With concerns about crowding on the L train drawing headlines this summer, the MTA has pledged to address the issue. Later this fall, they will one roundtrip train to the line between 9 and 9:30 a.m. as an interim measure. Doing so, says the authority, will drop load guidelines under 100 percent, and the authority hopes to bring full CBTC online by the end of 2012.
On the surface, one whole train between 9 and 9:30 a.m. doesn’t sound like much. Here you go, guys. Enjoy your one extra train. Plus, the L line is generally crowded throughout rush hour. For now, though, it could be the difference between trains at 101 percent of capacity and those at 90 percent of capacity. Even with the adjustments in load guidelines last year to consider trains full with a quarter of the passengers standing, that extra train could make some unpleasant rides slightly more tolerable.
The announcement of one extra train — with more to come in another year or so — stems from the summer flurry of news about subway crowds. After The Times reported that weekend ridership was on the rise, politicians took note. Armed with the news that weekend ridership at some L train stops was a shocking 80 percent of weekday ridership, Daniel Squadron called upon the MTA to review service along the L line, and this week, the agency’s internal report has hit the proverbial airwaves.
The document is a 13-pager, and it’s available here as a PDF. A lot of it, though, is extraneous as it is a report that the MTA has had at the ready for a while. They’ve spent a lot of time studying the L line and know the ridership inside and out. It’s going to be the first CBTC route in the city, and if that technology is ready in 14 months, as Transit says it will be, capacity on the L could be bumped up significantly.
First, the numbers: Since 1998, daily ridership along the L has spiked from just over 68,000 to just under 130,000. The MTA has maxed out the line at 17 trains per hour, up from 12 just 13 years ago, and is now running 444 daily L train trips, up from 292 in 1998. As ridership has gone up, the MTA has tried to use the L line — one of two that doesn’t have to share trackage with another route — as a testing ground, and thus, we’ve been hearing about CBTC since before I started this site in late 2006.
With CBTC and ATO, the MTA says it can decrease headways to allow for upwards of 24 trains per hour. The system was plagued by some bad testing results as well as a need to purchase more equipment. After being put on hold in 2006 and then resuming a few years ago, Transit anticipates rolling out a full implementation of CBTC in late 2012, and the authority aims to increase capacity to around 20 trains per hour at peak times, thus lessening the crowds. Those are of course the best laid plans, and we know how that goes.
In the meantime, though, weekend travel will remain problematic. Because of the switching limitations along the Canarsie Line, the MTA usually has to knock out large sections of the route to make sure work is completed. It can’t single-track L trains because that would hinder weekend productivity. Furthermore, with CBTC tests needed before the MTA can move forward with its plan, weekend L service may be cut now and then over the next few months. It might get worse before it gets better.
So L riders looking for space right now should walk to the back. The report details how cars in the front of Manhattan-bound trains — those that open right at the entrances at Lorimer St. and Bedford, 1st and 3rd Aves. — are far more crowded that the last car on the L trains. Loads in the front are at 130 percent while loads in the back are at 99 percent. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing. Take heart though, L train riders: Changes are coming ever so slowly.