UPDATE (04.06.2021): Post revised with additional commentary.
Welcome back to my ongoing NYTIP series! Throughout this series, I fleshed out point 1 of my three-point plan to improve the NYC Subway – enhance. In this post, I’ll discuss overnight service and subway system maintenance.
Under NYTIP, the baseline service levels for each line are as follows:
- Rush hours: every 4 minutes or better.
- Middays, evenings, and weekends: every 8 minutes or better.
- Overnights: every 15 minutes.
- Thinking about Samuelito’s comment, another option for overnight service is half-length trains at roughly twice the frequency – every 8 minutes. I’m leaning toward full-length trains every 15 minutes, however.
At present, the MTA performs most of its work outside of rush hours – middays, weekends, and overnights. However, continuous weekend construction and constant service diversions led to a continuous drop in weekend ridership (see page 112 in the link); this, in turn, led to increased traffic congestion as people switched from transit to cars (see page 116 in the link). Weekend ridership began to rebound before COVID-19 caused steep ridership drops systemwide.
With so many challenges facing the NYC Subway, how can the MTA restructure its maintenance obligations to encourage off-peak ridership? One way to do this is:
Shift core maintenance work to the overnight hours.
This is the first step to making subway service more predictable. NYTIP proposes an overnight maintenance window from approximately 11:30 PM to 4:30 AM on weeknights; depending on the scope of work, this window could expand slightly from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM. To ensure a smooth transition, all peak-directional express services end no later than 10:00 PM under NYTIP. On weekend nights, the maintenance window could expand by up to two and a half hours (e.g. 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM). These windows would allow several hours of uninterrupted core maintenance work every night. The scope of this work is essentially FASTRACK on steroids, with multiple line segment closures. (FASTRACK is MTA’s accelerated maintenance program which closes a line segment to repair multiple elements at once – e.g. station components, signals, tracks, etc.)
The second step is maintaining network coverage. In most cases, subway line closures require shuttle buses; however, other subway lines could also provide alternate service when they’re close together, as is generally the case in Manhattan below 60th Street. The key is ensuring replacement services are as efficient as possible. Using Upper Manhattan and The Bronx as an example, suppose one subdivides the overnight subway network into segments:
[Fig. 1] Hypothetical segmentation of overnight subway service.
When a segment or subsegment requires core maintenance work, that segment or subsegment could close and shuttle buses – and nearby subway lines, where applicable – would fill in the gaps to maintain network coverage. If regular bus routes traverse a given segment, then increasing service on those routes in lieu of (or, in conjunction with) shuttle buses could also work.
On any given night, the service patterns resulting from segment closures should maximize connections both within the subway system and between subways and buses; the latter requires proper street management, which includes – but isn’t limited to – the following:
- Busways and bus lanes, including makeshift bus lanes where necessary.
- Private auto/parking restrictions on select roads.
- Makeshift bus stops with clear signage, where needed.
While these initiatives don’t necessarily preclude midday, weekend, or emergency maintenance work, they should make off-peak service more reliable and predictable, especially on weekends. This, in turn, should encourage ridership.
In my next post, I’ll begin exploring point 2 of my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – extend. Until next time!