Home Service Cuts A warning of services to change, but who’s listening?

A warning of services to change, but who’s listening?

by Benjamin Kabak

Updated (11:45 a.m.): Nearly six years ago, the MTA changed its service patterns and didn’t tell anyone. In 2004, when the Manhattan Bridge reopened, service patterns along the B, D, Q and N trains changed in parts of three boroughs, and riders ignored the warnings.

In the build-up to the services changes, the MTA tried to draw out as many people as they could. Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s politicos took a heavily-publicized ride across the Manhattan Bridge. The TA printed new maps that celebrated the system’s centennial anniversary while drawing attention to the new service patterns across the Manhattan Bridge. After two decades of construction, the publicity campaigns were tremendous.

Still, many riders were left confused. Tourists bound for one part of the city found themselves a river away from their destination, and people trying to get home ended up bound for the 4th Ave. stations instead of the Brighton Line. Despite numerous employees with new maps, a signage blitz that alerted riders to the new patterns and a lot of media attention, a good number of New Yorkers ignored the warnings.

Enter 2010. This weekend, the MTA will cut two train lines and re-route a third. These are the most significant service changes since the Manhattan Bridge reopened in 2004, and for the last month, the MTA has gone on the offensive. Posters, such as the one at right, have appeared in stations throughout the system instructing straphangers of the changes. New maps have been available since early June. The bullet decals throughout the system have been changed. It’s impossible to miss the fact that the service is going to change.

Yet, in a brief article in Metro, Carly Baldwin found people who have no idea service cuts are coming. Two-thirds of passengers polled on a rush-hour M train had no idea, says Baldwin, that the train would soon be destined for Forest Hills by way of 6th Ave. “What? Are you serious?” Jose Gonzalez said of the service change. “This sucks. The M train is right by my house. Now I’ll have to change trains.”

I couldn’t believe that people could be this ignorant of the subway service changes. Although the bus cuts have been less transparent, signs are up at every bus stop in the system where the service will change, and the subways are plastered with signs. As my girlfriend said tonight when I told her of the widespread ignorance, “What do you mean? It’s been everywhere. The signs are everywhere. The brochures are everywhere. The new maps are up.”

Beyond the MTA’s own efforts at alerting people, the service cuts have been in the news since January. It’s true that the Student MetroCards may have dominating the coverage, but the subway cuts have not gone unreported in the papers and on TV and the radio. Anyone who doesn’t know service is going to change this weekend simply hasn’t been paying attention.

And therein lies the rub. People don’t pay much attention to the MTA. They don’t read weekend service signs; they don’t listen to on-board announcements; they don’t educate themselves about transit issues. They simply ride the trains and complain. Maybe the misleading politicians drown out the MTA’s own press efforts; maybe people just don’t want to know. Whatever the reason, New Yorkers are generally woefully under-educated about transit happenings.

So on Monday, confusion will rein supreme. Wall Street-bound M riders will be surprised to find their train at Broadway and Lafayette. Those waiting for the W will be in a for a long wait. The riders will blame the MTA; the MTA will have to herd the crowds. It will be business as usual in the subways.

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Edward June 24, 2010 - 2:09 am

New Yorkers used to take a certain pride in being able to navigate the subway system, and many of them could ride a train with their eyes closed and still find their usual stop. Alas, the current batch of newcomers couldn’t tell the IRT from an iPAD, you know, the ones who are all hooked-up with the latest gadgets and drown out any sense of what’s going on around them with earphones galore. These are the ones who will wake up to a rude awakening come Monday morning.

I could never understand those who don’t read subway service posters or listen to on-board announcements, never mind read a newspaper. The first dingbat who asks me why the “M” train is going up Sixth Ave or asks me why the “N” is running local down Broadway will get my patented NYC glare and a smack on the head with my new subway map!

John Paul N. June 24, 2010 - 2:30 am

What I hope would happen and should happen is that the Forest Hills-bound M train would remain in the Essex St. station about a minute or so longer than usual for conductors to alert people that the train will go up 6th Avenue, and to also give the opportunity to point out alternatives; the same at Broadway-Lafayette for those who need 2nd Avenue. (The alert is pretty noticeable with the R160 series trains.) The same patterns would happen in other stations where former services will be discontinued. This is the only instance where I want there to be delays, in the first week of mass changes. Good communication is possible. A regular rider’s confusion only lasts for one or two days; people may adapt more quickly than you may think.

Now for people who are on vacation now, that’s a slightly different story.

John Paul N. June 24, 2010 - 2:50 am

People don’t pay much attention to the MTA. They don’t read weekend service signs; they don’t listen to on-board announcements; they don’t educate themselves about transit issues. They simply ride the trains and complain.

Amen to that. There are people who grumble about thinking they know exactly what the MTA needs to provide and what it only needs to provide. (I guess I also fit the category but I enjoy the system, and want improvements within budget. I’m also not a grumbler.) In this NY Times blog post, comment #11 by Akira (tangentially on topic, by the way) is one of the most pompous and ignorant comments I’ve ever read. Read it and tell me you don’t agree.

Alon Levy June 24, 2010 - 5:46 am

I don’t agree. I have no idea whether Akira is right or not, but the other comments in the thread are far more ignorant, by the conventional definition of ignorance as lack of knowledge of facts. Top billing goes to the libertarian nut who thinks that if everyone gets a 40% pay cut then the system will be more successful.

John Paul N. June 24, 2010 - 12:04 pm

Thank you. As for the Myrtle-Wyckoff complaint, the customer communications systems (audio, LED signage, and “Train Locator Console”) are tied in to the CBTC system, which would have been installed even without the customer service amenities. He is upset over three $999 TV screens purchased at Circuit City bought out of the L line manager’s pocket plus installation by in-house staff. Bet he did not know that. The TLC was also constructed as a response to customer requests. The commenter clearly doesn’t speak for the majority of riders.

Peter June 24, 2010 - 7:51 am

– Huh?!? – They’re changing the trains….?

Scott E June 24, 2010 - 8:34 am

I think the problem is too much information, poorly presented, too often. Many of the signs refer to service changes that occur between midnight and 5am. When so many of the signs are irrelevant to so many people, they stop reading them. When many signs are worded so awkwardly confusing that an educated English-as-a-first-language person has trouble understanding them, much of the ridership gives up on them overall. In New York, you need to ignore the distractions that don’t apply to your ordinary routine, lest you look like a tourist in Times Square.

The important thing is to break this pattern. For significant changes (and ONLY those), catch the riding public at a touch-point that they all use and can’t miss. Forty-five days ahead of time (to get all monthly users), add a screen to the Metrocard machines, stating in big, bold, red letters: SERVICE CUTS, directing them to a nearby pamphlet for details. Have them touch an “Acknowledge” button to receive their card. Put a bold attention-grabbing headline on the front (gold) side of the Metrocards.

Yes, the MTA has gotten the word out, but passively — people need to make the effort to find the details and how it affects them: look at a wordy poster on a side-wall or join a Facebook page. If the politicians who determine the MTA budgets don’t get the message, why should we believe the public will?

BrooklynBus June 24, 2010 - 9:17 am

You make some good points here, but I agree with Ben that this time the MTA has made a better effort than in the past. I’m not so sure I agree with you about the signage. Some signs could be clearer, but I think most are pretty good, and the headline on top states if it is a sign for late nights only, so unaffected people would have no reason to read it unless they are bored. That’s no reason to ignore the ones that may pertain to you. The fact is no matter what you do, some people will always be clueless. But you try to minimize that and the MTA has tried. But as I previously stated, the proper time to notify people was before the hearings.

Scott E June 24, 2010 - 9:38 am

The problem with giving too much information before the hearings is that it is too subject to change. What is announced before a hearing is nearly always more impactive, devastating, (pick your adjective) than what actually happens. It’s all part of the act of negotiating. Tell the public that the fare could rise from $2 to $2.50, and it becomes $2.25. Tell them that Student Metrocards are gone, and they come back. Widely publicizing these proposals before they are finalized only leads to confusion and loss of credibility. No one will believe the announcements, thinking the cuts will be eventually scaled back. It’s best to wait until the changes are finalized before such a mass-notification.

BrooklynBus June 24, 2010 - 1:16 pm

Actually, to the MTA’s credit, this is the first time I recall them making any changes (other than fare changes) as a result of public hearings. Usually whatever is presented is what was implemented. However, nothing on this scale has ever been proposed before and it looks like this is only the beginning.

As far as providing limited information, we still live in a democracy and the public has the right to know. Purposely limiting information to minimize debate is just wrong.

Scott E June 24, 2010 - 3:53 pm

I’m not suggesting limiting information to minimize debate – we’re talking about two different scenarios, for two different audiences.

First, there are the “active” ones, those who are willing to take the time to attend a hearing to voice their concerns. They take the initiative to learn about the changes, to (try to) understand the finances behind them, and to attend the public hearings. Since they are self-motivated, they just need to know what’s happening and where to learn more.

Second, there are the “passive” ones. They feel powerless and can’t be bothered to research the dollars and cents, or to go to public hearings. They just need to know if their train will show up, when it will be there, and where it will go. The “in-your-face” signs and messages targets them. Give these folks the first message, and they are even more baffled than they need to be.

BrooklynBus June 24, 2010 - 6:47 pm

“Give these folks the first message, and they are even more baffled than they need to be.”

True, but sometimes it is not their fault. The information given is just not clear. One complaint about the bus stop signs was that they stated you should use an alternate route but didn’t tell you which route or where it stopped. The problem of course is that there is only so much info that can be supplied on these signs.

The real problem is the number of changes all at once and their complexity. The MTA is making ten years worth of changes on a single day. Not to apologize for them, but it is almost impossible to get it right in every instance.

Take the B4 change for example. Signs on the buses state Plumb Beach service will only operate during rush hours. The website says it will begin at 2 PM. Of course people will be confused. Add the fact that DOT erected bus stop signs on a street where the MTA states the route will not run. Who is correct? Read about it here: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....s-weekend/

digamma June 24, 2010 - 9:43 am

So when is the last W train? Friday night? Any idea what time?

Benjamin Kabak June 24, 2010 - 9:45 am

I’m working on finding out the time. Someone in Astoria is hosting a funeral at around 10 p.m. on Friday night.

Kevin June 24, 2010 - 11:05 am

According to the schedule, the last regularly scheduled W train is the 10:50 N/B departure from Whitehall to Astoria.

E. Aron June 24, 2010 - 11:09 am

These are sweeping generalizations that have no bearing. I presume that Ms. Baldwin encountered many more riders who knew about the changes and didn’t make for provocative comments. They didn’t make it into her piece. The ones that did were the ones that advanced the thesis of the piece. Something tells me the overwhelming majority of riders know about the changes, but we get our panties in a bunch over the passengers that wipe their elbows out of ignorance re: what they should be wiping.

John Paul N. June 24, 2010 - 11:40 am

Journalism continues to be sensational. We, as readers, have become trained to be emotionally attached to the stories that journalists report. Perhaps if it wasn’t for Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the direction of journalism would be markedly different today.

Benjamin Kabak June 24, 2010 - 11:45 am

Ms. Baldwin says in her piece that two-thirds of those surveyed on an M train in Brooklyn had no idea of the service changes. WCBS news found similar results on Monday. It’s not sensationalism; it’s willful ignorance by those who ride the trains.

E. Aron June 24, 2010 - 1:52 pm

I guess my cynicism reads Metro with a sidelong glance. After all, there was an inset titled “Ch-ch-ch-changes in that article. Who knows if those two-thirds were two persons out of three, or a statistically viable sample.

Marc Shepherd June 24, 2010 - 12:07 pm

I think the confusion factor is vastly over-stated. On any rainy day, you can probably hang out on a street-corner and find dozens of people who missed the weather forecast.

When the IRT instituted the current H-shaped service pattern in the early 1900s, with the 42nd Street line becoming a shuttle, people were confused. It happens on the first day, and then everyone gets over it.

As for tourists, a certain percentage of them are confused every day, even when there are no service changes. Any day of the week, you can find a tourist who didn’t know the way.

kvnbklyn June 24, 2010 - 1:36 pm

I completely agree with the comments of Scott E above. The MTA has no idea how to present information in a way that is clear, legible and direct. They’ve put up all those terribly worded, poorly laid-out posters, but where do they put them? On the wall by a token booth with at least 10 other service announcements that have no bearing on most people’s journeys. Why do they not realize that most people do not hang out by the token booth? Why not put the posters on the platform where people have time to read it? And how about putting the posters in the trains themselves where riders spend the most time? And why not make announcements telling riders the V and W are going away and the M is rerouted up 6th Avenue starting Sunday and to check mta.info for more information? There were three “important” announcements on the A train this morning telling me to keep an eye on my backpack, but not a single announcement about the pending service changes.

I know about the service changes because I’m interested in transit and read blogs such as this one. I’m surprised by the disdainful tone of the commenters here who think that everyone should pay as much attention to the MTA as those who do so because it’s their hobby. The NYC subway is one of the few in the world where it’s even possible to simply reroute trains (most systems have independently operating lines, not the extensive interlining we have) and it should be no surprise that the general public is confused when such reroutes happen.

But I don’t expect much more from the MTA. They’ve just “redesigned” a map that still doesn’t clearly, graphically show that there are local trains and express trains, despite the fact that the NYC subway is one of the few in the world to have expresses and locals and the only one to use them extensively. If you do something differently than everyone else, you’ve got to do a better job explaining to people what it is that you’re doing.

BrooklynBus June 24, 2010 - 2:09 pm

And I fully agree with your comments. Especially this one:

“I’m surprised by the disdainful tone of the commenters here who think that everyone should pay as much attention to the MTA as those who do so because it’s their hobby.”

One thing I’ve noticed is that often the subway map is displayed in a poorly lighted area in the subway station. Having the legend at the bottom (which I believe was just eliminated) was also very dumb. Was the public supposed to get down on its hands and knees to read it even if there was enough light?

This is all because top MTA management couldn’t care less about its riders. All they look at is dollars and cents. Most unfortunately most people who read this board also think that is the only thing that matters. They are very quick to blame the politicians and the public for problems that the MTA caused itself.

Jerrold June 24, 2010 - 2:17 pm

When a weekend service change is for late nights only, that fact should be made more clear in the E-mails from Transit also, not only on the posters on the walls.
On a recent weekend, there was a certain service change on the E train. That change was only for the late nights, but I almost missed noticing that. There must have been at least some recipients of that E-mail who did not notice that at all.

JAR June 24, 2010 - 4:46 pm

Regular, daily, weekday riders are the last ones to find out:

-No need to check maps, I know where I’m going
-No need to look at the service signs, it’s not a weekend
-Token booth? If I want to be scowled at when spending money, I’ll go to Kinko’s
-I don’t talk to anyone, it’s the subway

MTA has been okay at this round, but did they program in automated announcements on all the affected lines? Or actually have the conductors announce it? It’s not really that hard and announcements cost nothing.

Forgive me if they’ve been doing this, I have no occasion to ride the V/W/M. But I sure haven’t heard any audible mentions of it on the lines I do ride. That’s the only thing that will catch my attention once I’m actually in the system on a weekday. Although I do know what to do if I see a suspicious package or activity on the platform or train…

aestrivex June 24, 2010 - 5:04 pm

the way i see it, no matter how much media blitz the MTA puts forward, they will never be able to communicate the fact of impending service changes to everyone. i remember fondly from when the V train first came into existence, for the first week or so the train would proceed incredibly slowly so that the conductor could repeat six or seven times at every station that the train would be stopping at 2 Av and get out and wait for service to brooklyn. and then magically, over time, people finally figured it out.

it is neither possible nor reasonable to do anything but implement the service cuts and wait for the awareness of their existence to sink in.

Edward June 24, 2010 - 11:55 pm

Well, come Monday morning, I’m good. Just gonna hop on the uptown IRT Lex Express to Union Square and catch a BMT Broadway train to Times Square. Badda-bing, badda-boom!


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