The boundaries that divide our transit systems

PATH

» In New York City, transit providers create new services to handle disruptions—even when existing lines can support the load.

Beginning early this month, PATH—the metro rail system operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that connects Manhattan and Northern New Jersey—began installing new signals, forcing the closure of a section of its network in New York City. In the process, the agency is providing a bus shuttle service as a substitute over the course of 17 weekends, shuttling passengers on an above-ground route between the Midtown business district and the World Trade Center, where PATH trains continue to run.

All of this might make sense under normal circumstances; in fact, in places like Chicago where rail lines have been shut down, bus service replacement has worked well. Yet in New York, the service being replaced runs on a corridor shared by other subway lines*—but they’re managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) instead. Those lines not only are faster than the buses PATH is providing, but they show up more often, and they connect directly underground to the World Trade Center (which the buses do not).

Benjamin Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas delved into the details—and appropriately condemned—this service change last week. PATH has chosen to shuttle its passengers rather than take advantage of existing New York City Transit Subway services, giving them vouchers to use on the buses instead of working with the MTA to let riders take advantage of the trains it is running. It is a disappointing reflection of the state of cooperation between the Port Authority and the MTA.

Yet I can’t help chiming in, too, to discuss the mentality of transit operators that choose to pursue this course of action. For, while PATH’s “bustitution” is uniquely problematic, the agency’s perspective on how to act is hardly rare at all. Indeed, as I’ll describe below, given their general understanding about how to operate, it is a surprise that we don’t see more actions of this sort by transit agencies in the U.S.

Operators act as if their riders are incapable of using other services—or as if those other services simply don’t exist

It is possible that the Port Authority asked the MTA to provide free transfer rides to its PATH riders arriving at the World Trade Center, and the MTA declined the idea. Or perhaps the Port Authority determined that providing riders vouchers for rides on the MTA would be more expensive than operating the relatively minimal-cost substitute bus (see below). Even so, the decision to “bustitute” smacks of agencies that don’t believe customers should be transferring between services.

PATH’s approach is to assume that its customers can only take PATH-branded services, and thus that if the PATH rail line isn’t working, they’ll have to take a new PATH bus. Other transit services might as well not exist.

PATH, of course, is hardly alone in this approach. The MTA was capable of producing a map that demonstrated “regional transit connections,” including the Subway, PATH, and other services—but only during the Super Bowl in 2014. Otherwise, the Subway map treats PATH (which carries more than 250,000 riders a day) as a minor railroad hardly visible on the map, and with its service in New Jersey simply not shown.

In Chicago, the commuter rail agency Metra and the local metro rail system, the CTA ‘L,’ share stations at two points (the product, no doubt, of clearheaded thinking at some point decades ago), yet riders are provided no discount to transfer between these services. When required by state legislation to provide a single, shared fare card, the commuter rail agency responded by cooperating on the development of an app that can’t be used to board a CTA bus or train.

These agencies operate with isolation mentalities, ignoring the fact that their riders may well want to take advantage of other transit services, or even (gasp!) that many of them already do.

This approach has nefarious consequences that extend not only into the service that operators provide but also into the projects they choose to build. When planning a new route, for example, agencies often ignore the potential for improving existing services operated by other agencies; this results, for example, in BART pushing a multi-billion dollar expansion of its services to San Jose instead of encouraging local stakeholders to invest in improving existing commuter rail services such as Caltrain or Altamont Corridor Express.

Operators act as if they are in competition with other operators

Behind PATH’s decision to provide users a bus to substitute for its weekend service outage is the sense that the agency is somehow in competition with New York City’s Subway network. The agencies both provide services under Sixth Avenue, but to transfer between trains requires leaving one system and entering the other. From the rider’s perspective, the relationship between the two services is confrontational, rather than cooperative—and the weekend “bustitution” furthers this impression.

What’s ironic about this arrangement, of course, is that both PATH and the New York City Subway are run by public agencies (supposedly) serving in the public interest and receiving public subsidies to operate and construct projects. Each receives funding from the federal government to maintain infrastructure. Each operates on a tax-free basis. And each is controlled by state governments (in the case of the Port Authority, its management is 50 percent controlled by the State of New Jersey). One would think they might have an incentive to work together.

In other cases, transit agencies are even more directly linked. In the Chicago region, for example, both CTA and Metra receive operating subsidies from the same regional sales tax and from the same state matching funds (MTA and PATH have different operating subsidy sources). Yet those agencies’ management is divorced from one another and neither is compelled to consult the other when developing service plans or integrating fare systems.

The results are familiar to transit riders in many parts of the country: Difficulty making multimodal transfers, confusion about which services operate where and when, and additional costs when using multiple operators.

Sources of operator isolation

It is worth noting that the “bustitution” provided by PATH will not be particularly expensive to provide on the grand scheme of things. Using the information provided by PATH about its weekend service, I estimated that the agency would need a total of four buses to provide service—such a small number that the organization can surely scrounge up the buses from its existing airport fleets.

Assuming operating costs of New York City Transit buses in 2014 (from the Federal Transit Administration’s database), the total costs of operation will be between $720,000 and $930,000 for all of the relevant weekends (depending on whether you calculate based on average cost per vehicle revenue hour or revenue mile). These costs would account for less than a third of a percent of PATH’s $342 million 2016 operating budget.

Nevertheless, it would be cheaper for both transit systems overall for the MTA to simply absorb the transferring PATH riders during the weekend shutdowns. This would require no additional operating costs on the part of the Port Authority and likely nothing for the Subway system either, as it has the capacity to absorb these weekend passengers. But this would mean the MTA and the Port Authority would have to work for the good of the general public, not just their respective riders or agencies.

To place the blame for the operator malfunctions described above on the operators alone is almost as bad as the actions of the operators themselves. For while it is true that operators often have a lot of responsibility for the way they interact with their peers, it is also true that their economic and political makeup often obligates them to act as they do.

Transit operators in the U.S., as noted above, are universally subsidized. Those subsidies are provided to operators based on pre-set parameters that have been negotiated over time between elected officials, the public (through referenda), and the operators. In general, the subsidies are attributed to operators without operating requirements. As a result, operators are often free to make their own decisions about how to spend their funds, without required consideration of regional needs, potential overlap with other agencies, or direction from political officials.

Most transit providers are public authorities with boards appointed by elected officials representing local, regional, and state governments. In many cases, the same elected officials appoint officials to multiple transit boards; New York’s governor appoints representatives to both the MTA and the Port Authority, for example. This setup might imply that elected officials have some oversight responsibility (or sense of obligation) to make the right decisions for transit riders.

In regions where transit services are consolidated, such as in Boston or Minneapolis, these conditions are less problematic. State leadership holds transit service accountable and sets priorities for system expansion. And one agency (MBTA or Metro Transit) is tasked with setting service standards, and the agencies generally have an incentive to encourage riders to experience the system as a whole, not just a collection of lines.

That said, even in Boston, unified control of the transit system under one agency hasn’t prevented such absurdities as it costing riders $6.75 to ride between Braintree and South Station on commuter rail and only $2.25 to make the same trip on the Red Line subway. The commuter rail line, yes, is nine minutes faster—but it also runs only 18 times a day in total, versus every 9 to 12 minutes on the Red Line.

A better grasp on what regional goals are for transit networks in general, and a commensurate focus by elected officials on telling agencies what to do, rather than letting agencies operate in isolated fiefdoms, would aid American transit riders. In places with multiple transit agencies, it probably shouldn’t be up to individual operators to determine which services to prioritize, or what fares to charge, or where to expand, or how to deal with a major service change due to construction.

Elected officials rarely take responsibility for running transit services effectively and responsibly, the sort of “Sewer Socialism” Sandy Johnston has focused on of late. Transit agencies shouldn’t operate in a vacuum, devoid of political involvement (despite their considerable public subsidies), but they often do—and they do so with the explicit support of politicians who don’t have the interest, engagement, or expertise to demand better. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo should force the Port Authority and the MTA to work together. His constituents should demand that he does.

* Riders trying to get from Midtown near Sixth Avenue (where the PATH runs) to the World Trade Center have several options on the Subway system: Taking the 1 to Chambers Street; the 2 or 3 to Park Place; the E to World Trade Center; the A or C to Chambers Street or Fulton Street; or the R to Cortlandt Street.

Image at top: PATH’s 33rd Street Station, from Flickr user Friscocali (cc).

40 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Chris McKitterick

    “That said, even in Boston, unified control of the transit system under one agency hasn’t prevented such absurdities as it costing riders $6.75 to ride between Braintree and South Station on commuter rail and only $2.25 to make the same trip on the Red Line subway. The commuter rail line, yes, is nine minutes faster—but it also runs only 18 times a day in total, versus every 9 to 12 minutes on the Red Line.”

    Sure seems like the government is using pricing to encourage folks to use the more frequent transit opportunities available rather than clogging up the regional rail line which only runs 18 times a day.

  • The one thing that’s inaccurate about the use of multimodal fares in chicago is that the Ventra card does provide the opportunity for a Link-up pass (CTA) and PlusBus (Pace). However, they are still working on the app component since you’d have to buy those with Metra’s monthly passes. Also – the app (released in November 2015) only provided a suitable base level of coverage for “app on train” and “real time info.” And currently in development of a future phase. In order to get the full transit experience, NFC (and whatever the heck apple pay uses) would need to be cleared before the true power of the app can be made.

  • Frank Mastroly

    We have a similar situation in Los Angeles County. LA Metro (www.metro.net) operates all local rail and most, but not all, bus in LA County, but Metrolink operates the commuter rail system.

    Except in few instances, Metro and Metrolink passengers must pay full fare when transferring between the two agencies.

    There are numerous local bus services in LA County, such as Foothill Transit and municipal bus services in Santa Monica, Long Beach, and numerous others. However, Metro charges a 50-cent few to transfer between Metro and non-Metro services.

    What is even worse is that adjacent counties (Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside) all have their own local bus systems with only a handful of inter-county bus services and no transfer privileges. At least Metrolink is able to operate in all four counties as well as in Ventura County.

    At one time the Pacific Electric and its successor bus agencies served all four counties but the “powers the be” decided in the “infinite wisdom and judgement” to establish separate local transit agencies in each county, This despite the heavy commuter freeway traffic between the four counties.

    • Dexter Wong

      According to the “Beyond The Red Cars” blog, SCRTD operated bus service that followed the old PE routes until it became too expensive to operate service beyond LA County. Receiving no financial support from other counties, SCRTD cut back service to the county line and encouraged neighboring transit districts to connect there. Full service was no restored until Metrolink was started.

      • Frank Mastroly

        Unfortunately, Metrolink runs only a very limited service on most lines and is much more costly than Metro and other local bus and rail lines. Metrolink has to be more like Caltrain, Metra, MTBA, Metro North, New Jersey Transit, and the LIRR to be considered a truly effective regional system.

        In addition, Orange (OCTA), Riverside (RTA), and San Bernardino (Omnitrans) Counties now have their own extensive bus networks, but there is little coordination between them and LA Metro. For example, OCTA has a complicated and restrictive transfer arrangement with LA Metro (see http://www.octa.net/Bus/Routes-and-Schedules/Connections-and-Transfers/?terms=transfers%20to%20la%20metro ) that DOES NOT allow free transfers to and from the Metro Rail lines, even though their Line 1 does go to Long Beach but not to the Blue Line station.

        Foothill Transit, which serves the north eastern part of LA County, has a similar limited transfer policy (http://foothilltransit.org/fares/transfer-policy/) with OCTA, Omnitrans, and LA Metro, but Metrolink monthly passes and tickets are NOT accepted despite the fact that Metrolink and Foothill share some facilities. Even Foothill-to-Foothill transfers cost $0.50.

        To me there is absolutely no logic to this ridiculous situation, ESPECIALLY if it is the desire of all transit agencies to increase the use of their systems. I know that this is not the case, but it seems is as if they are really not serious in this matter despite spending $Billions. I foresee the need for the eventual creation of a four-county transit agency similar to SCRTD where all four counties participate and, more important, contribute financially to the system.

        This was not the case in the SCRTD days, especially after the distinction between interurban (both rail and bus) and local (mostly bus) lines, a carryover from the Pacific Electric days, was eliminated.

        The PE had this distinction to the very end, with only the Western District (Venice, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, Glendale, Hollywood, San Fernando Valley, etc.) services classified as local. With the exception of the Watts-Sierra Vista local line and possibly a few others, the PE Northern and Southern District interurban lines (Pasadena, Pomona, Glendora, San Bernardino, Long Beach, etc., both rail and bus) would not accept transfers from either the PE local lines or the Los Angeles Railway (LA Transit) lines.

        • Well Metrolink is a railroad, the PGE was not. Typically, in North America there isn’t free transfer between railroads and buses and subway because yes, as first pointed out, they are run by different agencies.

          In Hamburg, if you have a pass for the right zone, you can use any form of transit within the zone without paying an additional fee.

          In London, there are various forms of daily maximum payment for use of transit, but until you reach the cap there can be charges per mode and trip. In Paris, there is one transfer between Metro and RER included in a ticket price, but not two.

          The integrated fare media and transit provision systems in Germany seem to be unique.

          • Frank Mastroly

            It’s not PGE (Pacific Gas and Electric) but PE (Pacific Electric). PGE owns, among other things, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.

            The PE was in fact a railroad as it also carried freight as well as passengers.

  • Bliss

    Any Metrolink ticket includes a free transfer to Metro, and most of the larger muni operators – http://www.metrolinktrains.com/howtoride/page/title/transitconnections

    • Oops. Great to know. (Although I still wish that the North County Transit District in SD County would just merge with Metrolink.)

      Your post and link info reminded me about MARC in Maryland. If you have a monthly pass for MARC railroad service, you are entitled to free transfers onto MTA Transit services in Greater Baltimore, as well as Metrobus in Greater Washington and RideOn bus transit in Montgomery County, Maryland. This does not include free transfer to Metrorail.

      In the US, this comes the closest to the ideal, along with Metrolink.

      However, an add on “Transit Link Card” for Metrorail unlimited use can be purchased. The cost varies a little, but it’s about $115/month, in addition to the MARC monthly pass. Virginia Railway Express riders can also purchase this card (but don’t have the same free riding privileges on the other services that comes with a MARC monthly pass).

      • Actually the combo with Metrolink is the best, and maybe “the best in the world” because it is with any ticket that the free transfer is included, and is not restricted to pass holders, as it is with MARC or even in Hamburg.

    • Frank Mastroly

      The San Diego NTSD, in addition to the Coaster commuter rail, operates the Sprinter DMU and buses. It would be an involved merger.

  • Carl

    In Germany, Switzerland and many other non-English European countries they typically have fare associations for urban areas (agglomerations), so called “Verkehrsverbund” in the German-speaking language. The fare for a given trip depends only on the origin and destination (typically zones) and not on the mode or operator or number of transfers. It truly makes it seamless as there is no pricing difference nor penalty for making transfers and of course it eliminates any justification for needless duplication of routes. And typically in these regions there are services run by the railroads, by municipal transport services, and by various bus vendors, and yet it becomes a seamless system, and the routes don’t terminate at city or county boundaries when it would make logical sense to extend them. Schedules among various operators are coordinated and the service levels determined on a regional basis.

    In USA and Great Britain and much of Asia, for whatever reason, they haven’t been able to find the political will to coordinate fare systems and agencies, and the seams between the operators are kept plain to see for customers – and as you have noted, often they behave like the other operators don’t exist.

    In the NYC case, even though there doubtless would either need to be special equipment or possibly capital improvements needed, it would make every sense in the world for the PATH line to integrate into the subway system and continue, for example, onto the new 2nd Avenue subway or perhaps on the N to Astoria. It would make a whole lot of sense if NJT trains could continue onto the LIRR or as Metro North New Haven line trains. It would provide useful service AND save one Penn Station platform space.

    Other Metro areas that have the opportunity for much better integration include the SF Bay Area where Caltrain, BART, the Capitol Corridor, Muni Metro, and the various bus agencies could reduce redundancy and integrate fares. Here in Seattle we have the crazy situation where Sound Transit and Metro Transit overlap but have different fare structures. Sound Transit in particular, even within the agency, has different fare structures for the same trip depending on whether it involves bus or light rail, and then runs a whole fleet of buses that duplicate the Sounder commuter rail, which seems especially wasteful during peak periods when many of the buses complete only a single run during an operator shift. But it becomes justified in part because the bus fare is lower and Sounder is considered a premium service.

    • Nathanael

      The Metra-CTA disconnect is the most ridiculous because they are actually divisions of the same agency.

      The NYC Subway / Metro-North / LIRR disconnect is nearly as bad for exactly the same reason.

      Having looked at both systems, I think it’s necessary to totally destroy LIRR management and traditions as they currently exist; LIRR is an almost unmitigated disaster full of dishonest employees and recalcitrant management. Metro-North seems much more cooperative.

      Metra simply needs a top-level management transplant; the won’t-play-nice-with-others problems don’t seem to me to go as deep in Metra as they do in LIRR.

      • Metra has had a top-level management transplant in recent years as a result of a couple of scandals. In Chicago, the operating agencies (Metra, CTA and Pace) accrue power independent of one another because each agency has its own board of directors, directly accountable to the counties in which they were appointed from. As long as each operating agency has an independent boards of directors from the parent agency (RTA), they will not have incentives to “play nice” with others if it is not in their own interest.

    • I’m inclined to agree that Verkehrsverbund is the best model for a place like New York that has so many agencies. What tends to characterize them is that they are very small and answer to the politicians but control all the money, and use that control to dictate integrated fare payment systems, customer-facing materials such as maps and timetables, and network design. Ideally, on the Swiss model, they would create an integrated clockface schedule along with the network design, and use it to ensure pulse transfers and to prioritize capital improvements.

      If the Port Authority is known for being bloated, corrupt, and prone to a zero-sum view of NY/NJ relations, then we would expect those issues to be there as well, which makes the design of a New York VV challenging.

      One solution I’ve been thinking about, based on my readings about the VV model, the Great Lakes compact, and Sandy’s thoughts about a Northeast Rail Authority (here: https://itineranturbanist.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/the-case-for-a-unified-northeastern-rail-authority/) is to design it so there’s more than two elected stakeholders, and that those stakeholders are not just governors. The board would be the following members, ex officio:

      1) Governor of NY
      2) Governor of NJ
      3) Governor of CT
      4) Executive(s) of any incorporated city that exceeds 250,000 in population (in practice, NYC for sure and Newark and/or Jersey City depending on the census).

      Each can appoint alternates and has voting power of at least one, plus additional votes according to the population of the VV’s service area that is within their jurisdictions. Mayors represent the populations of their cities and governors represent the populations of their states that lie within the service area but outside the cities.

      Of course, organizational design is no substitute for a political climate that values transit and good transit planning, but it may go some way to avoiding the flaws of the PANYNJ and does not require the disparate agencies to merge operationally. Would be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

      • Frank Mastroly

        The idea of an Integrated Northeast Transit agency has merit. I think it should also include one representative from each of the various counties, e.g., Westchester, Suffolk, Nassau, etc.

        • The MTA is somewhat set up this way, though I think the Governor still appoints those representatives. The issue here is that county officials tend not to have much power and so I think major executives should be on the board (in practice through their alternates). The inclusion of mayors is to avoid the windshield mindset that often afflicts governors, and to prevent a binary division of power in favor of a multipolar system in which any two of the major actors can outvote the third, leading (one hopes) to decisions that tend to help the region as a whole. Whether their appointees should be subject to approval by their legislatures is an issue to consider.

          Another interesting question is whether to bring in Pennsylvania, either a single seat for the governor (Lehigh Valley) or as part of a larger-scale mid-atlantic VV (Philadelphia and its suburbs, which also would include a single seat for the Delaware governor). I lean towards “no” at first, but with the possibility of expansion as through-running to Trenton is considered. Ultimately there might be a division between “metropolitan” and “intercity” service, with the merged NEC/NHV service put under the “intercity” aegis even as it is run by NJT and MNR. In any case, SEPTA would continue to exist as an operator – the point of a VV is to be a small agency at the top with enough clout to force the operators to work together.

  • Well you know I feel similarly, as I have written.

    The reality is that transit systems seem to be pretty mode specific, WMATA even charging a fare for each mode, rather than one integrated fare.

    I don’t think the paper is particularly well written, but it discusses integrated transit services in Europe, including Germany.

    I only have personal experience with the system for Greater Hamburg, which apparently is the model for other jurisdictions across Germany, and the first example of integrated fare media across different agencies, dating to the 1960s. (And some experience with Essen/NRW/Ruhr Valley but the transit agencies aren’t integrated in quite the same way.)

    The HVV or Hamburg Transport Assn. is owned by the city-state of Hamburg and coordinates transit services for all of Hamburg, and some districts of two adjoining states. All the transit services are coordinated with an integrated fare system, something which pretty much escapes us in the US (the ORCA card comes close, as it includes access to ferry and railroad fares, the card in SF Bay includes some of this too, and one of the fare passes in MBTA includes close in commuter railroad services).

    Anyway, HVV has more than one dozen providers, although the main two are Hamburg Hochburn (U Bahn and many of the bus services) and Deutsche Bahn for regional commuter rail. That might make it easier.

    But yes, as you point out (and I wrote about it a couple times) the Greater NYC services should be integrated — PATH, NJ Transit’s various services, NYC Transit, Metro North, and LIRR — and they are not.

    How to go about integrating MPOs?

    TfL is another great example, which surprisingly, isn’t covered by that paper. The way that TfL has been awarded regional rail commuter franchises and branded them as London Overground is also a model for most US jurisdictions.

  • Excellent article.
    This same mentality is the reason why the Competition for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal is dead on arrival. In 2013 the Bloomberg administration proposed an extension of the subway #7 to Secaucus so that bus commuters could transfer to the subway over there instead of in Manhattan. The added benefits are that the # 7 line gives commuters a direct access to the East side and the new Hudson Yards, reduces dramatically delays and pollution. What is there not to like?
    Since then MTA has doggedly refused to even contemplate such an extension citing a collection of obstacles that have long been resolved by European rail companies.

    Everyone knows that it is the only possible solution to support a 50% increase in bus travels . The planners, the engineers, the public in both New York and New Jersey… There is simply not enough real estate in Manhattan to absorb this growth and the cost of building is extraordinary for a sub par result that neither reduce the commute time or increase reliability.

    • I hadn’t thought of this element until your comment, but one justification of an extension of the 7 to NJ would be to reduce bus traffic into and out of NYC. (OTOH, that 7 line train could be incredibly congested…)

      It’s a different kind of transportation demand management initiative, one that the MTA should appreciate in terms of capacity at Holland Tunnel and on bridges, the same way that you can look at support of car share (as Hoboken does) as a way to reduce demand for parking, by supporting residents who need mobility options but are willing to give up car ownership. (Each car share vehicle supports about 10 non-car owning members.)

      • Frank Mastroly

        Instead of extending the 7 Line under the Hudson, I think it would be better to use that tunnel money to build the desperately needed new Amtrak tunnels and enlarge Penn Station to add 6 or more tracks. This would benefit Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the LIRR.

        • It’s not the same funding sources. It’s not the same needs. Part is regional and multistate transit demands. I wouldn’t conflate the two projects.

          • Nathanael

            We have far too few tunnels under the Hudson. We need two rail tunnels for Amtrak and NJT, two rail tunnels for the #7 parallel to the Lincoln tunnel to get the PABT tunnels out of Manhattan, and two rail tunnels for freight under the NY Bay to Brooklyn. And I would say we need to extend the Second Avenue Subway under 125th St. and then under the Hudson as a rail alternative to the GWB.

            That would be eight tunnels, and that’s about what are needed under the Hudson.

  • Frank Mastroly

    As for New Jersey Transit (NJT) trains going through Penn Station, they can use the Metro North lines but not the LIRR lines. However, through routing NJT trains with the LIRR is not feasible, as the LIRR uses over-running third rail while all NJT trains operate from overhead catenary. However, I guess that third rail shoes cloud be installed so that some NJT trains could operate on either system as do New Haven Division trains into Grand Central,

    Currently, the New York MTA is investigating routing some New Haven Division Metro North trains to Penn station using the Amtrak Hell Gate line and thus these trains could be through routed with NJT trains. There are already two Metro North lines west of the Hudson River that are operated jointly with NJT, but these lines do not yet directly enter Penn Station.

    The New York MTA is also constructing an East Side Access Project that will route some LIRR trains to a new terminal under Grand Central Terminal. The LIRR trains cannot operate on Metro North lines as the latter uses an under-running third rail. However, in the past some FL-9 dual mode diesels had both over-and-under-running third rail shoes so that they could operate in either Grand Central or Penn Station at the flip of a switch in the operator’s cab.

    As for Path trains operating on the New York subway lines, there is a slight mismatch in car widths. PATH cars are 9-feet-2 3⁄4-inches wide, while MTA B-Division (former IND and BMT lettered line) cars are 10 feet wide. Thus there would be a small (approximately 4-1/2 inch) gap at the platforms. There could also be a mismatch in platform heights.

    This is not as bad as would be the case if A-Division (former IRT numbered line) cars which would produce a 7 1/2-inch gap if operated on the B-Division lines. The BMT once operated both “narrow” elevated and “wide” subway cars on some routes, with notices to passengers to “mind the gap.”

    • Carl

      Metro North’s New Haven Division already has a fleet that operates on both overhead catenary power and on 3rd rail. I don’t see why LIRR couldn’t also acquire such a fleet. With today’s electronics it is pretty straightforward to operated on various voltages – in Europe some multi-mode engines can operate on as many as four different voltages and frequencies.

      In the case of PATH, if their tunnel clearances were to allow it, I would think it would be possible to shave a few inches off the platforms and thereby allow a wider car at the doorway. It might take some time but it would make PATH far more attractive and useful. Heck let the MTA take over PATH and NJ or the Port Authority transfer some taxes or subsidies to make up for that. And by all means, the 7 should extend to somewhere in Secaucus to open up new bus capacity…

      • Nathanael

        LIRR refuses to play nice with anyone, including Metro-North and Amtrak.

      • Frank Mastroly

        The LIRR trains run on 750 VDC, while the Metro North 3rd rail is 600 VDC. But that should not be a problem in acquiring a fleet of cars similar to those on the New Haven Division. The only potential problem would be overhead clearances to clear the retracted paragraphs.

  • Yes, PATH should be integrated into “subway” but… because it is under FRA, not FTA, apparently it costs a lot more to run. MTA wouldn’t want the financial responsibility. There were reports about PATH a couple years ago, and the Newark Star Ledger (which has quite good transit coverage) always runs stories on PATH (and NJTransit) including on this issue.

    • Nathanael

      Technically SIRT is under FRA authority (it was originally part of the B&O Railroad). PATH could be granted the same exemptions SIRT has.

  • david vartanoff

    PATH is mechanically similar enough to IRT (A Division) that trains to WTC could be extended to become Lexington Locals. The FRA oversight can be removed by pressure from the NY and NJ Congressional delegations because the reasons for it are no longer valid. The operationally far simpler move is simple fare integration treating PATH as just another several subway lines. As with most of these issues, the obstacles are all bipeds who should either evolve or be removed. The piece of the PATH that I would extend, dreaming the money into existence, would be the once planned 9th St crosstown route. With tranfer stations at Astor Place (and potentially 2nd Ave and terminating under Tompkins Square Park, riders would have a major increase in travel patterns.

    • I’ve never taken PATH but my understanding is that they honor MTA Metrocards.

      The biggest problem with fare integration isn’t so much doing it, but the cost of implementing it across the NY Transit system. Probably 10 years ago I remember reading an article that said it would cost $1 Billion.

      But once such a system is in place, nothing prevents fare media integration. Because Maryland MTA funds both WMATA and MTA services in Baltimore, they contracted with WMATA to use a branded SmarTrip card, called CharmCard, for the Baltimore services. So the fare card is interoperable. But there aren’t cross-fares. You’d be charged separate fees and the monies would go to whichever transit agency. Because most of the systems in the DC area don’t provide free transfers, divvying up revenues from fares using the same card system is probably simple.

      I was looking at Fort Worth-Dallas fare integration today because they announced beginning construction of a new commuter line for “Fort Worth” branded differently from Trinity Rail Express. (Interestingly, the ROW is owned by Dallas even though the corridor extends to Fort Worth, and DART intends to create a rail line on its section of the Cotton Belt corridor.) I was thinking about it in terms of this post, but then I looked at fare practices, and if someone were to buy the regional pass, $160/month, it includes commuter rail between Dallas and Fort Worth as well as local transit services in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Denton County.

      Because of the different funding services, inter operable fare media in Greater NY would likely function the way it does in DC and Baltimore — same card, but not integrated fares between systems.

    • Is this possible now without tearing out the expensive new PATH terminal? I think they made it impossible. I’ve tried to trace a route and I can’t find one that works with that big loop in the way.

      • david vartanoff

        You may well be right. Note that I mentioned extending the 33rd St line which I think has more importance in opening up new travel patterns.

  • david vartanoff

    On the more general issue, from a rider/taxpayer POV, I believe ALL commuter operations should be fare integrated in every area where transit also operates. That means a CTA fare (single through monthly pass) should be valid on any Metra or South Shore Line train within CTA’s service territory.
    This issue is particularly critical in the case of the Metra Electric which in my childhood was the finest commuter service in the US with subway frequencies, short turn locals, and “specials” running non stop between the CBD to residential areas and all of it very fast. Daniel Hertz has a good post at ChicagoDispatch.

    • There was an article in the Chi. Tribune within the last couple months about a proposal to extend one of the rail lines in the South Side to provide more service to an area with minimal El services. I can’t remember, but probably they suggested a fare structure like CTA.

      There were a couple pieces here years ago about expanding Metro North and LIRR coverage within NYC to add transit capacity, charging subway fares.

      And London Overground is in the same vein, although charged higher fares than the Underground I think, but marketed and operated as an urban transit service, even though it is a railroad and not a subway. It’s been incredibly successful compared to the earlier iteration as railroad franchises, with 3x ridership increases, increased demand for housing within the Overground service area, etc.

      I mentioned suggesting this wrt DC area transit planning in a blog post I cited above. Probably not to that level of detail but I think a broad suggestion of this will be in the DC State Rail Plan.

    • The in city MBTA transit pass does include coverage of some in city commuter rail stations. I think that is exceptional across the US. (Other than the free transfers from Metrolink.)

      WRT the comment above about the NCTD, I think you could merge Coaster and Metrolink without having to merge the other transit services. But it’s a hypothetical discussion although I talked with an OCTA official about the idea at a conference last year, and he indicated that they didn’t think it made sense to have two different railroad services, that they should be integrated. (FWIW, the connection at Oceanside isn’t that great between the two services. The schedules aren’t super convenient. And unless you hit them right, you’re forced to take Surfliner, especially for service later than rush hours.)

      But the train cars I rode for each service, Metrolink and Coaster, were great. Wifi service, bike carriage. And hardly anyone on. Incredible views of the Pacific Ocean.

  • Frank Mastroly

    The current PATH cars are 9-feet-2 3⁄4-inches wide, while MTA A-Division (former IRT numbered line) cars are 8-feet, 9-incheswide, feet wide. Thus the present PATH cars could not operate on A-Division lines without cutting back the edges of the platforms, thus leaving a small gap when standard A-Division cars are operated. The cost of so doing would not be worth it, not counting the inconvenience to the regular A-Division patrons.

    Assuming that the PATH tunnels cannot accommodate the wider B-Division cars, probably the best solution is to use standard A-Division cars on the PATH lines. The gap would be a bit less than 3 inches. Then gradually modify the platforms accordingly, starting with those with the heaviest traffic and working down to lower-traffic stations.

    The existing PATH cars could then be used as back-up to the B-Division cars, the gap notwithstanding. Fortunately, the gap would be a few inches less that it was when BMT elevated trains regularly ran on BMT subway lines, such as on the northern portion of the BMT Myrtle Avenue Elevated Line north of the Broadway Station (now M) Line until 1969.

  • You’re totally right that this kind of territorialism between agencies leads to suboptimal outcomes. Usually, there is a lack of regional coordination leading to these kinds of situations and because funding is totally separate and trying to figure out an agreement like this is complicated, it just doesn’t happen.

    When we were working on the Transit Sustainability Project in the Bay Area, we looked at what it meant for the region to have 27! transit agencies and one of the things that we found out was that the labor agreements with various operators prevented AC Transit from picking up passengers anywhere in San Francisco except the Transbay Terminal and Golden Gate Transit except a few other spots. So instead of doing something useful and serving San Francisco, AC Transit’s commuter buses would just sit there parked all day waiting for the PM peak.

    Hopefully, growth in regionalism can help overcome some of these situations but honestly, I’m not optimistic.

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