"I know you guys are not happy"

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NYCT President Andy Byford addresses M104 cuts and station closures at UWS forum


  • NYCT President Andy Byford addressed Upper West Side transit riders at an April 19 forum hosted by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. Photo: Michael Garofalo

“If we are serious about speeding up the re-signaling of the railway to give you more reliability and way more capacity — in other words, running way more trains — that will come at a cost of temporary inconvenience.”

NYCT President Andy Byford

Andy Byford harbors no illusions about the magnitude of his task as president of New York City Transit.

“Without question, I think the biggest, hardest, toughest job in transit right now is New York,” Byford told a congregation of Upper West Side transit riders at an April 19 forum at Rutgers Presbyterian Church.

“I come into this job with my eyes open,” he said to the often lively crowd that filled the pews to capacity. “I know that you guys are not happy.”

Byford, an Englishman who joined NYCT in January after a seven-year stint heading the Toronto Transit Commission, promised a bold plan to modernize the New York’s subway and bus service in an hour of crisis. “I didn’t come here to tinker at the edges,” Byford said. “I came here to give you the transit system that New Yorkers deserve.”

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who organized the forum, pressed Byford on recently announced reductions in M104 bus service, a popular Broadway route which she said “round after round of cuts have rendered a shell of its former self.”

Byford acknowledged that the M104 “is a critical route for this community,” but said that recent cuts were made in response to ridership demands. “We have over the last ten years actually seen a decline in the ridership of the M104, which seems to be concurrent with increased in ridership on the subway,” Byford said. “So it seems that there is a migration of people going from the bus to the subway.”

The MTA’s finite resources sometimes require transportation planners to reshuffle its fleet and operators to the routes where they are most needed, Byford said. The service cuts, he added, are also intended to make the M104 “more reliable and stop the service bunching and gapping.”

Byford left open the possibility that bus frequency on the M104 could be restored to prior levels. “We’re going to keep this under very close review,” he said, adding, “If we find we’ve got the M104 wrong, then we can fairly rapidly take action to supplement it.”

Days after the Upper West Side meeting, Byford unveiled a comprehensive action plan for bus service that he called “the first piece in the jigsaw toward the full scale modernization of New York City Transit.” Byford’s plan to improve the speed and reliability of New York’s bus network, which is currently the slowest major system in the world, calls for the MTA to reexamine its entire route network and remove closely spaces and underutilized stops, expand the use of Transit Signal Priority systems that reduce the time buses spend stopped at red lights, and introduce all-door boarding and a new fare payment system to speed up boarding and reduce dwell time, among other measures.

Several attendees at the West Side meeting questioned Byford about renovations that require the temporary closure this spring and summer of three B and C train stations at 72nd Street, 86th Street and 110th Street along Central Park West.

The renovations are part of the MTA’s Enhanced Station Initiative to renovate stops around the system. The initiative was originally slated to target 32 stations, but MTA Chairman Joe Lhota announced in April that the project would end early after running through most of its $936 million budget with only 19 stations completed or in progress. The project has been criticized for including aesthetic improvements to the stations but not the installation of elevators and other accessibility measures.

Byford said the perception that the renovations are primarily cosmetic is false. The fundamental reason for the station closures, he said, is to conduct necessary repairs to station infrastructure. “If the components are deteriorating, you need to take action there and then,” Byford said.

The Upper West Side station closures won’t be the last inconvenience riders will experience on the path to improved service. Throughout the evening, Byford tempered his lofty rhetoric about a “radical plan” to transform the subways with realism about the pains the transformation will entail.

The biggest obstacle facing the subway, Byford said, is “the sheer age and unreliability and lack of capacity of our signaling system. What we’ve got to do is bite the bullet and re-signal the whole subway.”

At the MTA’s current pace, it would take 40 years to re-signal the entire system, a rate Byford called “untenable.” Byford said that if work were accelerated to update two lines at a time, “you could get around 80 percent of customer journeys on this modern signaling system, probably within ten years.”

While the end result would be better, more frequent subway service, the work would entail significance disruptions and require “people’s patience and a lot of money,” an outcome Byford acknowledged wouldn’t be popular. “I’m not talking about shutting down during the weekday, but definitely longer hours overnight and some evening closures.”

“If we are serious about speeding up the re-signaling of the railway to give you more reliability and way more capacity — in other words, running way more trains — that will come at a cost of temporary inconvenience,” Byford said. “It just has to.”

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