UPDATE (01.30.2022): Post revised to reflect v0.7.0 of the enhanced NYC subway.
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.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
Under NYTIP, baseline service for each subway line follows the “six-minute city” paradigm as follows:
- Rush hours: every 5 minutes or better.
- Middays, evenings, and weekends: every 6 minutes or better.
- Overnights: every 15 minutes.
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 the COVID-19 pandemic caused steep ridership drops systemwide; nearly two years later, the subway has only recovered about half its weekday ridership and under two-thirds of its weekend ridership.
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. Under NYTIP, the overnight maintenance window would run 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 on some weeknights. 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 three hours (e.g. 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM, or 11:00 PM to 7:00 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 overnight maintenance program.)
The second step to making subway service predictable is maintaining network coverage. To demonstrate this, consider overnight subway service under NYTIP:
[Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5] Enhanced NYC Subway overnight service maps.
In each of the maps above, I’ve highlighted the main streets traversed by the overnight subway network. Many of these streets have some form of regular bus service during daytime hours; in some cases, these buses could run overnight with service increases, as needed, when the corresponding subway segments close for maintenance work. Shuttle buses would replace closed subway segments when existing bus routes do not traverse the entire segment. Sometimes, both existing buses and shuttle buses may be necessary. Further, as the maps above show, nearby subway lines could also offer alternate service for closed segments – either in lieu of, or in conjunction with, bus service. This is particularly true in Manhattan below 60th Street and downtown Brooklyn, where subway services are heavily concentrated. In any case, the key is ensuring replacement services are as efficient as possible.
On any given night, the service patterns resulting from subway 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 streets.
- Makeshift bus stops with clear signage, where needed.
While these initiatives don’t 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 off-peak ridership – the key to a post-pandemic revitalization of mass transit.