Improvements are coming to the subway in many forms. New subway cars are rolling out. Signals have been improved on select lines. And trains have been running faster and more efficiently citywide.
But while the journey getting somewhere might be half the fun, the journey to making these improvements happen have been anything but for commuters, especially on the 1 train.
Those ups and downs have plagued the line — especially on its Bronx stretch — for much of the past year. The 168th Street stop, a critical juncture to connect with the A and C trains in Manhattan, was closed for repairs for nearly all of 2019. While that stop is open again, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has partially closed the 191st Street station.
On top of that, many weekends saw 1 train service to and from the Bronx axed entirely for track and signal work north of 137th Street.
And it seems like those downs are going to continue in 2020. For most weekends and weeknights so far, service between Dyckman and 137th Street has been stopped, replaced by A train service and not-so-speedy shuttle buses to ferry passengers through upper Manhattan.
Shuffling train and shuttle schedules has been frustrating for passengers trying to commute to and from the northwest Bronx, especially given the lack of alternatives — the 1 is the only subway that runs into the area, and the infamous lack of east-west subway connections in the Bronx means that even taking the next closest train (the 4, along the Grand Concourse) leaves passengers a lengthy bus ride away from home.
Wendy Levitt works nights in Manhattan and frequently takes the 1 all the way back up to the Bronx. Before she leaves, she always checks the MTA website looking for delays and service changes. Despite all that, Levitt was still frazzled by her commute home one day in February.
“When I got on the train, they said I had to get off at 137th street, take a shuttle to 168th, I had to take the A train to Dyckman, and then from Dyckman take a shuttle bus to the 1 train,” Levitt said. “It was really frustrating.”
The whole journey took just about three hours, she said, which normally takes just a fraction of that. Even more, there wasn’t enough information for her to realize how many times she’d need to switch modes of transportation.
“I usually look (at the website) and it’s usually pretty accurate, and I usually try to avoid it by taking the D train, or I take the 4,” Levitt said. “It’s a little out of my way, but it’s better than getting on and off the train.”
The MTA website’s information planned for service disruptions through March 2, but did not specify whether construction would continue after that point. The MTA did not respond to requests for comment.
Current delays are attributed to track work, and last year’s issues were also due to track and signal improvements. Moving into a new five-year capital projects plan, some stops along the 1 path — including Van Cortlandt Park–242nd Street and Dyckman — are slated to get elevators, although when exactly that might happen has yet to be announced.
Dan Padernacht, chair of Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee, said that the construction has rendered the 1 an unreliable form of transportation for the community. Even before this round of interruptions, Padernacht said he tended to avoid the 1 after arriving at the platform and discovering service interruptions too late. Taking Metro-North or trekking to the 4 train were both better options for him.
Levitt wished the MTA would just run a shuttle all the way up Broadway, making stops at each 1 stop, rather than asking people to swap between train and shuttle as they commute.
“If people choose to get off the shuttle bus and hop back on the train, that’s their decision,” she said. “But they should have, readily available, the bus going down Broadway. One bus.”
Vittorio Bugatti, a Riverdale resident who is active in all things public transit across the city, agreed the current solutions just weren’t enough.
“I find myself having to cancel a lot of things that I have to do because the subways are not very reliable,” he said. “We have a long ways to go with the subways, in terms of signaling and funding, especially in the outer boroughs.”
Bugatti was an instrumental force in pushing the MTA to maintain express bus service in the northwest Bronx for just that reason. Without reliable subways, commuters — and even people traveling to other boroughs for fun — need a fast and efficient way to get downtown.
The MTA should explore more options for alternatives while the work is ongoing, Bugatti added.
“Look at all the options on the table,” he said. “It’s not going to be cheap, but it has to be looked at because we can’t just cram everyone on the subway when they’re already overcrowded and delayed as it is.”
Cross-honoring MetroCards on Metro-North or the express buses could help, he said. In a meeting with the MTA while he was fighting express bus cuts, the MTA seemed excited about the possibilities OMNY would provide when it was rolled out. The contactless payment system could allow people to take multiple forms of transportation, including those with prices a little steeper than the standard $2.75 subway fare, within a certain time period.
OMNY installation is also part of the MTA’s current capital plan, but hasn’t been implemented in most subway stations or buses just yet, although it is available along the 1 and 4 train lines. Until the MTA can come up with another solution, Levitt wishes the agency would consider their scheduling a little more carefully.
“I understand that you’re going to have track work, and you’re going to pick hours that are not rush hours,” she said. “But if you’re going to do it, do it in a sensible way that makes it less frustrating for people.”