NYC Mass Transit Ridership Up

Good News? Subway and Bus usage is up despite ongoing capital projects that produce baffling subway re-routes every weekend and slow buses service because of traffic congestion.

Average weekday subway ridership rose to 5.076 million in September, the highest level since transit officials began making monthly calculations in 1970, New York City Transit said yesterday. It was the first time since 1970 that the average weekday figure passed 5 million on the subway. Combined subway and bus ridership in September was 7.61 million on an average weekday. That was the highest combined figure since December 1970, when it was 7.627 million.

However this is still significantly down from December 23rd 1946 when almost nine million (8,872,244) trips were made on NYC transit subways and buses.

Photograph of crowded L train from lauratitian on Flickr

But the trains and buses do seem overcrowded these days. How will we convince more people to take mass transit when it's so crowded? It's one thing to urge people to take mass transit instead of driving, but it's another to create conditions that induce subway usage. The MTA and NYPD's commitment over the last 20 years to cleaning up the subway system and reducing crime have increased subway usage dramatically. But now many subway line are reaching their breaking point. Even on the weekend when there are less commuters and school kids filling the system, service is infrequent enough that the trains are still crowded.

Here are some short and long term ideas for reducing overcrowding on the subways.

  1. Increase subway service on the weekends to improve service and reduce overcrowding.
  2. Build out the biking infrastructure (Protected lanes, indoor/secure parking) to encourage shorter trips to be done by bike instead of subway/bus.
  3. Accelerate system expansion - especially finishing the complete Second Avenue Subway as quickly as possible.
  4. Quickly expand the BRT roll-out to supplement subway service and consider light rail for many
  5. Encourage more mixed use walkable pedestrian neighborhoods that eliminate the need for subway and bus utilization.

It's time for the city to get serious about long term planning to substantially increase the capacity of mass transit to safely and comfortably move people around and through our great city. And where will the money for all this come from? Perhaps congestion pricing, or changed formulas of how transportation money is matched by the Federal government on highways versus mass transit?

But now is the time to begin planning for better quality, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly transportation system.

Even shorter term improvements can greatly improve subway service. First, make train doors close faster. That greatly decreases the chance that someone will have enough time to both realize the doors are closing, and stick a hand/leg/other body part in. That increases reliability and reduces delays. Second, make the trains go at normal speed. The NYC Subway is ungodly slow: your typical local train reaches a top speed of just 30 mph right before braking for the next station, and an express can get up to 35 or even 40 on a reasonably long and straight track. There are a few trivial modifications that would have to be made to train control systems to allow trains to reach the speeds that they used to, and the signal systems might have to be redesigned, but probably not by much. And finally, the last improvement is not to throw out old trains when new ones are bought, and instead use them to increase peak hour service.

In the long term, upgrading the subway signal systems to some sort of automatic cab signal system system (kind of like what the LIRR has had since the 50s) would increase line capacity, and allow even faster speeds up to, say, 75 mph. And for system expansion, perhaps Madrid's $150 million per mile subway construction is a good model to follow. Of course, it would help to develop NYC's surface transportation network too, and for that I think the best option is light rail on busy corridors not served by subways, trolleybuses where light rail is not justified by demand, or where there is a parallel subway line, and buses everywhere else.

I suspect what you need is revived El Trains.

Also possibly some kind of radial railway linking Queens and Brooklyn?  As the centres of those boroughs are redeveloped as 'satellite cities'

I can see the lawsuits though-- this being America, and this being New York ;-).

I am (still) amazed that you let SUVs onto Manhattan during the peak hours.  We do too mind, but the Mayor wants to raise the Congestion Charge from them from £8 to £25.

In 1946, the ridership was higher, but the rapid transit system was also bigger. The Third Avenue El was still in operation along its full length, from South Ferry and City Hall to Bronx Park and Gun Hill Road. The Myrtle and Lexington Avenue lines in Brooklyn were still running, though no longer going over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan. The lines that we have today that we didn't have then are the Rockaway branch of the A train, which was still a LIRR service at that time, the three stations of the Archer Avenue subway, which were actually a replacement of the Jamaica Avenue El service, and the four stations of the 63rd Street line. There were also a few connections missing at that point: no connection from the 60th Street tunnel to the Queens Blvd line (used by the R train today), no connection between Church Avenue and Ditmas Avenue, (used by the F train today), and no connection between Broadway-Lafayette and the Manhattan Bridge. So we have had a net loss of both track miles and stations since that time. Also the fare in 1946 was five cents.
Also the fare in 1946 was five cents.

Just a little side note, since I've always been curious. According to stats I found doing a quick search, the average worker spent 2.01% of his income on train travel (assuming 10 $.05 trips per week, 52 weeks per year, based on a nonfarm salary of $1288.) In 2005, the average worker spent 2.24% of his income (assuming $2.00 trips, with a salary of $46,326.)

Of course, I'd like to see that $46,000 a year instead of what I have right now. It seems that most of the people who take public transportation make less than that (sometimes much less) so obviously they contribute a much higher percentage of their earnings. But it's a whole other story to see how much the average worker who takes public transportation spends on travel.

For your calculation today you should take the $76 monthly metrocard. That's $912 annually, or 1.98% of $46,000. And the 5 cent fare was by all accounts considered way too low in 1946, having been at that level since around the 1890s. It was raised to 10 cents in 1948 and 15 in I think 1953. Even for a minimum wage worker ($14872 annually, as of Jan 1, 2007), the monthly metrocard is 6% of their gross annual income, which is not unmanageable, especially considering that for that price you get transportation about as good as everyone else in the city does. And of course when you compare it to the costs of owning and operating a car, even the cheapest car, it's a pretty good deal.
God the zone 1 London Tube Pass (Zone 1 would be roughly equivalent to Manhattan, the Zones go out to 6) is £800 a year, or about $1600.

So Manhattan only, for $1600 pa.  For the Boroughs, closer to $3200.

A Tube Fare (one way) with Oyster Card (prepaid plastic card) is £1.40, by cash £2.50 so $2.80 and $5.00 respectively.

A bus fare is cheap though: £0.80 (and bus fares aren't zoned in the same way).  We have done more than you have (I think) to provide bus only routes in some areas, and 'red zones' (no stopping or you are towed).

We have these new 2 part 'bendy buses' which you get on and off at the back pairs of doors.  There is no longer a conductor (as there was in the Routemaster buses).  The net result of this is, I would estimate, that as many as 1 in 3 riders evades fare.

I am reminded that one of the real breakthroughs on New York crime was to nail fare jumpers.  It turns out that someone who is about to commit other crimes, is also far more likely to jump fare.

London's Tube (despite the prices, see other post) is essentially at 100% capacity.  It is also shockingly unreliable (a product of decades of underinvestment and misinvestment).

The desparately needed East to West extension under London ('CrossRail') will cost £16bn, and has again been delayed due to the cost of the Olympics (2012).

We have achieved growth in bus ridership: a 4% 'modal shift' from cars to buses.  Never before achieved in the history of public transport, and apparently the result of the Congestion Charge.

Even so, my conclusion now is that the only way we can handle the planned increase in people in London (perhaps as many as half a million by 2020-- for the first time since the 1920s, London's population of 8.5 million is actually increasing) is by increasing the number of trips made by bicycle.

No other technology offers the ability to increase the capacity (in terms of passenger journeys) of existing arteries at a cost which can be borne.

I think other cities will eventually come to this conclusion, as the Dutch and the Danish already have.  It will require active measures to slow down and discourage car traffic.

We have a considerable advantage on you in terms of climate though.  It's actually an ideal cycling climate (if a little wet).