Tag Archives: metropolitan transportation authority

The NYC Subway: Squeezing the Serfs

The demand for subway service is soaring. In the private sector, such soaring demand would probably lead to more service. Why not at the MTA, where peak hour subway service is more than 20 percent lower than it had been 60 years ago, as I showed here?

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/nyc-subway-service-am-peak-hour-in-1954-and-2014/

I plan to review a number of technical and financial issues below, but will state the underlying issue up front.

Who rides the subway? People that the political/union class, the New York State politicians and the interest groups that support them, think of as serfs. Younger generations, who have been made successively worse off in the economy, public policy and even family life. And who tend not to vote, and certainly do not challenge incumbent politicians by running for office in state and local elections. Immigrants, who can neither run nor vote. And the working poor, young and old, immigrant and native. Many of these people chose to move to New York City precisely so they could live a life that was not organized around automobiles. And the political/union class, whose members tend to drive everywhere and think of mass transit, walking and bicycling as beneath them, seek to make the serfs pay as much as possible with as little as possible in return, for transit and in general. Because they can. No so much up front, which might provoke a reaction, but in the future, which has a way of becoming the present.

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NYC Subway Service: AM Peak Hour In 1954 and 2014

After years of soaring ridership, the NYC subway has reached the level of patronage that it had immediately after WWII, before the onset of mass automobile ownership. According to the MTA…

http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ffsubway.htm

in 2014 annual subway ridership was at the highest level since 1948, at 1.75 billion rides. At first rising ridership was an unmitigated benefit. Through the 1960s and 1970s, as the subway deteriorated, people only used it when they had to – to travel to and from work in Manhattan in the AM and PM peak. As annual ridership fell below 1 billion the system ran mostly empty the rest of the time, a cost without revenue – and a security risk for those still on the trains. As new people started moving to New York City precisely because they wanted to be able to use mass transit and walk to things rather than drive, however, off peak ridership recovered, filling the once empty trains and allowing the system to carry more people without more service.

In the past year or two, however, the system has hit the wall. Suddenly it has become severely overcrowded, causing increasing discomfort, delay and unreliability. Personally I find riding the subway to be a worse experience than it has been since the 1980s, when track fires, track failures, and trains out of service were common, doors kept breaking, and lights flickered on and off. For more than a year, therefore, I’ve been searching for evidence of what the level of subway service used to be, back when ridership was last this high. And now I may have found it, and can show that the subway system is squeezing more riders into fewer trains and subway cars. Subway riders, it seems, have it worse than 60 years ago.

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