Just yesterday the Regional Plan Association made a splash in releasing its Fourth Regional Plan, which contained sweeping suggestions to get the New York City subway back to a state of good repair. Their recommendation: a total system overhaul.
But one suggestion really hit a nerve: ending 24/7 subway service on weekdays to help overnight maintenance crews repair the aging tracks.
The RPA actually suggested two forms of shutdowns to address the many, many issues now facing the MTA. The first was to carry out major capital construction—such as the installation of new signal systems—during months-long shutdowns of entire lines. That's similar to what's happening soon with the L.
The second proposal, to keep up with routine maintenance, was ending 24/7 subway service during early morning hours during weekdays. As a substitute, the RPA said the MTA should run buses over the train routes as they would face less traffic during those times.
“I know that 24/7 is a kind of badge of honor for New Yorkers," Tom Wright, the president of the RPA, said. "We think it’s something that we ought to change. The other 6.15 million riders during the rest of the day are all paying for the service to be open at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning. We’re all paying for that now. We don’t see that, but we’re paying for that."
Regardless of the reasoning, many New Yorkers freaked out. And according to the Wall Street Journal, Joe Lhota, chairman of the MTA, came out against the proposal, saying that "a permanent closure of the entire subway system every night is a bit draconian." He went on to add, "A permanent closure, I fear, would be inappropriate for the ‘city that never sleeps.'"
RPA Chairman Scott Rechler also hesitated to back the proposal of a permanent late-night shutdown, though he conceded that shutting down lines for short periods may be necessary. In fact, that's already happening with more frequency as the MTA scrambles to keep up on maintenance work.
In the end, the RPA has no formal authority over what the MTA does. Its regional plans, which are published every few decades, are meant to be aspirational, but they are often considered by state and local agencies embarking on infrastructure projects. And the MTA, at this point, needs all the help it can get.