Home Service Cuts Under new load guidelines, Transit set to cut more service

Under new load guidelines, Transit set to cut more service

by Benjamin Kabak

Rush hour on the L train. Crowding on some lines could get worse in the winter. (Photo via flickr user Tasayu Tasnaphun)

When the MTA announced what I termed its efficient slate of service cuts in January, the train line eliminations and bus route restructurings earned headlines while a technical provision about load guidelines went largely ignored. Everyone wanted to hear about the end of the V train, the death of the W and the official move to cut G service to Forest Hills. No one cared if a car would now be considered full when every seat is taken and 10-18 straphangers are standing.

Today, we care for the MTA has unveiled a small slate of service cuts that will take advantage of these new load guidelines and go into effect in December. The cuts will largely target some underutilized bus routes but will also involve the restructuring of rush hour service along the 7 line. When new train schedules are implemented in December, a handful of lines will see headways increased from one to 2.5 minutes. According to The Times, transit officials say these changes are “routine adjustments to account for trends in ridership, which has sagged in the weak economy.”

The MTA’s own internal documents tell a similar story. The MTA Board’s Transit Committee books — available here as a PDF — say that these service adjustments will save the MTA $4.1 million annually and will “more closely align subway service with customer demand and established guidelines for subway operations.” Conveniently, those established guidelines are the new load guidelines that go into effect next week and allow the MTA to cut train frequency while still operating trains within its own acceptable parameters.

As for the details, the cuts are sparse but have the potential to impact many early rush-hour commuters and off-peak riders. Transit will be scaling back service on 31 bus routes while increasing it on 14, but the biggest cuts are along the IRT Flushing Line. Express service will now begin at 6:20 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m., and riders along the 7 will lose four early-morning express trains. To meet demand, Transit will add one local trip between 5:20 and 6:10 and two local trains between 9 and 10 a.m. These cuts will be into effect in December, and other lines affected include the 1, A, F, J, L and M trains. A chart showing the new train frequencies is below.

The MTA's revised load guidelines show less frequent off-peak service. Click the image for a chart easier to read.

These new service cuts raise a few questions. First, why is the MTA continuing to cut service? The answer to his one is simple: The authority remains a few hundred million dollars in debt, and Friday’s decision to save the Student MetroCard program does little to alleviate the financial pressure. As The Times reports, the authority’s tax revenue is falling below projection, and the agency still hasn’t figured out how to close its $400 million budget gap. Thus, more service cuts.

The second question is one few people want to ask: So what happens next? At this point, the MTA has revised its load guidelines, has cut off-peak service and is starting to whittle away at the fringes of rush hour traffic. Will the agency begin to pare down its peak-hour offerings? Are we in line for a fare hike? Even the carrot of $90 million in stimulus funds wouldn’t be enough to close the gap, and the Senate has yet to move on a potential transit operating aid package.

The MTA’s first proposed budget is due at the end of July, and it must contain a net-zero on the balance sheet. The service cuts or the fare hikes could be extreme, and John H. Banks, a six-year veteran of the MTA Board, put it best. “This is just the beginning,” he said to The Times. “Unless there is a dramatic change in what is anticipated from Albany and the city — which I don’t expect — we’re in for a bumpy ride, no pun intended.”

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John Paul N. June 21, 2010 - 2:47 am

Can’t they do better with their PDF publications? The use of scanned images from paper documents shows that they suck at producing electronic documentation. Some documents do need to be signed, but that can be done electronically, no?

Benjamin Kabak June 21, 2010 - 10:44 am

Don’t get me started on the scanned documents problem. If they’re creating these board decks in any desktop publishing program or even just Word, they should just save them as PDFs. It saves time and service space, and it also means that the MTA isn’t asking people to download 30 MB files.

John Paul N. June 21, 2010 - 3:00 am

I find that agencies other than the New York MTA do a better job at proposing and explaining service changes (reductions and additions) to customers. Like Philadelphia’s SEPTA explains in detail how they evaluate the need for a service change, and even if they reject a change proposed by a local community (for example), they clearly explain their reasons. The WMATA produces a lot of press releases. While that in itself is not an indicator of anything, what makes them good is they are informational to customers and not just self-promotional.

One additional difference, the New York MTA seems to not want to (or is unable to) reduce service unless it is pressured to by financial reasons. If the goal of the MTA is to be self-sustaining, isn’t it time to change this mindset?

aestrivex June 21, 2010 - 3:45 am

It hardly seems to me that the ultimate goal of the MTA is to be self-sustaining — if it were, current fare rates hardly seem tenable. Rather, in a best case scenario and some idealized world, the state eventually needs to resolve its budget crisis and substantially subsidize transit. That the MTA is cutting down on its internal bureaucracy and cutting unneeded services (like the restructuring of the M train, elimination of very low-ridership bus routes, etc) is not a bad thing, but it makes little sense to me to view wide-scale service cuts as a desirable proposition to begin with.

Scott E June 21, 2010 - 8:18 am

It won’t matter much in December, but last spring/summer (or was it the year before?), transit added additional 7-Express trains during Mets game-days. Would those be cut as well when the 2011 baseball season rolls around? Adding service for baseball fans (especially when a faster, parallel LIRR line exists) while reducing it for commuters and local residents is not in the best interest of the line’s regular riders.

John June 21, 2010 - 9:14 pm

It parttially helps the regular commuters because those fans would otherwise be packing onto the 7 locals.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines June 21, 2010 - 9:10 am

[…] Transit Cuts Only the Beginning (NYT, SAS); Dirtier Trains Already the Norm … […]

Larry Littlefield June 21, 2010 - 10:33 am

I expect an increase in crush loading, which is already present on the F for 15 minutes of your ride home at say 8 pm. Factor in an expected decrease in service reliability, and conditions could get mid-1980s beastial.

And while cutting bus service does save money, cutting subway service saves less, because it is still necessary to maintain the tracks and man the stations and signal towers.

Of course this is all GOOD news, because it shows how great a deal everyone got in the past at the expense of the future (now the present). Which is what people wanted, right? Or so it seemed.

If you haven’t started commuting by bicycle, it is time to consider it.

Scott E June 21, 2010 - 11:02 am

Of course this is all GOOD news, because it shows how great a deal everyone got in the past at the expense of the future (now the present).

And if you got a holiday gift from the MTA in 2005, now’s the time to return the favor. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand that “kind gesture”.

Jerrold June 21, 2010 - 11:50 am

I wonder if they are ACTUALLY planning these additional service cuts on top of the end-of-June cuts, or if they just want to soften us up to accept a fare increase at the end of the year as an alternative to more cuts.

Benjamin Kabak June 21, 2010 - 11:51 am

Probably both. They can’t save $300-$400 million by implementing service cuts. They’ll have to institute a somewhat substantial fare hike at some point, either in 2011 as planned or by the end of the year.

SEAN June 21, 2010 - 12:08 pm

How much of a fare increase are we talking about? I’ll bet it’s far more than the 7.5% originally planned. My initial guess would be closer to 33%, bringing a one way ride to $3& an unlimited Metrocard to $120.

Jerrold June 21, 2010 - 1:43 pm

Somehow, I don’t think that they will go as far as to increase the fare 75 cents in one jump.
It would be the largest fare increase in NYC subway history, at least “cents-wise”.
(Percentage-wise, the biggest increase was 100% in 1948, from a nickel to a dime.)

Kevin June 21, 2010 - 2:37 pm

As if the 7 and F trains aren’t packed enough as it is, even during the hours they’re supposed to cut service.

Alon Levy June 21, 2010 - 4:19 pm

Actually, the 7 is one of the least busy trains in the system. At its most crowded, half the riders have seats, which corresponds to the trains being at about two thirds of capacity.

Alon Levy June 21, 2010 - 4:20 pm

I should clarify and say the 7 is one of the least crowded trains. The line is quite busy, on account of its high capacity and throughput.

Evan June 21, 2010 - 4:47 pm

Try riding the 7 train during rush hour. People get very inventive trying to get ONto the train. So glad I live or the R/V(M) now. A lot less crowded.

John June 21, 2010 - 9:19 pm

Peak-hour guidelines are 250%-290% of a seated load, so if 50% of the riders have seats, it is operating at 200% of a seated load. As you said, that is 2/3 – 4/5 of what it should be operating at.

Andrew June 22, 2010 - 10:33 pm

I don’t think it’s that empty. Where are you finding peak loads? If you’re looking at the cordon count, that gives loads entering and leaving the Manhattan CBD, which is not necessarily the peak load point. (And the annual Straphangers report is based on the cordon count, so its numbers aren’t any better.) On many lines they’re pretty close, but the 7 empties out substantially at Queensboro Plaza.

I agree that the 7 isn’t as crowded as it’s often made out to be, but I think you’re overstating the case.

Alon Levy June 23, 2010 - 5:51 am

The Straphangers report says the N and W are at 200% of seated load as well. It would be strange if the 7 could dump so many passengers on the 60th Street Line without the N and W getting too crowded themselves.

Andrew June 23, 2010 - 9:18 pm

I wouldn’t try to calculate things in terms of percentages of a seated load, because some cars have a lot of seats and relatively little standing room while others have fairly few seats and lots of standing room. It’s better to calculate v/c ratios, where capacity is 110 per IRT car, 145 per 60-foot IND/BMT car, or 175 per 75-foot IND/BMT car. (So a 600-foot IND/BMT train has a total capacity of either 1400 or 1450, depending on which car type is used – if there’s a mix of car types, using 1425 is probably close enough for us here.)

The cordon count data shows 26,710 people on 23 N/R/W trains (yes, for some reason the cordon data throws the R into the mix) between 8 and 9 AM. That gives a v/c of 26,710 / (23 x 1425) = 0.81. The 7 had 20,000 people on 23 trains between 8 and 9 AM. That gives a v/c of 20,000 / (23 x 110 x 11) = 0.72. But if we add on, say, 20% of N/R/W riders to the 7, that v/c jumps up to 25,342 / (23 x 110 x 11) = 0.91. That’s still below a guideline load, but it’s close enough that even a slight delay will lead to an overcrowded train, and if passengers aren’t distributed evenly from car to car, some cars could easily be overcrowded on most trains.

Alon Levy June 24, 2010 - 1:55 am

20% of N/R/W riders means one third of N/W riders…

And even in 2009, the N/W fleet must have been almost 100% R160s, which have a lot of standing room and not too many seats.

sharon June 21, 2010 - 7:42 pm

Rush hour loads are hardly a good reason to run extra express trains at 5:30 am.

When is the MTA going to explore running shorter trains OPTO overnights on most lines with shorter head ways. They brag about the savings in ppropulsion costs of taking one car off an LIRR and Metro north train. Running shorter trains with smaller waits OPTO overnight would both save money and possible attract more riders underground at night. Most people I know in my Part of Brooklyn have a rule to drive in if they plan to stay past 10 pm or on weekends due to the long waits.

ferryboi June 21, 2010 - 8:37 pm

I think the time it would take to break up an 8-car train into 4 cars for overnight service, then pair the cars up again for the a.m. rush, would outweigh any advantages. The time and labor costs, not to mention moving the trains to storage yards, would not save all that much money, if any. OPTO is another story, though I’m still leery about one person driving a train, opening/closing doors, choosing track assignments and being responsible for the safety of 1000+ passengers.

J B June 22, 2010 - 6:18 am

Why be leery? Happens every day in metro systems around the world.

Alon Levy June 23, 2010 - 5:41 am

You’ve answered your own question. “Around the world” implies it wasn’t invented here.

Andrew June 23, 2010 - 9:24 pm

Americans aren’t quite as provincial as you assume. There are plenty of rail systems in the U.S. that use OPTO. The MTA would very much like to expand the use of OPTO here. The union resists, because of the obvious job losses that OPTO would mean, and to gain public support, the union puts out the safety argument that we’ve all heard.

In my opinion, if OPTO were unsafe, it wouldn’t be in use on the vast majority of urban rail systems around the world (including some older than ours, including some more crowded than ours, including some with longer trains than ours). Furthermore, the union’s aim is to preserve jobs, not to maintain safety; I see no reason to trust them on a safety claim like this.

Alon Levy June 24, 2010 - 1:59 am

I’m well aware that the metro rail systems of DC, LA, etc. use OPTO.

I’m also well aware that the union is one of the primary reasons there’s no OPTO in New York (but not the only one; the MTA’s insistence on bundling it with CBTC doesn’t help). However, part of the reason the union can persuade the public is that New York City provincialism ensures that “It works safely in other cities” falls on deaf ears.

(It’s not even that Americans are uniquely provincial. They’re really not. Europeans and Japanese, too, refuse to adopt each other’s transit innovations. But Europe and Japan have a lot of local expertise and locally-invented improvements and the US doesn’t, so NIH syndrome creates more problems in the US.)

J B June 25, 2010 - 6:01 am

Agreed… for people who pride themselves on being well-informed New Yorkers are shockingly ignorant of a lot of things outside the US.

SAS on WCBS TV :: Second Ave. Sagas June 21, 2010 - 9:31 pm

[…] TV reporter Magee Hickey put together a piece on the upcoming service cuts and the revelation that more cuts are coming this winter. She got some footage of a crowded 7 train, spoke with a few commuters not too keen on the cuts, […]

Andrew June 22, 2010 - 10:44 pm

These don’t seem to be true service cuts in the same sense as the ones that are coming this weekend.

Several times a year, headways are adjusted throughout the system (mostly on buses) to keep loads within (but not too generously within) loading guidelines. If you look through the board materials, you’ll see that there are some service increases mixed in with the service decreases – but since ridership has generally been dropping lately, and since off-peak guidelines on the subway are less generous now than they used to be, there are more decreases than increases.

As the changes on the 7 demonstrate, these adjustments are pretty fine-tuned. Apparently, demand for the express has decreased (or, perhaps, demand for the local has increased) between 5:30 and 6:20, and demand for the local has also increased between 9:00 and 10:00. For passengers at local stations at those times, this is actually quite a nice service boost.

So these appear to be routine adjustments based on changing ridership needs. The only reason they’re getting any press at all is that they went to the MTA Board a few days before a bunch of actual service cuts are implemented.

How the service cuts doubled the fare :: Second Ave. Sagas July 21, 2010 - 12:40 am

[…] the MTA, the fare hikes have resulted in less pleasant rides. As NY1 details today, the MTA’s new load guidelines have meant fewer, more crowded trains, and riders accustomed to a sit are finding themselves out of […]

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[…] at the most crowded, the average train on each route has 25% more passengers than seats. Before the 2010 service cuts, the guidelines had the average train occupied to exact seating capacity. At the peak, the peak […]

Guest Post: Transit’s subway frequency guidelines are the wrong approach :: Second Ave. Sagas December 15, 2015 - 12:15 am

[…] reality, guideline loads are frequently exceeded. Before the 2010 service cuts, many off-peak trains still had standees, often many standees. Today, some off-peak trains are […]

The MTA faces a $10 billion deficit. What does this mean and how can the agency close this gap? - Second Ave. Sagas July 13, 2020 - 11:47 pm

[…] two subway lines — the V and W trains — rerouted the M, pared back the G, and instituted new load guidelines so that trains wouldn’t be considered crowded enough to warrant more service until even more […]


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