Home New York City Transit With crowds at record levels, Transit set to increase service but not until June

With crowds at record levels, Transit set to increase service but not until June

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the past decade, the MTA has ping-ponged through an era of uncertain leadership. The agency has burned through Lee Sander and Jay Walder and Joe Lhota, along with a few interim heads, and Tom Prendergast, now on the job for nearly three years, is the longest tenured MTA Chair since Peter Kalikow stepped down toward the end of 2007. With such frequent turnover, it’s been exceedingly hard for the MTA to plan for now or the future, and it’s starting to show.

October is the busiest time of year for subway ridership, and the last few days have been absolutely brutal. I can tell you what it’s like to ride from Brooklyn to Midtown and back every day, and while my tales are simply one person’s experiences, I’ve heard from many riders throughout the city who have experienced the same frustrating commutes. At 8:20 a.m., I’ve had to let B or Q trains pass me by; at 8:10 a.m. at the 6 train’s 4th uptown stop in Manhattan, I’ve been packed tighter than a sardine in a tin can. At times when I used to be able to grab a seat on the way home at night, I’ve had to stand from Grand Central to Nevins St. Wait times are long; trains are crowded; and there’s no relief in sight.

This problem — of uncomfortable rides, disgruntled customers and every-increasing ridership — is one of both the MTA’s doing and a lack of investment. The MTA sets its own load guidelines, and trains are crowded because that’s how the agency can wring every dollar possible out of the system. Service was far more frequent when the subways first ran in the early 1900s than it is today, but with the MTA’s budget operating on razor-thin margins, the MTA has to run what a consultant would call efficient operations. That means riders don’t get more more train than they want, even if it means a six-minute wait for a packed 6 train during the a.m. rush.

The other MTA problem is a lack of foresight and money. The agency hasn’t planned for a spike in ridership, and the crowds in the subway, as Charles Komanoff recently discussed, are approaching something akin to gridlock. There’s no room for more passengers, and the technology that enables the MTA to run trains more frequently is years away from implementation. It is also, as I’ve discussed recently, far too expensive for the MTA to implement these upgrades and far too late to be planning them only now. Planning for today’s crowds tomorrow is a recipe for failure, and we are up a creek without a paddle.

There is some modicum of relief on the horizon as the MTA announced some service increases on Thursday, but for some reason of economics, these changes don’t go into effect for another nine months. So that’s nine more months of overcrowded trains (that also seem to run slower than ever). Transit says they are adding service on 12 lines though the “most significant changes” are on the 42nd St. shuttle — hardly a move that does much for the rest of us. The C train will see three additional trips on Sundays as well.

The MTA summed up these service increases “Other major lines that will be increasing service include the Seventh Avenue 1/2 lines, with a total of five additional round trips during peak and evening hours; the Eighth Avenue A/C/E lines, with three additional round trips during midday and evening hours and three more round trips on Sunday mornings; the J/M/Z lines, with a total of three additional weekday round trips; and the system’s busiest route: the Lexington Avenue 4/5/6 lines, with seven additional weekday evening round trips.”

For the meager cost of just $5.8 million annually — barely a fraction of 1% percent of the agency’s budget — headways will be shortened by around 30 seconds in the evening. This is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving commutes.

Even in announcing these upgrades, Transit officials seemed to nod more toward the constraints of improving service than toward the benefits of these added runs. “Our subway system is more than a century old and even where we are aided by new technology, we are still limited by the overall age and condition of the system and the maintenance that is needed to run trains safely,” James Ferrara, interim president of Transit, said. “Making these service changes wherever we can lets us make the best use of existing resources as we expand to keep up with private sector development.”

There’s no good answer here. Unless there is a mass migration away from New York City, the subways will remain crowded. Ideally, Transit is assessing how to deal not with 6 million daily customers but with 6.3 or 6.5. It’s really only a matter of time unless the system — and the city — simply cannot handle that volume. But that’s a future we’d all rather not contemplate.

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Brandon October 23, 2015 - 6:33 am

While it wouldn’t help station passenger flow issues, TA was very foolish to not move to open gangways during its last round of procurement like the rest of the world has. A 10% capacity boost for little marginal cost (and primarily on the capital rather than operating side) is not something they should be turning their nose up at.

Avi October 23, 2015 - 9:38 am

The MTA did look at open gangways. I don’t know all the details but the 10% number you see quoted from London involved a lot more changes than just open gangways, and open gangways alone did not achieve that much. Combined with the operational costs of not being able to swap individual trains and it’s not clear that open gangways really make sense.

Also, given the delay in getting new rolling stock deployed it’s hardly a quick solution.

Brandon October 23, 2015 - 10:08 am

Even if its 5%, even if its 3%, its still the biggest bang for buck capacity improvement hands down. Its a faster improvement to start phasing in compared to any other capital improvement, including CBTC.

I’ve seen no indication whatsoever that NYCT has to swap out individual cars more often than any other rapid transit operator, most of which are switching to open gangways. Do you know something I don’t?

eo October 23, 2015 - 10:27 am

I agree that the MTA should seriously reconsider the open gangways even if they add only 5% more space. Switching cars out of sets is not that much harder with the open gangways than with the current separate cars. In fact I suspect that often the whole set goes out of service till the car in the middle is repaired. There is a reason why the typical 10 car set is composed of two 5 car subsets. I believe that they tend to replace 5 car subsets when there is an issue with one car and the other 4 cars are out until the one with the problem is fixed anyway. If the 5 car subsets had open gangways (4 of them) you get the majority of the benefit.

Take a note of the car numbers when a train passes you by — most of the time they are consecutive for each of the two 5 car pieces which further shows that they rarely dismantle these 5 car subsets. That means that they would rarely need to dismantle the gangways of a subset to switch one car out.

Andrew October 26, 2015 - 7:47 am

Even if its 5%, even if its 3%, its still the biggest bang for buck capacity improvement hands down.

How can you reach that conclusion with no indication of cost? You can’t determine bang-for-the-buck without knowing the buck.

Bolwerk October 26, 2015 - 11:02 am

Not saying this is the case, but the assumption seems to be that it’s close to free because a large order of newly designed equipment is approximately the same cost with or without open gangways.

Tower18 October 26, 2015 - 11:38 am

Correct, you’re ordering cars anyway. Certainly replacing the entire closed-gangway fleet immediately would incur a cost, but by ordering all new cars with open gangways, eventually the whole fleet will have it (yes that may take 30-40 years!).

It’s terribly disappointing this wasn’t considered for the R142, and thus R188 orders. The IRT cars should have been perfect for this, since they are the most space-constrained, and the least likely to have clearance problems.

Andrew October 26, 2015 - 10:19 pm

That’s wishful thinking if I’ve ever seen it.

Bolwerk October 27, 2015 - 11:05 am

Assuming the only changes necessary are in equipment and not tunnel configuration, I don’t see why it’s unreasonable.

I don’t know if that’s the case though.

Bolwerk October 23, 2015 - 1:50 pm

Concur with Brandon. 5% more capacity is about the equivalent of more than one more train at rush hour on a lot of lines.

10% would be an absolute coup.

Eric October 24, 2015 - 4:57 pm

Even if the theoretical capacity increase is 3% or 5%, the actual increase is greater.

Without open gangways, some cars become more full and some become less full, so you get the problems of crowding (discomfort, delays) even when not that many people are on the train.

With open gangways, people can move to a less crowded car, so all cars become crowded at the same time.

pete October 23, 2015 - 12:04 pm

Open gangways will never happen aslong as the subway is a a rolling homeless shelter. The smell of the homeless must be escapable. Also the homeless have to goto the bathroom between the cars which I personally see in NYC once every week, or 2 weeks. Every other transit system in the world either

A. shuts down at night

B. the conditions of carriage restrict you to a maximum of 2, 3 or 4 hours to complete your journey. At the 2/3/4 hour mark, your “ticket” expires and you are now evading the fare. UC cops/guards walk the cars with PDAs and check everyones paper ink cards or RFID cards on the train while it is rolling. I’ve been checked even on non-POP, traditional turnstyle metros in Europe, if I have valid tap on my tap card or not.

Implementing A or B removes 100% of the homeless from the metro. With an unlimited card, you must exit the system through a turnstyle and tap/swipe back in before the 2/3/4 hour mark to create a new journey.

Some transit systems, such as Berlin, have another rule that it is forbidden to travel towards the station that you started your journey from. Mag card/ink ticket/RFID always encode the start station on themselves. The inspector programs in his PDA which direction the train is going before he step on to inspect tickets. No travel towards entry point on a metro is identical to the you can’t use a bus transfer to go back to the point of origin on the same bus line.

Jumper October 23, 2015 - 2:28 pm

I’d like to keep the option to go back. It gives the poorest New Yorkers an opportunity to save money by taking a bus on the return journey or to drop off something to a friend by meeting them at a station, passing the object over the turnstile, and going back without leaving the system. Changing this would negatively affect the poorest New Yorkers.

pete October 24, 2015 - 8:32 am

BART’s “Excursion Fare” says if you swipe in and swipe out at the same station (BART requires exit swipes), you will be charged the maximum distance fare, instead of the minimum (1 station away). The point that “the metro is a transportation system, it is forbidden to use it as anything else [sleeping/homeless, evading truant police, panhandling/commerce]” is very clear.

Alon Levy October 24, 2015 - 5:19 pm

Copenhagen has 24/7 subway service and cheap unlimited monthly tickets, and no 2-hour (or 4-hour) ticket expiry. Why would you even do such an expiry system? It’s of no use for either the passengers or agency finances.

Bolwerk October 25, 2015 - 12:10 pm

Most other systems are in cities where homelessness is contended with through functional social services. Too NIH for NYC I guess.

Tower18 October 26, 2015 - 11:40 am

They should just found a tech startup obv.

Alon Levy October 26, 2015 - 4:03 pm

Don’t romanticize toooooo much. In Stockholm the social services are “here’s money for housing in the farthest away part of Stockholm County, now go away and stop bothering the Aryans.”

Bolwerk October 26, 2015 - 6:59 pm

Moi? Romanticize? Frankly most EU countries are as monstrous as America in some ways, but with social services it’s usually when immigrants get involved that things get goonish with social policy/services.

Germany and prostitutes. France and Muslims. UK and refugees.

Guest October 26, 2015 - 6:09 pm

The homeless problem is a societal one. How about providing a living wage,more affordable housing and more efficient ($$$) community outreach and services for the mentally ill?

Until then, the subways are going to be a great place to sleep when it’s below freezing outside.

Nathanael October 26, 2015 - 11:32 pm

Salt Lake City’s “Housing First” program is very effective. Just give every homeless person an efficiency apartment; it’s cheaper than any alternative.

It would work even better in NY, where you don’t need a car to get places.

Bolwerk October 27, 2015 - 11:07 am

People who don’t like that idea prefer the more expensive, less effectual alternative of policing. They usually pretend they’re fiscal hawks too.

AG October 27, 2015 - 3:58 pm

There is very little in terms of similarity between NYC and Salt Lake City. Cost wise… Demographic wise – immigration wise… etc. I mean SLC is 1/3 the land size and less than 1/40 the population. I mean NYC has added more residents in the past 4 years than there are people total in SLC.

Elvis Delgado October 23, 2015 - 8:48 am

Do these two statements strike anyone else as making an interesting point?

1 – “Service was far more frequent when the subways first ran in the early 1900s than it is today”

2 – “The technology that enables the MTA to run trains more frequently is years away from implementation”

I guess the technology is around minus 100 years away.

BoerumHillScott October 23, 2015 - 9:12 am

The MTA and FTA is much more averse to collisions and derailments.

Returning to the scheduling of 100 years ago with current signaling technology would probably mean one more significant incident (with fatalities) every few years, and as a society we have decided that is too high a price for faster service.

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2015 - 9:39 am

Right. The speeds are slower. CBTC is supposed to restore the speed and capacity back to what it was. But:

1) That is main line capacity, not terminal capacity. Right now terminal capacity at 8th Avenue limits service on the L.

2) Back then a higher share of the fleet operated during rush hour, and more maintenance took place overnight. The MTA has many more “spare” trains now.

3) More trains would require more yard space, which the MTA doesn’t have.

Tower18 October 24, 2015 - 10:01 am

Is it necessary to keep so many spares today, when train reliability is high (minus R32)?

IMO they should know the frequency of maintenance, ie. over time we’d need to be performing maintenance on 10 trainsets per week. So, no more than, I don’t know, 12 trainsets per week should be kept as spares.

Anonymous October 23, 2015 - 3:52 pm

Following the Williamsburg Bridge incident in 1995, the MTA has been reconfiguring the signaling system of the entire subway, whether or not there is a history of safety issues on any given segment, to guarantee longer spacing between trains and/or slower speeds. In many cases this reduces throughput. So in essence, in the past 20 years we have been intentionally reducing our capacity, despite growing ridership.

The transit obsession with safety is the opposite of that with highways and streets, where safety considerations never, as a rule, trump capacity or speed.

tacony October 23, 2015 - 11:08 am

Yes, it’s funny reading old NY Times articles about the subway from the first half of the 20th century. From August 7, 1917: “New Block System Gives More Trains”

“Time was carefully measured at Grand Central Station, which is the neck of the bottle, and the two-minute headway was found to be the best that could be accomplished under the safety system in use. It was recommended that an automatic speed control system be installed which would allow the in-coming train to approach safely the rear of the train at the station platform and to enter the platform promptly as the outgoing train pulled out. It was reported that this could be done without sacrificing safety…

“It was found that the interval between trains could be reduced to about 109 seconds, a gain of eleven seconds. With only a few small improvements, the device adopted at that time is still being operated, and its serviceable quality has been proved by the fact that it has permitted the subway to run at the maximum without danger to passengers…

“If the old-fashioned safety method of not permitted trains to approach within 200 feet of each other was in operation in the subways it would be impossible to operate trains through them with anything like their full capacity.

They measured headways in seconds! They were so advanced.

Bolwerk October 23, 2015 - 11:47 am

They were also far less risk-averse. Sometimes I even question the prudence of that. I mean, much less safe trains are still safer than surface traffic.

OTOH, the political consequences of making things less safe are probably high.

pete October 23, 2015 - 12:17 pm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXMnmMuToq4 1 minute 20 seconds between trains using 1920s PRR-style cab signals, no automatic driving. Soviet metros have headway timers at each station, the driver knows exactly to the second when the train ahead of him was last in that station https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Clockmm.jpg and whether to keep waiting in the station because he is early, or speed up to the next station.

Alon Levy October 24, 2015 - 5:27 pm

The system can support 120-second headways today. The reason the minimum headway is more like 150 seconds is that trains are so crowded that rush hour dwells are longer. Of course, when the subway just opened, it was even more crowded than today, but the article in question is from 1917, when the Dual Contracts lines were opening, reducing crowding on the First Subway.

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2015 - 9:10 am

“The MTA sets its own load guidelines, and trains are crowded because that’s how the agency can wring every dollar possible out of the system.”

So that people on Long Island are not disproportionately burdened by the graft and corruption on the LIRR, and whichever politicians that particular mafia owns never face a backlash.

There is also plenty of money for debt service and pensions, with more to come. This is what happens when you have the most sold out future in the country.



LLQBTT October 23, 2015 - 9:24 am

I don’t think that MTA runs at razor thin margins. First, they have to make money to have a margin, and they operate at a loss.

The infrastructure problem is theirs to own as well. They are responsible for mass transit in our region. There is no other authority responsible for capital transit projects.

But the transit management system is just so opaque, many parties have responsibility, Governor, State Legislature, City Council. Mayor, that it’s just too easy to put the blame elsewhere.

MTA likes to think they operate like a business, but they are far from it. That’s one business I would not invest in, and isn’t that the moniker of a good business? Would anyone in its current form?

R2 October 23, 2015 - 9:26 am

I’ve found myself setting my alarm clock earlier (a year ago) just to avoid the worst of the intolerable congestion (packed train moving slow as molasses). I was already a bit of an early bird in the office.

As someone who rides a lot of different routes, I find them more crowded than ever and frequency is sorely lacking. 9 months to effectuate minor improvements is unconscionable!

Bolwerk October 23, 2015 - 9:56 am

Someone do the smug Willy Wonka meme thing: “Tell me more about how we don’t need anymore subway lines.”

BoerumBum October 23, 2015 - 9:58 am

I’ve also noticed that October tends to be the most crowded time of year on the subway, but don’t know why that is. Does anyone know the root cause of the October crowds?

Bolwerk October 23, 2015 - 10:24 am

I never noticed October in particular, but always felt like the period correlating to the Fall semester (September onward) added the biggest crowds. Schools/colleges in session, normal workdays, no more vacations, etc. are probably all factors. Not to mention there is still incoming tourism, but maybe less outgoing at least until Thanksgiving. Christmas stopping starts in this period and there are a lot of annual events like ComicCon(?) and the Halloween Parade.

Re students, maybe you also get a bunch of n00bs using transit at once, and they predominantly use the subway. By the next semester, some of them probably figure out buses and walking. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they learn to schedule their classes more sensibly after their first semesters. Finally, surely there are some dropouts who just aren’t there in the spring.

Eric Brasure October 23, 2015 - 10:57 am

Yeah, I would imagine it’s a combination of: NYC school students, college students, the highest percentage of normal commuters (since people usually save vacation for either the summer or the holiday season), and tourists coming to New York for the fall cool-down.

Alex October 23, 2015 - 10:58 am

That all makes sense. And if you look at the surrounding months, they all have holidays that impact ridership. All October has is Columbus Day and many people don’t even get that day off. January you have residual Christmas/New Year’s travel and then you’re deep into winter when tourism dips. Spring has Easter and Passover, etc, and summer is summer.

R2 October 23, 2015 - 11:13 am

Those very reasons make October my favorite month to skip town. Of course, I’m most miserable when I’m stuck here.

BoerumHillScott October 23, 2015 - 10:33 am

Based on weekly Metrocard usage in subway stations over the last 4 years, there are peaks though the year but September-December does have more high weeks than other months.

(yes, I know I have not updated the data in the last 6 weeks)

capt-subway October 23, 2015 - 9:59 am

Never mentioned amidst all this manufactured hoopla about adding a handful of trips here and there is that fact that weekend service (and it’s on weekends where some of the most dramatic increases in ridership have been seen) was, on most lines, “thinned” out from an 8 minute headway to a 10 minute headway a few years back (around 2009-10) during the budget cuts. None of this service has been restored, nor will it be. So, for example, on Queens Blvd, between the E, F & R, hourly service on Sat & Sun, roughly between 7AM & 7PM, has been reduced from 22.5 trains per hour to 18 TPH. It’s the same with A, , B, C, D, N, Q, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Add to all this the fairly new and onerously disruptive “new” adjacent track flagging rules (written by the TA’s own Safety Dept) which slow down service horribly and require even further “thin-outs”. So on Queens Blvd, once again for example, regular service is further thinned out from 10 to 12; so, bottom line, as ridership climbs service is further reduced to a total of 15 TPH, from a starting point of 22.5. Good deal, no? And this happens just about every single weekend on every single line, except when there is a “special” event like a game or some other big deal, or on the 3 or 4 weekends around the Xmas holidays.

Adjacent track Flagging is the 800 lb gorilla sitting in the middle of the TA’s living room that TA management, at every level, is making believe isn’t there. (Let me add, as a TA employee of 37 years, work was done on the tracks with far less onerous and disruptive rules of flagging before 2009). To quote the old Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”.

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2015 - 10:24 am

EVERY service has been “thinned out” as a result of money being sucked into the past. And taxes are up.

At the MTA, debt is a bigger cause than pensions because the strike for a 20/50 pension did not succeed. For the schools, pensions are a bigger deal than debts for higher class sizes because UFT manipulations to cut their retirement age by seven years did succeed.

Some people are hurt more by higher taxes. Some are hurt more by higher fees, such as fares. Some are hurt more by worse service. The bottom line is we are all being hurt, in the middle of an economic boom.

Why? No one wants to say, because everyone in power was in on the deals that led to this. And the easy way out in the short run is to sell the future even more.

Bolwerk October 23, 2015 - 10:31 am

I’d hardly call the present an economic boom. Perhaps the only one we saw since the 1960s was the 1990s .com boom, and that was brief.

capt-subway October 23, 2015 - 10:52 am

We were hardly asking for another lengthy dissertation on “generation greed”, thieving unions, corrupt politicians, etc, etc., the usual litany of favorite villains and boogie-men and punching bags. We were simply making some observations regarding some modest service restorations (recommended by the planners but rejected by the operating dept due to their unholy, anal obsession with OTP, and NOT due to any budget constraints), and that the glaring issue of Adjacent track Flagging, which is making a total mess of weekend, off-peak and night service, be properly confronted. Ditto that the “thin outs” done of already regularly scheduled and budgeted and paid-for service on weekends simply to mask over crappy operation also be addressed.

tacony October 23, 2015 - 10:45 am

Yes, the regular weekday rush hour chaos at the system’s choke points is somewhat forgivable to me. But waiting 12 minutes for a train on a Sunday afternoon and being crushed like a sardine or not even being able to get on? Maddening. People use the trains 24/7 365 but it doesn’t seem the MTA knows how to handle that.

AMH October 23, 2015 - 1:26 pm

I’ve heard of this flagging and I don’t really understand it or what prompted it. What was wrong with the way things were done before?

Anonymous October 23, 2015 - 4:17 pm

Flagging is the use of flags (or lights) to warn train operators that they must slow down because there is work going on, on that track or nearby (adjacent). It’s a safety protocol for work done in tunnels while trains are still running.

What prompted the changes is a couple of employee deaths. Instead of taking a deep look as to why there is so much work done in the first place (inefficiencies, lack of a centralized defect system, lack of modern corporate strategies like continuous improvement, etc), what was done was the easiest thing to do – add more rules and restrictions.

Tower18 October 24, 2015 - 10:08 am

Imagine similarly requiring 100% adherence and enforcement of construction speed zones on highways. Hahaha.

Reminds me of the near-strike from bus drivers. “We can’t be safe no matter how hard we try, so the only possible solution is to drive our routes at 3mph”

tacony October 23, 2015 - 10:38 am

Remember that back in April the MTA announced some service additions (and a subtraction!) that were to take effect in December. I assume this is still happening? Most significantly, they said that they’re reducing mid-day weekday headways on the L to 5 minutes. But also removing a round trip D train to increase rush hour headways to 10 minutes for Bronxites. Fun: http://www.mta.info/news-subwa.....-increased

Kai B October 23, 2015 - 12:45 pm

Yes. The MTA announces service changes far in advance. So much so that we forget they’re actually happening!

Tower18 October 24, 2015 - 10:10 am

Speaking of things announced and not delivered, has anyone ever seen the results of that A train “Review” they were supposed to be doing? It was discussed on this very site in June 2014 and has not yet been published.

Eric Brasure October 23, 2015 - 10:52 am

And of course, the last time ridership was this high, in the ’40s, trains ran more frequently AND there was significantly more track (in the form of the els that were torn down.)

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2015 - 11:44 am

I’d love to get ahold of schedules from the late 1940s or 1950s and compare them with today.

I looked into it at one point. Several museums/libraries told me they didn’t have them. At the transit museum, I ran into this:

“The New York Transit Museum is dedicated to the collection and preservation of materials relating to the region’s land based public transportation systems, past and present. As part of this commitment we are pleased to announce that we will soon be moving into a newly outfitted, environmentally controlled storage space. During this complex process the Archives and Collections staff will be focused on assuring that every item in the Collection is packed, tracked, safely moved and stored in the new location. Unfortunately this means that we will not be able to accept new acquisitions to the collection or assist with research requests through Summer 2015. If you have material to donate, please hold it until next year. Researchers can access our online catalog and finding aids. Check back in this space for news of our reopening in early 2015. Thank you for your support of the New York Transit Museum!”

Just checked back. No change yet.

Bolwerk October 23, 2015 - 12:08 pm

Have you tried reaching out to Joe Korman at The Joe Korner? The web site is Netscape 3.x-era monstrosity of ocular rape, but the webmaster collects a lot of odd schedules and memorabilia that he periodically scans. Maybe he either has something or knows someone who does.

Shaul Picker October 23, 2015 - 4:29 pm

It will reopen in January

Brooklynite October 23, 2015 - 12:42 pm

–Regarding rush hour service

One issue I never see addressed is why service operates below capacity, even on the Lexington line. Per GTFS data (http://boerumhillscott.com/), the downtown 6 during the AM rush has a short interval of 2.5-minute headways (24tph), with 3 minute headways (20tph) for the rest of the peak period. This is pathetic. 30tph is the “accepted” capacity for a subway line, and I would even argue that this is lower than actual capacity.

For instance, the downtown 4/5 at Wall St are scheduled at 26tph passing Wall St between 8 and 9am. The 2 runs about 12tph during that time. When there is a problem on the West Side the 2 gets sent down Lex, and no major delays result. The chokepoint on the IRT expresses is Rogers Junction in Brooklyn, and there ways to resolve that without spending trillions on CBTC or whatever new technology the bigwigs come up with.

Further, we used to run more frequent service here. The 7, for instance, ran 36tph during the peak in 1954. Given that by the 50s the essence of the block signalling system was in place, I would say that there were no safety issues with that operation that are not present today. There’s no actual reason why we can’t go back to such service levels, except for things like operational discipline.

I’m not even getting to the fact that systems abroad run up to 40tph with block signalling…

Brooklynite October 23, 2015 - 12:51 pm

–Regarding off peak service

Off peak service is laughably infrequent. During the midday, sure, many trains are not full. 10-minute headways are a sad state of affairs for a “world-class” subway but if the trains are half-empty then it’s somewhat justifiable. On the weekends and during evening hours, however, if trains are leaving people behind on a regular basis then there is something egregiously wrong with service levels.

Funding is not the issue it is purported to be. The MTA IG reports can be quite damning regarding everyday operations and maintenance practices. Labor is almost 60% of the MTA budget, yet we still have two people aboard every full length subway train. I can go on, but even the operations budget (to say nothing of capital!) has savings that can be found if it’s politically expedient to do so.

There are regulations, such as flagging rules, that make service even worse than it is scheduled to be. This was discussed above so I won’t go into it.

Long story short, peak and off-peak service are not as dependent on funding and major capacity-upgrade projects as they are made to seem. Simple rule changes could go a long way to getting more people onto the trains, and getting them to their destinations faster.

Rob October 23, 2015 - 1:38 pm

Why not 11 car trains [60 ft cars] on the Queens Bl line, as were operated at one time?

BruceNY October 24, 2015 - 1:08 pm

That’s a great idea, and worked with rolling stock prior to R-32’s. Unfortunately the trend towards permanently coupled 5-car sets makes that difficult. If they are able to buy single cars that could be inserted into a 5-car set it could work.

22r October 23, 2015 - 4:42 pm

How is our service this abysmal to begin with? Even in Moscow’s ancient system they’re running trains every 1 minute on most lines during rush hour and every 3 minutes most of the day. After 10pm you might have to wait 5 minutes for a train, but that’s nothing compared to our 15-minute MTA waits.

Nathanael October 23, 2015 - 10:25 pm

Governors who don’t care.

Long Island politicos who refuse to fix the graft and corruption at LIRR but want the MTA to pay for it. (LIRR is waaaay more subsidized than the subway.)

General contractor and union corruption making it impossible for the MTA to get an honest, decent bid for any job. (This is an exaggeration, but it’s too close to true.)

Basically we’re living in the era of the Tweed Courthouse.

Max Roberts October 24, 2015 - 1:23 am

Isn’t there another elephant in the room here?

Although the MTA might be struggling with lots of riders, these riders are not paying very much more money to travel.

The Metrocard might be unlimited for passengers, but it’s very limited indeed for MTA. A huge chunk of those evening/weekend rides must be people who bought a bargain Metrocard to get to and from work, and are now taking extra journeys for free.

And distance, it costs the MTA a lot more money to move a passenger 10 miles, than 5 miles. Those riders from distant suburbs are being disproportionately subsidised.

I’ve got into debates before about the politics and social function of the single-fare subway ‘token’ before, but face it, the underfunded NYC Subway network has a fare system that is guaranteed to result in the woes that you are complaining about. If passengers want more trains, pay more money to get them.

Max Roberts October 24, 2015 - 1:44 am

And here are some comparisons with another old network with a long history of struggling for adequate funding, London:

Monthly zone 1 Travelcard: £123.30 ($189 approx)
Monthly zone 1-6 Travelcard (e.g to get to Epping): £225.10 ($345 approx)

30 day unlimited Metrocard: $116.50

I’m sorry, but that’s just bonkers, as the Brits say. Without the freely-available tax-based-subsidies of mainland Europe, this is a farebox strategy guaranteed to result in a system permanently in crisis.

Chris C October 24, 2015 - 8:15 am

And in the UK you can’t claim for tax relief on the cost which I know you can in the USA – so it’s even cheaper than the headline figure

pete October 24, 2015 - 9:05 am

The GBP is always overvalued. Minimum wage is higher in UK ($10.26 USD) than US’s $7.25. A Brit going to the USA will think this like going on vacation in Thailand or Ukraine. An American going to UK will see Manhattan prices OR HIGHER for everything. $5 big mac, $300 3 star hotel. $30 airport to city train one way (NJT to Newark is therefore dirt cheap).

(7.25/10.26)*189=$133 USD for an unlimited, not that far off from NYC’s cost.

Nathanael October 26, 2015 - 11:35 pm

This. You have to use Purchasing Power Parity to compare costs from one country to another, not the exchange rate.

AG October 24, 2015 - 2:44 pm

Well you are explaining why when my family in England comes to NYC they go crazy like a kid in a candy store because “NY is so cheap”.

Alon Levy October 24, 2015 - 5:32 pm

This canard again? The UK has the most expensive transportation in Europe. Compare the fares in New York to the fares in Paris, Berlin, Munich, and Madrid. Or compare them to fares in Tokyo: the unlimited monthlies in Tokyo are weird (they’re station-to-station, not systemwide), but overall, revenue per trip is the same in New York and in Tokyo, counting the free transfers from the buses in New York.

AG October 24, 2015 - 8:10 pm

True… Ppl in this country already want everything cheap. Raising fares much higher won’t help. The ONLY way that would work is if gas taxes are raised high enough to make driving expensive – like in Europe. Don’t see that happening anything soon.

Max Roberts October 25, 2015 - 3:02 am

But that’s exactly my point, In Paris, Berlin, Munich, Madrid, there is heavy and continuing subsidy of the fares. The cities raise taxes, pay for new stuff to be built, and cover the farebox gap, no questions asked. You do not have that situation in New York by any stretch of the imagination. You are trying to have London levels of subsidy and Paris levels of fares. The result, disaster.

AG October 25, 2015 - 11:01 am

You are correct – but the reality is that NYC is in the United States of America. The federal government doesn’t like giving NYC money for transit. The governments that rule both Asian and European countries understand why it is important to have good mass transit in their major economic centers.

Alon Levy October 26, 2015 - 4:08 pm

This isn’t always a result of subsidies. Operating costs in Paris are lower than in New York – last time I checked, which was in 2010, they were 20% lower per rider. I believe I was comparing RATP to NYCT, but maybe I’m wrong and I was comparing all of STIF to all of the MTA.

I do not have operating cost figures in Germany, but I’m told (by Hans-Joachim Zierke) that the operating ratios there are 70%+. In Zurich the ratio is about 50%, counting depreciation and interest. In Madrid I don’t remember what the situation is. In Italy there are heavy subsidies – if I remember correctly the farebox recovery rates are about 30% – but they’ll also sell you monthly tickets for 30 euros in Milan (or did until recently).

tacony October 26, 2015 - 9:55 am

But in London you can get your money refunded if the train is delayed!


Can you imagine if the MTA had such a policy? They’d be broke! (Or they’d get serious about service reliability.)

pete October 24, 2015 - 8:53 am

And distance, it costs the MTA a lot more money to move a passenger 10 miles, than 5 miles

Unless you start turning trains midway, such as the WMATA Red Line, there is no cost difference between customers who go different length. Each line’s schedule is planned by the 2 pair stations with the highest loading. The “ends” where everyone has a seat are irrelevant without early turning of trains. You have to run the train to the terminal empty or full.

Terminate every other F train at 71 ave, terminate every other D at Fordham. Terminate every other G at Bedford Nostrand. Nobody lives south of Flushing Ave. Terminate every other L at Broadway Junction. And shut down lower broadway (R) outside of rush hour.

F to Kings Highway is the only official in use early turn in the subway (Kings Highway or Coney Island). The C train is also kindda an early turn A train. E is also an early turn. A train also splits in 2 halfing both ends service frequency.

Tower18 October 24, 2015 - 11:56 am

The Kings Highway F is one of the only short-turn situations that makes any sense. You can’t short-turn F at the other end because of the bus terminals in Jamaica (plus you can’t terminate a run on the express tracks at 71st without holding up the E). When the W (or whatever) has to come back, that’s basically one other place you can do it, effectively servicing Broadway Local without overserving the R’s long route. Myrtle-Wyckoff on the L is a perfect spot, and so they do it. The 1 turns some trains at 137th during peak periods. There’s not much point in turning the D at Fordham because they already turn a few rush hour trips at Bedford Park, and either way, Norwood is just 4 stops away.

You could maybe turn some 2 trains at 148th, but I’m not sure ridership supports that.

To bother with short turning, it has to be *short* and in most cases, the bulk of the ridership would be past those points.

Andrew October 26, 2015 - 7:44 am

At 8:20 a.m., I’ve had to let B or Q trains pass me by;

In September 2014, the B and Q at 7th Avenue were carrying (on average) only 65% of a guideline load. It would take an increase in ridership of 54% to bring loads above guideline (and guideline is well below crush – even at guideline, there’s room to squeeze onto trains).

I’d suggest a few more likely possibilities, in roughly decreasing order of likelihood:

1. Standees tend to cluster by the doors. There is room in the middle of the car, but, seeing the cluster blocking the doors, you stand back and wait for the next train rather than ask them to step in.

2. You’re used to a particular level of crowding, and anything beyond that you consider intolerable. Since your usual ride is on a line that’s at 65% of guideline, you consider even 70% of guideline intolerable. (If you normally rode a line that was at 104% of guideline, like the 4/5 at 86th Street, you’d be absolutely thrilled to encounter only 70%.)

3. Some sort of incident required service to be thinned out at the time you were riding. So crowding was up mostly because service was down (and on an unscheduled basis), not because ridership was up.

4. Averages. You wait for the train in a more-crowded-than-average location. Try waiting for the train at a different part of the platform and you may find more space.

at 8:10 a.m. at the 6 train’s 4th uptown stop in Manhattan, I’ve been packed tighter than a sardine in a tin can.

See above.

At times when I used to be able to grab a seat on the way home at night, I’ve had to stand from Grand Central to Nevins St.

The off-peak loading guideline calls for some standees. You were one of them. Sorry.

The MTA sets its own load guidelines, and trains are crowded because that’s how the agency can wring every dollar possible out of the system.

You complain about loading guidelines when they’re used to reduce service and you complain about loading guidelines when they’re used to increase service. What alternative do you recommend? How else do you expect the MTA to determine priorities in both operating and capital investment?

Service was far more frequent when the subways first ran in the early 1900s than it is today,

…because trains were far shorter when the subways first ran than they are today.

That means riders don’t get more more train than they want, even if it means a six-minute wait for a packed 6 train during the a.m. rush.

The 6 train is scheduled to run more frequently than every six minutes during the entire a.m. rush. If you waited six minutes for a train, then you weren’t seeing service as it is scheduled – you were seeing the aftermath of some sort of service disruption (and it takes a very small service disruption to create that sort of gap).

Perhaps NYCT’s incident management tactics could be improved, or perhaps this was unavoidable, but whatever the problem, it wasn’t one of schedules.

There’s no room for more passengers,

Sure there is, at many times of day, hence the service increases that you’re announcing here!

and the technology that enables the MTA to run trains more frequently is years away from implementation.

Are you referring to CBTC? As I’ve said before, CBTC is a signal technology, and CBTC implementation is first and foremost implementation of a new signal system. It’s a technology with several benefits, one of which is increased capacity. CBTC is not some sort of magical capacity-enhancing pixie dust, and if you expect CBTC to magically solve all capacity shortfalls on the subway, you’re going to be woefully disappointed.

There is some modicum of relief on the horizon as the MTA announced some service increases on Thursday, but for some reason of economics, these changes don’t go into effect for another nine months.

Economics? No, pragmatics. The Board is being informed of the changes this week. Then the new schedules and work programs have to be written, then they need to be reviewed by all interested parties, then the crews need to pick their new jobs, and only then can they be implemented. That doesn’t happen overnight.

Transit says they are adding service on 12 lines though the “most significant changes” are on the 42nd St. shuttle — hardly a move that does much for the rest of us.

That’s right, a “most significant” increase on one line doesn’t do much for riders of other lines. There’s still going to be a most significant increase somewhere.

For the meager cost of just $5.8 million annually — barely a fraction of 1% percent of the agency’s budget — headways will be shortened by around 30 seconds in the evening. This is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving commutes.

To put those numbers in perspective, here’s the background data.

VLM October 26, 2015 - 8:13 am

Ah, always the company man, Andy, will blind adherence to those load guideline numbers that couldn’t possibly be wrong or rigged so that the TA doesn’t have to run service it can’t afford to run. And let’s not even get into how problematic it is that the TA sets its own load guidelines on a whim. Are you Mr Inglesby or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Either way, you know full well that the TWU’s inane shift selection process is why these changes take nine months to see through. The idea that this “doesn’t happen overnight” is due solely to Samuelsen and his thug goon squad.

Andrew October 26, 2015 - 10:59 pm

If the loading data is falsified, that would be an interesting story. But I haven’t seen any indication that the data isn’t basically accurate (it’s more or less in line with my own experiences, having lived in multiple parts of the city with a variety of commutes), nor am I aware of anyone who seriously suggests that the data is falsified. It certainly wasn’t the topic of this article. Do you have any evidence to suggest falsified data or are you just throwing around conspiracy theories?

As we saw in 2010, changes to the loading guidelines go through the full public hearing process – hardly “on a whim.”

My last name begins with C, so I’m afraid you have the wrong guy. (Sorry, not going to reveal the rest of the last name – wife’s orders – but feel free to keep guessing.)

Perhaps you believe that it’s acceptable to take someone who works mornings and reports in Jamaica and to suddenly shift them to afternoons reporting in Coney Island, but, despite my misgivings toward the TWU, I certainly think that train crews should have some say into when and where they work, within the constraints of service requirements. I also recognize that it takes time to write and debug schedules. But, hey, you’re welcome to believe in the schedule fairy if it makes you happy.

Alon Levy October 26, 2015 - 4:16 pm

Do they not usually adjust the service based on changes in load every quarter?

Andrew October 26, 2015 - 11:02 pm

You may be thinking of bus schedules. Subway schedules only change twice a year. But there’s a long lag time – for instance, we’re still waiting on this.

AG October 26, 2015 - 9:42 pm

I see #1 every day… I don’t go along with it though. I’m the one saying loudly – “excuse me people – there is plenty of room in the middle”. People are strange. They rather cluster or not get in – just to avoid having to say “excuse me please”.

No CBTC is not magic – but regardless of how much it increases capacity – the more reliable signalling system should DRASTICALLY reduce delays. That’s worth plenty.

Andrew October 26, 2015 - 11:06 pm

Agreed on both points.

I’ve never understood why people seemingly like to stand by the doors. Unless I’m getting off at the next stop, I want to be as far away from the doors as I can get.

Reduction in delays is a big deal, and I’m not arguing against CBTC. I’m simply trying to set reasonable expectations, so that Second Avenue Sagas readers aren’t mistaken into believing that, once CBTC reaches their line, crowding will be a thing of the past. It won’t.


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