Tag Archives: New York City

It’s the Deferred Maintenance, Stupid

A couple of weeks ago, there was a flurry of stories blaming New York subway problems on overcrowding. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) presented data showing that the number of delays caused by crowding had tripled since 2014, while the number caused by track maintenance or signal problems had remained relatively constant.

The MTA also helpfully pointed out that the number of trips taken on the subway had grown from 1 billion a year in 1990 to 1.8 billion in 2015, while the number of miles of subway lines and subway cars had remained relatively constant. That sounded persuasive, but the Antiplanner was suspicious. This explanation conveniently shifts the blame from MTA’s mismanagement to subway users and also invites the solution of giving MTA a lot of money to increase capacities–a solution MTA would be very happy to implement.

Besides, New York subway ridership first reached 1.8 billion way back in 1926, when the system had many fewer route miles than it has today. Construction of the Independent system, which is more than a quarter of the total, began in 1932 and wasn’t completed until 1940. Subway riders in 1926 complained the trains were crowded, but delays due to that crowding weren’t a significant problem. Continue reading

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Transit Ridership Down? Blame Uber

New York City subways are becoming less reliable, with delays growing from 28,000 per month in 2012 to 70,000 in 2016. To fix the problems, MTA did a lot of maintenance work in 2016, mainly at night or on the weekends.

Ridership data for 2016 are now in, and they show that weekday ridership grew slightly but weekend ridership fell by 3 percent. So who do they blame? Uber. Isn’t it more likely that the decline was due to all the maintenance work done over the weekends?

Perhaps so, but it is still possible that Uber is having an impact. In 2015, New York subways carried an average of around 4.4 million trips on a typical weekend day, so a 3 percent decline is about 133,000. Based on an analysis by Todd Schneider, Uber and Lyft carried about 141,000 trips on January 9, 2016 and 270,000 trips on January 7, 2017 (both of which are Saturdays), an increase of about 129,000. Taxi ridership declined by about 32,000 in that time period, so it appears possible that Uber and Lyft may have captured up to 97,000 riders away from the subway, or about 73 percent of the subway’s weekend decline. We don’t know that all of those 97,000 people would have taken the subway, so the actual capture is probably less.

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The $4.5 Billion New Year’s Party

New York City celebrated the new year by opening the insanely expensive Second Avenue Subway. Just two miles and three stations long, this subway line cost nearly $4.5 billion, or more than $35,000 per inch, making it the most expensive subway in the world.

Of course, not all of that money went for digging tunnels and laying track, which cost “only” $734 million (which is still more than $5,000 per inch). The three stations cost $800 million each. But that’s not all: to complete the Second Avenue subway, the city also spend $500 million on engineering and $800 million for “management, real estate, station artwork, fare-collection systems and other sundry items.” If the entire New York City subway system cost that much, it would have cost more than $500 billion, or roughly the cost of the entire 47,856-mile Interstate Highway System in today’s dollars.

Of course, the city didn’t pay for it alone. The federal government chipped in at least $1.3 billion. The state of New York put in some money, but much of the money probably came from bridge tolls paid by auto drivers. Actual riders of the Second Avenue subway will pay very little of the cost and what they do pay will be paid indirectly.

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A Streetcar Plan Grows in Brooklyn

New York is far denser than any other large American city, with an average of 27,000 people per square mile compared with 2,500 to 4,000 for most American cities. Although the city is criss-crossed by an extensive subway system, there are still some neighborhoods that are more than half a mile from a subway station.

So naturally, what those neighborhoods need is an ultra-low-capacity, high-cost form of urban transit: a streetcar. At least, that’s what Mayor Bill de Blasio thinks: last week, he proposed to spend $2.5 billion building a 16-mile streetcar line connecting Brooklyn with Queens.

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World Boondoggle Center

The World Trade Center that was destroyed almost ten years ago was a frequently photographed symbol of New York City, but it was also a huge boondoggle of the New York & New Jersey Port Authority that was heavily subsidized by motorists paying bridge tolls. So of course, it is completely appropriate that the building that will replace it will be an even bigger boondoggle, costing $3.3 billion. As New York Times columnist Joe Nocera says, this is “an example of just about everything wrong with modern government.”

Still under construction.
Flickr photo by Sergey Shpakovsky.

This price tag will make it “by far, the most expensive office building ever constructed in America,” yet it “will add 2.6 million square feet of office space in a city that doesn’t need it.” At the time the original, 13.4 million-square-foot World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11/01, Manhattan already had more than enough vacant office space to make up for it. At the most recent report I can find, downtown Manhattan alone currently has more than 10 million square feet of vacant space.

The building will be just one part of “a staggering $11 billion worth of government-sponsored construction,” says Nocera, including a subway station that is already $1 billion over budget. How fitting that we celebrate the attack that led to the most expensive war we’ve ever fought with the most expensive war memorial ever built. Of course, somewhere with 72 virgins, Osama Bin Laden is laughing away, because what better way to defeat the Americans than to get them to spend themselves into oblivion.

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New York Rediscovers the Bus

Tongues are wagging in New York City about a new transportation technology that doesn’t require you to descend into a dank tunnel smelling of urine, sweat, and lysol. The new technology is called a bus, and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority used one to introduce a new bus-rapid transit line two years ago. Not only has it attracted many new riders, it has done so without costing more than $2 billion a mile and more than a decade of planning and construction to start it up.

New York’s Bx12 “Select Bus Service.”
Wikipedia commons photo by Adam E. Moreira.

The new bus, called the Bx12 SBS, has been pretty successful. Costing just $10 million to start, the new line offers frequent service with specially painted buses (as FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff says, “paint is cheaper than trains”), quick boarding with a light-rail-like fare system (which means some riders don’t bother to pay), and priority at traffic signals (which doesn’t mean no red lights). The resulting buses are 41 percent faster than the local buses, and have attracted 11.5 percent new riders to the corridor.

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