Over the weekend, the MTA published its Board committee materials for this morning’s meetings. As part of the Transit Committee deck — available here as a PDF — the authority unveiled the May 2010 ridership figures, and after months of an economy-related decline in ridership, subway usage had finally started to creep up again. The service cuts, in other words, came at a very bad time.
Based on figures released by the MTA, ridership in May averaged 5.327 million per weekday and a combined 5.524 million per weekend. Those figures represent significant increases over the May 2009 ridership totals, and although the 12-month rolling averages are showing negative changes, as the city’s economy has recovered, so too has transit ridership. In fact, ridership for the year has been approximately 1.2 percent above expected for the MTA.
Despite this popularity, straphangers weren’t getting better service. In fact, by May, the MTA’s absolute on-time performance numbers were abysmal. Take a look at another chart from the same PDF:
As this chart clearly shows, the MTA’s absolute on-time performance hit a three-year low in May 2010. Only 59.8 percent of all weekday trains were on time, and these numbers were nearly identical across both A and B Division lines. The MTA says that scheduling changes, right of way delays and overcrowding represented 89.2 percent of the total delays. In this instance, a train is considered on time if it arrives at its terminal within five minutes of the scheduled time.
On a line-by-line basis, the results may warrant addition investigation. The 1 train, for instance, saw 81.3 percent of its trains arrive on time, while a reported 0.2 percent of all 6 trains were on time and 0 percent of all Q trains were on time. That seems a bit fishy to me. Controllable on-time performance — a measure that excludes sick customers, police activity and power outages — came in at 87.3 percent, slightly below the 12-month average but in line with the May 2009 figures. Weekend performance actually improved in May.
By and large, the ridership numbers should represent a high-water mark for the MTA. As the economy improves, the authority will have to deal with declining ridership brought about by fewer bus routes and the overall slate of service cuts. Furthermore, with the economy rebounding and subway service needed more so than before, the state has picked a bad time to let the MTA wither in its fiscal crisis.
With the service cuts on the one hand, looming news of a fare hike on the other should stifle this ridership growth as well. Commuters will simply grow to be fed up with the way the MTA is forcing them to pay higher fares for less service. It’s not part of the MTA’s agenda, per se, to cut service, but the state isn’t adhering to its responsibilities toward mass transit.
As the MTA’s economic woes deepen, we’ll see the impact of poor transit funding in New York City. We’ll see how the city’s economy is so closely intertwined with a vibrant public transit network that can efficiently deliver commuters, students and anyone else from Point A to Point B for a relatively cheap fare. We’ll see how less frequent off-peak service will drive down the MTA’s ridership and revenue totals, and we’ll see what happens when transit becomes an afterthought. It won’t be a pretty conclusion.