NY MTA & Transit Union Blame Each Other For Delay In New Subway Service

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Some L trains during rush hour are too crowded to board. (Photo by Runs With Scirssors.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED. It's going to take eight months for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority to add extra weekend service to the crowded L train, which serves Lower Manhattan and fast-growing parts of Brooklyn. The NY MTA and a major transit union are blaming each other for the delay.

MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said it's a complex operation to revise a subway line's schedule and then allow the union the time it needs, by contract, to pick which workers will crew the new trains.

An email he sent describing the process had at least six steps. They included time for the union to"review and comment on the timetables and work program" and time for the authority to "make modifications agreed to with" the union. And that's only two of the steps.

Seaton said a schedule change like the one proposed for the L train can take up to ten months to implement.

Not necessarily, said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transit Workers Union Local 100. He contended the MTA could add weekend trains on the L line right away by declaring it "supplemental service," as it does for major events like the World Series. Workers-on-call could then crew the trains until the formal process is completed and the schedule change made permanent.

The issue is pressing because over the past twelve years, weekend ridership on the L train has grown at three times the rate of the subway system as a whole, making it the fastest growing subway line. That's according to a new MTA study of the L line requested by State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

"I'm glad the MTA heeded my call to increase weekend service on the L," Squadron said in an email. "Of course, weekend service should be improved as quickly as possible. If there's a way to make it happen earlier within the MTA's budget constraints, then let's make it happen."

A staff member for an elected representative said the MTA called adding L train service outside the formal scheduling process "cost prohibitive." The MTA did not immediately return calls about the the union's call for supplemental service.

Gannon said the burden is on the MTA to provide a timely improvement. "If they wanted to add service on the L line, they could do it," he said. "They’re just being methodical. It seems like they’re pushing the burden of why this takes so long on us."

The Transport Workers Union contract expires in January.  The union has had a deteriorating relationship with MTA leadership over the years.

UPDATE: MTA spokesman Charles Seaton emailed with a new reason for why increased weekend L train service can't occur until June 2012. He said the authority plans to spend the first half of next year removing old track-side signals as part of an automated upgrade of the line's signal system, work that needs to happen on the weekends, when trains run less often.

"Remember, the Canarsie Line [L train] is only a two-track railroad," he writes. "We would not want to promise an increase in weekend service and then have to cut service back every weekend while the removals take place."

That means status quo service for L train riders on the weekend until next summer. More riders take the L on Saturday between 1 and 3 p.m. and after 8 p.m. than do during the week at those same times. Late afternoon on Saturday is also when the Brooklyn-bound L sometimes carries up to 35 percent more passengers than the prescribed maximum load, according to the MTA's report. If you must travel to Bushwick at that time for the latest cryptic public art happening, prepare to be squeezed.