Transit plan: End overnight subways to speed up repairs

By DAVID PORTER Markets Associated Press

Shut down the subway overnight in the city that never sleeps?

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That was among the recommendations made Thursday by an influential think tank, which proposed ending New York City's vaunted 24-hour subway service as a way to help save a public transit system groaning with age and in dire need of costly upgrades more easily performed on silent tracks in the dead of night.

"The era of 24-hour subway service has come to an end," said Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, which included the recommendation in a broader set of proposals to shore up outdated infrastructure in and around the nation's biggest city.

The initial reaction of many New Yorkers? Fuhgeddaboudit.

"Stand clear of the awful idea!" said the Daily News, in a nod to the ubiquitous conductor announcements advising passengers to stand clear of closing train doors. It said the plan would "snuff the pride of New York," which has long looked down at cities — especially Boston — that halt trains and buses late at night.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota called the proposal "a bit draconian" and said a full weeknight shutdown would be "inappropriate." He added the MTA already occasionally halts service on some lines on nights and weekends for repairs.

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Dedicating overnight hours entirely to repairs would help shorten the time frame for repair and replacement work, Wright said this week.

Subway delays have soared in recent years partly because upgrading decades-old equipment is difficult on tracks that always are humming with activity.

The Regional Plan Association said a combination of expanded bus service and ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft could make up the difference for the estimated 1.5 percent of riders who use the system during overnight hours.

The Regional Plan Association released its master plan Thursday. Other recommendations contained in the 382-page document include restructuring New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and creating a national park in New Jersey's Meadowlands to combat sea level rise.

Steven Graham and George Johnson, who work as messengers in Manhattan, took a pragmatic approach to the recommendations.

"The work has to be done, and it can't be done in the daytime," Johnson, who lives in Queens, said as he sat outside the subway stop at 96th Street and Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Graham, a Bronx resident, suggested officials look at which lines are used the most and shut down night service for lesser-used routes.

Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, said the proposal raises questions about how much the extra bus service would cost and how longer subway lines like the A train, which stretches more than 30 miles from northernmost Manhattan to near Kennedy Airport in Queens, would be handled.

The plan released Thursday is the fourth released by the RPA in its 95-year history. The first was issued in 1929 and the last in 1996.

The association doesn't have a direct input into policy decisions, but its recommendations often are forward-thinking. For example, the 1996 plan included recommendations for major projects that are either now being built, like new tunnels to let Long Island Rail Road trains use Grand Central Terminal, or are now talked about at the highest levels, like a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. They are ideas that "no politician supported" at the time but that since have entered the mainstream, Wright said.

The plan also recommends congestion pricing for cars entering the city and adding tolls on area highways to pay for infrastructure projects. It echoes a recommendation made last summer to build a new bus terminal in the basement of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on New York's west side, instead of building a new terminal near the current one at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue as is currently under consideration.

The Meadowlands in northern New Jersey, home to MetLife Stadium and the future American Dream retail and entertainment complex, was inundated with water during 2012's Superstorm Sandy, which sent the Hackensack River flooding into towns north of the stadium.

An extensive park system would help maintain the area's wildlife and ecosystem as well as protect the area from sea level rise, according to the plan. Just one additional foot of sea rise could permanently flood Teterboro Airport by mid-century, Wright said.