NYTIP: enhancing the nyc subway, part 7: overnight delivery

Welcome back to my ongoing NYTIP series! Over the last six posts (click here for the most recent of these), 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.

Before we begin, click here to download the enhanced NYC Subway service guide (Microsoft Excel file).

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, half-length trains at roughly twice the frequency – every 8 minutes – could also work.

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) that only recently began to rebound. As weekend ridership drops and riders switch to cars, traffic congestion increases (see page 116 in the link).

To resolve these issues, NYTIP proposes moving the vast majority of maintenance work to the overnight hours (generally from midnight to 6:00 AM). Preparatory work can begin as early as 10:00 PM, forming a full 8-hour shift; for this reason, all peak-direction express services end at 10:00 PM under NYTIP. The scope of this work is essentially FASTRACK on steroids, with multiple partial line closures. For this to succeed, the service changes required should maximize connections both within the subway system and between subways and buses.

Let’s take the subway lines serving The Bronx overnight (1, 2, 4, 6, B) as an example. Some line segments are easily covered by substitute buses, as follows:

  • 1 train (Van Cortlandt Park, The Bronx to 96th Street, Manhattan)
    • Shuttle buses via Broadway, 10th/Nagle Ave, Fairview Ave, St. Nicholas Ave, and back on Broadway.
  • 2 train (Wakefield -241st Street to East 180th Street)
    • Shuttle buses via White Plains Rd, Morris Park Ave, and East 180th St.
  • 2 train (East 180th Street to 149th Street – Grand Concourse)
    • Shuttle buses via East 180th St, Boston Rd, Southern Blvd, Westchester Ave, 149th St.
  • 4 train (Woodlawn to 149th Street – Grand Concourse)
    • Shuttle buses via Jerome Ave, River Ave, and 149th St.
  • B train (Norwood – 205th Street, The Bronx to 145th Street, Manhattan)
    • Shuttle buses via Bainbridge Ave, Bedford Park Blvd, Grand Concourse, 161st St, St. Nicholas Ave.

These are not the only possible segment shutdowns or shuttle bus routes, nor do these preclude using existing bus routes overnight (such as an overnight Bx1/Bx2 service to replace Concourse line service). The key is ensuring that adequate connecting bus services can replace certain line segments when maintenance work requires line segment closures. This requires proper street management, which may include the following:

  • Bus lanes, including makeshift bus lanes where necessary.
  • Private auto/parking restrictions on certain roads.
  • Makeshift bus stops with clear signage, where needed.

While these initiatives don’t necessarily preclude midday or weekend maintenance work, they should make off-peak service much more reliable and predictable, especially on weekends.

In my next post, I’ll begin exploring point 2 of my three-point plan to fix the NYC Subway – extend. Until next time!

2 thoughts on “NYTIP: enhancing the nyc subway, part 7: overnight delivery

  1. Thanks for referring to my comment. I may be wrong about what I said; it seems that the major cost of operating a vehicle is labor. I made the assumption that vehicle maintenance, power, and wear-and-tear are expensive without considering labor costs, forming the basis behind my suggestion to spread out the vehicles during overnight hours instead of running twice as many for double the frequency. But my conclusion after reading this https://humantransit.org/2011/07/02box.html is that two operators (for two trains) costs more than one operator running a train of any length. This is the reason debates are being had regarding continuing with subway conductors and reducing railroad conductors.

    On the flip side however, travel during overnight hours is not only a matter of convenience (the case I tried to make in my other comment) but of social safety. It is risky to wait in a large empty station (without the ability to exit and re-enter for free) for a long period of time; same for being in a large empty train with a lot of room to, uh, fool around.

    I guess it all comes down to whether the transit agency (MTA in our case) is willing to pay for overnight operators. Running full-length trains might be less expensive than I thought — and I never thought about what labor goes behind coupling and de-coupling trains every night and day. It’s easier to make the justification for more operators for any other time of day, whether rush hours, middays, or weekends; not so much for overnight service unless it’s [politically more so than technically] realistic to run automatic driverless trains.

    Moving maintenance to overnight hours sounds like a good idea. Just keep in mind that people are increasingly going home beyond the 10 PM time frame, and that rush hour starts to ramp up at 5 AM. The hours MTA has in place today — 12 AM to 5 — are actually decent. I get that more uninterrupted hours would help the working crew, but (1) bus service would need to be robust at 10 PM (meaning more bus drivers needed 💰💰), keeping in mind that removing on-street parking on residential streets would be extremely controversial (go for it on retail corridors), and (2) sounds like less room for error if the crew has to be fully cleaned up by 6 AM.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These are all salient points (and I know first-hand how crowded the “pre-rush” period can be, from my experience with the D!). There’s no doubt that any policy that calls for reallocating road space will be controversial, especially when current leadership sees non-drivers as invasive instead of fellow street-users. (And wait ‘till I start the volume on highway removal!) You are correct that there has to be a delicate balance between maintenance work and providing, at minimum, coverage service during the overnights. This is indeed a major challenge.

      Labor is another challenge, and for all the stories I’ve heard on both sides, I’m not privy enough to know what the best solution is. If we pursued OPTO (or ZPTO), it’d certainly be controversial, but I wonder if the massive service increases under NYTIP would offset at least the former? What would be a workable policy that both labor and management would get behind?

      Liked by 1 person

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