MTA Weekend Follies, Again: An Investigation


This should absolutely not come as a surprise, but anyone who uses the New York City subway system will experience some trying times this weekend. Do you take the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, A, C, D, E, F, G, L, N, Q, or R trains? Sorry ’bout that. For us Williamsburgers, this is par for the course. The reason for the L’s un-usability between Lorimer and Broadway Junction this weekend : rail work at Myrtle Avenue and Halsey Street. But why does this keep happening, over and over again? And why must we always be trapped on the weekends? (For this, I’m limiting the scope to the subway and not the buses, although bus riders: we feel you).

Deirdre Parker, an MTA rep, told me that “we have to do most of our work on the weekends when we have fewer customers.” Ridership “doesn’t compare to peak hours during the week” on weekends. “We’re trying to inconvenience the fewest number of people possible,” she said.

This all sounds reasonable except for the fact that the difference between weekend and weekday subway ridership isn’t always so drastic, nor is there even always much of a difference at all. For example, at Bedford Avenue on the L, a typical weekday involves 21,149 people using the station. On a weekend, Bedford might see 38,038 riders on Saturday and Sunday combined, meaning about 19,000 a day on those days. That means Bedford retains 90% of its weekday ridership on weekends.

At other stations as well, the numbers match up pretty well, for example at Prince and Canal streets. All over the city, actually, public transportation has seen a resurgence in its weekend usage just as it seems the weekend transit fails to serve our needs. Last year the subway system had an average of 5.36 million riders on weekends, which is one of the highest numbers ever recorded. This has to do with a number of factors, including a city economy grounded in service work that isn’t necessarily 9-5 Monday through Friday, the fact that it’s way safer now to take the subway on weekend nights than it once was, tourism, and so on.

As for what lines are most likely to be having problems on any given weekend? As Parker put it, “It could be any of them, all of them, most of them, even, because we’re doing work all over the city. it depends on what the project is.” For example, F and G riders: this weekend they’re continuing work on the Culver Viaduct, which is a “long-term project,” unfortunately for you. Not that the G ever functions properly anyway, especially not in the summer, when, as Parker confirmed, the MTA chooses to get more repair work done to take advantage of decent weather.

The moral of this story: be rich enough to take cabs everywhere when you can’t take the subway, and pay extra-special attention to those small posters the MTA puts up in stations so you know how difficult the struggle to leave your neighborhood will be. Of course, repairs have to be done, and at first glance it probably makes more sense to have them done on a Saturday afternoon than at 9 a.m. on Monday. But on closer inspection, it might not be that logical after all.