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N.Y. Subway, Facing a $16 Billion Deficit, Plans for Deep Cuts

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https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/nyregion/mta-subway-financial-cuts.html

The transit agency will announce budget cuts on Wednesday. Officials are hoping federal assistance will help ease the crisis that the pandemic has created.

Transit leaders say they will try to avoid major service cuts but acknowledge that riders may face a diminished system.  

Facing one of the biggest financial crises in the history of the subway, New York’s public transportation agency is preparing drastic measures to restore its finances that are likely to affect riders for years to come.

The measures the agency is drafting include reducing service, slashing the transit work force, scrapping planned infrastructure improvements, raising tolls beyond scheduled increases and adding to its already record-high debt, according to officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subway, buses and two commuter rails.

With forecasts showing a staggering budget shortfall of $16.2 billion through 2024, transit leaders now say that at least some of these cuts are unavoidable as the system copes with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The agency’s adopted budget for 2020-21 totaled $34.5 billion.

“There have been financial crises before, but never one where the deficits were measured in billions on top of billions on top of billions of dollars,” Patrick J. Foye, the M.T.A. chairman, said in an interview. “That’s why these unpalatable, unacceptable alternatives have to be considered.”

He added: “We are going to have to make hard choices no matter what happens here.”

Across the country, transit systems have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic: Lockdowns led to an over 90 percent drop in ridership while the cost of running service for essential workers increased because of stringent disinfection protocols.

In New York, transit officials said that they would only resort to severe cuts if they have no other options.

They stressed that additional emergency federal assistance would help stave off some of these reductions — part of a broader political strategy to pressure Washington to provide assistance in the $3 trillion relief package being debated in Congress this week.

Officials say it is not yet clear how the authority will fare in the stimulus package negotiations. In March, the agency received $3.8 billion — nearly its full initial request — in the first federal stimulus.

But even with more federal aid, cost-saving efforts and cuts that have already been made, the authority still faces a multibillion-dollar budget hole.

The agency’s increasingly acute financial emergency marks a sharp reversal of the system’s recent strides toward reliability after years of disinvestment plunged the subway into a state of emergency in 2017.

Now the likelihood that the system will be cut back risks undermining New York City’s chance of an economic recovery at a time when its unemployment rate has climbed to over 20 percent.

“The M.T.A. is both a source of the region’s economy and a reflection of the region’s economy,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at N.Y.U. “This is the most severe crisis the M.T.A. has ever faced because the state is facing a crisis, the city is facing a crisis.”

The grim financial forecast, which transit officials are expected to present to the authority’s board on Wednesday, paints a bleaker picture for public transit than in past crises.

After the great recession in 2008, the M.T.A. eliminated two subway lines and dozens of bus routes to close a major budget gap. And with the city on the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s, the subway became a global symbol of urban decay with rampant crime, graffiti-covered trains and constant mechanical breakdowns.

When the pandemic enveloped New York and the city shut down, nearly all of the system’s operating revenue — which comes from fares and tolls, taxes and subsidies — vanished.

Even as New York has started to slowly reopen, daily subway ridership has plateaued at around 20 percent of its usual 5.5 million passengers in recent weeks.

This year, the agency projects that it will face $5.1 billion in lost fare and toll revenues and $2.1 billion in losses from dedicated taxes and subsidies. In 2021, it estimates those losses at $3.9 billion from fares and tolls and $1.9 billion for subsidies.

To fill the immediate operating budget shortfall, transit officials are lobbying for another $3.9 billion to be included in the next coronavirus relief package. That additional funding would cover the M.T.A.’s operating deficit through the end of the year.

“Without federal funding, the M.T.A. can’t possibly get out of this by being lean without reducing service in a way that would be devastating for riders,” said Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst at Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group.

But even if the public transit system does receive additional federal assistance this year, the agency will still have to slash spending because of declines in ridership and in dedicated tax revenues, which are expected to drop because of the weakness of the city economy.

The M.T.A. board is expected on Wednesday to approve initial cost-cutting measures that will provide $1 billion in savings in 2021 by trimming nonessential services, including reducing overtime and eliminating consulting contracts.

But these steps will only begin to offset the pandemic’s financial fallout. The authority’s board, controlled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will find deeper budget cuts in the coming months — worrying advocates who warn that riders may have to shoulder the burden for years.

“Turning to the old levers of fare hikes and service cuts would send the transit system into a death spiral,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, a grass-roots organization of transit riders. “When a system becomes less functional because of service cuts or less accessible because of fare hikes, people leave it.”

To start, transit officials say the authority will probably have to take on more long-term debt and shift funds to cover operating expenses that had been set aside for its $51 billion plan to modernize the antiquated subway system.

The state has already given the M.T.A. permission to divert funds set aside for capital improvements to operating costs over the next two years and to issue bonds so it can borrow up to $10 billion in long-term debt and also borrow up to $3.4 billion as part of a short-term lending program set up by the Federal Reserve.

If the financial situation deteriorates further, transit leaders may have to consider furloughs or layoffs.

In a modest silver lining for riders, the precipitous decline in ridership means that fare hikes that have not already been scheduled in the next two years are unlikely since they would not produce significant new revenue.

But as funds set aside for the agency’s capital program are plundered, the system will continue to be hobbled by aging equipment — making it hard to improve service and entice riders back onto trains.

“Without constantly investing in capital improvements and expansions, they will never rebuild the ridership they lost or attract new ridership through growth,” said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Five years from now, there is a good chance they will have still crippled finances and lower ridership but will have increased their debt burden enormously.”

Still, transit leaders argue that there are few alternatives — beyond increased federal assistance — to stabilize the system in the face of a catastrophic financial crisis.

“The deficit the M.T.A. faces is not one we can just cut our way out of,” Mr. Foye said.

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Grim stuff ahead. Even with federal funding coming in (not a guarantee with these scumbags in the White House), we're look at the MTA maintaining the operating budget only. That means we can wave goodbye to the whole Byford plan, and probably a number of important capital programs. 

That said, the model that some of the advocacy groups have been sharing as an example of 'what could happen' is so stupid that it's almost counterproductive. If dire service cuts were to occur, you'd see express service, extra rush hour service, and overnight service curtailed. You would not see the harebrained stuff on their posters, like entire trunk lines (1/2/3, 7) being abandoned while full service ran on other lines (4/5/6). 

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Posted (edited)
Quote

“The M.T.A. is both a source of the region’s economy and a reflection of the region’s economy,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at N.Y.U.

A large concentration of the jobs being in one general location & so high of a percentage of transit dependent patrons of that overall region, would yield that.....

Quote

“Without constantly investing in capital improvements and expansions, they will never rebuild the ridership they lost or attract new ridership through growth,” said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Five years from now, there is a good chance they will have still crippled finances and lower ridership but will have increased their debt burden enormously.”

Ridership was on a steady decline well before covid & on top of that, the WFH crowd, the germaphobes, and those that are seriously using the subway now, yeah - that ridership's pretty much toast also...

44 minutes ago, MHV9218 said:

That said, the model that some of the advocacy groups have been sharing as an example of 'what could happen' is so stupid that it's almost counterproductive. If dire service cuts were to occur, you'd see express service, extra rush hour service, and overnight service curtailed. You would not see the harebrained stuff on their posters, like entire trunk lines (1/2/3, 7) being abandoned while full service ran on other lines (4/5/6). 

Yeah, and on here, we have this beautiful prediction (and the subsequent explanation) for the immediate future of the MTA's operation of buses in this city..... It's definitively counterproductive & it's no different than the *MTA will fold* shit that the Honchkrow character was on here fear mongering with....

 

Edited by B35 via Church
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I'll just quote what I posted last week. My ranking for cost-cutting measures would be OPTO, then peak service cuts. If ridership doesn't rebound, only a train every 4 minutes is needed on the trunk lines - basically what the IRT runs during regular weekday hours.

FWIW I think ridership will plateau for the rest of the year and the service cuts are coming sooner than later.

On 7/15/2020 at 11:58 AM, Caelestor said:

I don't think short turns such as 137 St on the (1) and Myrtle-Wyckoff on the (L) are going away. In terms of fleet requirements, short turns are very efficient because fewer trains need to run empty to the ends of the lines, especially during peak hours when the labor requirement is the highest. For that reason, I think the (W) could actually be safe this time around and it would be the (N) (peak) headways that would get longer.

Following this logic, what would be cut is a combination of peak-only and express service, especially if more people are WFH, so that service is more uniform throughout the day. If I had to make some tough decisions:

  • Eliminate (J)(Z) skip-stop service: this might be a service improvement for local riders.
  • Cut the (B) to 145 St. I don't think the (B) can be removed from Brighton, 6 Ave, or even CPW without consequence but most Concourse riders prefer the (D) anyways. 
  • Eliminate rush-hour (A) trains to Rockaway Park. The excess trains could be sent to Lefferts Blvd instead.
  • Brooklyn IRT reconfiguration:
    • Extend the (4) to New Lots Ave full-time, running local east of Franklin Ave. Most (4) trains run express between Franklin and Utica Aves during rush hours to minimize congestion at Rogers Junction.
    • Make Flatbush Ave the usual terminal for the (3). Some (3) trains run local to New Lots Ave during peak hours.
    • Make Utica Ave the usual weekday terminal for the (5). During peak hours, some trains may be extended to New Lots Ave or shortened to Bowling Green to minimize congestion.
    • This "allows for" further cutbacks to the part-time (3) and (5) services if necessary.
  • Death by a thousand cuts - Longer peak headways on the (B)(D)(M)(N)(Q)(R)

That said, I would just switch to OPTO like every other metro in the world, and redirect the excess staff to managing crowds at busy stations. It's possible to reduce costs without actually impacting paying passengers.

 

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27 minutes ago, B35 via Church said:

Yeah, and on here, we have this beautiful prediction (and the subsequent explanation) for the immediate future of the MTA's operation of buses in this city..... It's definitively counterproductive & it's no different than the *MTA will fold* shit that the Honchkrow character was on here fear mongering with....

Damn, I really clicked on that and spent a few minutes trying to get the map to load. Feel like I got rickroll'd. I'm billing him for the hours. Yeah, that's never happening.

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1 minute ago, MHV9218 said:

Damn, I really clicked on that and spent a few minutes trying to get the map to load. Feel like I got rickroll'd. I'm billing him for the hours. Yeah, that's never happening.

I smirked at it the second I saw it & closed the tab afterwards....

You can have your predictions, but their basis need to be put into question & perspective.... It's one thing to want the MTA to get its act together - it's another to suggest that some outside entity/private operation take on the vast majority of the city's commuters by way of the city's roads....

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Posted (edited)

Friendly reminder that the easiest, quickest and most impactful way to reform the MTA's cost structure is to get a handle on its productivity and process issues. Break down silos, do OPTO, reform maintenance procedures, etc. I would personally start with maintenance: NYCT spends more facility maintainer-hours per mile than does any US system outside NYC *by a factor of 5*.

It's nice to be back.

Edited by RR503
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16 minutes ago, RR503 said:

Friendly reminder that the easiest, quickest and most impactful way to reform the MTA's cost structure is to get a handle on its productivity and process issues. Break down silos, do OPTO, reform maintenance procedures, etc. I would personally start with maintenance: NYCT spends more facility maintainer-hours per mile than does any US system outside NYC *by a factor of 5*.

It's nice to be back.

Where in Hades have you been?

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Posted (edited)
27 minutes ago, Deucey said:

Where in Hades have you been?

Walking on the coals, tending the furnaces....;) 

Edited by RR503
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1 minute ago, RR503 said:

Walking the coals, tending the furnaces....;) 

Do they have steam trains there?

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45 minutes ago, RR503 said:

Friendly reminder that the easiest, quickest and most impactful way to reform the MTA's cost structure is to get a handle on its productivity and process issues. Break down silos, do OPTO, reform maintenance procedures, etc. I would personally start with maintenance: NYCT spends more facility maintainer-hours per mile than does any US system outside NYC *by a factor of 5*.

It's nice to be back.

How do you get the union on board with OPTO? Telling them many of them will be laid off as fewer service will need to be run?

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Posted (edited)
1 minute ago, Union Tpke said:

Do they have steam trains there?

We sure do. Also some electric trackage on the core routes, with timed transfers to steam shuttles into the pits.

RE: OPTO, I'm no labor relations expert, but yes, that would seem like the conversation necessary to have. 

Edited by RR503
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Just now, RR503 said:

We sure do. Also some electric trackage on the core routes, with timed transfers to steam shuttles into the pits.

Any plans to replace your locos with GG1s?

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Just now, Union Tpke said:

Any plans to replace your locos with GG1s?

Those went to heaven. We got the E60s.

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3 minutes ago, RR503 said:

RE: OPTO, I'm no labor relations expert, but yes, that would seem like the conversation necessary to have. 

Do you think it is better to go further into debt to save existing frequencies, or cut service? They are both awful options.

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1 minute ago, Union Tpke said:

Do you think it is better to go further into debt to save existing frequencies, or cut service? They are both awful options.

I don’t think that’s the tradeoff at hand. I have confidence that the feds will pull through, the question is with how much money, and what to cut to fill the last x hundred million gap. 

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Bringing this over from Proposals/Ideas where we had been discussing this:

If we did have severe service cuts, here's how I would do it with some variations:

(1) and (2) run as they do now, except (2) runs local in Manhattan.

(3) is a shuttle between 148-Lenox Terminal and 34th Street Penn Station at all times, running express.

(4) runs at all times from Woodlawn-New Lots Avenue, local throughout

(5) runs all times except late nights between Dyre Avenue and Grand Central (late nights runs as it does now)

(6) and (7) run as they do now, but no express service peak hours

(A) runs all times between 207th and Far Rockaway (have to keep the (A) to Far Rockaway because of JFK travelers), local in Manhattan and Brooklyn

(B)(W) and (Z) are eliminated.

(C) becomes a shuttle between Euclid Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard at all times except rush hours, when it runs as an express to and from 34th Street-Penn Station or Columbus Circle.

(D) runs as it does now except it also is now a local in Manhattan all times and in Brooklyn late nights

(E)(F)(N) and (Q) run as they do now.

(G) returns to running from Church Avenue to 71st-Continental (local throughout).

(H) becomes the official shuttle between Rockaway Park and Euclid Avenue.

(J) switches places with the current (M) and runs via 6th Avenue, 63rd Street and SAS to 96th Street-2nd Avenue, becoming orange in the process.  No skip-stop.

(brownM) returns to brown and runs Metropolitan Avenue to 95th Street-Bay Ridge at all times and replaces the (J) on Nassau (basically a variation of the old <RR> "bankers special" now running 24/7).  

(R) runs from Whitehall Street-71st Continental at all times except overnights and is replaced in Brooklyn by the (brownM)

Grand Central-Times Square (S) runs rush hours only

Franklin Avenue (S) runs as it does now

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Posted (edited)
21 minutes ago, Wallyhorse said:

Bringing this over from Proposals/Ideas where we had been discussing this:

If we did have severe service cuts, here's how I would do it with some variations:

(1) and (2) run as they do now, except (2) runs local in Manhattan.

(3) is a shuttle between 148-Lenox Terminal and 34th Street Penn Station at all times, running express.

(4) runs at all times from Woodlawn-New Lots Avenue, local throughout

(5) runs all times except late nights between Dyre Avenue and Grand Central (late nights runs as it does now)

(6) and (7) run as they do now, but no express service peak hours

(A) runs all times between 207th and Far Rockaway (have to keep the (A) to Far Rockaway because of JFK travelers), local in Manhattan and Brooklyn

(B)(W) and (Z) are eliminated.

(C) becomes a shuttle between Euclid Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard at all times except rush hours, when it runs as an express to and from 34th Street-Penn Station or Columbus Circle.

(D) runs as it does now except it also is now a local in Manhattan all times and in Brooklyn late nights

(E)(F)(N) and (Q) run as they do now.

(G) returns to running from Church Avenue to 71st-Continental (local throughout).

(H) becomes the official shuttle between Rockaway Park and Euclid Avenue.

(J) switches places with the current (M) and runs via 6th Avenue, 63rd Street and SAS to 96th Street-2nd Avenue, becoming orange in the process.  No skip-stop.

(brownM) returns to brown and runs Metropolitan Avenue to 95th Street-Bay Ridge at all times and replaces the (J) on Nassau (basically a variation of the old <RR> "bankers special" now running 24/7).  

(R) runs from Whitehall Street-71st Continental at all times except overnights and is replaced in Brooklyn by the (brownM)

Grand Central-Times Square (S) runs rush hours only

Franklin Avenue (S) runs as it does now

If we did have to cut service, I would modify your proposal as follows. 

(1) - unchanged from your proposal 

(2) - remains the Broadway-7 Av Express

(3) - suspended

(4) - remains express on Lexington Av (still local in Brooklyn and extended to New Lots)

(5) - Suspended

(6) - unchanged from your proposal

(7) - unchanged from your proposal

(A) - Retains current Express service on 8 Av and Fulton for trains going to Far Rockaway. Lefferts Blvd trains make local stops (or even eliminate Lefferts Blvd trains in favor of bus service connecting Rockaway Blvd and the local stops to Lefferts, and modifying headways on the Far Rockaway (A)).

(B) - Suspended

(C) - Suspended

(D) - Local service between Bedford Park Blvd and 59 St Columbus Circle. Rest of the route unchanged.

(E) - Remove 179 St rush hour trips, and local service on Queens Blvd

(F) - Remove all short-turn (F) trains (Church Av, Kings Highway, and Av X)

(G) - Retain current service pattern

(J) - Local service only from Broad St to Jamaica Center

(L) - Remove Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs, Broadway Jct, and E105 St Short-turns

(M) - Shuttle train service from Myrtle Av to Metropolitan Av

(N) - Local from Coney Island to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd (same as late night service pattern)

(Q) - Retains current service pattern

(R) - Suspended

(W) - Suspended

All shuttle train service is suspended (42nd St / Rockaway / Franklin) in favor of existing Bus service.

 

Headways would need to be analyzed based on foot traffic and social distancing guidelines (but start from a base 20-minute headway on all routes and increase only as necessary). In my proposal, we minimize the use of switch towers and operators, since most lines will be assigned one set of tracks and interlining is minimal, if not completely eliminated.

 

The only portions of shared-track territory would be

- Eastern Parkway local (2) (4) 

- Jamaica Line at Myrtle Av (J)(M)

- Culver Line from Bergen St to Church Av (F)(G)

 

however, automation and upgrades to switches, tracks, signals, etc. must be accelerated actually in order to lead to more automatic operation in the subway, leaving only repair workers and contractors left over to repair mechanical failures.

Edited by darkstar8983
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2 hours ago, B35 via Church said:

Ridership was on a steady decline well before covid & on top of that, the WFH crowd, the germaphobes, and those that are seriously  using the subway now, yeah - that ridership's pretty much toast also...

ouch...

That should read "those that are seriously SCARED TO USE the subway now"

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3 hours ago, Union Tpke said:

How do you get the union on board with OPTO? Telling them many of them will be laid off as fewer service will need to be run?

So *normally*, places like London Underground transitioned redundant workers into other roles and let attrition take its place, either via normal means or paying people to retire.

I don't think that just straight up laying off people would play very well, particularly during an economic depression.

Interestingly enough, here in Seattle the county is reopening the labor contract due to the extreme circumstances, and is seeking to stop pay raises in an effort to save jobs. This was done and agreed to during the '08 recession, and it saved jobs while preserving service.

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4 hours ago, RR503 said:

NYCT spends more facility maintainer-hours per mile than does any US system outside NYC *by a factor of 5*.

On the topic of maintenance, I wonder how feasible it'd be to move to the European model. These days in Europe rolling stock contracts are also maintenance contracts; the manufacturer agrees to be responsible for the maintenance of vehicles for the duration of its lifetime. So in London the new Crossrail rolling stock was purchased from Bombardier, and Bombardier is also paying the maintenance workers and the depot expenses for the duration of the service contract; how they do it is largely up to them so long as they meet the agreed upon reliability standards, and agree to pay the prevailing wages.

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Posted (edited)

After the debacle of my "future MTA bus map", it's time for some serious policy proposals regarding the subway in the face of this adversity. Of course, these are still dire (as should be expected). All services should expect sizable reductions to frequencies, so this post solely covers changes in route alignments:

(1) - No changes.

:15x15_px_02: - No changes.

(3) - Late night and weekend service eliminated. Current weekday service pattern is retained.

(4) - Rush-hour trips to New Lots Avenue eliminated.

(5) - White Plains express and Nereid Avenue services eliminated. Weekday service is cut back to Bowling Green, and weekend service is reduced to operate as a shuttle from E. 180th to Eastchester.

(6) - Express service eliminated.

(7) - Express service eliminated.

Times Square (S) - Only one track will be in operation.

(A) - Elimination of Rockaway Park service.

(B) - Service reduced to peak hours only between 145th Street and Brighton Beach.

(C) - No changes.

(D) - No changes.

(E) - Jamaica/179th trips eliminated.

(F) - Elimination of Culver express service.

(G) - Southern terminus truncated to Smith-9th Street from Church Avenue.

(J)/(Z) - Elimination of (Z) service. In addition, weekend (J) service now terminates at Essex Street instead of Broad Street.

(L) - One out of two trains operates from 8th Avenue to Myrtle/Wyckoff only, 24/7.

(M) - Late-night and weekend service cut back to operate solely from Broadway/Myrtle to Middle Village.

(N) - Now operates local on Broadway at all times.

(Q) - No changes.

(R) - Late-night service cut back to operate solely between 59th and 95th Streets in Brooklyn.

Franklin Avenue (S) - Eliminated.

Rockaway Park (S) - Eliminated.

(W) - Eliminated.

 

Edited by 67thAve
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2 hours ago, B35 via Church said:

ouch...

That should read "those that are seriously SCARED TO USE the subway now"

Part of that is because of the bad PR public transport gets regarding cleanliness and health (even before the pandemic). Government advice (not just in NY, but in other places domestically and internationally) has also stated that, in effect, public transit should be the "mobility of last resort", which makes the recovery process even more difficult.

Scaremongering doesn't particularly work well. Instead, what the MTA should be doing is reassure people through quality marketing (something which the agency is NOT good at) that subways and buses are indeed safe to ride.

Case in point, take a gander at Transdev UK's PSA:

 

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5 hours ago, Wallyhorse said:

Bringing this over from Proposals/Ideas where we had been discussing this:

If we did have severe service cuts, here's how I would do it with some variations:

(1) and (2) run as they do now, except (2) runs local in Manhattan.

(3) is a shuttle between 148-Lenox Terminal and 34th Street Penn Station at all times, running express.

(4) runs at all times from Woodlawn-New Lots Avenue, local throughout

(5) runs all times except late nights between Dyre Avenue and Grand Central (late nights runs as it does now)

(6) and (7) run as they do now, but no express service peak hours

(A) runs all times between 207th and Far Rockaway (have to keep the (A) to Far Rockaway because of JFK travelers), local in Manhattan and Brooklyn

(B)(W) and (Z) are eliminated.

(C) becomes a shuttle between Euclid Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard at all times except rush hours, when it runs as an express to and from 34th Street-Penn Station or Columbus Circle.

(D) runs as it does now except it also is now a local in Manhattan all times and in Brooklyn late nights

(E)(F)(N) and (Q) run as they do now.

(G) returns to running from Church Avenue to 71st-Continental (local throughout).

(H) becomes the official shuttle between Rockaway Park and Euclid Avenue.

(J) switches places with the current (M) and runs via 6th Avenue, 63rd Street and SAS to 96th Street-2nd Avenue, becoming orange in the process.  No skip-stop.

(brownM) returns to brown and runs Metropolitan Avenue to 95th Street-Bay Ridge at all times and replaces the (J) on Nassau (basically a variation of the old <RR> "bankers special" now running 24/7).  

(R) runs from Whitehall Street-71st Continental at all times except overnights and is replaced in Brooklyn by the (brownM)

Grand Central-Times Square (S) runs rush hours only

Franklin Avenue (S) runs as it does now

You must be out of your dam mind if you think you can run the (4) via Lexington Av Local full time.

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