Deteriorating subway station wall at 168th Street

In 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) due to ongoing reliability and crowding problems with mass transit in New York City. This order applied particularly to the New York City Subway, which was the most severely affected by dilapidated infrastructure, causing overcrowding and delays. With many parts of the system approaching or exceeding 100 years of age, general deterioration could be seen in many subway stations. By 2017, only 65% of weekday trains reached their destinations on time, the lowest rate since a transit crisis in the 1970s. To a lesser extent, New York City buses operated by the MTA were also affected. Both the subway and the buses are run by the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), a subsidiary of the MTA. A separate crisis at Penn Station affected the routes of the three railroad agencies that provided service into the station.

There were a myriad of causes attributed to the transit crisis. The subway was affected by a lack of funds, signal slowdowns, and broken-down infrastructure. The buses were also affected by a lack of funds, but individual routes had additional problems including low frequencies, slow speeds, and winding routes. Money from the MTA in general was withheld due to actions from politicians at both the city and state levels, from both the Democratic Party and Republican Party. These issues caused delays for passengers for both systems, ranging from moderate to severe, as well as resulted in thousands of hours of lost time for passengers. Additionally, ridership on the subway started declining for the first time in several years, and ridership on buses continued a gradual decline that had started before the crisis.

Several solutions were proposed. In July 2017, MTA chairman Joe Lhota created a multifaceted "Subway Action Plan" that consisted of a short-term solution to improve reliability and increase capacity, as well as long-term solutions that implemented improvement ideas from a public "Genius Challenge". A corresponding "Bus Action Plan" was released in April 2018. Later that year, the Regional Plan Association released a report that advocated for large investments to the subway system. Governor Cuomo also proposed implementing congestion pricing in New York City in order to fund the MTA. In 2018, the MTA hired Andy Byford from the Toronto Transit Commission as the new NYCTA chief in an attempt to solve the transit crisis. Byford presented a report titled "Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit" to tackle the issues plaguing the transit system.

Declaration of crisis

On June 27, 2017, thirty-nine people were injured when an A train derailed at 125th Street[1] because the emergency brakes were activated after the train hit an improperly secured piece of replacement rail.[2][3] The next day, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the subway system.[4] This state of emergency had also arisen after several track fires[5][6] and overcrowding incidents.[5][7] As part of the order, he ordered MTA Chairman Joe Lhota to come up with a reorganization plan within 30 days.[4] A day later, the MTA officially announced the Genius Transit Challenge, where contestants could submit ideas to improve signals, communications infrastructure, or rolling stock. The winner of each of the three challenges was to receive a million dollars and have their idea implemented systemwide.[8][9]

At Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan, a separate transit crisis developed because Amtrak had postponed the maintenance of infrastructure around the station, which was the nation's busiest.[10] In early 2017, this culminated in numerous power outages, derailments, and delays due to track maintenance. There were frequent service disruptions to Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit train schedules caused by the deterioration of its tracks and their supporting infrastructure, as well as in those of the East River and North River Tunnels that respectively connect the station to Long Island and New Jersey.[11]

During July 2017, Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio disputed who has control of the subway system. Cuomo claimed that since the subway system was owned by New York City and leased to the MTA, the city had to pay more for its capital needs. However, de Blasio argued that his large $2.5 billion contribution was enough.[12] On July 21, the second set of wheels on a southbound Q train jumped the track near Brighton Beach, constituting the system's second derailment within a month. Nine people suffered injuries[13] due to improper maintenance of the car in question.[14][15]


Lack of funds

On November 18, 2017, The New York Times published its investigation into the crisis, with over 1,000 readers having submitted stories about the effects of the past year's subway delays. It found that politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties, at the mayoral and gubernatorial levels, had gradually removed $1.5 billion of MTA funding.[16] The Times stressed that no single event directly caused the crisis; rather, it was an accumulation of small cutbacks and maintenance deferments.[17] The New York Times described MTA funds as a "piggy bank" for the state, with the issuance of MTA bonds benefiting the state at the MTA's expense.[16] By 2017, a sixth of the MTA's budget was allocated to paying off debt, a threefold increase from the proportion in 1997. The city's $250 million annual contribution to the MTA budget in 2017 was a quarter of the contribution in 1990.[16]

A tunnel cavern for the MTA's East Side Access railroad expansion project
The MTA's East Side Access, the most expensive underground railway project in the world. The extra expenses have been blamed on politicians' monetary mismanagement of the MTA.[18]

This lack of funds was not only due to the gradual reduction of funding. Other actions by city and state politicians, according to the Times, included overspending; overpaying unions and interest groups; advertising superficial improvement projects while ignoring more important infrastructure; and agreeing to high-interest loans that would have been unnecessary without these politicians' other interventions.[16] In December of the same year, the Times reported that the $12 billion East Side Access project, which would extend the MTA's Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal upon its completion, was the most expensive of its kind in the world, with a projected price of $3.5 billion per mile of track. Over the years, the projected cost of East Side Access had risen by billions of dollars due to unnecessary expenses. In addition to overpaying workers and overspending, politicians and trade unions had forced the MTA to hire more workers than was needed. In 2010, an accountant found that the project was hiring 200 extra workers, at a cost of $1,000 per worker per day, for no apparent reason. The bidding process for MTA construction contracts also raised costs because, in some cases, only one or two contractors would bid on a project. Similar construction projects in New York City, such as the Second Avenue Subway and 7 Subway Extension, had been more expensive than comparable projects elsewhere for the same reasons, even though other cities' transit systems faced similar, or greater, problems compared to the MTA.[18]

Signal and work-zone slowdowns

The transit crisis was influenced partly by modifications to New York City Subway signals and work-zone policies that forced trains to reduce their average speeds.[19] After a collision between two trains on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1995, in which a train operator was killed after speeding his train into the back of another, the MTA modified both signals and trains to lower their average speeds. Trains' maximum speeds were physically limited, while some signals were modified to prevent trains from proceeding through a certain signal block before a minimum time had elapsed. These signals, referred to as "time signals", forced operators to slow train speeds so that they would only pass through the signal block after the timer elapsed.[20] Some of these time signals malfunctioned: they prevented trains from passing even if the operator had slowed down the train to the speed that was indicated, and so some operators slowed trains further in case a time signal forced trains to wait for longer than was indicated.[19] This resulted in overcrowded trains, since fewer trains per hour were able to proceed on certain sections of track.[21] By 2012, over 1,200 signals had been modified,[20] and by 2018, that number had grown to 1,800.[19] Exacerbating the signal problems, some of the oldest block signals in the system were 80 years old as of 2017, and they also broke down frequently.[22]

Subway trains were also forced to slow down due to work-zone rules.[19] These rules were created by a task force, which was implemented in 2007 after a series of worker deaths.[23] Prior to 2007, even if one track was out of service, trains on adjacent tracks could operate at normal speeds. Under the new rules, if a track was directly adjacent to a track in a work-zone, trains on the adjacent track also had to slow down to 10 miles per hour or less. As a result, the proportion of delays caused by track work increased by 10% between 2013 and 2014, even though there were roughly the same number of track work in both years.[19]

Bus problems

A corresponding bus crisis was not covered as heavily in the media. However, in November 2017, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer identified several causes for the bus system's unreliability.[24][25] In the report, he wrote that almost half of all bus routes ran low frequencies in one or both directions of travel during rush hours.[25]:22 He also said that many bus routes were vulnerable to "bus bunching", where several buses travel the same route in quick succession.[25]:26 The average speeds of New York City buses were found to be 7 to 8 miles per hour (11 to 13 km/h),[24] the slowest of any major bus system nationwide.[25]:27–29 Additionally, Stringer wrote that long, winding bus routes caused bus speeds to slow down.[25]:36–28


A train on the New York City Subway's number "2" route
The 2 train, the least reliable route in the subway system as of 2017

Even before the crisis, every non-shuttle subway route's on-time performance had declined: in 2007, all of these routes had over 70% on-time performance, arriving at the last station within five minutes of the timetable, but in 2017, only three routes could claim that distinction. The least reliable route, the 2 train, reached its terminus on-schedule only 32% of the time. The subway's 65% average on-time performance was the lowest among all major cities' transit systems, ranking behind the Hong Kong MTR (100%), Seoul Metropolitan Subway (99%), San Francisco's BART (86%), and Mexico City Metro (71%). David L. Gunn, who helped end the 1980s transit crisis when he led the NYCTA in the mid-1980s, described the 2017 crisis as "heartbreaking".[16]

In August 2017, The New York Times released an article about how the routes that serve the Lexington Avenue Line (the 4, ​5, ​6, and <6> trains) failed to meet its schedule count during weekday rush hours when demand is at its highest. A study conducted on weekdays between June 9 and July 31 by the MTA revealed about 14% of the trains that were scheduled to pass through the Grand Central–42nd Street station during rush hours never came. During the time this study was conducted, the closest the line ever came to meeting its printed schedule was 88 out of 90 trains during the a.m. rush hour, and 83 out of 88 trains during the p.m. rush hour. Officials have often blamed overcrowding for the reasons why trains are canceled, and Chairman Lhota has stated that maintaining space between trains was more of a priority for him than meeting the schedules was.[26] However, overcrowding was really an effect, rather than a cause, of delays.[27] Although average weekday ridership stayed largely constant from 2012 to 2018, the number of delays attributed to overcrowding increased, even as the number of other types of delays did not change by much.[19]

In October 2017, Comptroller Stringer released an analysis of the effect of subway delays on the economy and on commuters. The study found that based on a normal wait time of 5 minutes and an average wage of $34 per hour in 2016, "worst-case" subway delays of more than 20 minutes could cost up to $389 million annually in lost productivity.[28] By comparison, "mid-case" delays of between 10 and 20 minutes could cost $243.1 million per year, and "best-case" delays of between 5 and 10 minutes could cost $170.2 million per year. Passengers on the 5 train suffered the greatest wage loss from worst-case delays, while passengers on the 7 train lost the most wages from medium- and best-case delays.[29]

As a result of the maintenance crisis, weekday subway ridership started declining for the first time in several years. Despite a 1.1% increase in the number of jobs in the city between September 2016 and September 2017, weekday ridership declined 1.4% and weekend ridership declined 1.0%.[30] With 5,712,000 average weekday riders in September 2017, this translated to about 105,000 fewer riders per weekday.[31] Even during the previous year, when the subway as a whole saw a 0.3% decrease in annual ridership—marking the first such decrease since 2009[32]—weekday ridership had risen by about 0.1%.[33] Bus ridership also maintained a continuing decrease.[34]:94 One hundred million fewer riders rode MTA buses in 2017 than in 2008.[35] Rider complaints on social media intensified during the crisis: by mid-2018, there were 2,500 daily complaints to the MTA's and subway's Twitter accounts.[36]

By January 2018, average weekday on-time performance had dropped from 65% to 58.1%, and there were more than 76,000 delayed trains. The delayed trains were defined as those that had reached their terminus at least five minutes later than what was listed on the timetable. Of these, over 10,000 trains, or 14%, had been delayed for unknown causes. Exacerbating the situation, the MTA incorrectly classified the causes of the unknown delays under one of the fourteen known categories of delays, classifying equal amounts of "unknown delays" under each category.[37] It was so common for subway trains to be delayed that many commuters rearranged their schedules around the subway, traveling earlier than usual to factor in any potential subway delays.[38]

Short-term solutions

After a particularly bad round of delays in May 2017, the MTA devised a "six-point plan" to reduce subway delays.[39] It planned to hasten the delivery of new R211 cars; perform testing on boarding and alighting patterns at stations; post emergency medical technicians at key stations to treat sick passengers; double the frequency of the monthly track-defect detection tests; reduce bottlenecks at junctions; and reorganize the leadership hierarchy.[39][40][41][42] The plan would cost $20 million[41] and be implemented at 21 stations as a trial: nineteen stations on the heavily used IND Eighth Avenue Line between 125th Street and Fulton Street, as well as the 149th Street–Grand Concourse and Third Avenue–138th Street stations in the Bronx.[42][43] These locations were chosen since they were the source of frequent bottlenecks. On the Eighth Avenue Line especially, there are an average of 25 subway-car breakdowns per month, with the average such delay lasting 19 minutes.[40][41][43] The EMTs would be posted in five Eighth Avenue Line stations: 125th Street, 59th Street, 14th Street, West Fourth Street, and Fulton Street. There would also be an increased police presence.[41][43] The improved boarding and alighting patterns might include color-coded platforms and subway cars, as well as additional signage.[41][43] Finally, there would be a new chairman position to be split off of the existing CEO position.[40][43] Transit commentators viewed the plan positively, regarding the plan as a small step toward increasing the subway's reliability.[42]

Also in May, Amtrak announced that it would perform some track maintenance around Penn Station over a period of one and a half months in summer 2017.[44] Five tracks were closed for repairs as part of the reconstruction work, severely reducing track capacity in a situation media outlets deemed "the summer of hell".[45][46] Many affected NJ Transit passengers were diverted to take the PATH instead.[47] Regular service resumed on September 5, 2017.[48][49]

the interior of a 42nd Street Shuttle train without any seats
One aspect of the New York City Subway Action Plan involved removing seats from the 42nd Street Shuttle (pictured)

On July 25, Chairman Lhota announced a two-phase, $9 billion New York City Subway Action Plan to stabilize the subway system and to prevent the continuing decline of the system.[50][51] It expanded on the six-point plan elaborated on in May.[52] The $836 million first phase, to be effective immediately, focused on "stabilization".[53][54] It consisted of five categories.[54] The first, Signal and Track Maintenance, included creating new crews to repair infrastructure more efficiently, adding continuously welded rail to more tracks, repairing 1,300 broken signals, cleaning 40,000 storm grates, and hiring 2,700 workers to repair broken signals and tracks more quickly. The second, Car Reliability, would put emphasis on maintaining car doors in a more timely fashion, add cars to trains on the C route, remove seats from 42nd Street Shuttle and L train cars to increase capacity, and put emergency car-repair teams at select locations, among other things. The third, System Safety and Cleanliness, would increase the number of key stations with emergency medical technicians, maintain elevators and escalators efficiently, clean stations and repair components more frequently, add public service announcements warning against littering, and collaborate with the NYPD to enforce the law within the subway. The fourth, Customer Communication, entailed launching a dedicated MTA app; creating better announcements during service disruptions; and completing the installation of systemwide countdown clocks; while the fifth category, Critical Management Group, would consolidate operations and hire people to resolve incidents quickly.[51][52][53][54] The $8 billion second phase would implement the winning proposals from the Genius Transit Challenge and fix more widespread problems.[51][54]

On July 27, two days after the release of the Action Plan, Governor Cuomo announced that his administration was working on a way for private sponsors to "adopt a station" for up to $600,000. The sponsors would be partially responsible for their station's aesthetics.[55] City officials announced on August 6 that Mayor de Blasio would push for a tax on wealthy New York City residents to help pay for necessary improvements in the subway. The proposal would raise between $700 million to $800 million, with $250 million of it going for half-priced MetroCards for 800,000 riders at or below the poverty line—a shift from de Blasio's previous stance. To go into effect, it would have to be approved by the New York State Legislature. This proposal was criticized by Governor Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota for not providing money soon enough, as the State Legislature would not go back into session until January 2018.[56]

Refurbished R160 subway cars on the E route
Refurbished R160 subway cars on the E route

In October 2017, as part of the action plan, a hundred R160 subway cars on the E train were retrofitted to provide extra capacity of 8 to 10 passengers per car,[57][58] and some older R46 cars were also similarly refurbished.[59] Additionally, officials started piloting a new fare system compatible with the LIRR and Metro-North's eTix electronic tickets,[60] and several unspecified L train cars were being retrofitted with seats that folded up during rush hours.[59] Officials also changed all announcements containing "ladies and gentlemen" and replaced them with the more general terms "passengers", "riders", and "everyone", using gender-neutral terms ostensibly to improve passenger service.[61][62]

Long-term solutions and proposals

In August 2017, Governor Cuomo drafted a proposal for congestion pricing in New York City, with the primary intent of raising funds for city transit and reduce street gridlock, while balancing suburban commuter considerations.[63] In October, the New York State Government created a task force, Fix NYC, to find solutions for fixing mass transit and lowering congestion.[64] A preliminary proposal was released in January 2018, although a final plan remains in debate.[65] Mayor de Blasio, who initially opposed the congestion pricing plan, suggested a counter-proposal to raise taxes for the city's wealthiest residents.[63]

Coinciding with the transit crisis, the Regional Plan Association released its fourth Regional Plan on November 30, 2017, marking the first such plan since 1996.[66] The plan, which had been prepared over the previous five years, suggested three changes for the subway system. The first suggestion was constructing eight subway lines in all four boroughs. The second suggestion was to modernize the system by shutting it down completely during weekday nights; renovating subway stations to include such amenities as elevators and platform screen doors; and reducing crowding, heat, noise, and pollutant levels in stations. The final suggestion was to accelerate the automation of the New York City Subway.[67] The RPA has historically published many proposals that have been implemented, unlike other regional planning associations, whose plans are typically ignored.[68]

Improvements were also proposed for the bus system. These improvements included adding more bus lanes in New York City, which allow buses to use an exclusive bus lane without being blocked by other traffic.[69][25]:7 Traffic signal preemption, which changes traffic lights based on whether a bus is approaching,[70]:4 was also suggested for 1,000 traffic signals by 2020.[71] In October 2017, de Blasio's administration announced that the city would add 21 Select Bus Service routes through 2027, adding to the existing 15-route system. The Select Bus Service lines implemented several methods to speed up service: passengers paid fares at booths on the sidewalk rather than aboard buses using all-door boarding, and the buses themselves used exclusive bus lanes.[72][73] In April 2018, the MTA published a Bus Action Plan detailing 28 suggestions to improve the bus system. The improvements included expanding all-door boarding to all bus routes; simplifying bus routes; adding more dedicated bus lanes; enforcing bus lane rules; redesigning borough bus maps; purchasing more electric buses; and adding real-time boarding information to buses. The MTA also planned to test out a double-decker bus on the redesigned Staten Island bus routes.[74][75][76][77]

New president and contest

The MTA hired Andy Byford as the president of the New York City Transit Authority in November 2017.[78][79] He assumed his new position in January 2018. MTA leadership expected that Byford would be able to devise solutions to fix the NYCTA's reliability issues, particularly those of the subway.[80] Within the first few months of his job, Byford was devising long-term plans for the bus and subway systems.[74]

Nineteen finalists for the Genius Transit Challenge were announced in December 2017, out of 438 applicants from 23 countries. Most were established corporations such as Alstom, AECOM, Nokia, and MTA's cellular-service provider Transit Wireless, although two finalists were individual applicants.[81][82] Six winning submissions from eight entities were announced in March 2018.[83]

Fast Forward report

Byford announced his subway and bus modernization plan at a MTA board meeting in May 2018. The plan involved upgrading signals on the subway system's five most heavily used physical lines; making 50 extra stations ADA-accessible; and installing an automatic train supervision system for routes that did not already have that system, which would help monitor train locations.[84] The bus system would be streamlined and reorganized to make the service more reliable.[85]:37 The plan would cost $43 billion over 15 years, including an initial expenditure of $19 billion over the first five years.[86]

Ten lines would receive automated signaling system by 2028. In addition to increase capacity, and to reduce reliance on important interlockings, potential route changes will be evaluated.[85]:23, 25, 27 Also part of the plan was a new fare payment system that was to be implemented by 2020, as well as 3,650 new subway cars to be ordered by 2028, including 650 cars to be ordered by 2023.[85]:17 The program to add 50 more ADA-accessible stations during the 2020–2024 Capital Program would allow most riders to have an accessible station every two or three stops, and it would be more than double the 19 stations outlined in the then-current 2015–2019 MTA Capital Program.[85]:41 Byford's May 2018 proposal also included suggestions to improve the bus system. As part of the plan, the Staten Island express bus and Bronx local bus network would be re-evaluated, and bus priority measures would be added and enforced. Bus stops would be consolidated for faster service, and existing bus stops would be improved with bus shelters and real-time travel information.[85]:37 In order to get the MTA to work more efficiently, employee communications, processes, and hierarchies would also be reorganized.[85]:47 Conditions at stations will be improved through the appointment of Group Station Managers to stations within a geographic area.[85]:29

In order to keep trains moving, New York City Transit started evaluating twenty places where signal timers affect service the most. Some of the locations included the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4, ​5, ​6, and <6> trains) between 14th Street–Union Square and Bowling Green; the IRT Eastern Parkway Line (2, ​3, ​4, and ​5 trains) between Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center and Franklin Avenue; the IND Fulton Street Line (A and ​C trains) between Jay Street–MetroTech and Hoyt–Schermerhorn Streets; and the BMT Jamaica Line and BMT Nassau Street Line (J, M, and Z​ trains) between Hewes Street and Bowery. Signal timers were added across the system since the fatal 1995 Williamsburg Bridge subway crash, so that trains would be spaced further apart, thereby increasing safety. Some timers were installed in places where extra train spacing was unnecessary, increasing delays and reducing capacity. In addition, some timers had stopped functioning properly, forcing train operators to operate more slowly to ensure that their train did not activate the automatic braking system if they passed the signals at too high a speed. As part of Byford's plan, New York City Transit would ensure that signal timers are being cleaned and are functioning. In fall 2018, two new initiatives would begin on selected lines to reduce delays. The first initiative would ensure that train crews will be at the terminal to allow their train to leave on time, while the second would add countdown clocks for train operators so they can maintain speeds.[87]

Under the Fast Forward report, New York City Transit would conduct a one-year pilot program in which it would increase off-peak bus frequencies on the Q6, Q69, B17, B65, and S93 bus routes in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. These improvements would be implemented between September 2018 and January 2019. The Bx6 local bus route in the Bronx would also get articulated buses by January 2019 in order to increase passenger capacity.[88]:237–243[89]:212–215 A separate program would involve removing every other stop on the Q22 route in Queens, as well as adjust schedules and short turn certain bus trips based on demand, in order to increase bus reliability. The Q22 changes would become effective in September 2018.[89]:218–221

2018 developments

The SIM1 route, one of the bus routes added in the reorganized Staten Island express bus system

The newly reorganized Staten Island express bus network went into effect on August 19, 2018.[90][91][92] On August 20, the first weekday that the new bus network was in effect, commuters reported overcrowding on some bus routes and at the Eltingville Transit Center, while four experimental park-and-ride routes were largely unused.[93] The following day, Andy Byford held the first town hall for the Fast Forward plan at York College in Jamaica, Queens.[94][95] It was one of several such meetings scheduled for the plan.[96] In internal emails released the same month, the MTA indicated that as a result of budget cuts, some subway staffing and car-cleaning jobs might be eliminated. In addition, the expansion of Select Bus Service in the outer boroughs might be halted until 2021 while the city's bus network was being re-evaluated.[97]

In the MTA's September 2018 board meeting, Byford stated that the subway was getting better. He said that in 2018, there were fewer major incidents that delayed 50 or more trains compared to in 2017, and the mean distance between failures (MDBF) for trains was higher than in the previous year. However, these figures included major-incident rates that were far above average in January 2018, and the MDBF figures in 2018 were much lower than in 2015.[98] The transit advocacy group Riders Alliance stated that in August 2018, there was only one weekday where the subway system did not experience delays due to signal or equipment malfunctions.[99][100] Subway trains had a 68% on-time rate in summer 2018; such a low reliability metric had not been seen since the 1970s transit crisis.[98] Byford also stated that, thus far, the MTA had cleaned 285 miles (459 km) of track, fixed 1,300 signals, and modified 1,600 subway cars as part of the Fast Forward plan.[98][101] At a subsequent event, Byford announced that 23 "group station managers" had been hired to manage groups of up to 25 stations each.[102][103]

In October 2018, New York state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli published a report stating that the MTA could have $42 billion in debt by 2022. This was exacerbated by the declines in subway and bus ridership, which could not be offset by higher fares alone.[104] Standard & Poor's had already reduced the MTA's credit rating and bond rating from an A+ to an A earlier that year because of the MTA's financial issues and political infighting.[105][106] Also that October, the MTA launched another competition, this one targeted toward technology companies. There were two challenges: one to reduce traffic congestion along bus routes, and one to predict and alleviate subway delays.[107][108] With the upcoming 14th Street Tunnel shutdown starting in April 2019, which would suspend service on the L train to Manhattan for a year, the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) finalized their mitigation plans for the shutdown. However, the mitigation plans were described by Curbed NY as inadequate, because of the lack of nearby subway routes that go directly to Manhattan; the lack of passenger capacity at key transfer stations; and the fact that nearly a quarter-million riders use the L train every day.[109]

Also in October 2018, it was revealed that the decline in subway ridership had accelerated in summer 2018, with a 2.5% decrease in weekday trips and an 8.8% decrease in weekend trips from August 2017 to August 2018.[110] In a 60 Minutes television segment about the state of the subway, published on October 21, it was mentioned that the increasing delays had led to dissatisfied customers who, in some cases, had physically assaulted conductors. In the segment, Byford described how communications-based train control (CBTC) implementation was the key part of his Fast Forward plan, and that as a result of an investment of $800 million in emergency funds, critical maintenance of the subway was being carried out. However, though on-time performance had increased slightly since the plan's implementation, riders did not notice the improvements for the most part, according to Byford.[111] By December 2018, the MTA had identified 130 locations in the subway system where the speed limit could be increased (or in some cases, doubled),[112][113] as well as 267 faulty timer signals that needed to be fixed.[114][115]

After the failure of the congestion pricing bill in early 2018, officials decided to look for other ways to fund the subway. In December 2018, an urban policy think tank proposed legalizing marijuana for non-medical uses in New York state, then collecting a tax to fund the New York City transit system.[116][117] The same month, the MTA announced that as many as four percent of subway riders and 16 percent of bus riders each day might not be paying fares, amounting to 208,000 subway riders and 384,000 bus riders per day. This indicated that the decline in ridership on the subway and bus systems might not be as severe as previously indicated, because ridership counts only included riders who paid fares.[118][119] In response, Byford stated that the MTA was studying ways to physically prevent fare evaders from jumping over subways turnstiles, or entering the rear doors of buses where they did not need to pay.[120]

2019 developments

In early January 2019, Cuomo announced that the 14th Street Tunnel would not completely shut down. Instead, work would occur on weekends and nights, and construction could be finished in 15 to 20 months.[121][122][123] Following the announcement, Cuomo stated that he wanted to "blow up" the MTA and restructure its entire operating hierarchy. The governor cited frequent cost overruns for MTA contracts, as well as a lack of clear leadership in the agency, as reasons to rearrange the agency.[124][125] A few days later, de Blasio promised to improve the bus system in his State of the City address. His plan included raising bus speeds by 25% by the next year, increasing the enforcement of bus lanes, and adding bus priority signals to 1,200 intersections with traffic lights.[126][127]

Also in January 2019, the MTA announced that a new fleet of about 1,500 R262 subway cars, to be built in the 2020s, would replace the R62 and R62A fleets, which were built in the 1980s and are used on the subway system's numbered routes, in order to expedite CBTC on the Lexington Avenue Line.[128]:25 The MTA also announced that 95% of signal timers had been tested, resulting in the discovery of 320 faulty timers, and that 68 locations were improved for increases in speed limits.[129] Byford also promoted some of the other changes made under the Subway Action Plan, including sealing leaks; improving drainage; repairing tracks and signal components; and replacing subway car components.[130] One facet of the Subway Action Plan, a $9.5 million contract for an extensive cleaning of 3,000 subway cars and 100 stations, almost resulted in a strike among unionized subway cleaners. The strike was averted when the MTA ensured that the contract would be for a one-time cleaning and agreed to have two unionized workers at each cleaning site.[131]

In February 2019, U.S. Representative Max Rose, city councilman Justin Brannan, state senator Andrew Gounardes, and state assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus wrote a letter to the MTA, asking the agency to consider splitting the R train in half to increase reliability.[132][133] Also in February, Cuomo and de Blasio jointly announced a plan that outlined ten steps to fix MTA operations. Under this plan, similar operations in the MTA's subsidiaries would be combined, a form of congestion pricing would be enacted, a cap on fare increases would be reduced to 2% a year, and the Subway Action Plan would be sped up. To reduce unnecessary costs and delays, a fare evasion prevention strategy would be created, and new project contracts would be awarded as design–build contracts. In addition, board members' terms were tied to those of the official who appointed them, the MTA's capital programs would be reviewed by a committee of independent analysts, and the MTA would undergo an independent financial audit. The MTA, city, and state of New York would work with the state legislature to enact these provisions.[134][135][136] Shortly after, Speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson unveiled a competing proposal to cede control of the city's subway and bus systems to the city.[137][138]

The MTA released another progress report in March 2019, stating that the subway's on-time rate had increased to 76%. However, a New York Times analysis of the data found that the gains were not spread equally: the A Division (numbered services and the 42nd Street Shuttle) had an average on-time rate of 79%, compared to the B Division (lettered services) 68% on-time rate. The disparity was attributed to the Automatic Train Supervision system used on much of the A Division; the CBTC signalling system used on the IRT Flushing Line (7 and <7>​ trains); and the opening of the Second Avenue Subway, which alleviated congestion on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4, ​5, ​6, and <6> trains).[139] At the end of the month, the state approved a congestion pricing plan, to go into effect by 2021 at the earliest.[140][141][142]

As part of state legislation passed in April 2019, the MTA was supposed to create a plan to reduce costs by the end of June. A draft of the plan indicated that several departments would be eliminated, undermining Byford's role.[143] Additionally, in May 2019, federal prosecutors started investigating alleged overtime fraud at the MTA, especially at the LIRR, which was thought to contribute to higher spending by the MTA.[144][145] Following this, in July 2019, an MTA reorganization plan was published; the plan called for consolidating the MTA's 40 departments into six groups, as well as eliminating 2,700 jobs.[146][147]

Two incidents affected the subway system in July 2019. The first was the Manhattan blackout of July 13, 2019, which resulted in suspended or limited service on most lines going through Midtown Manhattan for several hours.[148][149] The MTA closed four Manhattan stations,[150] and all of the A Division routes suffered extensive delays.[151] The second incident occurred less than a week later, during the rush hour of July 20, 2019, and in the midst of a citywide heat wave. An ATS system issue which caused service on most of the A Division routes to be suspended for more than an hour.[152][153]

In September 2019, the MTA released a draft of their proposed $54 billion 2020-2024 capital plan. The draft calls for adding accessible features to 66 additional subway stations and adding CBTC or other modern signaling systems to parts of six more physical lines.[154] Additionally, the Second Avenue Subway would be completed. Much of the funding would come from the new Manhattan congestion charge.[155]


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