MTA Partially Restores Transit Service and Adds Some New Bus Routes

Riders on the Q42 bus will have midday service restored under a package of service improvements released by the MTA today. Photo: Deishawn Ashley ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/57637970@N05/7220803440/##via Flickr##

The MTA is starting to repair some of the damage done by 2010’s devastating round of service cuts. The transit agency has announced a new set of transit service improvements worth $29 million a year, making up roughly a third of what was cut in 2010. Riders will also get a two-month reprieve from next year’s planned fare hike, with the higher prices now set to kick in on March 1.

In New York City, the new spending is focused on the bus system, not the subway. The five-stop G train extension in Brooklyn will be made permanent, but that’s the only enhancement to the subway system. The W and V trains aren’t coming back, and the MTA is sticking to revised rules that tolerate more crowding and less service. Subway ridership, in stark contrast to bus ridership, has continued to reach record levels despite the service cuts.

In all five boroughs, service will be restored to some of the bus routes that were scaled back. Riders on 24 bus routes will benefit. One of the lines — the B39 — has been revived after being eliminated entirely in 2010. The other restorations will lengthen routes, add more frequent bus runs, or bring back off-peak service. The full list of improvements is available on the MTA’s website.

Though many of the 2010 bus cuts will remain, brand-new bus service is being added to fast-growing areas like the Williamsburg waterfront and Manhattan’s West Side, or to under-served areas like Hunts Point and Queensborough Community College in Bayside. It appears that the MTA has at least used the budget crisis to reallocate resources to where they are most needed in the bus network.

Commuter railroad riders will also see better service, especially on Metro-North, which will add 230 trains a week to its schedule, reports the New York Times. It’s the largest service expansion in the agency’s history. The new service will mostly run off-peak in response to the growing popularity of the railroad for non-commute trips.

The restoration of transit service is incomplete and the fiscal situation underlying these limited improvements remains extremely fragile. Lawmakers in Albany could continue to raid dedicated transit funds, or fail to make the MTA whole for after cutting the payroll mobility tax, or saddle riders with even more debt to pay off unless they fund the upcoming MTA capital plan. Advocates and riders will need to hold Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature accountable to make sure New York sees more transit restored, rather than another round of cuts.

Today, though, it’s worth enjoying the good news about transit when you can.

  • One that I would have liked to see, however, is an extension of the B65 across the Manhattan Bridge over most of the B51 line.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I don’t usually ride the subway into Manhattan during rush hour, but yesterday I needed to ride the 6 train into Midtown East to attend a training. It was kind of shocking how packed that morning 6-line train was. I asked a fellow rider – “Is it always like this?” He replied, “This isn’t too bad.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    The public sector is working to make the rest grateful for less, to make up for the huge increase in total compensation in the public sector compared with the non-rich in the private sector, and past debts.

    It’s working the same way with other public services.  In the place with the highest (non-mineral tax) state and local tax burden in the U.S. as a percentage of personal income.

  • Anonymous

    Any service enhancement is better than none, but I really think increasing service on subways is a better use of whatever resources are available, in terms of moving the most people per dollar.

    Surface transit is so slow in the denser areas of the city (not just Manhattan, but lots of areas in the boroughs as well) that it is only marginally better than walking when you factor in wait times.

    I still think that a better use of limited resources would be to reconfigure the transit system so that all subway lines make limited/express stops only, and bus routes are designed to be short spoke lines that radiate from the subway hubs.  This would also provide convenient locations for taxi/livery car stands.

  • Andrew

    @aemoreira81:disqus Why do you wish to subject all B65 riders within Brooklyn to the vagaries of Manhattan Bridge traffic? B51 ridership was very low; the vast majority of B65 riders bound for Manhattan transfer to the subway and would continue to transfer to the subway even if the B65 were extended over the bridge.

  • Andrew

    @J_12:disqus Your third paragraph contradicts your first. Millions of passengers use local stops every day. Your plan would force them onto local buses, substantially increasing their travel time and simultaneously substantially increasing the cost of providing transit service.

  • Joe R.

    @J_12:disqus I agree with Andrew here that we shouldn’t force riders who use local subway stops onto buses. Buses are pathetically slow even in the outer boroughs as you noted. If we wish to speed up subway trips while still serving local riders, we could try using alternate skip stop service on some lines, particularly those which lack third or fourth tracks. And we could also restore field shunting on older trains (and reprogram the computers on the newer trains) so they accelerate at full capabilities. The MTA stupidly emasculated the entire fleet on account of signal limitations in only a few places where trains accelerating at full power would have been problematic. A more sensible solution would have been slow orders in the problem areas. Local service could probably be speeded up by 10% to 15% at no cost to the MTA just by running the trains to their full capabilities. Even better, if trains get across the line quicker, you need fewer trains for any given frequency of service. 

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus Skip-stop service only makes sense if there’s a major traffic generator or transfer point near the end of the line. Otherwise the doubled wait times won’t be offset by the reduced travel time. Remember the failed 1/9, where most riders had to wait twice as long for a train that saved little time at best.

    You are dead wrong about the signal system, which was demonstrated in 1995 to be fundamentally unsafe with the cars as they operated at the time. This was the case for the entire system, not just for a few places – the signal design was based on the acceleration capabilities of older cars. Redesigning the entire signal system, and implementing the new design, would have taken decades, but safety can’t wait decades. Slowing the cars was unfortunately the only practical solution.

    CBTC, being an entirely new signal design, is safe at higher speeds, and since the cars know when they are in CBTC mode, they have faster acceleration then. (If the L seems faster than it used to be, it isn’t your imagination.)

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I’m pretty sure the signals were only a problem in a few places, and only with certain types of cars. When the fleet went through GOH the R32s, R38s, R40s, and R42s ended up with more powerful motors than they have originally been built with. As a result, they could end up passing a red signal at too high a speed to stop in time before hitting the train in front. The 75 foot cars on the other hand weren’t any more powerful after GOH, and could have been left as is. As for the newer stuff, the acceleration curve could have been reprogrammed without limiting the top speed to ~40 mph as the MTA did. While it’s true trains operate to their full capabilities under CBTC, it will be decades before the entire system gets it under the current schedule. In the meantime, we should only slow trains on lines and in places where the signal system is the problem. I’m not really seeing why it wouldn’t be possible to do this given the benefits. You could put a transponder on the tracks in the problem areas which limits the acceleration of the trains. Or even just put in timers if the MTA wants to do things the low-tech way. While on the subject of timers, while they are needed in places where it’s actually dangerous to go beyond a certain speed (i.e. curves and entering certain stations), there are far too many of them placed midway along straight or nearly straight express runs. I ride the Queens Boulevard line regularly. There’s zero reason to limit trains to ~40 mph given that the track geometry for the most part would allow 65 mph (and trains were briefly run at this speed in the late 1970s). You could knock about 5 or 6 minutes off the schedule right there ( Queens Plaza-Roosevelt Avenue-Forest Hills is scheduled for 12 to 14 minutes but the trains could easily do this run in about 7 minutes if allowed to run at full speed). Other express runs with similar long straight stretches could see similar benefits.
    I only mentioned skip-stop service as a possibility if local service was really slow and there was no express alternative. On most of the system skip-stop really isn’t applicable as most people are only on the locals until they reach an express stop.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus All car classes accelerated too fast for the signal system, and none of the signal system was designed based on the faster acceleration. This wasn’t an isolated problem on one or two lines – it was a problem everywhere.

    I know a former NYCT signal engineer. He often told me that, in his job, safety was paramount. He always tried to maintain as fast a speed as possible, but sometimes he had no choice but force trains to slow down a bit (often with grade timers – perhaps the very ones you’ve seen on Queens Boulevard). As he explained to me, the Williamsburg Bridge crash demonstrated a fundamental safety flaw of the entire signal system – again, not just here and there – that required immediate action.

    Trains aren’t limited to 40 mph. Balancing speed is around 45 mph, and trains can go faster than that on downgrades. But you’re not going to see 65 mph. Queens Boulevard will get faster once CBTC is implemented – it’s next in line after Flushing, so figure about a decade to completion.

    Incidentally, if you think the trains are slow now, you don’t want more timers. Timers don’t directly slow down the trains – they instead instruct the train operator to slow down to a specified speed, or else. Most train operators are deathly afraid of the “or else” and slow down much more than necessary.

    Skip-stop is a seriously bad idea in most places, even if local service is slow. And plenty of people have found that staying on the local gets them where they’re going sooner than getting off and waiting for an express.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I’ll take your word about the signals since your source should be a lot more knowledgeable on the matter than me. I do indeed remember that the Williamsburg Bridge accident was the catalyst for the slowdown. In the NTSB report, it was discussed how the signals were unable to prevent the collision on account of the trains accelerating too fast. Regarding the timers, be aware that the MTA tends to err on the side of caution. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of the timers are just to keep trains from running too far ahead of schedule. Even in their present state, the trains could run a few minutes faster on some express runs than they do.

    BTW, I’m aware of the current top speeds of the equipment. 45 mph is about what the older DC motor equipment will do on level track. The R160s seem to balance at about 40 or 41. With AC motor equipment you can actually get a very sharp cutoff above a certain speed by just limiting the maximum inverter frequency. I suspect this is what was done. I also know we won’t see 65 mph but 55 mph is the design speed of the R160s. I’d be very happy if once CBTC is implemented the expresses accelerate to 55 mph and then remain there the entire run. That should be good enough to do Queens Plaza to Forest Hills in perhaps 8 minutes. The Flushing line should also seriously benefit from CBTC as much of the express run is practically dead straight.

  • Anonymous

    Skip-stop locals are almost always worse than just making every local stop.  You have the same expected wait time but with higher variance due to the longer headways between trains running a specific section.  This is only obviated if most riders are going to a fairly small set of stops, in which case it probably indicates train should run as an express anyway.

    Regarding local bus service, I believe a better use of resources, especially in an ear of service cuts and declining resources, would be to eliminate nearly all local bus routes.  The resources freed up could then be used to provide connecting service between express/transfer stations on subway lines. 
    The slowness of local buses is 1) less of an issue on short trips, and 2) could be mitigated if buses could avoid arterial roads that tend to have the worst traffic.

    The biggest benefits of such a re-configuration would probably be non-rush hour service.  Eliminating non-transfer local stops on subway lines would allow for increased frequency of service with the same number of trains in service.  The subway would therefore do a better job of getting riders to within a long walk, or short bus (or taxi, or bike) ride of their destination.  Local buses running short hub-and-spoke routes could cover both local stops and some areas that are currently non well served as the lie between 2 subway lines but not close enough to either.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus I can absolutely guarantee that no timers are in place to keep trains from running ahead of schedule. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to modify a schedule than to add a timer to the signal system, and shorter running times yield less expensive service. Signal engineers are focused on safety, not schedules.

    Most of the Queens Blvd. timers are very old, probably original to the line.

    I think you’re incredibly optimistic about running times with CBTC, but we’ll see what happens. I think the bigger impact will be on the locals, where the acceleration boost with CBTC will come in handy at every stop.

  • Andrew

    @J_12:disqus  Don’t you mean “You have twice the expected wait time”?

    I’ll reiterate what I said before about local subway stations. Eliminating local service would significantly increase travel times for millions of daily subway riders, who would now have to transfer to the bus to reach their final destinations. The increased requirements for bus service would far outweigh the small savings from the decrease in subway running times  And, on an entirely different note, most express stations would need significant capital investment in order to accommodate the increased rush hour crowding that your plan would dump on them.

  • vhw2867

    Not at all

  • vhw2867

    Not at all again