Monday, August 18, 2014

What's wrong with MTA NYC Transit? Part 3, what NYCT refuses to tell you.

It's 8 PM on a Friday evening and your home is near the Kings Highway subway station on the Brighton B and Q lines in Brooklyn.  You need to run this quick errand or meet someone in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and come back home before the snowstorm blankets all of NYC during the entire weekend.  You follow the advice of MTA New York City Transit and check their webpage for the latest service changes related to the snowstorm and you find out that B and Q service are running normal.  You want to make sure they are running normal by calling the Travel Information Center and speak to a live agent about the status of B service, he tells you that B service is running normally and even tells you the next two northbound departures from Kings Highway.

So you get to Kings Highway and wait on the platform in 10 degree weather, you rub your hands while brushing you face against the cold wind as you see lights on the northbound express track, visible all the way down from the curve south of Neck Road, 2 local stops away.  The "B" train approaches Kings Highway station when suddenly the train operator sounds his horn and bypasses you, with no passengers aboard the 8 car train.  You mutter in disgust as you wait a few minutes for a Q local train to stop at Kings Highway.  All the while, there are no announcements on the platform as the Q train approaches; as you start to board the Q train, you take one last look down the track when you see another pair of lights on the northbound express track.  You and other people get off the Q train to wait for what is presumed to be another B train until it passes by Kings Highway again, without stopping and no passengers aboard the train. Now you are ticked off at what is believed to be an absence of B service and you take the next Q train into Manhattan - - after waiting nearly 20 minutes for a B train which never showed up. 

This is not a rarity that NYC Transit does not meet it's goal in informing customers - - this is reality and the type of information which NYC Transit deliberately withholds from their customers is common in their day-to-day operations.  The above story was an example related to NYC Transit's winter weather operations, called Cold Weather Plans.  In this MTA Cold Weather poster, service on certain subway lines made be reduced, suspended or running on local tracks on the eve of a major winter storm which is forecast to dump 6 or more inches of snow across the NYC region or bring temperatures down to the zero degree mark.   The Cold Weather Plans are required to protect subway cars from freezing temperatures and or snow accumulations by storing them in underground tracks, usually on express tracks while lines running on express tracks such as the 2/3/4/5 lines in Manhattan would be running on the local tracks instead.  The winter plan is activated no later than 11 AM the day before a snowstorm or icy conditions hit the NYC area.   These plans are identified as Plan 1 through 5 with 1 being the minimal action needed with subway cars "topping up" or leaving them in yards with motors running, while plan 4 requires all subway cars stored in underground tunnels for the evening or all weekend.  Service on the A/D/E/F/N/Q/2/3/4/5 and < 6 > lines would run on local tracks at various locations.  Additionally, B service is suspended after 8 PM weeknights while a little known suspension on AM rush 5 trains from Nereid Ave also takes place (more on that later).    Plan 5, the most severe plan initiated, involves the complete shutdown of all subway service.   During the brutal winter of 2013-14, Cold Weather Plan 4 was in effect on the following days: December 13-16 (weekend), Jan 2-5 (weekend) 7, 8, 21, 22, 23 February 3,4,5,6 ,13,14-17 (weekend) 28-March 3 (weekend)   Of these nights when B service was suspended only three nights they posted that B service was suspended, these dates were Feb 4, 13, and 14.   B service can be suspended because there is sufficient service on other lines (A/C/D/Q) for customers to use.  If you are lucky, you might see these posters in B line stations, note the wrong departure time at DeKalb Ave towards Brighton Beach.
On the night when B service is suspended (and I have verified this information), they would post somewhat bogus service changes like this.  Note that this alerts was retrieved at 8:59 PM, when the above poster shows the last northbound B train departed West 4th Street

Trip Planner will continue to list normal B  service departures at each station.  And a few calls to the Travel Information Center between 9 and 10 PM (well after B service ended) on the nights when Plan 4 went into effect, agents sometimes told me that B service is still running.  This creates a lack of communication to not only customers but the news media as well.  Media outlets, such as radio station 1010 WINS  and NY1/News 12 cable channels frequently provide traffic and transit updates every 10 minutes and they cannot be at fault when NYCT refuses to make these winter service changes public, then these news outlets won't be able to tell listeners/viewers about the B suspension.  It is also worthwhile to note that I haven't seen any service changes along the Queens Blvd E/F/M/R lines when E and F trains run local during cold weather plans - - I cannot say if it's a fact or not that all express service in Queens is suspended because I didn't go out there to make any observations.
FastTrack on the Queens Blvd E/F/M and R lines in Queens was scheduled for the week of Jan 21-24 - - the entire 4 nights were cancelled due to winter weather but nobody took down posters like these at Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights complex.
Another lesser known but equally important is the suspension of  < 5 > AM rush hour service from Nereid Ave.  All of these 5 trains come from the adjacent 239th Street yard just north of Nereid station.  Since all of the trains are stored in Manhattan underground tunnels, they will be coming up to the Bronx on the middle track and simply run to 241 Street before being placed into service e on the 2 line towards Manhattan.  Therefore it is not possible to run regularly scheduled 5 trains from Nereid Ave; NYCT never posted this service change due to the NYCT Cold Weather Plan.   Since customers at Nereid down to Bronx Park East normally wait for a Manhattan-bound 5 train, they wait in the freezing cold to find out there is no 5 service.  NYCT screws customer who go to work in the morning and use the 5 train into Manhattan.  No stations announcements about the 5 suspension were ever made either.  The screenshot below is a sample taken from MT's subway time application, which seems to be the ONLY reliable source of information.
In one more instance where NYCT refuses to tell customers, which happens all year, is the PM 5 rush hour services towards Nereid Ave.  Many weekdays, 2 and 5 trains become backed up on the upper White Plains Road line all the way down to Gun Hill Road.  To alleviate congestion on this line, NYCT will order some 5 train to Nereid on the express track north of East 180th Street, to Gun Hill Road/White Plains Road and terminate there.  This service plan I do like because it takes some 5 trains out of the northbound local track and reduces congestion, they can use the middle track to run from Gun Hill Road to 239th Street yard.  However, none of this service change is anywhere on the MTA website, not on the 5 line timetable, nor on the 5 service information.  Across the Bronx, the 4 line runs some northbound trains only to Burnside Ave (express 167 straight to Burnside) and, unlike the 5 PM runs to Nereid, the 4 Burnside runs are clearly shown on the 4 line timetable and are noted on destination signs in trains.  So what is the problem in NYCT refusing to acknowledge about a service change which makes 2 and 5 service more efficient?  Customers are so used to the musical chairs on the 5 trains to Nereid that they wait for 2 trains at East 180th Street anyway. 
NYCT has a duty to inform customers - - and they arbitrary disseminate certain pieces of information while withholding others.  This is unacceptable.  Customers need this information, not only for winter service changes or the 5 rush hour service, but all service changes in general.  Those NYCT employees who are responsible for distributing the information to other units - - and who intentionally withhold such information - - should look for work elsewhere.


  1. I thought I was the only one as angry, frustrated, and upset about the MTA's lack of notifying customers in a timely manner about changes with this "Cold Weather Plan". I even wrote them an e-mail (doubt if they'll change things or respond, but whatever) about how their failure to notify me about the Q running local in Manhattan has caused me to be late to work numerous times when I work on the weekend. Yesterday I was over 20 minutes late to work because the Q ran local in Manhattan and I always check before I leave and nothing was mentioned. Not until after 9:15 a.m. did they put on the website that the Q was running local in the city due to the "Cold Weather Plan". That's outrageous considering I left at 7:00 a.m. and this change was already in effect but the information not available to us, the riding public. If they know ahead of time its going to be cold enough for this plan (the weather forecast/temps are easily available to the MTA, come on!). And I never know whether the Cold Weather Plan is going to be in effect because they say they only do it if it's 10 degrees or less, but I've witnessed them doing it when it's almost 30 degrees, so we have no way of knowing whatsoever, until it's too late and they finally put it on As someone who lives in Brooklyn off the B/Q lines I want to sincerely thank you for speaking out about this and I don't have high hopes, but I hope the more people that speak out, bother the MTA with e-mail complaints, and even notify the news media of this (it might become a "scoop" for them on a slow news day) the better chance things have of changing and for more consideration given to the riders. Take care.

    1. Thank you Brooklyn1981 for your concerns. I was once a regular on the Brighton B and Q lines and that is when I first heard about the Cold Weather Plan when B ser4vice ended early - - back around 2004. The MTA and NYC Transit use smokescreens to provide new inititatives but continue to lie on other issues. The B37 line elimination and B8/B70 restructuring in June 2010 was later disguised as "new routes and new service" when they were restored in 2014.