M.T.A. says ‘N’ could be for no late night service

By Julie Shapiro

A neighborhood accustomed to subway outages may be in for another one: Starting in the first half of next year, trains may not run late at night on the N/R/W line between City Hall and Brooklyn.

The proposed service cut is part of a broader contingency plan that would save the Metropolitan Transportation Authority $25.2 million a year starting in 2010. The service cuts will only go into effect if the state Legislature fails to close the M.T.A.’s $1.2 billion operating deficit.

“We are hoping we don’t have to implement this at all,” Aaron Donovan, spokesperson for the M.T.A., said of the service cuts.

A commission led by Richard Ravitch recently proposed a solution to the M.T.A.’s budget gap that would add tolls to East River bridges and tax city and suburban employers, but it is unclear if the Legislature will support that plan.

Either way, residents are angry the M.T.A. is even considering reducing service to Lower Manhattan.

“We’re supposed to be the city that never sleeps,” said Barry Skolnick, a member of Community Board 1. “That’s supposed to be [all of] Manhattan, not just Midtown.”

Skolnick, who lives in Battery Park City, said he rarely takes the subway late at night, but Wall Streeters who are working late deserve the service.

“Haven’t the people who live in Lower Manhattan suffered enough?” added Pat Moore, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Quality of Life Committee. “When is the torture going to stop?”

Moore, who lives on Liberty St. across from the World Trade Center site, usually takes the 1 train, but that line is often closed on weekends because of the South Ferry and W.T.C. construction. When the 1 line is out, Moore takes the N/R/W.

The M.T.A.’s plan eliminates the W entirely, leaving only the R to run during the day. The R stops running at night, and usually the N replaces it in Lower Manhattan. But under the plan, the N would run from Canal St. over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., skipping the City Hall, Rector St. and Whitehall stops. (The N will also skip the Cortlandt St. stop, which has been closed for several years for construction at the World Trade Center site and the Fulton Transit Center.)

The reason the M.T.A. decided to close those Lower Manhattan stations — along with two in Brooklyn, also on the N line — is because the 4 train stops only 200 feet from each of the closed stations, Donovan said. Riders can switch between the 4 and N trains at Canal St.

But people who live in southern Battery Park City and Greenwich South are unhappy about the prospect of walking past several closed subway stations just to catch a train, or traversing extra tunnels and stairs to make transfers.

“We always get the short end of the stick,” Moore said.

Moore is already taking more cabs because of frequent subway closures, and she said detours are inconvenient for people with groceries or packages. She wants the M.T.A. to give discounted MetroCards to people living near stations where service will be cut.

The M.T.A. plans to do just the opposite. Barring assistance from the state Legislature, fares would rise by 23 percent next June. Ravitch wants an 8 percent increase with future raises tied to inflation every two years.

Ernie Markezin, who lives in southern Battery Park City, said straphangers should not have to bear the burden of the M.T.A.’s poor financial planning.

“I understand they’re in a predicament, but it’s not the subway rider that put them into this mess,” Markezin said.

He added that the service cuts are antithetical to Lower Manhattan’s conversion from a commercial to a residential community.

“If the whole idea is supposed to be…to make sure Lower Manhattan stays vital and it’s going to be a 24-hour neighborhood, you would think you’d want to have 24-hour service,” Markezin said. “If people don’t have public transportation readily available, how are you going to make the neighborhood vital for more than just business hours?”

Markezin was not as worried about the late-night N closure in and of itself — but if that closure coincides with 1 train weekend closures, there will be a bigger problem, he said. The 1 train will terminate at Chambers St. for six weeks in the summer of 2010 and possibly for part of 2009 because of work at the World Trade Center.

The 4 train has also been suspended on many recent weekends, but the M.T.A. always replaces it with J-train shuttle service, stopping at Fulton St. and Broad St. In the future, the city may restore N service to Lower Manhattan at night whenever the 4 is not running, said James Anyansi, spokesperson for New York City Transit.

“There would always be service to that line — we wouldn’t shut it down,” Anyansi promised. “We would not leave anyone hanging without service.”

C.B. 1’s Quality of Life Committee will likely pass a resolution opposing the service cuts next month.