Home New York City Transit Assessing the impact of the 2010 service changes

Assessing the impact of the 2010 service changes

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Alex C September 28, 2011 - 12:26 am

A year and a half later and the sheep still get confused at Broadway-Lafeyette. A Brooklyn-bound M train pulling into that station at rush hour is often an exercise in the complete failure of human cognitive function, as people get on the train, then off it, then off, then on. Others get off, then on, then off, then hold the doors and get on or off. Some just stare at it for the entire time and then decide to jump in at the last second. Can someone explain this to me? The exterior and interior signs usually look fine when I see this, and the people usually looking like they’re going home from work, so I doubt it’s tourists. F train boarding works fine, for what it’s worth.

Lawrence Velázquez September 28, 2011 - 1:47 pm

I still see people waiting for the Q to come on the center tracks at Times Square. And a lot of them look like commuters, not tourists. I understand that the signs can be confusing, but when the train comes on the outer track day after day after day…

Benjamin Kabak September 28, 2011 - 1:50 pm

I’ve seen this too. It’s why I don’t feel very sympathetic for those weekend travelers who don’t bother to read service change posters. It ain’t Transit’s fault that straphangers can’t be bothered to pay more than a little attention to their surroundings.

Alex September 28, 2011 - 12:32 am

I can vouch for R train riders in South Brooklyn. Headways are 10 minutes after 9am which seems absolutely absurd to me, especially considering how crowded the R has become. You’d better hope you don’t just miss that R train especially if you’re one of the many folks who transfers at Atlantic/Pacific. Days like that can easily add 15-20 minutes to my commute if I just miss my transfer. Wish they’d run the D local on 4th Ave. Sigh.

Bruce September 28, 2011 - 2:04 am

Maybe if complaints become loud enough the MTA could extend the J-train down 4th Avenue during rush hours–could help get to your transfer faster perhaps?

Dan September 29, 2011 - 9:41 pm

Doubtful, as on other boards I have read that extending the J or Z would degrade or even doom the skip-stop pattern.

AK September 28, 2011 - 10:22 am

I also live on the R in South Brooklyn (45th) and have wondered whether running the D local from Atlantic to 36 or N local from 36th to 59th would be appropriate. Of course, this decision should be made based on data, not my personal desire for more trains 🙂

Andrew September 28, 2011 - 6:00 pm

“Especially considering how crowded the R has become”? It’s reached 69 percent of guidelines. That makes it one of the emptiest trains in the system during rush hours. Yes, it’s more crowded than you’re used to. Yes, you have to wait longer than you used to. But virtually every other line is more crowded, and several lines run at 10 minute headways straight through the rush hour.

Why should the D run local? West End riders also lost the M, so their trains are more crowded than they used to be. Why should they have longer trips on top of that?

Alex September 29, 2011 - 11:21 am

Part of this is just me lamenting the service reductions. But from examining the schedules, the only other line that goes to 10 minute headways shortly after 9am is, not surprisingly, the C train. Even the G has better service at that time.

The crowding is not bad before 9am, but once the 10 minute intervals begin, the trains are well above 68%. And coming home at night I frequently find myself packed in, barely able to move. I know that’s all anecdotal, but it’s also reality. If you have specific time periods where crowding consistently jumps up (even if the average is 68% overall), that ought to be addressed.

I’ll admit, the D making local stops is a personal dream of mine that I doubt will ever happen. But I think there’s a case for it. Running a train local instead of express would increase your efficiency by serving more stations and passengers with the fewest number of trains. Express service is a luxury (NYC is one of the only cities in the world that has it) so why wouldn’t you want to serve as many stations as possible with your available rolling stock? It’s a sensible and cost-effective alternative to adding more R trains. This would also provide a better route for the majority of commuters heading toward Midtown who are now forced to switch at Atlantic or DeKalb. It’s also worth noting that I have friends who live in Sunset Park but have a shorter commute than I do even though they live further out simply because they have access to not one but TWO express trains at 36th.

Again, maybe it’s just me dreaming, but I wish they’d look at it.

Andrew October 2, 2011 - 11:28 pm

Off the top of my head, the M from Brooklyn and the B and C from uptown never get better than a 10-minute headway, even at the height of the rush.

I agree that if trains are overcrowded outside the peak-of-the-peak, service should be improved at those times. That’s exactly what was done on the J in June. But I don’t know if the trains you’re seeing are truly overcrowded or if they’re just more crowded than you’re used to. Perhaps you should email the NYCT, asking them to take a closer look at the times you find the trains unusually crowded.

I also agree with your general comments about express service, but as long as the express is well used, I think it’s worth keeping unless headways on the local are extremely long (e.g., at night) or the local is much more crowded than the express. What you say about people in Sunset Park having shorter commutes than you applies all over the city – 125th and Lex has a shorter commute to Grand Central than 116th and Lex, Euclid has a shorter commute to West 4th than Van Siclen, etc.

Have you seen the evaluation documents themselves?


Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines September 28, 2011 - 8:59 am

[…] Bus Ridership Down Big, Subway Ridership Up Slightly After 2010 Service Cuts (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Larry Littlefield September 28, 2011 - 9:15 am

You have to consider the next round of service cuts to pay for the next round of wage increases as the wages of those paying the fares continue to decline, plus any additional pension deals.

I would have to say they should be focused on the bus system, as the subway is essential to the economy, whereas cuts in bus service merely reduce the quality of life down toward the level the political/union and executive classes believe is appropriate for the serfs.

Another option is station closings. People would have to walk farther, but the trains would still run.

And clearly the MTA should not be buying trains or buses for the forseeable future. If you don’t have enough trains, you cut service. If your signal system collapses, you lose service entirely.

Bolwerk September 28, 2011 - 12:33 pm

Dunno about that, Larry. Eventually when you need to cut more, you need to cut people and their wages. How much do we really save from less of anything now without doing the one thing we’re not allowed to do?

Al D September 28, 2011 - 9:24 am

Plus, the buses are slow and inefficient. Drivers regularly ‘follow the leader’, and an empty 2nd buses will not let passengers board. They also randomly pull over at empty bus stops for a ‘scheduling adjustment’ I guess, further maddening situations.

Many routes, if not the whole system, desperately need a re-think and re-design. For example, instead of just ‘SBSing’ an existing route, extend it! Here’s an easy example, have the B44 +SBS+ shoot over the Willy B to connect with the F. Or, in a more cross borough fashion, re-envision a route that extends to LIC or Astoria.

Bolwerk September 28, 2011 - 12:47 pm

Do B44 users even want to go to LIC or Astoria? That kind of distance sounds like a reliability nightmare.

Instead of the F, they already have a good transfer to the M, which is about as good as the F in Manhattan.

Al D September 28, 2011 - 4:27 pm

I am using this by way of example to illustrate that the ‘status quo’ thought process used by MTA is resulting in a rider bleed rate, and that many parts of the bus system need to be re-envisioned and re-thought. Perhaps a more hub system can be derived or perhaps instead of bus making 15 unnecessary turns on its route, it can continue straight. I’m no bus expert by far, but for example, when a transit planner routes the s/b B62 near the Williamsburg Bus station across a busy and confusing intersection from the other lines and then MTA touts this improvement, something is wrong. Instead, the B62 should be using the now empty B39 slot in the plaza itself.

Andrew September 28, 2011 - 6:04 pm

Bad idea. Running extraneous buses over the Williamsburg Bridge would add substantial costs and hurt the reliability of the entire route. On weekdays, the B44 already connects to the M, which follows the same route as the F through most of Manhattan.

And a super-long bus route – such as Sheepshead Bay to Astoria – is also prone to delays. Not many people are going to take a bus all the way (the Q will get them from Sheepshead Bay to Astoria in much less time), so why not run shorter bus routes to better serve people making short and mid-length trips?

Bgriff September 28, 2011 - 9:26 am

Don’t forget that F train riders benefited in another way–no more getting stuck behind V trains backed up entering the center tracks at 2nd Av.

John-2 September 28, 2011 - 10:05 am

Not everyone has a smart phone/tablet, and even if they did not everyone would know how to use the MTA’s “Bus Time” app, but the more services are cut, the more important giving riders an option to track when the next bus will arrive is important. The roll-out later this year on Staten Island, the acceptance and usage of the app by riders and the reliability of the data will be important in mitigating some customer anger and getting those same customers back on the buses, if they can adjust their activities to the less frequent schedules instead of abandoning bus usage entirely.

As for the M/V, that was just making the best of a bad situation (I went with some friends last year to Katz’s, and we just missed an F train at 34th Street. The M was next in, and it really wasn’t that big a deal to just take it to Essex and walk a block or two further coming from the south instead of going there from the First Avenue exit. While the cutback hurts residents on the south end of Alphabet City, I would guess most people in the area and living south of Houston Street now just take whichever train comes along first, and either walk from the Second Avenue station or Essex (though for AM boarding, having the option of waiting at the top of the stairs at Essex and either getting on the M or running down to the F is probably a faster option now than getting on at Second Avenue).

Christopher September 28, 2011 - 10:25 am

I don’t know how the specifics NYC’s Bustime is going to work but believe me as I used similar NextBus systems in SF in DC going back to late ’90s. You don’t need a smart phone. You can just call or text. And since text volume outstrips call volume by a wide margin (even in the U.S.) I think we’ll be okay. It would be nice of course if they also used the Bustime program to install “next bus in X minutes” displays at bus stops, but since NYC still doesn’t have LED screens telling you what street is coming up next inside the bus (something again that other cities have had since the 1990s), I won’t hold my breath.

SEAN September 28, 2011 - 12:46 pm

Understood. Westchester Bee-Line just started using LED displays as part of an upgrated comunications system. The radio part works, but the audio visual stop & route anouncement system only functions on a handful of routes right now. There’s no telling when all routes will be turned on.

John Paul N. September 28, 2011 - 7:06 pm

NextBus supports the MTA’s BusTime and I use both in my application. The basic difference is, Bustime displays how many stops the bus is away from your stop; NextBus offers prediction times based on the BusTime data. The MTA is continually looking to use open-sourced components to save money, as opposed to using an out-of-the-box system such as Clever Devices. My guess is when the M34 SBS is finalized, the trial of Clever Devices ends.

The MTA is also relying on outside vendors to install time prediction screens, but so far according to this, limited success there.

Clarke September 28, 2011 - 12:28 pm

The option of 2nd Ave/Essex interchangeability could possibly be helped out by reopening the Rivington St exits on the IND platforms, allowing for exit a blog farther north (and since exiting from Brooklyn-bound M trains requires going via the IND platform anyway, it wouldn’t make it any more circuitous).

Of course, opening an exit from that awful Brooklyn-bound island platform directly to the street would be a fantasy ideal.

JAzumah September 28, 2011 - 12:59 pm

The signal system has been crapping out alot on the A Division (IRT) lines. It is going to end up being a crisis.

Al D September 28, 2011 - 4:29 pm

It’s primarily been along the 2 & 5 in the spot where they have been replacing track and upgrading the signal system.

Timon September 28, 2011 - 2:43 pm

For whatever reason, the MTA wants us to use the subway rather than the bus, and with the 2010 service changes, apparently designed with that aim in mind, the MTA got exactly what it wanted. Most bus lines are now ridiculously unreliable.

There is, unfortunately, no substitute for the M60 line, I’m willing to bet ridership is up on that line) – it is literally ALWAYS crowded and never on “schedule”. In fact, I’ve come to believe the MTA has cut back on the M60 published schedule and not publicly admitted it, like they did on bus lines before the 2010 service cuts.

ajedrez September 28, 2011 - 3:41 pm

They want us to use the subway because it is cheaper to operate per-passenger than the buses.

Evan September 28, 2011 - 5:54 pm

I can agree with that. I take buses in Central Queens, and I and others have noticed a drop in quality as far as the bus service is concerned. Especially with the Q60 – In the middle of rush hour, it took nearly a half hour for another bus to arrive, and instead of just one, it was two that arrived – one after the other!

albert September 28, 2011 - 10:19 pm

Is there a press release somewhere with this data? Where is the analysis from?

Benjamin Kabak September 29, 2011 - 1:01 am

These numbers were in the Transit committee presentations given to the MTA Board on Monday. I believe they’re on the MTA website, but they were supplied to me via the TA.

ajedrez October 1, 2011 - 12:51 am

These three documents:
*http://mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/JointNYCTBus_110926_1115.pdf (Overview)

*http://mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/NYCT_2010_Service_Reduction_Evaluation.pdf (NYCT)

*http://mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/MTA_Bus_2010_Service_Reduction_Evaluation_09232011.pdf (MTA Bus)

Dan September 29, 2011 - 1:39 am

Still don’t understand how the G, the only proper connection between Brooklyn and Western Queens, was shortened into its current useless existence.

Alex C September 29, 2011 - 1:43 pm

Not enough space on the local tracks at Queens Boulevard IND; not with the MTA’s fumigation process at terminal stations, anyways. The problem is that just the M/R already create back-ups immediately west of 71 Ave due to each train having to stand there and wait for crews to check each car before it can move on to relay. Adding the G would add another train to that conga line. Also you’d probably need the G to be 6 75-foot cars long if it were to go up the QB line and go to Church.

Dan September 29, 2011 - 9:48 pm

Definitely. Four car G trains wouldn’t be that helpful and there are two weekday locals as is.

That being said, extending the G on weekends to replace the M could make sense in the future if the money for two locals were to become available.

Justin September 30, 2011 - 12:36 pm

Extending the G on weekedays to Forest Hills never made sense. All you need is one local on Queens Boulevard during weekends. During weekdays, when you need two locals, most commuters are going to from Queens to Manhattan to work.

The current service pattern for the G is fine ,for the few people doing queens to brooklyn, they can get off at Court Square and transfer………

Fd October 9, 2011 - 7:38 pm

Not true at all G train is need

Fd October 9, 2011 - 7:43 pm

You are wrong Justin the current pattern is not fine at all Court square is bad transfer point and Queens Boulevard need two local on weekend R service sucks on weekend

Fd October 10, 2011 - 9:09 am

Three is room to have three train they have go 179 street


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