When the MTA announced its sweeping subway service changes last year, the news was, by and large, bad for straphangers. With the V and W chopped, the G train scaled back and load guidelines adjusted to allow for less frequent service, I assumed that most subway riders would feel the pain of the service cuts. The only winners would be those folks from the Middle Village area who could enjoy a one-seat ride into Midtown on the rerouted M train.
Over a year later, the MTA has unveiled its findings on the impact of the service cuts, and the claims are fairly sweeping. First, as I’ve noted in the past, bus ridership has suffered the most. In the wake of the cuts, it’s down across every borough. In fact, subway ridership increased in the year following the cuts by approximately 0.3 percent, but bus ridership declined significantly. The MTA says the economy, demographics changes and fare hikes may be to blame, but as bus routes have become longer and more circuitous and frequency diminished, ridership will flee for more reliable and speedier routes.
On the subway front, the MTA says that 95 percent of all riders were “unaffected or minimally affected.” That’s a fairly bold claim all things considered, and anecdotally at least, it seems to be one that may be tough to sustain. Particularly during off-peak hours, train waits have been longer and trains more crowded. That combination might not make people head aboveground for expensive cab rides or longer walks, but it certainly makes a commute less pleasant. Subway ridership might increase but begrudgingly so.
The part of Transit’s report concerning the cuts though focused on the M/V switch and the reactivation of the Chrystie Street Cut. I thought the M switch would prove to be quite popular, and the numbers seemed to bear out that intuition. Overall M ridership was up by about five percent from September – November 2010 as compared with the same period the year before, and total ridership along the J/M/Z Middle Village-to-Williamsburg segment was up by over six percent. M trains are now at 86 percent of their load guidelines as compared with 66 percent the year before. Transit believes the increase is due in part to former L train riders opting for a one-seat ride on the M instead. I’d like to know if the M rerouting has increased property value along the one-seat ride.
Meanwhile, the one big sore spot among F train riders hasn’t seen much of a decline. A few vocal East Village and Alphabet City residents bemoaned the lack of a second train at Second Ave., and the station saw a slight dip in passengers. However, at Essex/Delancey, average weekday entries increased by over 4500, more than making up for the 363-person decline at Second Ave. Those closer to Essex/Delancey simply shifted their commute patterns.
With any winner comes a loser, and the Southern Brooklyn lines that no longer enjoyed both the M and R service suffered though. Ridership numbers along 4th Ave. did not decline, but R train loads are now at 69 percent of the guidelines as compared with 48 percent beforehand. Queens Boulevard riders who have to take the 480-foot-long M trains as opposed to the 600-foot-long V trains have noticed some additional crowding as well.
Ultimately, this slate of numbers offers us a peak into the impact of the service changes. The MTA, of course, wants to spin this as positively as possible, but the truth is that we have fewer trains and less frequent service today than we did 16 months ago. These trains aren’t coming back anytime soon, and no matter what the numbers say, New Yorkers as a whole all lose out because of that.