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Is 24-hour subway service necessary for The City That Never Sleeps?

Panic follows RPA report

December 4, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Regional Plan Association released a report on Thursday proposing ways to improve New York City’s subway system. One suggestion to eliminate overnight weekly subway service has been met with criticism.  AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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Endless delays, sporadic service and the occasional derailment have become all too familiar for the 5.7 million people who rely on the New York City subway system each weekday.

Following the “Summer of Hell,” and with the L-train shutdown looming on the horizon, it’s clear that New York’s overburdened and underfunded subway system needs an overhaul.

To aid with that revamp, the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a nonprofit urban research and advocacy organization, released a comprehensive report on Thursday proposing ways to better life in the tri-state area, including improving New York City’s subway.  

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The Fourth Regional Plan, which was drafted over five years, presents 61 suggestions on how to make the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area a better place to live, from climate change to making the region more affordable.  

Within the report are several recommendations on how to improve New York’s subway system, including building new lines to underserved communities, modernizing and refurbishing stations, and implementing new technology to ensure fast and reliable service.

While the plan has dozens of suggestions that people are embracing, one small detail within the 351-page report has ignited outrage among New Yorkers and the media.

RPA suggests that, in order to pay for MTA’s improvements — like building platform screen doors and fixing elevators in stations — the transit organization should consider removing overnight service from Monday to Thursday.

“To accomplish these large-scale improvements in a timely way, RPA recommends the MTA adopt policies with a greater tolerance for longer-term outages (as the MTA is already doing for the L train repairs), and evaluate replacing weeknight late-night subway service with robust bus service (when streets are traffic-free),” the report reads.  

“Having longer windows for maintenance work would help keep the system in a state of good repair in the long term.”

RPA spokeswoman Dani Simons, however, stressed to the Brooklyn Eagle that the removal of overnight service is only a “sub point within a sub point” in a larger plan.

“We expected this idea to be provocative, and it’s just one of many that make up a bigger picture plan to fix our failing transportation systems,” Simons told the Eagle. “Not everyone will agree with every aspect of the plan, but the status quo is no longer an option and it’s time to try new things.

“The fact is our subways are in crisis, falling far behind other leading cities around the globe, and we haven’t been able to fix them let alone get ahead.”

Roughly 85,000 people, or 1.5 percent of MTA’s weekday ridership, uses the subway from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m., according to MTA data from 2016. Those straphangers, under RPA’s suggestion, would have to use improved bus service during those hours.

New York City has the seventh-highest annual subway ridership after Beijing, Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, Guangzhou and Moscow, reports MTA.

“We are also one of the few systems in the world with 24/7 service,” Simons said. “Today, riders overnight on the subway already face unreliable and patchy service, trains come infrequently, service is often interrupted by maintenance.

“Systematic closures during this time would allow for MTA to improve service for 100 percent of riders, and MTA could set up a more reliable and consistent bus service to provide much needed transit for late night commuters.”

Shutting down subway service four nights a week for roughly four hours would, according to Simons, create more time for workers to upgrade modern signal controls and do routine maintenance.

Since the plan was released last week, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota told The Wall Street Journal, “A permanent closure of the entire subway system every night is a bit draconian.” He added, “A permanent closure, I fear, would be inappropriate for ‘The City That Never Sleeps.’”

While MTA is already hesitant to eliminate overnight service during the week, one councilmember is using the report as an opportunity to ensure around-the-clock subway service remains an inherent quality of New York City.  

Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick-Brownsville-Cypress Hills) is considering drafting legislation that would require MTA to continue its 24-hour subway service in order to receive city funding.

Espinal is a fierce advocate for New York City’s nightlife and recently championed legislation that was signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio that created an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Advisory Board.

A night mayor will run the office, and the new position’s responsibilities will include regulating the nightlife industry, helping DIY venues stay open and creating a safer partying environment.

“Twenty-four-hour subway service is part of our identity in New York City,” Espinal told the Eagle. “Closing the subways at night would hurt our nighttime economy, pollute our air due to higher uses of cabs and buses and would disproportionately affect low-income New Yorkers who work the night shifts.

“So far, I’ve received a wide response of support to my idea ensuring the subway can never be anything other than 24 hours, and I will continue to explore legislative solutions to accomplish this.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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