Home New York City Transit With 1.7 billion rides, subway totals hit 65-year high

With 1.7 billion rides, subway totals hit 65-year high

by Benjamin Kabak

When New York City’s subway system last witnessed 1.7 billion riders pass through its fare gates in one calendar year, it was 1949. Various elevated trains still rans, and the city ran at a different speed with the post-World War II boom only slowly ushering in the age of the automobile. Robert Moses’ infamous Cross-Bronx Expressway had only just begun, and the BQE would see a northern extension open the next year. The Lo-V’s still roamed the rails, and William O’Dwyer was the mayor.

Earlier this week, though, the MTA announced that in 2013, 1.708 billion people paid for their subway fares. As I’ve said in the past, if the trains seem more crowded than ever, that’s because they are. On an average weekday, 5.465 million people ride the subway, and on a typical Saturday, over 3.2 million swipe in. Sunday offers a respite with only 2.563 million rides.

Recent growth has been tremendous. Since 2007, weekend subway ridership has grown by nearly 10 percent while combined weekend ridership is up by approximately 13 percent. And after Hurricane Sandy knocked out the system late in 2012, ridership has come roaring back, even as service changes mount and the Montague St. Tunnel remains out of action.

In a release touting the figures, the MTA offered up some tidbits. Unsurprisingly, Brooklyn saw the city’s biggest increase with ridership up 2.4 percent last year, and the L, G and F trains all saw the biggest growth in the Borough of Kings. The 2 and 3 in Harlem also witnessed growth of around 4.6 percent.

Along with the figures, the MTA also announced ridership by station. The charts, with six years of data, are fun to browse. Of particular note was an increase in ridership on the Upper East Side. The Lexington Ave. IRT station at 86th St. witnessed a four percent growth in ridership, and over 20 million Upper East Siders crammed into this station last year. The area is simply screaming out for the Second Ave. Subway, and the impact it will have on overcrowding conditions on the Lexington line can’t be understated. In fact, five of the top ten busiest stations were along the 4, 5 and 6. Hopefully, the MTA will deliver on time.

The top ten stations remained predictable, with Times Squares’ 63 million passengers retaining its crown. Grand Central came in second, with Herald Square and Union Square a few million behind. The two Penn Station stops — counted separately — came in 5th and 6th; together, they’d be right behind Times Square. Columbus Circle, 59th and Lex, the aforementioned 86th St. and the Lexington-51st/53rd St. complex round out the top ten.

It’s easy to read the tea leaves. People feel safe riding the subway, and for all the legitimate griping about delays and fare hikes, dirty conditions and dingy stations, it remains the most reliable way around the town, and even more so for the price. If 1.7 billion riders recognize it, why can’t our city leaders and state politicians as well?

Ed. Note: I’m on vacation this week in Montreal where I’ll be using the Occasional card. I’ll post a few times this week, including on an engineering report on the East Side Access, but new content may be on the lighter side. Check out my Instagram account while I’m away. I’ll post some photos from up north.

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Larry Littlefield March 26, 2014 - 9:07 am

So what about SAS Phase II?

To me the issue isn’t just serving East Harlem. It is an alternative in case of shutdowns on the Lex, due to Fastrack or infrastructure problems. There is no redundancy for the Bronx and upper Manhattan on that corridor today.

Brandon March 26, 2014 - 10:28 am

Theres some limited redundancy for 125th St on up. You see either “some 5 trains are running on the 2 line” or “Metro-North is cross-honoring fares” all the time.

Larry Littlefield March 26, 2014 - 12:31 pm

Right, but there are capacity problems once you get to 125th. With the change, people could switch to the SAS if there was an outage on the Lex.

tacony March 28, 2014 - 12:51 pm

All the time? When was the last time Metro-North has cross-honored fares? I see this with NJTransit and LIRR all the time. Can’t remember ever seeing MNR cross-honor anything.

bigbellymon4 March 28, 2014 - 10:04 pm

1. MNR cross-honored fares with the hudson to the harlem line because of the December accident
2. MNR cross-honored fares when the New Haven line was messed up because of a Con Ed cable needed

Bolwerk March 29, 2014 - 11:24 am

I’m rather surprised they even give a shit about anything other than the distance traveled. Are Harlem and Hudson line ticket prices different for for the same approximate distance(s)?

I can understand why New Haven might be different, but even then if they have the same face value why should it matter? The accountants can figure it out.

Bolwerk March 26, 2014 - 11:47 am

The bigger infrastructure problems for the Lex services are probably in The Bronx, where SAS is not planned to go. The only redundancy SAS offers is for transfers from 125th Street, and then only for those living in or going to parts of the Upper East Side.

For the Lex itself, Fastract-esque shutdowns are inevitable for the future. That’s fine, too. They happen at night. Carefully planned LRT or BRT can probably handle the load. But we’re not allowed to have infrastructure that costs $40M/km. It has to cost $2B/km because, well, fuck you, New Yorkers!

Nathanael March 26, 2014 - 2:00 pm

In a pinch, the sidewalks on the Third Avenue Bridge would relieve problems at the single most problematic chokepoint, the one under the Harlem River…. but I see that those sidewalks aren’t exactly arranged for pedestrian convenience on the Manhattan side!

SEAN March 26, 2014 - 10:31 am

What’s really interesting about the numbers quoted above is that there are more riders on the subway on any given day than there are residents of almost every other metropolitan area in the country including suburbs. As an example, daily ridership is higher than the entire population of metro Philadelphia or San Francisco.

Phantom March 26, 2014 - 10:55 am

Bus ridership continues to slowly decline.

Service is painfully slow, still, much of the time, other than in the less congested parts of say Queens and Staten Island.

I imagine that when the partial SAS opens, that there will be noticeable reduction in bus ridership on the East Side, and an increase in subway ridership, not just at the new subway stations, but in the current Manhattan N/R/Q stations.

What is the plan for the SAS line? Will it go down Broadway to southern Manhattan?

Phillip Roncoroni March 26, 2014 - 11:00 am

The biggest problems with bus ridership are the insane boarding times due to our current fare payment system, and the fact that bus stops are every 400 feet or so apart.

If every bus had contact-less, multi-door loading, with bus stops a half mile apart, I think ridership would greatly increase. Every morning the Q27 at Flushing/Main Street wastes about five minutes per bus just loading up.

Eric March 26, 2014 - 11:25 am

A half mile is too much – most subway stops are less than half a mile apart, and the subway is supposed to be “rapid” transit. But twice the current spacing would be good.

SEAN March 26, 2014 - 11:37 am

Agreed. You may not realize how far a half mile is until you walk it. Now if you are talking about limited stop/ BRT type service, then a half mile between stops is more understandable.

Rob March 26, 2014 - 5:22 pm

don’t forget, it the stops are 1/2 mi apart, you would not have to walk more than 1/4 mi along the route, which is not very far. but of course, you have to add the distance to get to the line, no matter how often it stops.

Michael March 27, 2014 - 9:41 pm

Let’s give some perspective to the discussion of bus stops. The 1811 Street Plan for Manhattan defined 20 city blocks going “north to south” to be one mile. Thus from 125th Street to 145th Street is 1 mile, with the half-mile being at 135th Street.

If a local bus was established with bus stops only at 168th Street, 155th Street, 145th Street, 135th Street, 125th Street, 116th Street, 106th Street, 96th Street, 86th Street, 76th Street, 66th Street, 56th Street, 46th Street, 36th Street, 26th Street and at 16th Street – as the only stops! This is what a bus stop every half of a mile means.

Most of the usual everyday New Yorkers would not think of such a bus route and stops as a LOCAL BUS. If a person has to walk 10 city blocks just to catch the bus – many folks would not be inclined to do so. Just something to keep in mind while you’re making your suggestions.


lop March 27, 2014 - 11:32 pm

Well you’d only have to walk half the distance, so <=5 city blocks along the route, though possibly more to get to the road the bus runs down. Now for longer trips, many (most?) north-south bus routes in Manhattan are close enough to a subway for people to take that instead. But crosstown, or in the boros far from the subways, there often isn't that sort of express long distance option. So on bus lines that have say six or more buses per hour off peak, all local, maybe switch some of them to limited, or limited light skipping fewer stops, but leaving at least two or three per hour to make every stop to accommodate those with limited mobility.

After stopping at main st on union tpke, to travel the 2.6 miles to francis lewis there are 20 stops, with limited service only during peak, AM westbound, PM eastbound. Why not have some buses during the day only stop after main st at parsons, 164, utopia, 188, francis lewis. Travel times can be a bit of a crapshoot right now, and adding some certainty makes the bus a more usable travel mode. Sometimes it doesn't stop much during the day, sometimes it makes most of those 20 stops. Or maybe you could have some limited light where it will drop you off at any stop along the line, but won't pick up passengers except at those five stops. This could be for some of the ten or eleven buses per hour that run during the day now, leaving the rest to run local and make all stops.

Michael March 28, 2014 - 12:51 pm

Local buses in NYC are simply different than limited bus routes, or BRT as implemented in New York City. Placing bus stops at very far distances, say strictly 1/2 mile apart, as I have shown will miss some very important places and sites. In addition to increasing the lengths that the riders have to walk to reach the bus, not only in a north/south direction, but also an east/west direction.

Yes, there is a tension between the number of stops a transit vehicle has to make, the distances the riders have to travel in order to use the service, and the speed of the service. This idea is even reflected when it came to deciding the number of train stops for the Second Avenue subway, just as an example.

Again, local street buses are different – most folks simply do not want to have to walk 5 city-blocks or more just to catch the regular every-day city bus. For example, in a place like Staten Island where many of the buses are 30 minutes apart. Those folks with the means will seek alternatives – meaning their cars. Once folks are in their cars – getting such folks to take mass transit is an up-hill battle. The car provides so many benefits, that making it more difficult to actually USE mass transit, political and financial support for mass transit declines.

I do not know enough about about the bus situation in Queens to make any recommendations. Generally, mass transit at times can be difficult enough to use (travel time, cost, access to service, etc. Making transit MORE DIFFICULT to use by limiting the access or, increasing the travel time – drives potential users to their cars!

Recently, I had to travel between Staten Island and Brighton Beach. The travel directions given by Google showed the trip to be 23 minutes by car, and at best an hour and a half, to an hour and 48 minutes by public transit. My bus stop is right at the corner – so there are trips where it is better to take transit (bus/ferry/subway), rather than use the car. There are plenty of trips where using the car both saves time, money and stress. If I had to walk 5 city blocks away, and then around the bend just to take the bus, when they are 30 minutes apart – versus using the car. There would no question – screw transit, use the car as much as I can. Those are the kinds of decisions that take place by the thousands of folk when transit is made more difficult to use.


ajedrez March 28, 2014 - 11:11 pm

You have to consider that for some people, the extra stops might make the difference between the bus being quick enough for them to use, or too slow. If you have to wait 30 minutes and then take a slow ride from say, Travis to the ferry, stopping every 2 blocks, you’re probably going to rethink using transit.

The situations have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, because there are definitely areas where the stops are too close together. In general, I’d say that stops should be about 3-4 blocks apart (which is around 1/6 – 1/5 of a mile), which I’d say is generally the norm on Staten Island.

Michael March 30, 2014 - 1:04 am

The discussion started with the idea that regular local city buses should have bus stops every half-mile. I showed how in Manhattan, that would mean a bus stop once every ten city blocks. The reply was to look at person about the middle distance between those 10 blocks, the person who would have to walk 5 blocks to the nearest bus stop, while still keeping all bus stops at 10 blocks apart.

I plainly dis-agree with the idea that regular city local bus stops should be that far apart. It appears that you also agree. There has to be balance between several goals, but generally speaking making transit difficult to use is not helpful to mass transit.


Bolwerk March 30, 2014 - 10:56 am

@Michael: I’m not sure who you think was so doctrinaire about this (Phillip Roncoroni?). But at a typical leisurely walking pace of 18 minutes/mile, people along the route would spend less than 5 minutes walking a quarter mile to the nearest bus stop, which I suspect most people consider reasonable for getting to the subway.

I agree with ajedrez that this should be case-by-case, but ½-mile distance should not be seen as an unreasonable distance between stops. The trade-off for additional walking is, afterall, a significantly faster trip.

ajedrez March 28, 2014 - 11:19 pm

For what it’s worth, there are limited-stop buses that run off-peak. The thing is that the MTA has certain guidelines that it tries to follow when implementing limited-stop service. (The service should run every 5 minutes or less, so that if half the buses can be converted to limiteds, local riders won’t have to wait more than 10 minutes. On weekends, the guideline is every 6 minutes)

I’d agree with you that the guidelines are a little bit too strict. I’d say that 15 minute headways would be acceptable for local service. (In which case, routes like the Q46, running every 6 minutes would qualify for off-peak limited service) So I definitely agree with the general idea that limited-stop service should be expanded.

Bolwerk March 26, 2014 - 11:56 am

For buses, I’d think we could get away with quarter-mile or half-km stopping distances.

Some subway stops are a bit too close to each other, of course.

BrooklynBus March 30, 2014 - 9:48 am

Not true. The biggest problem is reliability. Another is outdated routes that miss major traffic generators, overly complex routes causing indirect and time consuming problems and areas not served, where you already have to walk over a half mile to get to a bus route. Increasing stop spacing would only increase that walking distance. A lot of elderly also depend on buses. Making them more inconvenient wolud only increase use of access a ride.

Decreasing stop spacing would not help reliability. In many cases it would just increase passenger loads at remaining stops, cancelling out any time savings. It would also increase travel times by extra walking and more importantly the increased likelihood you will miles a bus walking further to a stop and have to wait another 10 or 15 minutes.

On the few routes where buses would travel faster, the MTA would reduce service to keep headways the same and pocket the savings canceling out any time savings.

Alon Levy March 30, 2014 - 11:33 pm

So the MTA would save money from eliminating stops? That’s not a bad thing!

BrooklynBus March 31, 2014 - 9:26 am

Yes in a few cases.

However, the MTA’s prime mission is to serve the public better, not to constantly look for ways to save money. Saving money of course is a good thing but not when it means you sacrifice service. Unless it is done very carefully, which has not been the MTA’s motis operendi, in most cases eliminating bus stops would not be a good thing because you would hurt more people than you help. That’s not to say you can’t eliminate any stops.

Bolwerk March 31, 2014 - 11:06 am

I really doubt it. I think people vote with their feet right now to avoid the bus system precisely because of how slow it is, and a big reason it is so slow is there are so many stops.

SBS actually increases ridership on an otherwise stagnant mode for a reason.

BrooklynBus March 31, 2014 - 11:34 am

Exactly what are you doubting? That you would hurt more people than you would help?

Yes buses are slow, but the major reason they are slow is due to traffic and overcrowding, not the number of bus stops. If there was more service and reliability was increased, buses would be able to skip more stops. Take the B49 for example which parallels the Brighton line and is very slow. It takes the Brighton local about 7 minutes to go from Avenue Z to Avenue J. The B49, without waiting, takes at least 20 minutes and could take 30 if the bus gets very crowded. So who do you think is primarily choosing to take that bus? It is people who can’t walk far to a subway stop or have trouble with stairs. The other group are those whose trips would require a double fare if they took the train.

The bus stops every avenue block. Would you cut the number of stops in half? How much time do you think that would save? The same number of passengers would still board but at fewer stops. And how many would be inconvenienced with longer walks they can’t even make?

This situation is mirrored all over the city and every route is not a candidate for SBS. And given the irregularity of service on SBS routes with sometimes 2 or 3 SBSs to a local, I’m not even sure that is such a good idea, until they can run more regularly on time.

lop March 31, 2014 - 1:22 pm

What share of riders have limited mobility, and would be unable to walk <1/4 mile along a route to get to stops spaced 1/2 mile apart? Yes, they may have to walk some to get to the stop too. Riding mostly in Queens, I'd say less than two percent. Maybe more or less depending on the route. Are there any studies giving more than anecdotal numbers on this? If a route parallels a subway, then users who are travelling longer distances already have an express option in that, and so the share of riders that have limited mobility is likely larger. But when no subway runs along a nearby corridor, is it fair to deprive those users of decent service? Off-board fare payment together with fewer stops would do a lot to speed up service. Add in a buslane and it just gets better. And for the relatively few people who this would hurt too much, and would lose access to the bus, could access a ride or subsidized taxi rides make up for it all?

BrooklynBus April 1, 2014 - 11:16 am

I can’t answer your question but would like to remind you that it is not only the elderly and those who are permanently handicapped who have difficulty walking. You also have to consider those with temporary ailments like someone on crutches due to an injury. There are days my knees or something else bothers me and walking is hard. On other days I can walk for miles. I have also had sciatica on three separate occasions where every step was difficult for three months at a time. There are also those carrying packages or wheeling something, and you also have to consider bad weather like rain and snow on the street or when it is very windy when walking long distances are not pleasurable. You also have to consider hills. There are a lot of often overlooked factors to consider before you remove a bus stop.

As far as bus lanes and off-board payment, those are other subjects and I wasn’t addressing those.

Bolwerk April 1, 2014 - 8:08 pm

America: using the transit system to subsidize the (lack of a) healthcare system!

Bolwerk March 31, 2014 - 5:34 pm

Yes, I doubt it hurts more people than it helps. Queuing issues and frequent stopping are both major problems, but increasing the ratio of boarding passengers to stops on balance helps the queuing issue. Stopping frequently exacerbates the traffic issue too. A stopping bus slows down the traffic behind it, and passing traffic interferes with buses.

Also, it’s not a zero-sum game. People who are too hurt by walking a few more minutes to use the bus could still be helped by other more appropriate programs like paratransit. Seriously: free taxis for really old people. We have this automobile infrastructure in place, let’s used it to do the few things transit doesn’t do well.

Re saved time: avoiding a stop probably saves a minimum of a minute or so. Eliminating the stop is guaranteed avoidance.

BrooklynBus March 31, 2014 - 5:53 pm

Yes, but as I stated, if the stop is lightly used anyway, chances are that it will be skipped at least 50% of the time anyway. So you have to weigh that against if it makes sense to remove that bus stop at all. You are greatly increasing the travel time for the few users of those stops by as much as 15 minutes if walking to the next stop, they miss a bus, while saving riders on the bus less than 30 seconds which it woud take for the bus to stop and pick up that person. It isn’t a cut and dry decision as you make it appear to be.

Regarding a greater use of paratransit, you have to remember that each trip costs the MTA $50, and “free taxis” won’t come cheap either.

I suggested somewhere that the traffic laws should be changed to require cars to give buses the right of way when pulling out of bus stops, just like they have to do with emergency vehicles. I have seen buses wait as long as 30 seconds before cars will let a bus leave a bus stop and pull into traffic. That change alone could make a huge time savings in bus trips.

Bolwerk March 31, 2014 - 8:30 pm

But we don’t want chances. We want reliable transit. There is the possibility, especially at rush hour, that people will distribute along a route, with 1-2 people at every stop, every stop being a close to the last, and…lots of delays. It’s better to have stops that will predictably have people, rather than people unpredictably distributing along stops.

BrooklynBus March 31, 2014 - 11:46 pm

I don’t understand what you are saying about people unpredictably distributing. I never have seen a route with 1-2 people at every stop even during rush hours. Some stops are more heavily utilized than others. You can have one or two people at some stops and six or more at others, while at the same time a few stops will have zero.

For routes that stop at every avenue block, to change that to every other block would increase the distance to a bus stop to half a mile for some. On heavy routes that stop every other city block where it might make sense to increase bus stop spacing, you already ave limited stop buses, so it would not make sense to increase stop spacing on the locals. You also have to consider topography. There are not that many places where you can decrease bus stops sensibly.

Bolwerk April 1, 2014 - 10:53 am
Alon Levy April 1, 2014 - 5:32 am

But faster buses do serve the public better! For some data, consider the locals and limiteds in Vancouver, on Broadway and on 4th. The limiteds stop every kilometer, the locals every 250 meters or thereabouts. The limiteds in both cases have far more ridership than the locals. On Broadway (99 limited, 9 local) it’s by a margin of more than 2 to 1, on 4th (44 and 84 limited, 4 local) it’s by a margin of almost 2 to 1.

So not only does this save money that can be spent on boosting frequency elsewhere in the system, but also riders seem to prefer it.

Alon Levy March 30, 2014 - 7:32 pm

A few crib notes from discussions we’ve had about this on Human Transit:

1. In Europe, Singapore, and Australia, bus stops are about 400-500 meters apart on average.

2. People will walk further to better transit. Therefore, subway stop spacing can more easily be wider than bus stop spacing.

3. When spacing bus routes, consider not just time it takes to walk along the route but also time it takes to walk to the route. On an arterial grid, bus routes may be spaced every 500-1000 meters; in Vancouver it’s about every 800 (4th, 9th, 16th, 25th, 33rd, 41st, 49th, with 100 meters between blocks). In Manhattan it’s every 400 on the East Side because of one-way pairs.

4. If there are limiteds, the limiteds should stop a bit more sparsely and the locals more frequently. For example, in Vancouver the limiteds on Broadway and on 4th both stop every kilometer. However, I do not know of any example of a limited-stop bus outside North America (which doesn’t mean there aren’t any: I only know this for a fact about Tel Aviv and Singapore, and possibly in Australia and New Zealand, where Jarrett Walker would know and mention limiteds if they existed).

anon_coward March 26, 2014 - 11:42 am

once or twice a week i have to walk from 8th ave to 12th ave for work and back. sometimes the boarding for the M23 is so slow that when you take the red lights into account i can walk faster than take the bus

Patrick March 26, 2014 - 10:57 am

You get higher numbers at bigger stations, but to see which are really more crowded: divide the number of passengers by the number of tracks at the station, to compensate for the combined stations. You get: 1) 34th Penn IRT; 2) 34th Penn IND; 3)Flushing Main St; 4)96th St 1,2,3; 5)77th St; 6)68th Hunter; 7) Lex 53rd-51st St; 8)Grand Central; 9)33rd 6 line; 10) 86th St 4,5,6; 11)23rd; 6 12)Bowling Green

tacony March 28, 2014 - 12:56 pm

I like that methodology. Don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody do that before, and that does roughly square with my perceptions of crowdedness at the stations, although I’m surprised 86th 4/5/6 is so low and 96th 1/2/3 is so high.

Phantom March 26, 2014 - 12:47 pm

Totally concur that there are too many bus stops on the normal bus stops.

If the MTA tried to close many stops, every sniveling city councilman and state senator would be grandstanding Schumerlike in front of the TV cameras.

For issues like this, unfortunately, you need a Moses type dictator to impose the necessary changes.

I don’t expect this to happen, so bus service will continue to be impossibly slow and ridership will continue to go down.

Larry Littlefield March 26, 2014 - 1:49 pm

The greater number of stops are supposed to be balanced by the ability to skip stops, which the subway does not have.

What is worse is dwell time for swipes, and the dreaded double-stop. Stop for the passengers, then close the door just as the light turns red, and wait some more.

Bolwerk March 26, 2014 - 2:08 pm

There almost doesn’t seem to be a theory behind it, besides “well, that’s how it was done since the trolley days.” Or maybe horse-drawn railcar days. I dunno.

Actually, despite my answer to Phantom, I do think we should be careful about change. In some circumstances, with lightly used lines, there may be some merit to the idea that there is a passenger availability variance that makes frequent stops acceptable. It’s frequent stopping that is unacceptable. Counterintuitively, it’s the busier lines that need longer stop distances.

Also, there is the question of timing. Maybe there should be designated boarding stops, but it makes sense to let people (especially women) choose when they get off at night, which means some extra stops for alighting make sense that may not necessarily be used for boarding.

Michael March 26, 2014 - 10:57 pm

Just a note with all of the talk about increasing bus stop spacing or lengthening bus stops and subway stops, etc. Often there are at times differences between between local bus riders, longer distance bus and subway riders. On many local bus lines there are often many elderly folk who use the buses for their various kinds of trips. For some elderly folk walking long distances can be a problem. While I realize that there is a tension between service levels, bus locations and stations, and a whole host of factors to keep in mind with public transit. I just feel that at times it is very difficult make blanket statements given the huge amount of variability in NYC, and its various neighborhoods, riders and lines.


Bolwerk March 28, 2014 - 12:02 am

There are some people who are probably so disabled or decrepit that society is better off just buying them a taxi ride. Riding the bus has got to be humiliating for them too.

I get, better than most people probably, a bus is not a subway, but all the same it needs to offer some reliable level of punctuality and mobility.

BruceNY March 29, 2014 - 12:46 pm

Isn’t that what Access-a-ride is for?

Bolwerk March 29, 2014 - 2:02 pm

In theory. In practice, even most disabled people demand more spontaneity than Access-A-Ride provides. If they can use them, buses are probably their most reliable option.

(The truth is Access-A-Ride is probably, again, about providing jobs, not providing mobility.)

SEAN March 30, 2014 - 10:30 am

You might want to rethink that perspective.

paratransit services are federally mandated. If it wasn’t, transit agencies wouldn’t bother since the costs are so high vs the number of actual users. The only thing agencies were able to do is tighten the requirements such that if you can get to a bus stop or train station, then you use those services.

Bolwerk March 30, 2014 - 11:14 am

I know they’re mandated, but they are top-heavy and don’t work well.

I don’t much care how, but somehow disabled people should have mobility. Transit is one option, taxis are another. Better run paratransit is another.

Nathanael April 2, 2014 - 1:05 pm

The original purpose of the paratransit requirements was as a cudgel to force recalcitrant cities to make their regular bus & subway networks handicapped-accessible.

Most cities got the message. New York didn’t.

Ralfff March 26, 2014 - 5:38 pm

Re: The dreaded double-stop: has anyone done a study to see if a citywide change to post-traffic light bus stops (wherever possible) would improve overall service? Nothing gets one thinking of car ownership more than the experience of the DDS. If bus traffic priority were later implemented, having the stop after the light would almost certainly be quicker overall too.

Tower18 March 26, 2014 - 8:10 pm

Chicago and SF, off the top of my head, went through an effort to move bus stops to the far side of the intersection because they said it did improve service. It seems debatable to me because the same thing can happen in reverse (stopped at light, then stop again at the stop) but maybe I’m missing something in the way I’m looking at it.

Larry Littlefield March 26, 2014 - 8:32 pm

I took a vacation trip to the Bay Area this summer, and rode the museum of mass transit that is San Francisco.

The light rail out to the Pacific takes forever. Not only is there the dreaded double stop with passengers boarding before the light, but in large areas of west San Francisco there are no stoplights! Just stop signs at EVERY intersection, with the light rail stopping at each.

Flakker March 27, 2014 - 1:00 am

Well, for one thing, buses usually stop in a parking lane, requiring them to get back into a traffic lane to continue. Much easier when you’re beyond the intersection. I’m sure there are other reasons, but my anecdotal observation is that these stops (even when the parking lane is not an issue) are speed-killers. Somehow it almost never works out.

lop March 27, 2014 - 1:56 am

Light prioritization to hold the light to minimize double stops with the stop on the far side of an intersection would likelyimprove travel times slightly. Also, it would mean always crossing the street once to transfer, which I would prefer to sometimes having to cross twice eg main street south to union tpke east.

Bolwerk March 26, 2014 - 1:59 pm

No you don’t. You need ignore the screamers, who are the Moses-like dictators in spirit, and rationally explain to people the longer stop distances translate into faster overall trips. The vast majority will understand. It’s why SBS improves bus ridership.

BruceNY March 26, 2014 - 9:03 pm

It would still be a tough battle as you would be up against both the elderly and the disabled lobbies.

lop March 27, 2014 - 2:00 am

Add more limited or limited light lines then? Still run locals at a lower frequency.

Michael March 27, 2014 - 11:52 am

“Still run locals at a lower frequency.”

Why do some folks think that running regular local buses “at a lower frequency” is a GOOD THING?

Out here on Staten Island, the majority of the buses already run once every half hour (30 minutes apart), and at late nights, the few remaining buses run once an hour. Plus when a bus is taken out of service during the day-times, the wait times can easily increase to an hour.

How much more “low frequency” can you get? And most of us would not really want to find out. It is simply no fun at all waiting at outdoor bus stops in all kinds of weather 30 minutes or more for a bus! Besides making a mockery of the idea of “rapid transit.”

Why is having LESS SERVICE a good thing, in some folk’s eyes? It is not, especially when you’re the one waiting outdoors at the bus stops!


Bolwerk March 27, 2014 - 12:32 pm

I generally agree with you, but we still need to allocate resources where they’re needed. Sometimes hourly service meets demand, and it still means no one is ever stranded.

Expecting people to adjust to the bus schedule isn’t always unreasonable.

lop March 27, 2014 - 2:06 pm

What I had meant was switch some buses that currently run local to run limited, or if that skips too many stops come up with some intermediary limited light. Switching all buses to stopping only every half mile or so would incur the wrath of disability and elderly advocates, so compromise by leaving some buses making all stops to accommodate those who’s mobility is limited. Cutting travel times 10-20% for riders willing and able to walk maybe an extra quarter mile at most would be a big improvement for them. If a line only has two buses an hour, this wouldn’t work well. But what about crowded lines that have ten buses an hour, and at least off peak, none of them are limited? Leaving 3 buses local to make all stops but letting the rest skip some of them would increase service quality for most users. Bustime + never leaving a stop before scheduled to do so would minimize the impact on the riders for whom walking the extra quarter mile is too much of a burden. At night when few people are on the bus and a lot of stops get skipped anyway this wouldn’t be as helpful. You could even switch all buses to local if it’s a blizzard or something and so more people would rather a little more time in the dry bus than outside in inclement weather. Maybe there are some lines that are utilized too heavily by disabled or elderly folks for it to be equitable to cut their local service. It wouldn’t apply to every line but is a tool that should be used where applicable to increase the quality of bus service, together with off board payment, bus lanes, signal prioritization etc…

BrooklynBus April 1, 2014 - 11:21 am

The problem is you first have to do something about increasing reliability. Even with SBS, you still have instances where three SBS s or three locals arrive in a row. Or two Limiteds or two locals right behind each other. BusTime also isn’t foolproof. It can tell you there is a long wait, but a bus could be inserted mid route and if you don’t check it every minute to see the change, you will miss it.

Bolwerk March 27, 2014 - 12:30 pm

I don’t really see how they win either under the current regime, unless you’re talking about the subset of the population that is so decrepit that they can’t walk at most ~660 more feet than they already do.

With ¼ mile stopping distances, the furtherest distance anyone who lives along the route ever has to walk is about 660 feet (one-eigth of a mile). Half-km stopping distances increases that distance to ~820 feet.

johndmuller March 30, 2014 - 5:49 pm

I’m not sure why there is this piling on happening – to the elderly and handicapped at that – and over the bus of all things. Shame, shame, shame.

Do you drop your grandmother off 2 blocks from the doctor’s office when you give her a ride?

Why not require the 1% to give rides in their limos to elderly/handicapped people at all times or be subject to a twenty-five-fold increase in their limo registrations (How many do you suppose would choose to give rides, 1%)?

Bolwerk March 30, 2014 - 7:21 pm

Do you stop every block or two to pick up passengers when you give your grandmother a ride to the doctor’s office?

Nobody is piling on. We’re talking about balancing bus trips between speed and minimizing walking distance. Disagree with change if you want, but it’s a legitimate discussion.

BrooklynBus March 30, 2014 - 1:14 pm

Not necessarily that wider bus stop spacing translates into faster trips. It all depends on the average trip length. Trips are faster for those making 5 or 7 mile bus trips. But the average bus trip is only 2.3 mies. So when you consider the number of stops skipped for short trips vs the extra walking distance to and from the bus stop, plus the likelihood of missing a bus and waiting an extra 10 or 15 minutes, you can actually increase your total travel time with fewer stops.

No time is saved by eliminating heavily used stops since all that accomplishes is adding walking distances for many and increasing the dwell time at neighboring stops equalling the time saved minus acceleration and deceleration. Likewise, eliminating very lightly used stops only makes sense if you want more parking spaces. It does not save time since those stops will be skipped anyway most of the time. It only makes sense to eliminate moderately used bus stops when they are very close together and there is no transfer point, hospital, or other major land use at either stop.

Nathanael March 26, 2014 - 2:02 pm

“If 1.7 billion riders recognize it, why can’t our city leaders and state politicians as well? ”

(1) Wrong generation.
(2) Andrew Cuomo is a petrolhead. Probably had lead poisoning as a kid, he’s old enough.

Arguably we just have to wait. Unfortunately, we really can’t wait.

Bolwerk March 26, 2014 - 2:20 pm

I wish it were that simple, but the wider carfree demographic has a lot of fucked up views too. People obviously need and want more subway access/service. We can debate how, but I don’t think reasonable people can dispute we need some light rail on busier surface routes. And every bus should be SBS-ish insofar as possible.

What are pols offering and activists pushing for? Ferries, which solve almost nothing, and buses, which are a mix woefully inadequate and ultimately more expensive. Oh, and parks! Meanwhile, the users vote with their feet for subways.

Alex March 26, 2014 - 5:42 pm

While ridership soars, I’ve noticed a pretty solid drop in reliability, at least on my commute, since the start of the year. My average train commute on the R and the D in 2013 was about 40 minutes. Since the start of the year, that has crept up to around 45. That’s mostly do to long, unexplained delays that are happening with more and more frequency. In 2013, about 3.5 out of 5 days would be delay-free with the other 1.5 being longer. This year, it’s more like 2.5 out of 5. Literally half of my commutes involve extended waits and/or delays. And many of those are not recognized as service issues but rather are just trains not showing up for 15-20 minutes. Curious if anyone else has experienced this.

Alex March 26, 2014 - 5:43 pm

The larger point being that if so many people are riding, you’d think we could better organize to demand better service.

Nathanael April 2, 2014 - 1:12 pm

You’d think we could kick the Republicans out of the NY State Senate too. We did. Three times. Turncoat “Democrats” keep giving it back to them.

I think the demands of the younger generation are falling on deaf ears in the form of the aged politicians. I think the only solution is to actually replace all those guys with younger people. As long as people born when Andrew Cuomo was are the people running for office, we’re screwed.

Larry Littlefield March 26, 2014 - 8:35 pm

Perhaps it’s only the days I take the subway rather than a bike, but I’ve noticed the reliability issues as well. It’s gotten to the point that if it comes first, I take the G to Queens and 7 to Manhattan rather than just wait for the F. The 7, much to my surprise, is no more crowded than the F, and the whole trip isn’t that much longer.

Bolwerk March 26, 2014 - 9:16 pm

The 7 is a de facto feeder for the N/R/Q. Between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square, it’s not even that packed.

Larry Littlefield March 27, 2014 - 6:25 am

That’s what I found, and that’s what surprised me. Given the limited number of subway lines in Queens, and NYMTC “Hub Bound” data, I had expected the #7 to be a real crush load.

But it’s really no worse than the F. And for me, that’s only a few stops and I get a seat on the G in the bargain. The G is now very crowded once it approaches Court Square, but that’s the easiest fix in the subway — just add cars.

Another aspect of subway crowding — when something goes wrong in Brooklyn, it really goes wrong, especially with the Montigue Tunnel out.

sonicboy678 March 26, 2014 - 6:51 pm

If we were to have light rail, I would have to argue for keeping trains separate from the street as much as possible. Routes that I feel would be best kept off the street if at all possible include but are not limited to the B41, B44, and B46. By the way, do you think those structures could possibly be used to help keep some of the lighter-used bus routes with similar routes to existing, more heavily utilized bus routes off the street, as well? If so, I would also consider having the Q35 run along that kind of structure north of Kings Plaza.

bigbellymon4 March 28, 2014 - 10:09 pm

You can expand nostrand subway service to handle express and local service (5 express and 2 local) and for utica you can build the subway the planned years ago but with the support these ideas will just be ideas.

sonicboy678 March 30, 2014 - 12:30 am

Hey, look at that! Another person would like the 2 local/5 express Nostrand Avenue Line!

lop March 27, 2014 - 2:06 am

If the Queensway goes through woodhaven/crossbay is nice and wide, plenty of room for lrt, assuming the bridges could carry it.

David Pearce March 27, 2014 - 9:52 am

Just a little constructive correcting I hope:

Please change noun-verb agreement in the following line:

“….Various elevated trains still rans, and the city ran at a different speed….”

It should be “still ran”. And I think, since you use “ran” twice in the sentence, it might read more smoothly to add “indeed” to the second part:

“….Various elevated trains still ran, and [indeed] the city ran at a different speed….”

John March 28, 2014 - 8:39 am

No offense to Ben, but if you’re looking for a grammatically correct blog, you’ve come to the wrong place.

John March 27, 2014 - 10:36 am

If there’s any bus with too many stops, it’s the Q19 on Astoria Blvd. In some cases, there are stops on consecutive blocks on the Flushing bound side – off the top off my head, there’s a stop on Steinway/Astoria Blvd and another stop on the very next block (these being short ~200ft blocks).

ajedrez March 27, 2014 - 4:56 pm

For what it’s worth, if you go to Broadway between 132nd Street & 133rd Street in Manhattan, you’ll see two M4 bus stops on the same exact block (though in real life, I assume bus drivers only stop at one of them).

Tower18 March 27, 2014 - 6:26 pm

One of the interesting things to me was the ridership gains basically along the entire Fulton line in Brooklyn over the past few years, with no increase in service at all, particularly at the C stations. C trains are usually crush loaded after Franklin during the morning peak. It’s true the C probably can’t support increased off-peak service yet, sadly, but I think maybe 1 or 2 more TPH during the rush periods would be called for at this point. Not sure if there’s room in Cranberry Tunnel for 2 more TPH though, but I would think there would be, if just barely.

Another thing is that G ridership is underestimated vs the real world, because so many of the riders transfer from other lines. For instance, in the evening, a Brooklyn-bound G often departs Court Square at, say, 130% seating capacity already. But most of those riders didn’t board at Court Square, and in the reverse direction, they don’t exit at Court Square. This is just kind of a peculiar situation, with the G’s terminal station being a big transfer point.

Larry Littlefield March 28, 2014 - 9:26 am

To increase C capacity, all they have to do is add a couple of cars to each train.

Bolwerk March 28, 2014 - 9:39 am

Is that possible? (Actually, can’t see why they can’t squeeze at least one more car on.)

Tower18 March 28, 2014 - 4:01 pm

I think when the R32s run on the A line in the summer, they’re 10 cars, so yeah, they should be able to make the C 10 cars. Since the problem is concentrated in peak times though, I don’t think they’re likely to run 10 car trains for 4 hours per day, and 8 car trains otherwise. So it’s “easiest” to just add one or two more runs during each peak period.

sonicboy678 March 28, 2014 - 9:23 pm

Considering how that swap flopped, though, I doubt they would do it again. Besides, I’ve seen the C. The train length isn’t the worst part, as the train frequency is horrible. Thankfully, when it does show, it’s pretty quick.

bigbellymon4 March 28, 2014 - 10:18 pm

thats really the problem with the C. In shows up every 8-10 mins (I take the C every morning and evening). The MTA most likely wont lengthen the trains because its only the peak hours when it is crammed. Off-peak trains are pretty much empty and you can sometimes have a whole car to yourself (except in the back of the train where no matter the time of day is crammed).

John-2 March 29, 2014 - 12:27 am

But if the MTA is going to swap out the C’s R-32s for the ones on the J/Z when the R-179s arrive for the Eastern Division, that locks the C into eight car trains for the foreseeable future, barring extra car purchases, as with the R-142As being converted to 11-car service for the Flushing Line.

sonicboy678 March 30, 2014 - 12:32 am

Not necessarily. Some R179 sets will have 5 cars instead of 4.

John-2 March 30, 2014 - 7:27 am

But the five-car R-179 order is far short of the number needed to make up the C’s fleet, and the R-160s coming over from the Eastern Division are, as of now, locked into their four-car sets (though — assuming the R-179s will be to the R-160s what the R-188s are to the R-142s — I suppose you could run five-car 179 units with four car R-160 units. That would spread out the five-car units and the Cs nine-car trains, but the MTA would then have to make adjustments to its boards and conductor positions along Eighth Avenue and Fulton if that were to occur).

Bolwerk March 29, 2014 - 11:31 am

(Kind of responding to the entire thread below Tower18 to this point.)

The probable limit for more C Trains is the two-track tunnel the C and A share. Maybe more Cs could run with fewer As. But there is also the rather frequent E to worry about.

Would it be worth it to run another local in Brooklyn? Court Street could come in handy. 🙁

Tower18 March 29, 2014 - 5:41 pm

Nah, I did a little Googling and it appears Cranberry Tunnel runs about 20 peak TPH between the A and C, so if you take into account the merging that happens on both ends, it’s not like you could add another service, but you could certainly add a couple trains during peak hours. It doesn’t need a lot, it’s not the L, but the western C stations are growing a lot, and the whole line is growing on pace with the system avg. Pretty soon, they’re gonna want more than 10 minute off-peak headways on CPW as well (the current weekday B/C mixed service is sufficient).

Bolwerk March 29, 2014 - 8:59 pm

Yeah, looks like Cranberry peaked at 22 in 2010 (going by that year’s Hub Bound). But that’s pretty high for NYCTA. The most any lettered line seems to do one single-track direction is 24 (53rd Street Tunnel for the E/M). The L Train never lists more than 16 TPH, probably owing to terminal constraints.

But two other observations:

1) Since they’re arbitrarily ranked sets, these peaks may be a little unreliable. It might so happen the peak 60 minute block is 7:45am to 8:45am, or something. But the maximum it’s probably not off by more than a few trains.

2) The scheduling also needs to account for lines where there aren’t shared track. The C shares with the E, which shares with the M and F (at different segments!), which share with each other, so the C probably needs to worry about all of them to some extent.

sonicboy678 March 30, 2014 - 11:39 am

That’s why you don’t use Cranberry; in fact, no connection exists between Court Street and the Cranberry Street tube. Instead, build a separate connection between Chambers Street/WTC and Court Street (somehow) in order to add a second Fulton Street local. Of course, the MTA would claim it’s not worth it.

BenW March 30, 2014 - 1:17 pm

Seriously, did we just go from “lengthen C trains by 25%” to “dig a new connection under the East River and Brooklyn Heights for just the current Fulton local trains?” Yes, you are correct that the MTA will claim it’s not worth it. Also, they will be right, until and unless there’s something other than the currently-quite-busy 8th Avenue Local to connect it to (looking at you, Hannover Square…). In hand-waving terms (or as one poster might put it “in nice round numbers”) increasing the number of cars on the C by 25% would be about $50 million (assumptions: roughly half of the current 222 R32 cars are on the C, new R179 cars cost $2 million each). That is, shall we say, a bit less than new tunnel work through two of the more honeycombed areas of the city.

Abba March 31, 2014 - 12:24 am

When can we expect the next article? I know your on vacation but at least one.No?

Bolwerk April 1, 2014 - 10:53 am

In reply to #433079

NYCTA and MTA Bus seems to schedule around some kind of passenger variance model, where a given bus is expected to actually stop a certain number of times. They don’t know when a passenger will board or where s/he will alight, but they seem to expect a certain probability there stops will be made. Logically, there is always a statistical possibility the bus could make nearly every stop, and fall behind schedule, or make too few stops and get ahead of schedule.

But then, the MTA has a rather liberal definition of staying on schedule. :-\

For routes that stop at every avenue block, to change that to every other block would increase the distance to a bus stop to half a mile for some.

Super-unlikely. Two long blocks is maybe 1800 feet, which comes to about .34 miles. The longest walking distance for anyone along the route is therefore ~900 feet, about .17 miles.

To walk half a mile under that scenario, you already need to be about 1740 feet (~.33 miles) from the route (perpendicular on a grid), walk ~.17 miles parallel on top of that.

On heavy routes that stop every other city block where it might make sense to increase bus stop spacing, you already ave limited stop buses, so it would not make sense to increase stop spacing on the locals.

In those cases, that creates two infrequent and confusing services that could be one more frequent service. Maybe stopping distances somewhere between a local and a limited are suitable.

BrooklynBus April 1, 2014 - 11:37 am

I am still unsure of what you are saying regarding predictability. Are you saying that if there are fewer stops, there is a greater chance that the stop will not be skipped so that predicting bus travel times for scheduling purposes would be more accurate?

On your second point where you dismiss my statement that walking distances would increase to over a half mile if busses stopped every other avenue block, the fallacy you are making is that everyone either lives on or has a destination on the street where the bus operates. You say the longest walking distance someone would have is .17 miles. But many bus routes are spaced a half mile or a mile apart. Those living equidistant between two routes such as on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn south of Holy Cross Cemetery or on 16th Avenue, already has to walk a half mile to the closest north south route from the closest intersection, and you are adding .17 miles to that distance, so you are now over 2/3 of a mile to a bus, which is greater than you are expected to walk to a train.

Bolwerk April 1, 2014 - 11:59 am

Not necessarily. There is a probability that a given stop will have a person waiting, right? If there is a series of five stops each with a .2 probability that someone will be waiting, it stands to reason that the bus will be expected to make one of those stops. But you could win the oh-shit lottery, and have each of those stops with somebody waiting.

I didn’t dismiss your second point. I even provided (crude) geometry in response. I’m not denying that someone is shafted by change, but that’s always the case.

But many bus routes are spaced a half mile or a mile apart.

I responded to the scenario you gave me: Manhattan blocks. I think in gneeral, half a mile is probably a bit far for stops (unless there is literally nothing between). Half a kilometer (~1640.42 feet) is probably reasonable as an upper limit to the distance, and half a mile is probably a reasonable ballpark lower limit – that can be ignored in cases where it is reasonable to ignore it, like 2 subway stops nearby each other.

I have absolutely no problem with exceptions, when they make sense. They sometimes do.

BrooklynBus April 1, 2014 - 12:23 pm

I am still confused about what you are saying except the part about allowing exceptions.

First of all, I do not believe that there is equal probability like a .2 that someone will be waiting at a given stop. Each stop has its own probability unless there are the exact same circumstances at all the stops you are looking at like equal residential density, no transfer points, no major land use, etc. Usually that is not the case and some stops always tend to fill up more quicker. Not sure what that has to do with anything, but you were trying to make some point about fewer stops and better scheduling.

Anyway, I do not remember using Manhattan as an example regarding stopping at every other Avenue block. I was talking about any bus route. I do not thing it would help or is realistic to have buses stop every other avenue block anywhere in the city, because the walking distances to a bus would be too great. You must also remember, that sometimes because of the routing and your destination, it is not practical to use the north south or east west route closest to you, but the next closest one. So actual walking distances may be greater than they appear.

In cases when buses stop every other City block, I guess you would be proposing eliminating alternate stops also. I would rather they stop every third block than every four, if you want to eliminate stops. But the problem with that is that placing new bus stops usually involves fighting some opposition especially on residential streets and is not so simple.

Bolwerk April 1, 2014 - 6:39 pm

I’m sorry, I misspoke. I didn’t simply respond to the scenario you gave me. I meant to say I responded to the most extreme example of the scenario you gave me, which was:

For routes that stop at every avenue block, to change that to every other block would increase the distance to a bus stop to half a mile for some.

(I’m pretty sure Manhattan long blocks are the longest standardized blocks in the city. Nobody is walking half a mile because of them unless they’re already coming from pretty far afield.)

.2 was an example. Of course they all have their own probabilities. But there will also be wide variance in who boards, how many, where, and when, even in the normal course of rush hour. Limiting available stops still does a lot to limit frequency of stops.

BrooklynBus April 1, 2014 - 11:13 pm

Limiting available stops does limit the frequency of stops, but you have to consider all the costs. That was my point. Stops need to be reduced on a case by case basis, not by any uniform rule.

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