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.