Weekend brings train pain amid high ridership
This weekend, the MTA will change service on 14 lines -- a familiar advisory for riders who have negotiated their way through a transit system that saw an average of 16 lines affected by weekend advisories in 2013.
Andrew Albert, an MTA board member since 2002, said there was a time when a normal weekend service diversion affected a handful of lines.
"The norm, just a few diversions, you're talking probably over two to three years ago," Albert said.
Whether the service changes are manageable or frustrating, riders have been dealing with trains that switch between local and express, skip stations, get replaced by shuttle buses, or are rerouted to nearby lines. Meanwhile, the trains are generally getting more crowded on Saturdays and Sundays.
"You used to be able to have a weekend out and not too many people would notice because there nearly wasn't enough usage," said Bill Henderson, head of the MTA's citizen advisory committee. "We're starting to see numbers that are approaching right after World War II-that's a time when people were working six-day weeks."
Weekend ridership has been steadily increasing since at least 2011, with March seeing the highest number of straphangers for that month in more than 45-years, according to MTA figures. This March, ridership grew to 5.7 million average weekend riders a month, up from 5.4 million in March 2011.
Commuters and riders using the system on weekends recalled their efforts to ride the rails on the weekends for work or errands.
Jafar Majeedul, a 17-year-old Upper East Sider, lamented the service disruptions on the No. 7 line between Manhattan and Queensboro Plaza when he needs service into Queens for work doing demos for companies.
"I'm forced to take the N or the Q or the R, but that doesn't help me because I'm trying to get to Sunnyside and only the 7 goes there," Majeedul said.
For Jamil Jefferson, a 22-year-old from Bedford-Stuyvesant, weekend construction adds more time to his roughly half-hour wait for the G train, he said.
"I almost don't want to go out on the weekends because I know I will wait so long for the L and the G" at night, said Jefferson,who works at ABC.
Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said the MTA has no choice but to close down a dozen or so trains each weekend as the system was neglected before the agency approved a five-year capital plan for repairs in 1982.
"They have a tremendous backlog of work to do. They spent a big chunk of '70s, late '60s not doing this repair work," Russianoff said. "They're behind the eight ball."
But riders who suffer through service shut downs on the weekend are ultimately rewarded with more all-around train service. The L train is one line that was frequently disrupted on weekends in 2011 and 2012 so the MTA could replace a worn-out, century-old signal system. The new signal system allowed for more L trains to relieve overcrowding.
While the MTA ushered in its Fast Track program last year for crews to work overnight on the weekdays, that is basic maintenance work such as garbage removal and signal and switch inspections. Weekend work, meanwhile, has crews replacing major pieces of the transit system that cannot be completed overnight, according to Peter Cafiero, chief of operations planning at the MTA. Further, he added, the weekends are still primarily the time with the least number of people with the most number of travel alternatives.
"But it's more and more people getting impacted," Cafiero said.
He added that the MTA monitors how many buses are scheduled during weekend maintenance and has added buses to handle the ridership.
"There's not a lot we can do to control the work that needs to be done," Cafiero said. "It's just necessary work."