are skeptical that such widespread changes are completely necessary. “New Yorkers need the MTA,” DiNapoli said. “But they don’t have a lot of confidence that the MTA is doing its best to provide the service the city needs.”
As the comptrollers are set to explore the MTA’s reasoning behind the service changes and the economic impact of the weekend diversions, MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder spoke about how New York City Transit is planning its own internal examination of weekend service patterns. “I welcome the audits,” Walder said to reporters. It is essential, he said, to evaluate the way the MTA conducts its capital improvements.
As Liu and DiNapoli conduct yet another MTA audit, Transit will undertake its evaluation with three key aspects in mind, said walder. First, the authority wants to maximize the productivity of service outages. When parts of a route are closed, in other words, the MTA wants to take full advantage of the closure. To that end, according to Walder, Transit will explore whether or not it makes more sense to close larger portions of subway lines for a shorter period of time in order to knock out numerous repairs at once.
Noting that New York’s 24-hour subways present more challenges than London’s 20-hour system does, Walder spoke about the differences between the two cities. “If you’re in London and you’re doing track work on the Jubilee Line, do you want me to tell you what the service announcement is on the Jubilee Line?” Walder said. “The service announcement is, ‘The Jubilee line is not running.'” The MTA, he said, would indeed consider a London-style shutdown if necessary.
Beyond those efficiencies, the agency will explore how the workforce is deployed and how it goes about communicating information about service changes to the straphanging public. Right now, weekend riders must piece together the parts of the system that are running in their minds, and the MTA’s own signs and announcements to little to alleviate the more confusing weekend changes. While Subway Weekender produces a weekly map of the service changes, the MTA relies on confusing signs that are subject to change, and Walder spoke of the need for a better presentation of the service advisories.
On a grander scheme, though, Walder stressed the need to focus on the 24-hour nature of the New York City subways. Because people in the city that never sleeps need to travel at all hours, the subways can never shut down even if closures would improve capital efficiency. “It’s a fair question,” Walder said, “to look and say would it make sense to stop running a line for a short period of time and get in there to do a lot of repairs.” The MTA says it would stop only portions of lines and provide shuttle buses to service the closed stations, and I believe it could work.
As the MTA explores how to improve its efficiencies and weekend service, everything is on the table. Maybe the MTA will determine that shuttering the G for one weekend is preferable to three weeks of a five-stop, 1.8-mile run. For now, though, Transit will await the outcome of the Liu/DiNapoli audit before moving ahead with any changes to their weekend plans. “We might out we’re doing it perfectly,” Walder said, ” and we might find out we’re not.”