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BM5 via Woodhaven

NY Times: Why New York’s Lettered Subway Lines Are ‘Cursed’

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Posted (edited)

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/nyregion/subway-lines-schedule-on-time.html

Subway officials in New York City held a news conference recently to celebrate the system’s progress. The on-time rate for trains hit 76 percent, they boasted, signaling a “renaissance” for the floundering system.

But that figure masks a surprising disparity.

While the numbered lines have seen a notable boost in reliability, many of the lettered lines are still delivering poor service. The F train has a miserable on-time rate of about 50 percent — the lowest in the system.

“It seems like there’s always something, from a sick passenger to signal problems,” said Paul Galloway, an F train rider who lives in Brooklyn and works at the Museum of Modern Art. “It just seems like a cursed line to me.”

It is clear that the subway is improving after hitting rock bottom in the summer of 2017, when a train derailed in Harlem and the on-time rate dipped below 65 percent — the worst of any major transit systemin the world. The subway’s leader, Andy Byford, has won accolades for making the system more reliable.

But the diverging fates of the lines represented by letters and numbers can feel like A Tale of Two Subways — a system where some riders see signs of hope while others continue to endure constant pain.

Subway leaders say there are several reasons for the gulf: schedule changes on the numbered lines that boosted the on-time rate; a computer system on the numbered lines that allows workers to more efficiently dispatch trains; the opening of the Second Avenue subway, which eased crowding on several numbered lines; and signal upgrades that improved service on another numbered line.

The trend has left some riders wondering how to game the system to get where they are going on time.

The numbered lines have more stops, but they arrive more regularly and are less prone to problems,” said Benjamin Kabak, who writes the Second Ave. Sagassubway blog and lives near several lines in Brooklyn. “Do you roll the dice and take the ideally faster way, or do you take the way you know is going to work?”

https://static01.nyt.com/newsgraphics/2019/03/15/subway/04c03e475d1f5d7c0c405f74248abaa521e89dc8/subway-Artboard_3.png

[Read more on why your subway trainmight start moving faster.]

The seven numbered subway lines are on time about 79 percent of the time, compared to about 68 percent for the fifteen lettered lines. Trains are considered on time if they reach the final stop within five minutes of the schedule.

One reason the lettered lines are lagging is that they have older equipment. Some lettered lines are slated to get modern signals, which should improve reliability. But Mr. Byford’s plan to modernize the entire subway will cost billions of dollars, and it is not clear whether state leaders will approve new funding streams for the transit system this year.

Still, every line has improved as part of a broader effort to make trains run faster, said Sally Librera, the head of the subways department. Workers are increasing speed limits on parts of the system and replacing faulty signals that slowed trains.

Transit officials point to other statistics that show subway service is improving, including fewer major incidents that delay 50 or more trains.

“We recognize that we have more to do,” Ms. Librera said. “But we’re encouraged by the progress that we’re seeing.”

The subway now has its best on-time rate in four years — a figure that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is highlighting as he presses state lawmakers to approve congestion pricing, a proposal to toll drivers entering the busiest part of Manhattan to raise money for the transit system. Mr. Cuomo, who controls the subway, is also pushing for reforms at the transit agency, though the State Senate issued a separate reform proposal.

Critics have raised concerns over the schedule changes in late 2017 that made it easier to ensure that certain numbered trains are on time. On the No. 6 line, five trains were eliminated at Grand Central Station in Manhattan during the morning rush from 7 to 9 a.m., according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

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There were 68 trains scheduled on the 6 line during the morning rush in June 2017. The number fell to 63 last year. The on-time rate for the 6 train jumped to 72 percent in January, up from 52 percent in September 2017.

“I’m inherently skeptical when they say we changed the schedule, and now everything is running on time,” Mr. Kabak said. “You’re running the risk of padding the schedule.”

Subway officials denied padding the schedule and said the changes were needed to accurately reflect how long it took to route trains through the system.

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“Adjusting schedules to accurately reflect actual system conditions allows for less train congestion and faster, more reliable service,” said Maxwell Young, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the system. “This, along with other significant factors such as the $800 million Subway Action Plan and deliberately improved operating procedures, have led to the recent subway performance gains.”

Though fewer trains are scheduled, the same number of trains are running on the 6 line during the morning rush — an average of about 61 trains, Mr. Young said. Officials also cut service on the No. 1 and 5 lines, which each lost two scheduled trains in Midtown Manhattan during the morning rush.

While fewer trains could help raise the on-time performance, they also can lead to more crowded trains and less capacity on the system. Each train can carry roughly 1,000 passengers.

Most riders never learned about the schedule changes. The authority’s board did not approve them because they only vote on “major” service changes, said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the authority. The schedule changes on the numbered lines were considered “minor” and the board was merely notified.

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An investigation by The New York Timesin 2017 revealed that the transit agency was running fewer trains. The Lexington Avenue line, which carries the 4, 5 and 6 trains, regularly failed to meet its schedule, effectively canceling dozens of trains and reducing the system’s capacity by tens of thousands of riders. At Grand Central Station, just 77 of 90 scheduled trains regularly ran through the stop from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

For years, the lettered trains actually had better on-time rates than the numbered trains, but that shifted in January 2018, shortly after the schedule changes took effect. Ms. Librera cited two other factors behind the resurgence: the Second Avenue line opened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in January 2017, drawing riders who had previously used the overburdened 4, 5 and 6 lines, which boosted the on-time rate for those lines. New signals on the No. 7 line also improved service.

Most experts agree that the system is bouncing back. Andrew Albert, a board member who represents riders, said he noticed trains running faster along the Lexington Avenue line in Manhattan where they used to move at a snail’s pace.

“Absolutely, it’s getting better,” he said. “I’m thwarted less often, and I notice the running times are much faster.”

Edited by BM5 via Woodhaven

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Music to my ears...

I wanna see coverage of the supplement schedules, too. Weekend OTP is up...because adding 15-20 mins of runtime to schedules is the norm now. 

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20 hours ago, RR503 said:

Music to my ears...

I wanna see coverage of the supplement schedules, too. Weekend OTP is up...because adding 15-20 mins of runtime to schedules is the norm now. 

They need to speed up the trains, that's what riders want. Being "on time" with slow zones still sucks

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Posted (edited)

The (7) is cursed too! Smoke in one of the Steinway tubes (just the latest thing to go wrong with this overburdened, overcrowded, delay-prone line). And here I thought it was going to be my lucky day with two Q16 buses coming one right behind the other. So much for that!

 

Edited by T to Dyre Avenue

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I’m wondering what “on time” really means. Is the subway actually moving faster, or maybe it’s because the MTA added padding at the terminals to make their numbers good but have no effect on the riders? I suspect it’s the latter one

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8 minutes ago, Mtatransit said:

I’m wondering what “on time” really means. Is the subway actually moving faster, or maybe it’s because the MTA added padding at the terminals to make their numbers good but have no effect on the riders? I suspect it’s the latter one

That's exactly it because the lettered lines are still utter garbage and the numbered lines aren't that much better. Yeah the trains are running a bit faster, but it takes so long to get one or to get on because of overcrowding.

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3 hours ago, Mtatransit said:

I’m wondering what “on time” really means. Is the subway actually moving faster, or maybe it’s because the MTA added padding at the terminals to make their numbers good but have no effect on the riders? I suspect it’s the latter one

There is a lot of padding, but that's much more a factor on weekends than weekdays -- weekday rush hours, especially, have been seeing some non-negligible runtime improvements. From the PCAC's recent report:

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Weekends are a different story. I do not (yet) have the runtime data to show conclusively what is going on, but the rise in OTP numbers seems to be much more a function of schedules getting padded to 20-25 mins beyond their normal length. Solution to that is work reform, not timers/speeds. 

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