WPCNR THE RECOVERY REPORT. From the Business Council of Westchester. March 14, 2022:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will add 66 trains to Metro-North’s weekday schedule on March 27 as part of its post-Covid efforts to restore regular service.
MTA chair and CEO Janno Lieber and Catherine Rinaldi, president of Metro-North Railroad and interim president of Long Island Rail Road, described their agency’s post-pandemic plans a week ago at the BCW’s Political Leadership Series.
Besides adding the 66 trains to the weekday schedule, the executives described how they are prioritizing increased ridership, enhanced rider safety, luring hybrid workers and replacing infrastructure essential to safely running trains into Grand Central Terminal.
Lieber said a priority is reestablishing a sense of personal safety in the transit network.
“We’ve all seen the press coverage of some of the recent horrific that took place in the mass transit system, on the subway in particular. We’re not going to tolerate violence or attacks on our workforce or our riders,” said Lieber. “We don’t want an environment of disorder.”
The emphasis on rules means the MTA is asking police to crack down on smoking, shopping carts and other mass-transit prohibitions.
The addition of 66 trains to Metro-North’s three lines will allow for faster morning commutes and bring the railroad to 89% of its pre-pandemic service, although weekday ridership is still at about 50% of pre-pandemic levels. Weekend ridership is back at 100% of pre-pandemic levels.
“We are seeing extremely strong ridership east of the Hudson over the past couple of weeks,” said Rinaldi. “We’re hoping it’s a harbinger of things to come in the spring as more and more employees start to come back, even if it’s a couple of days a week.”
The agency’s plan to lure back commuters who are adopting hybrid work schedules includes the introduction of a new 20-trip ticket package, which targets commuters who do not need the expense of a monthly pass because they only travel to Manhattan two or three days a week.
“We’re still waiting to see how many days a week people start coming back to work, but we are prepared to greet them with this increased service,” said Rinaldi. “We’re especially interested to see what the 20-trip ticket does. We saw a nice take-up with that last week because it does seem to reflect the realities of this post-Covid ridership.”
The MTA officials also touted Metro-North’s on-time performance, which was at 97% for the past two years.
As for improvement projects, Rinaldi said that work is underway on replacements of the Park Avenue Train Shed and the Park Avenue Viaduct. The MTA is also lobbying to ensure that its Hudson Line trains receive permission to use Amtrak lines along Manhattan’s west side when Metro-North service becomes available at Penn Station. As for New Haven Line access to Penn Station, the agency is performing site surveys and advance designing of the four new Bronx stations and track work. Penn Station access is expected to begin in 2027.
Work continues on congestion pricing, the plan to charge vehicles that enter mid- and lower Manhattan during peak traffic hours. The agency is in the middle of a federal environmental review and the implementation of the tolling infrastructure is scheduled to begin in 2023.
Lieber said congestion pricing is not about punishing drivers.
“The congestion is harming our ability to deliver key services…We have to have buses. We have to have ambulances and other emergency vehicles be able to get around…We have to make it possible for all the delivery trucks that are now the reality of our modern economy to make their way around. That is what, among other things, is pressing us to adopt a congestion-pricing system,” Lieber said.
BCW Executive Vice President John Ravitz moderated this morning’s webinar. Ravitz said restoring confidence in public safety is paramount to encouraging riders to use the system. He noted that the MTA plays a critical role in helping to bring back economic development to Westchester County and that a strong transit system is a vital service that helps with staff recruitment and retains businesses in Westchester County.
On behalf of the BCW, Ravitz pledged to help the MTA accomplish its public safety goals.
“Please know that you have our support and anything we can do to help continue to try to bring some—as we’ve said—common sense back into this process. We will be there for you,” said Ravitz.
The political leadership series was sponsored by the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, Empire City Casino, Levitt Fuirst Associates and Thalle Industries. A recording of the webinar is posted on the BCW’s Facebook page.