More Transit for Me…
So my commute to work is atypical among New Yorkers – Westchester to Long Island – and is often done by driving. The drive takes about 35-40 minutes when there’s no traffic, and costs over $13 per day in tolls. So how does transit figure in for me?
My employer offers a mass transit commutation benefit, so I opted in many years ago. The transit commute is much longer than the drive – and the nearest rail station is over a mile away from the job site – but it’s still doable for me. Aside from saving the toll and gas money, I can take nice walks and catch naps on the trains.
Why, yes. Story time!
When I lived in my hometown of The Bronx, the commute typically consisted of two subway trains and a bus, plus some walking, for a total one-way trip time in excess of 2 hours.
Now that I’m up in New Rochelle, this same commute now requires two trains of a different sort – Metro-North (MNR) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). Prior to the opening of Grand Central Madison (GCM), there was no connection between the two railroads. Worse, despite the relatively short distance between Grand Central and Penn Station, making the connection required a short ride on two subway trains! (And if anything – ANYTHING – went wrong on the subway, there was a very real chance of a missed connection at Penn; let’s just say I’ve been there and done that.)
So it was MNR to the subway to LIRR to either a bus or walking – and I usually walk because the buses in Long Island have shit frequencies. Total one-way commute time by transit: still over 2 hours.
This week, I got a chance to sample LIRR’s new schedule to Grand Central Madison. Just the fact that I no longer have to hop-skip-and-jump on the subway between Grand Central and Penn saves me several minutes (sometimes tens of minutes when factoring in wait times). This savings is magnified when heading home; before GCM’s opening, I often wouldn’t arrive at Grand Central ’till almost 7 PM (sometimes after 8 PM if the work day is long). With GCM, I can get home by 7 or 7:30 PM!
So yes, GCM works for me.
…But Not for Thee?
Again, my commute is atypical among New Yorkers; while the new schedules benefit me immensely, I’m not surprised that they’ve also pissed a lot of people off. It was inevitable when you examine some of the changes – the single-tracking of the Oyster Bay’s connection to the Main Line and making most Brooklyn-bound trains shuttles seem most obvious; the latter requires a transfer involving two sets of stairs or elevators (one up, one down).
But the real icing on this spicy cake is the decision to make all transfers at Jamaica untimed – including those Atlantic Terminal shuttles which are disconnected from the rest of the LIRR network. Even if the intent was to keep trains moving on Tracks 1-8 at Jamaica, the Atlantic shuttles are on the new Tracks 11 and 12. If anything, MTA should restore timed transfers to the shuttles.
Another major change was the elimination of local service west of Jamaica on the Main Line; riders are now directed to use the subway for local trips. I haven’t heard whether riders are complaining about this, but eliminating intra-NYC locals certainly runs counter to the regional rail paradigm that’s slowly catching fire.
Not surprisingly, MTA has announced forthcoming tweaks to LIRR schedules. But the truth is, the entire concept of “commuter rail” needs a lot more than a “tweak” – especially outside the 9-to-5 peak-of-the-peak. Why are we still accepting half-hourly or hourly off-peak service when there is clear demand for service every 15 minutes or better within NYC and the inner suburbs? What will it take for politicos to be allergic to wasting money on bullshit instead of service increases?