Nothing proves the old maxim “You get what you pay for” quite like watching a City Council Transportation Committee hearing. New York City dedicates a laughably low amount of money to public transit, but the Council still has the ability to haul in public officials for berating. Oversight without the power of the purse combined with reticent MTA officials facing off against Council members who clearly don’t understand MTA economics makes for hilarious and frustrating hearings.
Yesterday’s hearings followed that format. While some committee members came prepared with pointed and intelligent questions, committee chairman James Vacca screeched about station cleaners while ignoring costs and Peter Koo railed against some conditions at his nearest station. These council members weren’t out there to protect constituent interests; they just wanted to lord over public agency officials.
David Greenfield, a representatives from Brooklyn, was one council member who wanted answers on specific projects. With the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation set to wrap up
before the Apocalypse in the near future, Greenfield asked the MTA about the state of the dormant F express plans. As long-time readers may recall, the calls for an F express study grew in 2007 as a way to improve service along the Culver line and perhaps alleviate crowding at some high-traffic stations with express service. The MTA said that work along the viaduct would preclude implementing any F express service and that the agency would revisit the matter when the rehab wrapped.
Now that the rehab is coming down the homestretch, Greenfield urged the MTA to act now. His constituents out in Borough Park and Midwood suffer slow rides along the F, and he wants the MTA to speed up commutes. He says his office fields more complaints concerning F train service than anything else.
In response, Aaron Stern, the director of Transit’s Office of Management and Budget, vowed a study. Now, promising a study doesn’t mean much. So the question is: What should we expect from the study? Despite my support for this project, I believe the answer is “not much.”
Already, The Daily News has thrown cold water on the idea but without supplying details. Basically, the concerns are two-fold. First, the MTA doesn’t necessarily have the rolling stock to add F express service (but that’s a problem that can be addressed). The second and more valid concern though focuses around service to local stations. By adding express service, and coordinating with, at different spots, the G, M and E trains, the MTA would reduce local service, and considering how many of the most popular F stops in Brooklyn are local, this idea just won’t fly.
To make matters more complicated, Bergen St. — one of the busier local stops — has express tracks that need millions of dollars of work. The lower level at Bergen St. was effectively destroyed in a fire a bunch of years ago, and although the MTA stores runs bypass trains through that station, it cannot be used for revenue service. F express service without stops at Bergen, Carroll, Smith/9th or 4th Ave. would leave many, many riders with reduced service.
Still, despite the forces aligning against F express service, the MTA may try to find a limited way to add some express service. During a September meeting of the Transit Riders Council, MTA officials spoke about potential F options. The minutes are available online, but I can summarize.
Essentially, Transit operations officials believe the impact at local stops would outweigh the benefits to express riders. If any express service is implemented, it would likely be limited to weekday peak hours only and would not involve Bergen St. as it would be too expensive to repair the station for only limited service. That’s not a rosy picture.
Eventually, the MTA will release an official study on F express service, and the conclusions will likely weigh against express service. It’s a shame to underutilize preexisting infrastructure, but sometimes, from both cost and operations perspectives, such service just doesn’t make sense.