The New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) has just released the results of its survey of planned weekend service diversions, “Don’t Count on It: A Study of Weekend Service Diversions”. The survey was conducted by the Council members in response to a widespread perception that weekend service is less frequent than schedules indicate and less reliable than service provided under normal conditions.
Council members collected information on posted information in affected stations alerting riders to service diversions as well as the quantity and reliability of the service itself. Members encountered accurate service change notices that provided information on assigned service changes in only two-thirds of the stations that they visited. The surveyors most often saw notices in station mezzanines or intermediate levels between the street and the platform, where notices were observed in three-quarters of the mezzanines that were visited. At the platform level surveyors found notices for assigned service changes only 42 percent of the time, and at street level observed relevant service notices only 22 percent of the time. This is a cause for concern, as the NYCTRC has long held that service change information should be available to passengers before they ascend or descend into a subway station.
The surveyors also collected information about the arrivals of trains involved in and affected by their assigned service changes, including the arrival time of each train passing their observation points. Surveyors noted instances of trains held in stations and announcements of service delays or changes in operation.
Members recorded the arrival times of trains passing their observation point in a one hour period and we compared this to the scheduled number and spacing of trains for that period. While schedules indicate that 168 trains should have passed our observation points, our members recorded a total of 149 trains, or about 89 percent of the scheduled service. This is consistent with the experience of many riders and with past statements of NYC Transit officials, who have acknowledged that they are sometimes unable to provide a scheduled level of service on weekends.
New York’s aging subway system generates a constant demand for track access for maintenance, repair, and improvement to the system, and changes in weekend subway service to accommodate work within the system will continue. At the same time, inconvenience to riders must be minimized by increasing available information and by providing service according to a realistic schedule that can be maintained even with major changes to service patterns. Availability of information through email, text messages, and the internet must be increased and information must be made readily available to software developers to be view on electronic devices through third-party applications. Improvements must also be made to printed posters announcing planned service changes.
The NYCTRC finds the current situation, where riders are promised a level of service that NYC Transit often fails to provide, unacceptable. The NYCTRC believes that NYC Transit should operate the highest level of subway service that is justified by ridership and is consistent with maintaining acceptable regularity of service. Realistic appraisals of what can be effectively provided are needed, and NYC Transit must make every effort to inform riders when work in the system will make service less frequent or regular than riders expect. Subway riders in New York are generally resilient and able to use alternative service to travel where they need to go, but they must know when allowances will need to be made. It is the least that those who operate the system can do for its riders.