why MTA must improve service on the concourse line now!

[N.B. This post was originally published on 2013.09.14 and uses ridership data up to 2012; I will conduct updated analyses with ridership data up to 2015 in a future post. I edited this post to correct some errors and update Figures 8 and 10 with corrected data.

EDIT (2016.05.21): Corrected all miscalculations of average elapsed time.]

For many years, I’ve contended that service on the Concourse Line service in The Bronx (served by B and D trains) is inadequate; indeed, I raised this point at several Community Board meetings, an MTA President’s Forum in 2010, and online. Of course, simply saying so isn’t enough, so allow me to present evidence to support my contention and make the case for improved Concourse Line service.

I. Current Concourse Line Service

First, let’s look at current service levels. According to MTA’s latest B and D line schedules (and using MTA’s OnTheGo app for exact departure times), we have, in a typical 24-hour span:

  • Weekdays: 135 southbound D trains and 134 northbound D trains, plus 42 southbound rush-hour B trains (21 during AM rush; 21 during PM rush) and 36 northbound rush-hour B trains (19 during AM rush; 17 during PM rush)
  • Saturdays: 120 D trains in each direction
  • Sundays: 111 D trains in each direction

Let’s take a closer look at the rush hours, starting with southbound service; using information from the OnTheGo app, I listed the departure times for rush hour B and D trains using Excel (bold times = PM):

Concourse Southbound Rush

[Fig. 1]: Snippet of scheduled southbound Concourse Line service highlighting the rush hours.

Pay close attention to the AM rush hour. The 21 rush-hour B local trains depart Bedford Park Blvd between 5:26 AM and 8:57 AM; the elapsed time (in minutes) between each scheduled departure is as follows: 19*, 17*, 13*, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 9, 10, 10, 10, 10, 9, 9, 10, 9, 12, 7, 7.

(*Three D Concourse Local trains flank the first four B departures; excluding these departures, the average time between southbound B train departures is about 9 minutes 32 secondsless frequent than most lines in the system – and what Concourse Line riders at the 182nd-183rd, 174th-175th, 170th, 167th, 161st, and 155th St stations in the peak direction typically endure.)

Now, let’s look at the Concourse Express. During the AM rush, there are 22 Concourse Express D trains – 21 departing from Norwood and one departing from Bedford Park Blvd – between 6:16 AM and 8:56 AM; elapsed time in minutes from Norwood between each departure is as follows: 11, 8, 8, 7, 8, 7, 8, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 12*, 8, 8, 9, 10. The average time between southbound D train departures from Norwood is 8 minutesway below the systemwide average of roughly 5 minutes 10 seconds (source).

(*One D train begins service at Bedford Park Blvd, creating this 12-minute gap at Norwood; hence the average time between southbound D train departures from Bedford Park Blvd is about 7 minutes 37 seconds.)

Finally, let’s look at combined AM rush-hour service. While the D runs via Concourse Express, there are 17 B locals for a total of 39 trains. At Concourse Express stations other than Norwood (Bedford Park Blvd, Kingsbridge Rd, Fordham Rd, Tremont Ave, and 145th St), the average time between southbound departures is 4 minutes 6 seconds.

During the PM rush, southbound B and D trains run local in The Bronx. The 21 rush-hour B trains depart Bedford Park Blvd between 3:58 PM and 6:37 PM; during this interval, there are also 21 D trains (42 trains total). Average time between southbound D train departures from Norwood is 7 minutes 45 seconds; for the B from Bedford Park Blvd, it’s 7 minutes 57 seconds – each well below the systemwide average of 5 minutes 33 seconds). Combined southbound B/D service departs Bedford Park Blvd every 3 minutes 53 seconds on average – more frequent than combined AM rush-hour service and a sign that Brooklyn receives more peak-direction service than The Bronx.

Now let’s look at northbound rush-hour service:

Concourse Northbound Rush

[Fig. 2]: Snippet of scheduled northbound Concourse Line service highlighting the rush hours.

First I’ll briefly address the AM rush. B and D trains both run local in The Bronx, with B trains (and even some D trains) terminating at Bedford Park Blvd. The 19 B trains serving The Bronx leave 145th St from 7:01 AM to 9:14 AM; during this interval, there are 18 D trains (37 trains total). Combined B/D service runs every 3 minutes 42 seconds on average; however, D trains arrive at Norwood every 8 minutes 26 seconds on average. Individually, the average time between northbound B and D train departures is 7 minutes 23 seconds and 7 minutes 14 seconds, respectively.

Now, let’s focus on the PM rush. D trains run via Concourse Express, so local stations only have B service. (N.B.: D express trains make an extra stop at 161st St – Yankee Stadium when the Yankees play weeknight games or when other major events occur at the Stadium; on those days, B and D train departures differ from the schedule above.) The 17 Bronx-bound B locals leave 145th St from 4:11 PM to 6:49 PM, flanked by 19 express D trains departing 145th St between 4:11 PM and 6:41 PM. B trains run every 9 minutes 53 seconds on average, while D trains run every 8 minutes 20 seconds on average; combined northbound B/D service departs 145th St every 4 minutes 31 seconds, on average. Looking at the individual averages, we see how terribly infrequent Concourse Local service is – and the Concourse Express isn’t much better (the individual averages are each well below the systemwide average of 5 minutes 33 seconds).

Worse yet, notice how ridiculously early rush-hour service ends; the last Concourse Express departs 145th St at 6:41 PM, with the last Bronx-bound B behind it at 6:49 PM. These trains leave Midtown around 6:30 PM – still the thick of rush hour – meaning that the next several B and D trains carry sizable loads. Furthermore, D service runs every 10 minutes starting with the second-to-last Concourse Express – and after the last B departs, all other B trains terminate at 145th St, adding some of their load to overcrowded D Concourse Local trains. This problem is especially bad on Yankees game nights, when Yankees fans and other Concourse Line riders fight (not literally!) for space on these trains; indeed, these nights show how absurd it is for the PM rush-hour pattern to end so early. Most weeknight games start at 7:10 PM; the last Concourse Express (which would stop at 161st St) arrives around 6:45 PM (25 minutes before first pitch), while the last B train arrives 6:53 PM (17 minutes before first pitch).

My point is – whether the Yankees are in town or not – current service is woefully inadequate given current ridership levels, which I’ll get to shortly.

II. Concourse Line Ridership and Service Levels

Next we’ll look at ridership and service levels over time along the Concourse Line. First, I’ll show that the current pattern hasn’t been meaningfully changed in many years – MTA brass effectively admitted such at a President’s Forum in 2010 when I brought this issue up. Using the Internet Wayback Machine, I obtained B/D train schedules from as far back as 2002 (30 schedules total). I summarized the data from those 30 schedules into an Excel sheet:

Concourse Schedule Summary

[Fig. 3]: Summarized schedule information for the B and D trains, 2002-2013 (click to enlarge).

Allow me to explain the data. The sixteen time periods denote available schedule data extracted from the Wayback Machine (and the MTA’s Website); below, I recorded the approximate number of trains serving the Concourse Line in each direction. Under “B NOTES,” I recorded the time span of rush-hour B service to/from The Bronx (PM times in bold), while under “D NOTES” I recorded the time span of the Concourse Express service, as well as the number of trains running on weekends. I highlighted the data for the September 2002 and April 2003 schedules because, between August 2001 and February 2004, B and D trains terminated at 34th St – Herald Square due to the Manhattan Bridge rehabilitation project. As such, fewer trains ran on the B and D lines than normal. When the bridge reopened to B and D trains in 2004, Brooklyn service resumed, but the routes changed (more on this later). I also highlighted the B line data from Winter 2009/2010 to June 2011 to show the period where B trains ran local in Brooklyn due to the Brighton Line rehabilitation project.

First, notice that weekday service on the B and D – aside from the Manhattan Bridge rehab period – is essentially unchanged over this 11-year span (other than minor schedule adjustments, as the rush-hour time spans show). Next, you’ll notice far fewer weekend D trains starting with the June 2010 schedule – that’s because MTA enacted systemwide bus and subway service cuts at that time to save money; the D, which ran every 8 minutes on weekends before June 2010, now ran (and still runs) every 10 minutes.

To further prove this point, let’s go back even further. At The JoeKorNer, one finds subway car assignments (an indicator of service levels) going back to March 1, 1998 (incidentally the start date of Concourse Line service as we know it; before that date, the C was the rush-hour Concourse Local). The subway car assignment tables list the combined number of trainsets in both directions on each line during the AM and PM rush hour; I collected the data and organized it into another Excel spreadsheet (reproduced below):

Concourse Service Summary

[Fig. 4]: Combined number of trainsets during the AM and PM rush hours on the B and D lines, 1998-present (click to enlarge).

To make sense of this table, here’s a brief primer: Prior to the Manhattan Bridge Rehabilitation project on the 6th Ave tracks in 2001, the B served Brooklyn via 4th Ave Express and West End, while the D ran via Brighton Local; both trains ran to Coney Island. When MTA closed the 6th Ave bridge tracks for repair between August 2001 and February 2004 (highlighted areas in table), the B and D terminated at 34th St and the W and Q, respectively, replaced their Brooklyn portions. After the 6th Ave bridge tracks reopened, the B ran via Brighton Express to Brighton Beach and became a part-time line, while the D ran via 4th Ave Express and West End.

That said, what this table shows is clear – aside from construction-related service changes, the number of B and D trains running during rush hours has hardly changed in the last 15 years!

So Concourse Line service hasn’t changed much in a long time, but what about Concourse Line ridership? Let’s take a closer look.

(N.B.: I calculated Concourse Line ridership in all charts by adding ridership from 205th St to 167th St, 155th St, and half of 161st St – Yankee Stadium to account for the 4 line; I didn’t include 145th St because it is also technically part of the Inwood and Central Park West lines – including its ridership in the sum could confound the data. Also note that irregularities exist in 2004 and 2005 due to several station rehabilitation projects along the 4 line.)

Concourse Weekday Ridership 1998-2012

[Fig. 5]: Concourse Line weekday ridership histogram, 1998-2012, with trend line and least squares equation.

In 1998 the Concourse Line averaged 64,282 riders per weekday; by 2012 that number grew to 84,171 riders per weekday – a 30.9% increase. The trend line predicts an annual increase of 1,359 riders and explains 89.3% of the variation in the data. The drop in ridership in 2009 and 2010 is likely due to the Great Recession and the 2010 service cuts. Now let’s look at weekend ridership:

Concourse Weekend Ridership 1998-2012

[Fig. 6]: Concourse Line weekend ridership histogram, 1998-2012, with trend line and least squares equation.

MTA calculates average weekend ridership as the sum of average Saturday ridership and average Sunday ridership. As seen in the histogram, Concourse Line weekend ridership grew substantially; average weekend ridership in 1998 was 71,717, while average weekend ridership in 2012 was 103,710a 44.6% increase. The trend line predicts an increase of 1,919 riders and explains 88.11% of the variation in the data. Most importantly, after the recession-related drop in 2009, ridership monotonically increased – and reached a new high – despite the June 2010 weekend service cuts!

Finally, let’s look at annual ridership:

Concourse Annual Ridership 1998-2012

[Fig. 7]: Concourse Line annual ridership histogram, 1998-2012, with trend line and least squares equation.

Surprise, surprise – it rose. Annual Concourse Line ridership in 1998 was 20,285,518, while in 2012 it was 26,717,305a 31.7% increase. The trend line predicts an annual increase of 441,199 riders and explains 87.94% of the variation in the data.

III. Concourse Line Ridership Growth

To augment the preceding Concourse Line ridership histograms, I also graphed the year-to-year ridership growth for the Concourse Line. Let’s start with weekday growth:

[Fig. 8]: Area graph showing year-by-year percent changes in Concourse Line and systemwide weekday ridership.

For comparison’s sake, I included growth data for both the Concourse Line and the entire subway system; I used Excel’s area graph to highlight differences between Concourse Line growth and systemwide growth. (I did the same with the weekend and annual graphs.)

As the graph shows, year-to-year weekday ridership growth on the Concourse Line since 1998 was almost always positive, except for the anomalous drop in 2005 due to the 4 line station rehabilitations and the period during Great Recession (note that the Concourse Line was harder hit by the recession than the rest of the system).

Statistically, weekday Concourse Line ridership grew at an average of 2%/year (s = 2.8%); the systemwide average was 2.2%/year (s = 2.6%).

Concourse Weekend Growth 1998-2012

[Fig. 9]: Area graph showing year-by-year percent changes in Concourse Line and systemwide weekend ridership.

Next we have weekend growth. Weekend Concourse Line ridership grew at an average of 2.8%/year (s = 4.8%), compared with a systemwide average of 3.5%/year (s = 3.3%). As with weekdays, Concourse Line growth was harder hit by the Great Recession than the rest of the system.

[Fig. 10]: Area graph showing year-by-year percent changes in Concourse Line and systemwide annual ridership.

Finally, we have annual growth. Annual Concourse Line ridership grew at an average of 2%/year (s = 3.2%), compared with a systemwide average of 2.4%/year (s = 2.8%).

In all three cases, Concourse Line growth lagged systemwide growth, but the standard deviations for Concourse Line growth led systemwide deviations, indicating higher variability.

IV. How MTA can improve Concourse Line service

To address current ridership growth (and cultivate future growth), MTA should enact the following service improvements:

  • Increase peak-direction Concourse Local B service. The current frequency – among the lowest systemwide – is absurd in the face of weekday Concourse Line growth; service should run at least every 6-7 minutes during the peak hour – as it does in the non-peak direction (i.e. with respect to Brooklyn).
  • Increase Concourse Express D service and expand the rush hours. Currently, AM rush D express trains leave Norwood – 205th St from 6:16 AM to 8:56 AM; PM rush D expresses leave 145th St between 4:11 PM and 6:41 PM – these spans are too short (especially the PM rush). Start the PM rush earlier (i.e. 3:30 PM or 3:45 PM), expand the PM rush interval by at least an extra hour (ideally until 8:00 PM), and run D service every 6-7 minutes; for the AM rush, run D service every 5-6 minutes (instead of the current 6-8 minutes) and increase the span to 9:15 AM or 9:30 AM. (Note that expanding Concourse Express D service also means expanded B service to/from The Bronx.)
  • Increase weekend D service – roll back the service cuts! Run D trains every 8 minutes instead of every 10 minutes on weekends.

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