MTA releases 20-year plan for crowded system
To handle record ridership that will likely grow over the next two decades, the MTA Wednesday laid out a $106 billion plan to bring new transit options and technology to the 113-year-old system.
MTA chief Thomas Prendergast, in a letter, called the 20-year plan a "critical building block" for developing the agency's next five-year capital plan for 2015 to 2019, which could include funding for the second phase of the Second Avenue subway and a replacement for the MetroCard fare payment system.
"A fully-funded capital program is absolutely essential to ensuring the reliability and safety of this massive network," Prendergast wrote.
While the MTA's future investment needs were presented to its board last month, the nearly 150-page report lays out how the agency will address overcrowding and new commuting patterns.
"Our current system operates very much as it did when it opened roughly back in 1904," said Richard Barone, director of transportation programs at the Regional Plan Association.
The MTA estimates by 2035, the city's population will grow by 800,000 people, with the transit system clocking nearly 3.1 billion trips a year by 2030, up from 2.7 billion trips a year currently.
The MTA says much of the current signal system will be replaced by a communications-based train control, a feature that allows for train cars to run closer together and more frequently. That means riders would have shorter waits for trains. This is already in use on the L line and is being installed on the No. 7 line.
The MTA's signal plan, which would cost an average of nearly $4 billion every five years over the next two decades, would be installed on 322.5 miles of track, the report said.
"It's kind of like squeezing blood from the stone," Barone said of adding train service in the system. "[The system] does produce a greater amount of capacity and reliability and it's one way we're going to be able to handle growth."
The MTA also plans to scrap the current MetroCard system, a technology that will reach the end of its life in 2019. There have been two pilot tests conducted with "smart chips" in credit cards, key-tags and smartphones. The MTA called "tap and go" technology the next generation of fare collection.
The MTA also proposes expanding the system, a process already underway with construction of the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway.
The MTA cited as a priority the full construction of the Second Avenue Subway to meet demand, particularly to alleviate overburdened east side trains.
But in areas where the MTA cannot start another megaproject, the agency suggested new entry points in popular stations where there is limited access, to alleviate crowding. The MTA cited Grand Central and the Bedford Avenue station on the L line as among the stations that currently face overcrowding.
Another idea would be to reopen dormant stations shuttered for safety or maintenance reasons during the 1970s amid a drop in ridership.
Accommodating new riders in the city's "hot spots" -- northern Queens, Lower East Side, for instance -- means getting riders onto buses. The rise of business centers and residential areas outside Manhattan has created a greater need for outerborough transit options.
The MTA wants to expand its Select Bus Service, with help from the city, to create more routes.
"They're flexible, they're certainly low cost compared to rail and they can be done relatively quickly," said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The MTA also wants to take advantage of bicycling by adding racks to buses or rail and subway stations.
To move people traveling within the outer-boroughs, the MTA suggests using abandoned or underused rail lines, like the LIRR's Bay Ridge Branch to connect southern Brooklyn with central and northern Queens; the agency also suggests bringing back the Rockaway Beach Branch to connect Howard Beach to Woodhaven.