Home Service Cuts On slower commutes during ‘minor’ holidays

On slower commutes during ‘minor’ holidays

by Benjamin Kabak

A few months ago, in early October as Columbus Day dawned, the MTA announced a plan to reduce service on so-called minor holidays. For some days — the weekdays after Thanksgiving and the week in between Christmas and New Years — the MTA finds that ridership doesn’t hit peak loads, and running reduce service on the IRT lines will save the authority a few hundred grand a year. For $200,000 in savings, I thought the plan was worth a shot, and then, I had to take the subway last week.

Like many New Yorkers, I didn’t have off the days in between Christmas and New Years. I took a pair of vacation days last week but still went to work on Tuesday and Wednesday. I noticed longer waits for a downtown express train at Grand Central during the evening rush hour and longer waits for a Manhattan-bound local from Grand Army Plaza in the morning. Trains, because of the long waits, weren’t noticeably emptier, but it took me longer to get to work.

Yesterday was something of a minor holiday as well. The vast majority of office workers had off, and the MTA was running trains on a reduced Saturday schedule. During a midday ride to and from Manhattan, I had to wait nine minutes for an uptown local at Chambers St. and eight minutes for a downtown express at the same stop two hours later. Even for weekend service, the trains seemed slow.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers are always on the go. While the trains may be less crowded, that doesn’t mean we still don’t need them just as much. So how’s the MTA faring with this new “minor” holiday project? Michael Grynbaum of The Times checked in with an answer. The MTA claims the trial is designed to address times when the authority is running “more service than is required,” but that’s a nebulous idea. We require a vibrant and efficient subway system, and sometimes, that means trains won’t be full. If the MTA offered only what was required, subway service would be even slower than it is today.

As Grynbaum reports, straphangers and rider advocates are skeptical of the new service levels. He writes:

“I got on the 6 train from 110th Street at just about 8:30, and it was a solid 10-minute wait for a train,” said Chris Daly, as he waited for the Lexington Avenue local to ferry him home from a crowded platform at Grand Central Terminal on Thursday evening. “It’s usually six minutes, tops, in the morning,” Mr. Daly, 37, said, craning his neck to peek down the tunnel. “It was certainly unusual.”

As Mr. Daly waited, the platform was becoming increasingly claustrophobic. Hordes of puzzled tourists, many with rolling suitcases attached, poured down the staircases. Above Mr. Daly’s head, the L.E.D. countdown clock flashed an update: the next northbound No. 5 train was still 13 minutes away…

Reached this week, Mr. Albert, the chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, said his feelings on the program had not much improved. “I don’t know where they get this information from, that people aren’t working, but that’s pretty presumptuous, isn’t it?” Mr. Albert asked. “I see tons of tourists. Are the subways less crowded for anyone riding them?”

“I don’t see Transit offering to add service at those times when it is really busy and you might need extra trains,” he added. “I just notice a penchant for taking it away.”

That last bit has, of course, been an MTA theme for a while. The authority has taken service away on buses and in the subways, but it has been years since an expansion of service. Money may be tight, but so too are your typical subway cars. At some point, the authority will have to find the right balance between service levels, wait times and crowding.

It might make sense to reduce service during minor holidays and lesser trafficked days, but it will also create a loop. Fewer people will take the subway if there’s less frequent (and convenient) service, and thus, the MTA will be able to cut service even further as that bare minimum level of train frequency nears. Personally, I noticed less convenient service last week, but I’ll keep taking the trains. No matter the wait, it’s the best way for me — and millions of other New Yorkers — to get to work.

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ajedrez January 2, 2012 - 11:26 pm

Ooooooh a 10 minute wait. That’s what a lot of bus riders experience on a regular day.

By the way, were the buses running on some kind of reduced weekday schedule or not? I didn’t have school, so I wasn’t in as much of a hurry so I didn’t bother to look at the schedule to see if the buses followed it. I did notice that they were more or less at the same level of crowding as they usually are (which is odd because school wasn’t in session, so it probably was longer waits)

It would be nice if they could reinvest the savings into reversing some reductions. $200,000 could pay for bringing back a route or two.

Aaron January 3, 2012 - 2:21 am

Why would $200,000 pay for a route or two? I don’t know the MTA pay scale but, given salary plus benefits, I’d say it’s safe to assume that $200,000 would pay for no more than 4 drivers (probably less). Given that drivers can’t work 24/7 (or even 7 days a week), that’s not even enough for one route, let alone one weekday route. You might be able to use $200,000 to bring back a rush-hour-only route. But I doubt it, not when you factor in maintenance etc.

ajedrez January 3, 2012 - 3:36 am

Well, it could bring back one small reduction. The B3 extension to Bergen Beach cost $300,000 for instance, and B24 weekend service cost $500,000. Keep in mind that they’ve made a few of these cost-saving measures, so that could add up to bringing back a couple of reductions.

SpendmoreWastemore January 4, 2012 - 12:14 am

MTA drivers can’t work 24/7 but a computer from 1966 can. Heck, even a server room from 2012 can handle that.

While I’d feel pretty strange about unmanned trains on most of NYC’s hyper-crowded rush hour routes for the non-reason that it would just feel strange, certainly a few pieces could be run with no driver/conductor. It was done decades ago with the Times SQ shuttle (with no computers) and worked fine. Restore that, then try mid-day trains on the L and look for ways to expand it to 10%, then ultimately 15% of total service.

Contract it to Honda and require no Microsoft software anywhere in the system and it should work fine.

The big unrealized savings is in maintenance; the way it’s done now is pure townie, maximizing the number of people per job and stretching out the work to take every minute of the available schedule. We “needed” 23 people to run the TBM while Spain uses 7.

There _are_ some unofficial holidays where somewhat reduced service makes plenty of sense. The bigger picture is the built-in, every day waste that dwarfs these logical but fractional savings.

nycpat January 4, 2012 - 11:04 am

Nah, I like you’re previous sugestion of having the National Guard operate the subways. Of course VA benefits are outrageosly expensive so they’ll have to be cut.

Alex January 2, 2012 - 11:38 pm

You hit the nail on the head. When people expect a line to be infrequent, they’re less likely to ride it. Then MTA determines how frequently a train should run by whether or not it’s completely full. Thus the abysmal service I get on the R every day of the year which discourages people to ride which justifies them reducing service which…….

Alex C January 3, 2012 - 1:38 am

…more service cuts, and then more budget cuts from Albany.

alex January 3, 2012 - 6:10 am

Try riding the R in Queens on the weekends, when the M isn’t running. If you didn’t run for that train that you heard coming in, you’re in for a 20-30 minute wait sometimes. And then it passes you as express.

Alek January 3, 2012 - 7:15 am

I was at the flushing boind platform 7 at 74th street around 5pm. I had to wait 9 minutes and 35 seconds for 1 local train. I counted 6 manhattan boind trains going by and 2 express went by. Oh it was thursday pm.

Seriously? 9 minutes for 1 lousy train.

Alek January 3, 2012 - 7:17 am

I was at the flushing boind platform 7 train at 74th street around 5pm. I had to wait 9 minutes and 35 seconds for 1 local train. I counted 6 manhattan boind trains going by and 2 express went by. Oh it was thursday pm.

Seriously? 9 minutes for 1 lousy train. finally came said get off willetes point this train going into yatd. Wasted another 6 minutes waiting for the train going to flushing main st

Larry Littlefield January 3, 2012 - 8:53 am

We’re at 1969 or so. Just wait a decade.

I remember 10 minute waits at rush hour, and such heavy crush loading that I had to let three As go by at Jay Street to get the C, after sometimes having to let an F go by.

Hopefully there has been some institutional knowledge, and trains will be kept in the yard rather than put out on the road only to break down.

In any event, I traveled by bicycle all of last week. No difference.

AK January 3, 2012 - 9:02 am

““I don’t see Transit offering to add service at those times when it is really busy and you might need extra trains,” he added. “I just notice a penchant for taking it away.””

This is false. MTA frequents adds train service for special events (sporting events in particular) and changes schedules based on load data. I’m not sure I understand the opposition to the MTA’s reduced scheduling, other than a I-don’t-have-days-off-and-this-inconveniences-me type response (like many of you, I took the trains last week and was affected, marginally, by this change).

Indeed, the same exact arguments being made here can be made for weekends/overnights/any other time– if you cut service, fewer people will ride. But should service change based on typical ridership? Of course! Few would agree that the MTA should run rush-hour service in overnight hours…so I don’t understand why this is different in principle. This is a data driven decision affecting service on a few days a year that is designed specifically to inconvenience the smallest number of people possible while streamlining expenses. Seems like the type of thinking/planning that we should be lauding, not denigrating, even if it does leave some of us a few minutes late to largely empty offices.

oscar January 3, 2012 - 12:15 pm

well they should have added service to Rockefeller Center, it was pretty abysmal on the 26th, considering all the people that were heading to/from

Josh January 3, 2012 - 6:02 pm

AK said pretty much the same thing as I clicked through from RSS to say.

“Meanwhile, New Yorkers are always on the go. While the trains may be less crowded, that doesn’t mean we still don’t need them just as much.”

Well, sure, but that same logic applies to overnights and weekends too. I need the F train to show up so I can get home from the bar on Saturday night, does that mean it should run as frequently as it does during the week?

Mike G January 3, 2012 - 10:27 am

the 7 train was a JOKE during the a.m. rush last week. packed beyond belief even at the beginning of the line in flushing. I think the MTA seriously over estimated the amount of people who routinely pay $2.25 for a ride and their vacation patterns…

Hank January 3, 2012 - 10:38 am

Don’t the east-side IRT lines (4,5,6) run pretty close to capacity at rush hour anyways?

Benjamin Kabak January 3, 2012 - 10:43 am

They’re supposed to, but I’m routinely surprised by the number of times I’ve waited 6+ minutes for a train at 6:30 or how often I have to let downtown express trains pass because they’re too crowded. The problem seems to be bunching where a few trains arrive within 2 minutes or each other and then no trains arrive for 6-8 minutes.

Mistral January 3, 2012 - 10:48 am

The 6 train runs every 2 to 3 minutes during the morning rush, and almost every one of those trains is at least nearly full all the way down to, say, Bleecker Street or so. The express is typically even more packed.

Al D January 3, 2012 - 10:41 am

The service adjustments should really be applicable to morning rush hours on these days. This is when ridership is the lightest compared to an average week day. Later in the day, and in the evening rush, the workers are replaced by tourists and family members visiting the city and those hours call for ‘normal’ weekday service.

Nalgadas January 4, 2012 - 11:10 am

Just got back from a trip to Madrid and Barcelona.

In the Madrid Subway, there were notices from the Metro that they were INCREASING service over the holidays.

The fare in Barcelona is 1.45 Euros. I did not wait more than four minutes for a train one single time. The countdown clocks there give the time to the next train in minutes AND seconds.

It really made me realize that despite the greatness of the NYC transit system, the system here is deficient in many many ways.


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