Home Buses News round-up: A shorter L train shutdown, garbage cans return, a(n unbelievable) reason for bus ridership dip

News round-up: A shorter L train shutdown, garbage cans return, a(n unbelievable) reason for bus ridership dip

by Benjamin Kabak

The L train shutdown is now scheduled for 15 months, down from the original estimate of 18.

The MTA Board is gathering for something of an unusual meeting on Monday. Since a few Board members couldn’t make the last meeting in mid-March, the Board did not have a quorum to approve procurement contracts. So they’re getting the gang back together again for an early-April gathering, and the headline is the L train shutdown.

The news is good for New Yorkers. After extensive negotiations with a variety of firms, the L train shutdown will be 15 months rather than 18 months, and work will begin in April of 2019 rather than in January. The news first came to light a few weeks ago, and the Board will vote to make it official in the morning when they approve a $477 million contract with a Judlau/TC Electric joint venture. Judlau has taken some flak for its failure to adhere to deadlines, but it has delivered Sandy repair projects on time or ahead of schedule so far.

The details of the shutdown remain substantially the same. The MTA will close the Canarsie Tube between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 15 months and will piggyback some ADA work and a new station entrances at Ave. A to the closure. The MTA does not appear to be using this shutdown to perform any other work on the L train’s Manhattan stations — which could include renovations or even an extension of the tail tracks west of 8th Ave. to allow for increase route capacity. Additionally, the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation have not yet released their traffic-mitigation plans, and the slow pace of discussions regarding alternate routing for a few hundred thousand riders a day has raised some concerned eyebrows. Transportation Alternatives recently held a design contest to solicit ideas for the so-called L-pocalypse, and I’ll profile the winning ideas later in the week. Whether 15 months or 18, though, the shutdown looms large, and the next two years will pass in a hurry.

MTA ends trash can-free pilot program

One of the MTA’s on-again, off-again pilots ended for good recently, and it died a death by neglect. With little fanfare, the MTA will soon restore trash cans to a handful of stations that had been part of the controversial trash can-free pilot program that begin in late 2011 and expanded throughout 2012, 2013 and 2014. As recently as 2015, the agency had claimed the program was working as trash collection costs were down and so, they said, were track fires.

But it’s over and done with. As NBC New York reported last week, the agency determined to pull the plug on this project late last year. An MTA spokesperson said, the project ultimately “wasn’t the most efficient way to clean the stations,” and critics of the effort celebrated. “It took the MTA five years, but we are gratified that it recognized the need to end this controversial experiment that showed little to no improvements in riders’ experience,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.

I maintain this project could have been successful, but it would have required a system-wide commitment to removing trash cans and aggressive anti-litter enforcement. Ultimately, though, this isn’t a customer-friendly initiative, and antagonizing customers is something the MTA can ill-afford to do. So the trash cans, and trash collection, will return as another MTA pilot program that never had a path to success dies by the wayside.

MTA Official: Buses aren’t popular because subway service is too good

Even as advocacy groups continue to push for better bus service, the MTA keeps denying that bus service is bad or that steadily declining bus ridership is a concern. Anyone who has ridden a bus lately knows that they stop very frequently, are slow to board and are subject to the whims of New York’s congested streets. Still, MTA CFO Michael Chubak thinks that bus ridership is declining is because the subways are great again. During a recent City Council hearing, he let slip this missive: “One of the major reasons, we believe, is competition. Essentially the subway has improved over the last 20 or so years” and so riders are using subways instead of buses.

There may be some truth to this claim, but Chubak also said BusTime could spur on bus ridership. His seemed to be particularly half-hearted answers that showed a lack of familiarity with the city’s bus network. The problems would be evident if MTA officials spent a few weeks riding buses, but it seems for now they’re flailing about for answers as a key transit mode suffers through a steady decline in ridership.

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Peter April 2, 2017 - 11:07 pm

Ben – Getting rid of trash cans may work for really fastidious people, but lot of less-fastidious New Yorkers eat their breakfast, drink their coffee and have a hangover-killing snack on the train. With o place to dump your trash – or your used newspaper – more stuff ends up on the tracks. You could enforce food ban, like Washington, but then who wants to be in Washington?

Phillip Roncoroni April 3, 2017 - 8:29 am

A couple months back, I was standing near someone who threw their bottle of soda onto the tracks, despite standing right next to a trash can. They really need to crack down on littering. It’s not difficult to not be an a-hole.

tacony April 4, 2017 - 12:01 pm

I see this all the time. They do it because they know they can get away with it. Cops don’t enforce the existing law against littering. No one cares. We’re resigned to living in filth.

tacony April 4, 2017 - 12:02 pm

Why are we willing to enforce a food ban but not the existing littering ban?

Phantom April 4, 2017 - 1:49 pm

There is no ban on eating and drinking in the subway, nor should there be. I believe that they still sell candy bars and things at the remaining newsstands in the system.

The littering ban has not been properly enforced in 40 years or more in NYC. I can’t for the life of me understand why this is so.

smotri April 12, 2017 - 10:15 am

People do this all the time above-ground on the streets too. Just look around you; the sidewalks and streets are just as badly littered as the subways.

Stephen Bauman April 3, 2017 - 12:24 am

The low bid came in at $477 million, considerably less than last year’s $800 million estimate. This calls into question how accurate the MTA’s estimates were.

There were there other procedures that might have resulted in substantially less disruption to L train passengers. These were not proposed because the MTA estimated they would be too costly. The MTA’s over estimated their preferred procedure’s cost and duration.

One wonders about the MTA’s estimates for the procedures they rejected. The MTA could have structured the RFQ to require contractors to bid on two or more different procedures.

The procedure could have been decided on basis of the best cost-benefit ration to the public. The increased travel time cost for the daily commuters will exceed that being spent the MTA for the reconstruction for the complete shutdown.

Larry Littlefield April 3, 2017 - 10:57 am

Perhaps there was an unexpected visitor from among our elected officials at the bid rigging conference, and he announced “our generation has taken enough so knock it off.”

Theorem Ox April 6, 2017 - 10:36 am

The difference will probably be made up with cost overruns and/or shoddy work (workmanship and poor procedures that the MTA had a hand in approving) that will require even more money to fix in turn.

This is New York we’re talking about. I find myself holding my breath in more places than I used to, but I won’t be for this one.

mister April 3, 2017 - 8:07 am

Now that bus tracking is something anyone can do, the reason for the decline in bus ridership has become pretty clear to me: absolutely horrendous service. As an example consider the B57 route. I don’t routinely ride the B57, but it is an alternate route for me during my evening commute, and I will check it during my ride home. It’s not uncommon for me to see multiple buses bunched together with an insane gap in service behind it (sometimes resulting in a 45 minute wait for a bus during the rush hour, if you just missed the herd of 3 buses). Ditto for the nearby B62. As long as this is the norm for bus service, the decline will only continue.

Phillip Roncoroni April 3, 2017 - 8:27 am

Partially true, yes. Saturday night, I was waiting for a e/b Q60 because e/b Queens Blvd. trains were running express. It was approx. 22:10, but BusTime showed the next Q60 wasn’t even due to leave Manhattan until 22:50, because the w/b ones were all bunched up. I took the 7 instead. Absolute garbage service all around this weekend.

John April 3, 2017 - 12:51 pm

Ditto for the B38, B43, and many other buses in that area. More often than not they are bunched together in 2s and 3s. One time I saw FIVE buses in a row lumbering down the street and just couldn’t help but laugh. It’s absurd. I understand traffic congestion is largely to blame and thus out of the MTA’s hands somewhat, but it’s outrageous. If only the NYPD would actually enforce bus lanes! If only city infrastructure would create bus lanes that were physically separated from the rest of the travel lanes! We might resemble something like a 21st century city, but instead here we are, stuck in the past.

BruceNY April 3, 2017 - 1:43 pm

With my bustime app I’ve now come to the conclusion that bunching is often caused by poor/uneven dispatch rates. On crosstown lines like the M66 and M31, I’ll see several westbound buses meet up at the the terminal, but fifteen minutes will go by before one of them departs eastbound (even though the previous bus is already two thirds of the way to the eastern end of the route). Why not depart at evenly timed intervals?

pete April 4, 2017 - 5:07 am

Because the drivers can get away with it. The drivers intentionally leave the terminal together so their spend their layovers together chatting the whole day.

Tower18 April 6, 2017 - 9:48 pm

I recently saw two bunched B69 buses this week. The B69 is a route that generally runs every 20-30 minutes outside certain peak periods, so for two of them to be traveling together, that was some delay. Unfortunately with service that sparse, there are probably only 2-3 buses on the route at any time, so after I saw those two bunched together, there might have been 1 more in ~20 minutes, and then there would be no buses for over an hour.

mister April 7, 2017 - 7:57 am

Ah yes, my home bus line. The last time I saw this was during the last major snowstorm (when Cuomo shuttered above ground subways, but not the LIRR or buses). In that case, the gap in service was in front of the buses; even the second bus in the bunch was late. The problem then is that the gap seems to stay there in front of the buses. When the bus is on 20 minute headways, and not one, but two departures are missed at the terminal, that’s a problem.

Another problem on lines like that are abandoned departures. It doesn’t happen with high frequency, but sometimes a bus is unable to leave the terminal, or has to quit its route mid-way. When a route is serving stops every 20 or 30 minutes, cancelling one run is murder. Bustime often doesn’t help with this. It will show a bus sitting at the terminal and indicate that it’s going to leave at X:XX time, but then the departure doesn’t happen, and you’re left waiting for an additional 20 minutes. Another scenario is that a bus is shown approaching but it suddenly disappears. Whenever something like this happens to me, it usually results in a lost bus trip, as I can walk and get to my destination long before the next bus will arrive.

Tom April 3, 2017 - 12:26 pm

The garbage thing always seemed ridiculous to me. As I understand it, the claim was that if people saw a full garbage can, they would put their litter next to it/around it, whereas if there were no garbage cans, they would politely remove the trash themselves.

Sounds to me that rather than remove the trash cans (and the labor to empty them), the MTA should just have increased the frequency at which they empty the trash.

Put another way, the MTA wasn’t emptying their trash cans fast enough, so instead of improving that service, they decided to (try to) eliminate it.

Glad it came out the way it did.

Christopher April 4, 2017 - 11:38 am

We don’t really know anything about it. Although the MTA as well as other systems have found that eliminating trash cans reduces litter and track fires. This is counterintuitive perhaps but another level makes sense.

The proof of course would be in the actual data. Since MTA hasn’t released that, we don’t know. We can assure though while the MTA saw improvement, it wasn’t enough to counter the level of complaints or perhaps in particular some decision maker at MTA had particularly whiny family member or neighbor and they decided just to kill the program.

Hierarchical organizations with stakeholders that aren’t willing to accept data informed decision making are often like that. Bouncing from one decision to the next because keeping uninformed stakeholders pacified is their only goal. Kind of like our the MTA currently and frankly our entire country.

Tower18 April 6, 2017 - 9:52 pm

What I do know is that at a station I frequent that has no trash cans, there is a stack of garbage and coffee cups piled up in gaps in columns, gaps in railings, on top of signs, anywhere. My interpretation is that some people don’t want to litter, but also aren’t going to just carry that empty cup for hours and hours, and so they see a place they can “politely” deposit their trash, in lieu of garbage cans, and they do.

I can’t blame them.

John April 3, 2017 - 12:54 pm

The image above says “6 cars per train” for the G during the shutdown. If I’m not mistaken, the MTA said they would be upping it to a full 8 cars. What happened?

Benjamin Kabak April 3, 2017 - 1:04 pm

Probably my fault. That’s an old (and likely outdated) image I used.

Michael549 April 3, 2017 - 3:08 pm

Let’s see there is a major project – the closure and repair of the L-train tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn that is a) going to take LESS TIME than the original forecast AND b) cost LESS MONEY than the original forecast — and some folks are still “upset.”

Yes, there a lot of different transportation problems and issues – but sometimes there are successful activities and out-comes.


VLM April 3, 2017 - 3:10 pm

Yeah, man. Hard to believe some people have the nerve to be upset that their primary and/or only way of getting to and from work, school, their families, etc. is going to be totally shut down for 15 months and they’ll be completely inconvenienced. How outrageous.

///heavy heavy sarcasm

Phantom April 3, 2017 - 6:06 pm

The L is not anyone’s ” only ” way of getting anywhere.

If the L service is critical –and it most certainly is — the only intelligent approach is to throw everything that you have at it so that the work gets done quickly, correctly, and at a fair price.


Hold the MTA’s feet to the fire so that they get it done, but sniveling and complaining hurts everything, helps nothing.

VLM April 3, 2017 - 6:36 pm

Are you arguing semantics? Or heartless “sucks for them”-ism? The L train outage is going to add 25-50 minutes per ride per direction for some people’s commutes, and the city and MTA have shown no public willingness to address this problem like adults. If you can’t understand why people are upset about this, I can’t really help you there.

Phantom April 3, 2017 - 6:43 pm

I will be in a very similar situation when my home station ( Bay Ridge Avenue on R line ) is closed for an overhaul estimated to take six months.

My commute will take significantly longer for the duration. Some of my neighbors are mewling as well.

You will -only- hear me complain if I think that the work isn’t being done quickly and correctly.

The MTA did a good job on the Montague Tunnel repair, let them do a similarly good job on this tunnel.

Adirondacker12800 April 3, 2017 - 8:47 pm

The alternative is to wait until it closes because of some problem, wait a year or two while contractors are lined up and then wait two or three years while they fix it.

Brooklynite April 6, 2017 - 4:23 pm

Right, they have to get it done quickly. However, the construction period must provide adequate alternatives for the displaced passengers, and it’s hard to imagine where 225000 daily cross-river passengers would go.

Duke April 6, 2017 - 9:27 pm

The unfortunate reality that the MTA won’t come out and say is that it’s not going to be possible to reroute everyone due to the lack of alternatives. Some people are going to have to simply not make the trips across the East River that they’re used to making for the duration of the construction.

Fortunately, with several years worth of advance notice, people have plenty of time to plan accordingly. If you need to commute to Manhattan, don’t move to Williamsburg or Bushwick. Or move elsewhere if you’re already there. The average hipster moves every year or two anyway.

mister April 7, 2017 - 8:00 am

I commented on this in another post. There is enough existing capacity in other crossings to accommodate everyone. It won’t be pretty, and it will be longer trips for all, but it will be possible.

Michael549 April 4, 2017 - 12:01 am

I have a great amount of sympathy for L-train riders in Williamsburg and in others places. Plenty of folks have been and continue to be negatively impacted by Hurricane Sandy!

That storm disrupted work for months affecting co-workers, clients, and our facilities. My building of 140 tenants went without power for a week due to the storm. Co-workers on Staten Island had their homes flooded, and some folks still have not recovered. I have a great deal of sympathy – I’ve attended plenty Long Term Recovery meetings. Much work remains to be done to recover from Hurricane Sandy, while much as been completed.

The outages of the #4, #5, & R trains between Manhattan and Brooklyn was and is not a picnic for traveling about town. The frequent re-routings of A & C trains between Manhattan and Brooklyn still continues FOR YEARS on end! I use these trains to get to/from work in Brooklyn on a regular basis – including weekends with the usual bus/ferry/subway 90 minute travel times! Plenty of other riders were and are affected by these constant service disruptions and changes.

Some transit fans love shuttling around Fulton Street to/from Greenwich Village just to catch the A & C trains to get to/from Brooklyn because there’s only one transfer station between the #4 & #5 trains and the A & C trains – I don’t.

Staten Islanders like myself have had to contend with a variety of constant subway outages for long periods of time. There is NO direct subway transit route between Manhattan and Staten Island. It’s been that way for more than a century of subway transit and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. At least the ferry is much better with 30-minute waits between boats at all hours (more frequent service rush hours) – no more abomination hourly boats on weekends!


Here some folks argue about the costs of building public works projects. Some folks complain that almost every public works project is a) over-budget, b) costs too much or c) not worth it due to the costs! Some folks bemoan the completion times. Some even argue that nothing good can ever come from spending the public’s money. Then there are the conspiracy folks who argue that it is a grand plot by ______ to rob hard working people out of their money.

It is interesting when a project that has yet to start will be under budget, and will take less time to complete – closing off one avenue of argument. Public works can be expensive & some folks just have to get over that. That is not to say that those in charge should spend money foolishly.


The L-train tunnel closing was discussed on this website for weeks. Practical ideas was explored to help the almost 200,000 regular L-train riders soon to be displaced. A 3-year plan with tunnel work completed on weekends was dropped. Many folks chose the 18-month total tunnel shut-down to complete the work quickly that the work will take 15 months could be seen (to me at least) as a plus!

Many folks debated alternative bus services and other ideas. I noted that each of the L-train stops from Wilson Avenue to Bedford Avenue has an ALREADY EXISTING MTA BUS that directly connects to nearby J-M-Z train stations in Brooklyn. Others focused on the 14th Street bus network for improvements. The MTA did present a proposal of enhanced bus service along with the 18-month plan. It is not as if “no one” looked at these issues.

Just me.

AMH April 3, 2017 - 3:20 pm

It’s criminal that upgrades to all Manhattan stations aren’t being performed at the same time, with at least the beginning of a line extension westward. This is an incredible waste of an opportunity. Meanwhile, we’re blowing money on LCD screens and USB ports. Why are we so incapable of smart planning?

Nyland8 April 3, 2017 - 6:27 pm


mister April 3, 2017 - 7:57 pm

LCD screens and USB ports are several orders of magnitude cheaper than station overhauls and new tunnels. There’s no correlation between those two things here.

George April 3, 2017 - 4:27 pm


“the L train shutdown will be 15 months rather than 18 months, and work will begin in April of 2019 rather than in January.”

Is anyone taking this seriously? It will take 2 years no matter how long they say it will take. This is the MTA we’re talking about.

Benjamin Kabak April 3, 2017 - 5:13 pm

You mean just like how the Montague Tunnel repair work and the G train repair work took shorter than expected? It ain’t fake news. That’s not how fake news works.

John April 4, 2017 - 10:02 am

There’s always one person on every thread who makes this comment. This person is not paying attention to how these repairs are funded and what has happened in the past with Sandy-related repairs. You’re this person! Congratulations!

Chas S April 4, 2017 - 10:15 am

Also of note in the meeting on 4/3 was the awarding of the Astoria line station rehabs at 39th, 36th, Broadway, and 30th, which will take 21 months total. No info in the minutes on how exactly they will roll this out, but I’m sure it will be very, very painful.

BobbyP April 5, 2017 - 10:09 am

Is there any information on whether they will add elevators? I didn’t see any in the meeting minutes.

BronxSteve April 5, 2017 - 10:18 pm

If not in the minutes, no.

JJJ April 6, 2017 - 2:54 pm

That cant be legal

Brooklynite April 6, 2017 - 4:22 pm

They’ve rehabbed the entire elevated network at least once since the ADA passed, let alone many underground stations, and the vast majority of the system is still without ADA. It’s some combination of the 20%-cost-of-project waiver, claiming the work to be impossible, and MTA not caring and nobody having sued them yet.

BronxSteve April 8, 2017 - 8:55 pm

No. The MTA has gotten an ADA waiver years ago. They don’t have to ADA-ify rehabbed stations unless it’s a major rebuild, as long as a certain number of major stations are ADA compliant.

Brooklynite April 9, 2017 - 9:28 am

I suppose the question is then what counts as “major” – many of the rehabs of elevated stations have been basically from-the-ground-up.

Marc M April 15, 2017 - 4:29 am

How far is the Steinway St (M, R) stop from the closed stops on Astoria? On the subway map it seems close enough to at least be a partial alternative, though I’d imagine it wouldn’t help everyone.

BronxSteve April 15, 2017 - 9:10 am

Nine short blocks from the Broadway N/W station. So it helps those in between and some others, who could take the Broadway bus to connect. But since only one of the N/W stops will be closed at a time, I believe, most people can just use the adjacent station.

Chas S April 22, 2017 - 12:37 pm

The Steinway St stop is at 34th Ave and halfway up the block towards Broadway. It’s a haul from 31st St and Broadway, and further from everywhere else.

Brooklynite April 6, 2017 - 11:46 am

I still don’t get how they plan to get 225,000 extra people across the East River, whether for 15 or 18 months. The Williamsburg Bridge tracks, A/C, E/M, and 7 are all near capacity already.

mister April 7, 2017 - 8:28 am

I commented on this before. If the majority of riders jumped from the L to the Williamsburg bridge, and the MTA increased service to 26 tph, conditions would be no worse than they were through 53rd street prior to the opening of the 63rd st tunnel.

Brooklynite April 7, 2017 - 9:39 am

I can’t find the exact ridership numbers by crossing at the moment, but the L represents 20tph of full trains in the peak hour. Given that the J/M/Z run approximately 20tph and aren’t exactly empty, I have difficulty believing that the extra 6tph would make a huge difference. There’s still a large number of people who’d have to take some other mode, with large increases in travel time.

mister April 7, 2017 - 1:15 pm

Google helped me find my old comment on this. It was actually in a response to one of your comments on this article. Ha

93% of AM peak riders could fit onto the Williamsburg bridge.

Brooklynite April 8, 2017 - 12:00 am

You’re right, with one caveat. I suspect that the loading numbers from 2000 are a little bit off, because of the average load being 158 people per car, while NYCT defines a crush load as 3 sq ft per person, or 145 passengers per car (http://web.mta.info/mta/compli.....rvice.html). The dwell times associated with such high crowding, as our subways currently operate, would impair any effort to run high-frequency service. Yes, I am aware that other cities run more frequent service with less standing space per passenger, but NYC isn’t exactly following international best practices.

That said, the gist of your analysis looks to be correct. Even if the data is corrected for a load of 145 passengers per car, over 85% of passengers will be able to ride the J/M/Z across the bridge. How well NYCT will be able to maintain that continuous stream of trains for 18 months is yet to be seen, but it’s certainly possible…

mister April 8, 2017 - 6:03 pm

Actually, the link you used there points out what guideline loads are for A and B division cars. That’s the maximum load for what NYCT considers an acceptable level of crowding on a car. Absolute crush loading is much higher than that. For example the datasheet for the new tech trains indicates that one of the B cars can seat 44 and also has a maximum standing capacity of 202(!). Realistically, because people pack it in around the doors, but leave more space in between, a car will never reach 246 people. But 200 is not out of the question, and you can bet that when there’s a delay on any line during rush hour, when you see that first train arrive with people stuffed into an entire car the train is carrying roughly 2,000 people total.

If we assumed that every 8 car train carried 200 people per car, Williamsburg could handle 41,600 people in an hour. That would be a really unpleasant ride, but it would hardly be a disaster.

Brooklynite April 9, 2017 - 9:41 am

You’re right, a true crush load (like, you don’t have to hold on to anything because you can’t fall because there’s so many other people) is more than 145 people. However, that level of crowding isn’t a sustainable way to operate – the dwell times at each station would prevent high-frequency service, at least with current operating practices.

Also, once poor crowd distribution, people’s tendency to congregate near the doors and slowly move in, and passenger bulkiness* are considered, an average of 145 people across all cars of all trains seems fair. It could probably be higher, but not 200 people.

*Regarding bulkiness – Kawasaki is (I think) the same company that gave us the seats on the R62/As, which as we all know are too small. Therefore I wouldn’t particularly trust that number about 200 standees.

mister April 10, 2017 - 7:40 am

I agree that 200 standees is not a sustainable number. But is 175 people total (seated+standing) in a car achievable? Sure. Remember, 145 is what NYCT wants in a car during rush hours, so a car should be able to (and can) exceed this number by some percentage. The 158 number from the 53rd street tunnel highlighted the reason why there was such impetus to connect the 63rd street tunnel: the average load genuinely was over guideline load. Still, they were capable of operating 30 tph through the tunnel. The same situation will likely be what happens here (albeit, with 26 trains per hour).

The 200 standees number is repeated on Alstom’s cars as well. I think its a standard from NYCT.

Brooklynite April 10, 2017 - 9:35 pm

You’re right. I guess the moral of the story is that the Canarsie crowds could easily be accommodated, if the railroad is properly run.

In that case let’s bring back the 1980s proposal to close the L permanently? /s

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