New York Daily News
PACKING THEM IN
Popularity poses challenge
The transit system faces a challenge that was unthinkable a few decades ago — people actually want to use it. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has witnessed a sea change not only in the sheer number of people who use the transit system’s 469 subways stations and 307 bus routes, but also how they use it.
A 9-5 workforce that gets shuttled in and out of Manhattan each weekday is an increasingly outdated 20th centurystyle of commuting. More people are traveling outside of the traditional rush hours and between the outer boroughs to emerging job centers and retail destinations.
And though crowding conditions have caused in uptick in assaults and created new targets for petty crime, New Yorkers feel confident that the subway system is safe round the clock. There was an average of 6.65 major felonies a day last year, compared to an average of 17.55 a day in 1997, according to the latest MTA stats.
Taken together, the MTA is seeing its highest ridership since the late 1940s, with daily ridership records breaking regularly now.
“It’s becoming more of an everyday event,” MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said of the new rider records. “It’s forcing us to step up our efforts to add capacity.”
A daily subway record was reached Oct. 29 with 6.2 million riders — just one of the 15 weekdays that month with ridership above 6 million. The MTA first reached its 6 million mark in September 2014, and since then, it has been reached 77 times, according to the agency.
Adding the capacity to handle these new riders requires costly and complex projects paid for by the MTA’s capital plan — a five-year, $29 billion blueprint for repairing, upgrading and expanding the region’s transportation infrastructure, which is still awaiting approval in Albany.
The plan budgets $500 million towards building the next phase of the Second Ave. subway, bringing the Q train from 96th St. to 125th St. The new subway stations, including the four that will open this year, will relieve pressure from the overcrowded Nos. 4, 5 and 6 trains on Lexington Ave.
The capital plan also continues the replacement of the subway’s antiquated signal system that will let the agency squeeze in more trains at rush hour. The system, called Communication Based Train Control, already a feature on the L line, will come to the Queens Blvd., Culver and Eighth Ave. lines.
Gene Russianoff, a longtime transit advocate with the Straphangers Campaign, said one of the most critical upgrades in the capital plan is the purchase of 940 cars to replace the “hundreds and hundreds of subway cars that are too damn old.”
This modern fleet will replace a model that debuted during the administration of President Gerald Ford. The order also includes a prototype of a long “open gangway” car that officials believe will save passengers from cramped sardine-can conditions.
But these are long-term solutions. In the meantime, Prendergast said the MTA needs to improve the travel experience for a new generation of riders.
Installation of Wi-Fi in every underground station was fast-tracked for completion this year, with cell service expected in 2017.
Connecting riders in the tunnels will be the next challenge.
A shift from print to digital advertising means interactive screens that will also dispense service information.
“If you talk to the millennials — I’m a baby boomer — connectivity is an expectation, it’s not a desired element,” Prendergast said.
While new riders are sure to enjoy the technological amenities, there is still till theth dirty,di t unglamorousl work k of f gett ting a 112-year-old subway system in good working order.
Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen said that approving the MTA’s capital plan keeps the subway system from going back to the bad old days when trains were literally going off the rails.
Much of the capital plan is devoted to this crucial repair work, meaning tracks thatth t won’t’t b breakk underd pressure, signalsi l that won’t malfunction and stations that are not dilapidated.
“Without the money for this capital plan to be pumped into state of good repair, we would have seen the derailments that had plagued us in the past in the ’70s and early ’80s,” Samuelsen said. “We would have seen continued delays in service. It would have been an ugly future for the MTA.”