When The New York Times broke the news earlier this week that weekend subway ridership was on the rise, I knew it would only be a matter of time before New York politicians began to call for investigations, studies and audits of the MTA. With weekend service marred by construction projects and route diversions, these politicians wouldn’t let an opportunity for exposure slip by, and perhaps, something good could come of their calls as well.
The representative who rode to the proverbial rescue is one who has worked closely with the MTA, and his results have produced good in the past. Daniel Squadron, the State Senator from New York’s 25th District who represents the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, put out a call for a study. This isn’t the first time Squadron has issued such a call. In fact, in 2009, he urged the MTA to assess the F train performance, and the authority eventually vowed to make some improvements to the much-maligned route in Brooklyn.
This time, Squadron has written to request a review of the L train’s performance. Using the report from The Times, the Senator said in a statement, “Today’s report underscores the fact that weekend subway service is simply not keeping up with New York. Working together in 2009, we improved F service and created a model for future progress. Now we must reapply that experience and ensure dependable service every day of the week.”
A letter he penned to Transit president Thomas Prendergast expressed similar sentiments. “At some stations on the L and F lines weekend ridership is as high – or higher than – weekday ridership,” he wrote. “Yet the trains’ schedules do not account for the higher weekend usage. I would also like to request that the MTA review weekend ridership on the L in Williamsburg and the F in the Lower East Side, with the goal of creating a schedule that is more reflective of ridership patterns. This would not just make the subway more convenient for riders. By drawing weekend visitors to these neighborhoods underground and off of surface transit, it would also improve quality of life in these areas.”
I am certainly sympathetic to Squadron’s calls, and I’m glad he’s the one latching onto the report. But from the get-go, I wonder how much Transit can do to improve the situation. I took a look at the turnstile data from June to check out what The Times discovered, and I was surprised to see a nearly negligent difference between weekend and weekday ridership at the Bedford Ave. stop in Williamsburg. But east of Williamsburg, ridership drops precipitously. The same happens to the F when you compare weekend travel to Second Ave. with the rest of the line.
It seems as though Squadron and others want the MTA to add service to the lines for the weekends, but it doesn’t make much sense. As long as train crowds are within load guidelines and demands further along the routes do not dictate more frequent service, the MTA likely won’t add routes to service a few stops. They could, however, look to shorter service. The L train has a switch just east of Bedford and one past Myrtle/Wyckoff. It’s possible that the authority can run extra trains from 8th Ave. to Myrtle Ave. and then them back around to provide more service over the popular parts of the route.
Right now, though, the MTA has its request, and it knows its limitations. Work must go on, and service demands generally aren’t as high on the weekends as they are during the week. The authority can’t handle a few isolated peaks at the expense of its bottom line, and the valleys are steep. But Squadron has issued its charge, and the authority will respond in turn.